Thursday, June 20, 2013

Buck Godot

Zap Gun for Hire !

It seems ass-backward trying to talk about Buck Godot, because I only reached it after reading another one of the author's works. Then again, chronologically... When discussing serialized works, there's a vague impulse to serialize the series themselves, even if they're completely unrelated. Or am I just crazy? Anyway, more about Girl Genius some other time.

Buck! Oh grand savior of the human race and probably about half the galaxy. May you always live in interesting times. Buck Godot is a finished series composed of episodes of varying length. I always find it easier to talk about completed works. I always feel as though the author of an ongoing work of fiction is just waiting around the corner for me to display lack of foresight so he can crank out a sequel full of surprise plot twists to show me up. This is probably why i haven't gotten around to talking about any print comic-books yet. I mean, what if my favorite childhood comic-book hero, a confirmed bachelor all his long career, were to suddenly get married? It's happened before.

Where were we? Ah, yes, Buck never got married. Buck is a rough'n'tough hard-boiled sardonic space-age detective. Buck is large and in-charge. Buck gets the job done, and the job is always interesting. One curiousity about the Buck Godot stories is that they seem to have been intended as neither finite nor infinite. Sequential they may be, but they were not created to be milked for decades. The first story starts out short'n'sweet, a simple bodyguard job that runs about a dozen pages. Then they start to ramp up in complexity and scope from the fate of one person to that of a bar, to the city, planet, etc. The last story is several chapters long, comparable to the rest put together, and concerns a galactic crisis. However it becomes apparent that this progression did not occur in the usual way.

It's all too common for comic-book heroes to burn out, much like other serialized works. The authors get carried away and constantly up the ante until the hero's saving the planet (or universe or city) on every page. Often enough a particular storyline gets so overblown that even if the series hasn't exactly "jumped the shark" there's simply nowhere for the characters to go from there. I mean, what would've happened if Hawkeye Pierce had brought about an end to the Korean War in the second season? Or if Captain Picard had beaten the Borg, Klingons and Romulans all at once? Or if the very first Superman Movie showed him travelling back in time to... jump sharks. Ok, bad example.
But that's not what seems to have happened with Buck Godot. Unlike most good webcartoonists, who latch onto the freedom of the internet and whose whims make their works both delightfully unpredictable and frustratingly unreliable, Foglio is a true professional. The Buck Godot stories were in fact not originally posted online (they date back to the 80s and 90s) but were good old dime-a-dozen wood-pulp decorations. So as the story expands and Buck Godot's role becomes more and more overblown, it's done with the end always in sight, in a calculated way which reveals more and more of the quirky space-age society which provides all true content. It's not a series about character growth, and though plots can be interesting and relatively complex, it's more of a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy styled parody of the seriousness of space operas. The real interest is in finding out exactly what a sentient law-enforcement robot does on a lawless planet, how to get a godlike alien being to pay attention to what you're saying, or just how important ice-cream can be in galactic politics.

And it's all built quite cold-bloodedly from humble beginnings to grand finale. Oh, I'm sure the author left himself plenty of wiggle room. There could have been a couple more or fewer stories depending on the popularity of the series. Something tells me though that Buck Godot got milked just exactly as long as it paid off. Beginners should pay heed: that's how the pros do it, for better or worse.

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