Bucky O’Hare was one of those awesome cartoons from the 90’s that almost no one seems to remember nowadays. Bucky was the underdog beating up toads in space while the Ninja Turtles beat up foot soldiers in Manhattan. I have many fond memories of it, though I don’t think I actually ever saw the entirety of the thirteen-episode series back in the day. Still, the fondness stayed with me, and I was excited when I found out that the TV show was based on a comic series.
The comic was written by Larry Hama and penciled by Michael Golden. Hama is a third-generation Japanese-American, but that doesn’t really explain why I’ve always thought Bucky O’Hare had a very anime/manga feel to it. The original comic ran in the late 80’s and only had one plotline; more were written to coincide with the TV series when it debuted in 1990. The original comic along with two of the later, additional issues were collected together in a manga-like graphic novel released by Vanguard in 2007. I have no idea why they didn’t include the rest of the additional issues, but it doesn’t really matter. I ordered my copy of Vanguard’s release of Bucky O’Hare when I ordered my copy of Viz’s releaseof DOGS vol. 0, and I gotta say: Bucky’s comic is very disappointing.
STORY – Bucky O’Hare presents an intriguing story. In an alternate universe populated by various anthropomorphic animals, the toads have developed their own Skynet named KOMPLEX which then proceeds to enslave not only their race, but uses them them to begin enslaving the rest of the universe. The mammals are bound together by a haphazard political system that refuses to recognize the severity of the toads’ threat; thus, they are only willing to fund one defense ship: Bucky’s ship, The Righteous Indignation. Of course, there’s also lots of other weird stuff, including your human that’s transported from our world for one reason or another, but hey, it was the 80’s!
For the most part, the first two or three episodes of the TV series followed the comic’s original plotline, which is very engaging and fun. The comic’s conclusion for the arc differs greatly, however, and honestly, I found the comic’s ending to be pretty weak, far-fetched and anticlimatic, but that could just be my bias towards the TV show. The two additional issues that are also included in the volume follow various things that were introduced in the TV show, but they don’t connect very well to where the original story left off, so I really wonder why they bothered? Especially since they didn’t include the other ten issues that were produced and it doesn’t really seem like they have plans to.
The things that struck me most about the story though, was just how it was told in the comic. The “chapters” within the original arc seem to mimic episodes of a television series in that they had recaps at the beginning of every chapter that repeated the same half dozen panels of the previous chapter. This threw me off so much when I read the chapters back to back and saw the repeated panels, which were often reframed so that they were cropped or zoomed in differently. Even if the comic was published in separate issues originally, I find the practice of reframing panels really strange — Western comics don’t do that. You either bought the previous issue or you didn’t! Maybe you’ll have a quick textual recap on the opening credits page, but not the exact panels from the last issue! What kind of lazy filler crap is that??
There were also really, really awkward two-page spreads. Awkward as in, you had to turn the book around sideways because they were giant, vertical panels. It is so incredibly jarring to be reading through and suddenly there’s a huge spread’s sideways. Who’s bright idea was this?
CHARACTER – Most of the characters don’t really get a chance to develop in the original arc. In fact, I found it woefully ironic that Bucky was probably the least interesting of the lot. He’s the captain of the ship! And… that’s about it. There’s very little character beyond that — he takes information offered by his crew and makes predictable decisions, failing to demonstrate any higher thinking or commanding abilities that have him earn our respect. Thinking back, the show’s version of Bucky wasn’t that much different to begin with, but he developed a lot more as the series progressed — should I hold it against the original that it wasn’t long enough to work that out?
Willy faced a similar problem and felt like a huge Gary Stu character admist the animals. Blinky seemed like more of a gimmicky mascot than a character. The Air Marshall and most of the toads were also rather flat, and the creepy mouse was just creepy and unexplainable. The most interesting characters in the comic were Deadeye and Jenny, who actually exhibited personality. They had an interesting dynamic between them that suggested backstory, and in Jenny’s case, she got further backstory via her “witch powers,” which begged many questions and therefore made her interesting. If the duck and the cat could get that kind of thought and treatment, then why not everyone else? Further irony? Deadeye and Jenny are the least developed characters in the handful of episodes of the TV series that mirror the comic.
Vanguard’s release inserted short character files in between some of the chapters that included characters’ full name, rank, and weapon of choice, as well as a completely stupid, pointless, and superfluous “biography.”
ART – Michael Golden’s style is a strange blend of Western and Eastern, which is pretty peculiar considering Bucky’s age. That style conflict is something we talk about frequently now, but back in the 80’s? Most of the animal characters have gigantic eyes and outrageous expressions and the backgrounds, props, and environments are exhaustively detailed. The graphic novel is in plain black and white; the inking job is very Eastern. With minimal spot blacks in most panels, it really seems like it’d be suited for tones. For the most part, the art is enjoyable, but many of the zoomed out long shots are confusing because of the detail.
Here’s the thing that disappointed me the most with the comic though: in addition to the aforementioned repeated panels at the beginning and end of chapters, and in addition the sprawling, awkward vertical spreads, several panels are recycled throughout the volume. These panels were not reused to rehash events in the last chapter. They were flat out reused because the artist was too damn lazy to draw the same or similar expression again. The first time it happened, I did a double take. It was a, “Wait, didn’t I see this exact panel several pages earlier…? Holy shit, I did!” moment. And I would flip back and forth, confirming that it was indeed the same panel, just flipped over, as if that would make it less obvious. And the worst of it? Sometimes panels were repeated not only once, but twice, and for this one shot of Jenny, it was repeated THREE TIMES after its initial debut. Are you freakin’ kidding me??
Not only is this just ridiculous, but it also emphasizes that Golden really didn’t have too many ways to draw the same kind of expression — even when he did actually draw a new panel, many of them were remarkably reminiscent of others previous. It’s like watching a one-trick pony. He’ll perform the trick multiple times and usually there will be slight variations, but you know, at the end of the day, it’s still the same damn trick. Super, super disappointing.
The two issues in the back by a different team of artists don’t suffer this problem and they mimic Golden’s style all right; still, the inks are noticably thicker and there are far less details.
OVERALL – The Bucky O’Hare comic has become one of those things that I’m glad I personally bought and read, but that I would never recommend to others. I was curious and now my curiosity is satisfied; I do vaguely wonder about those other ten issues that were adapted from the TV series, but it’s not a burning curiosity. The best thing that the comic had going for it was undoubtedly its premise and concept, which was successfully adapted into a wonderful TV series, so that’s what everyone should check out. The story in the television show is much better thought out because there was more room; similarly, the show’s characters were more three-dimensional and well thought out. The comic’s art is impressive in its detail and style, but I don’t think I can forgive Golden for his lazy, recycled panels. The cartoon’s art is much simpler and decidedly not impressive to any degree, but it wasn’t terrible, so whatever, eh?