Without Flash Gordon, the legendary creation from the mind of Alex Raymond, every modern incarnation of science fiction and comic book superheroes may not even exist. At least, that’s the argument made by Alex Ross in the new Flash Gordon On The Planet Mongo compilation from Titan Books. In fact, one of the most beloved sci-fi creations of all-time may not have happened without the seeds of inspiration planted by Flash Gordon. George Lucas is on the record saying his idea for Star Wars came from his desire to turn the 1930’s serials into a movie, but when the license wasn’t available, he turned his eye to his original idea and the rest is history.
Created in 1934 to compete with the highly successful Buck Rogers who had debuted in the first ever science fiction comic strip nearly 5 years earlier in 1929, Flash Gordon follows the adventures of Flash, the world-renowned polo player and Yale graduate, and his teammates Dale Arden (a woman, strangely enough), and Dr. Hans Zarkov, a brilliant (but mad) scientist.
When a strange new planet is discovered rushing toward the Earth, it’s sure to spell the end of mankind. While on a flight, Flash and Dale are shot down over Dr. Zarkov’s great observatory out of paranoia that they’re out to expose his secret plot to save the Earth. I’m not sure how saving the Earth is a goal that would bring negative press, but the mad scientist kidnaps Flash and Dale and forces them into a rocket at gunpoint.
They head straight toward the object and crash land onto the planet known as Mongo. Here, they discover a ruthless civilization run by Ming the Merciless, evil ruler of Mongo. The sheer scope of characters available in this collection is incredible. From the Lion Men of Mongo, Tsak, the two-headed guardian of the tunnel of terror, King Vultan, the violent Lord of the Hawkmen, all the way to the armor-plated Wolvrons of the Plain Bulwa; if you’re looking for creativity in your sci-fi, Flash Gordon showcases unbound originality.
This compilation covers Flash Gordon from his inception in 1934 all the way to 1937. In addition, the book includes an extended essay by Eisner Award winning illustrator Alex Ross, all-new background material on the character and creator Alex Raymond, and previously unseen artwork. Yet what’s most interesting is the readability of a comic strip that’s nearly 80 years old. It’s easy to flip the book open and lose an hour following the adventures of Flash and the gang on Mongo. Does it matter that it’s illogical? It’s part of the charm. The over the top storytelling wouldn’t fit in a realistic and grounded world. How many of those true to life comics from the 1930s are worth spending a Sunday reading?
Packed with over three years worth of material, Flash Gordon On The Planet Mongo is fantastic and mandatory reading material for the sci-fi lover. The landscapes are meticulously drawn, the characters unique and countless, and the artwork gets stronger as time passes. None of this would be worth mentioning if not for the carefully restored art, which is incredibly clear when you factor in the age.
There are a lot of poorly done reprints from companies looking to make a quick buck from a newly acquired license, but Titan Books has gone the opposite route. Purists may miss the matte printing and the feel of having a living reproduction of a newspaper in your hands, but the color pops, the paper stock is fantastic, and did I mention this book is huge? Alex Raymond was killed in an automobile accident in in 1956, but his legacy will live on in Flash Gordon, and this carefully reconstructed effort by Titan is worth a look.
Flash Gordon: On The Planet Mongo will be available at fine bookstores everywhere September 4th.