Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane
Flash Gordon: On the Planet Mongo
The Complete Flash Gordon Library, Volume 1
By Alex Raymond
Titan Books, 2012
So, you are wondering: how does it all begin?
Well, as set out above: Flash Gordon, a ‘Yale graduate and world-renowned polo player’ (so one of the world’s finest: smart, sporty and surely flush with cash), is forced at gun point into a rocket ship. He’s accompanied by a pretty young woman, wouldn’t you know it, name of Dale Arden, and the two have just become intimate, well kind of, by parachuting out of a plane together. As for the fellow holding the gun, that’s a brilliant though mad scientist called Hans Zarkov. The rocket ship, Zarkov‘s own invention, heads towards a feral planet that’s on a collision course with our own. The aim is to save our world by deflecting the wayward planet off course, and this they succeed in doing, but at a price. They crash land on the planet’s surface – see strip below. Yes, that’s pretty much how Flash Gordon’s adventures begin…
This sumptuous volume has nine complete stories in total, originally published from 1934 to 1937. The full-colour comic strips (this was way before comic books, never mind graphic novels) have been beautifully restored by Peter Maresca, and for those who were introduced to Flash Gordon by watching black and white serials on a Saturday morning in the local cinema (it was The Rialto in Salford and Bury Odeon for me), Alex Raymond’s artwork will come as a revelation as well as a return to childhood. His colour illustrations are magical, wonderfully exciting, enchanting and (let’s be frank) just a wee bit kinky at times, just like the serial.
For at the basis of Flash Gordon is a love quartet: Ming the Merciless desires Dale and his daughter Princess Aura lusts after Flash. Aura was always kidnapping/enslaving/punishing girlish and innocent Dale, her love rival, and Ming had it in for Flash too. Dale is always rescued by Flash (eventually) and Aura constantly saves Flash from her father’s clutches. Capture, play, escape; escape, capture, play… Looking back, it was all very strange to see this stuff in a children’s serial on a Saturday morning.
You wanted to be Flash Gordon, of course, because he was the hero, brave and strong and noble, able to withstand torture… But Ming’s gig – Emperor of the Universe, infinite power, all those lackeys at his command – didn’t seem too bad either.
In this book, there are appreciative introductions by Alex Ross and Doug Murray, which set Alex Raymond’s creation in context. Flight was still something new in 1934 and sci-fi was an inchoate genre. Wells, Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs fed Raymond’s imagination and he in turn influenced many others (Joe Kubert and George Lucas, to name but two). There’s also some of Alex Raymond’s hitherto unpublished artwork. It’s a terrific package, all told.
Flash Gordon: On the Planet Mongo by Alex Raymond, Volume 1 of The Complete Flash Gordon Library, is out now from Titan Books, priced £29.99.
About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org