Thursday, September 13, 2012

Book Review: Flash Gordon: On the Planet Mongo: The Complete Flash Gordon Library (Vol. 1)

If you’re of a similar age to me, then the 1980 Flash Gordon movie no doubt sparks many fond childhood memories and you probably won’t even be able to read the name “Flash Gordon” without the Queen soundtrack beginning to build in your head. So why not venture back to the source and read the original strips that birthed Flash, Dale, Ming and inspired many sci-fi films and stories since - including, it should be said, George Lucas’ Star Wars.

I have an incredibly noticeable soft, squishy spot for classic comics so I was thrilled when our friends at Titan Books forwarded along a copy of Flash Gordon: On the Planet Mongo: The Complete Flash Gordon Library (vol. 1) collecting artist Alex Raymond’s original work. I am extremely eager to find out how all of this space-faring swashbuckling began!

Join me after the jump and we’ll discover the origins of Flash together...

Okay, I love this book. As a physical object its a beautifully presented (and reproduced) collection, but once you begin to dig into the work inside its mind-blowing.

Artist/writer Raymond has no shortage of ideas - especially when it comes to his luridly coloured, over-the-top visuals - and instantly assaults us with a multitude of rock-hard determined jaws, flexing muscles, savage beasts, alien warriors, and sleek rocket ships. Flash Gordon tears along at an incredible pace, never pausing for breath, in fact the first half of the movie seems drawn from just the first couple of strips alone when Flash, Dale and Zarkov crash onto Mongo and start laying the smack down on the evil emperor Ming the Merciless.

In fact I was surprised at how faithful the movie is in parts, for example Hawkman leader Vultan looks just like Brian Blessed on the page, but rest assured that Raymond’s work is far more amplified with an unrelenting barrage of characters and creatures which would be difficult to capture on screen. In fact it really is only George Lucas who produces this kind of jam-packed work that operates at such a frenetic pace and it’s very easy to see his inspiration. Dale is constantly captured and forced to wear a harem outfit that looks just like Leia’s gold bikini. An underwater vessel resembles the Gungan’s bongo submarine. Flash’s lion man friend is like his very own chewbacca. Ming’s daughter is every bit as feisty as Princess Leia. It is within these pages that many of the seeds of science-fiction are sown.

And that’s perhaps the most incredible thing about this work. These strips were produced in 1934, over 40 years before Star Wars, nearly 30 years before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revitalised superheroes, and yet so much of what we love about those films and comics are already present here in Raymond’s art. His imagination is staggering.

The stories themselves seem to be made up of a series of recurring themes with Dale constantly being kidnapped and forced to marry some alien tyrant while the stoic Flash tries to save her. And when that’s not happening Flash is captured by some sexy alien tyrant who wants to marry him while Dale flails around in a tizzy until Flash’s alien bros (go lion man!) bust in to help him. It’s a little repetitive in that regard, but Raymond manages to re-energise these stories by constantly topping them up with new planets, bizarre creatures and deadly tech. In fact, the art is really a reward on its own with whole pages dedicated to bare-chested Flash wrestling the crap out of horned tigers, or duelling in a ring of poisoned daggers. Flash is grim, humourless and manly. There’s a perverse cruelty to many of the proceedings but I think you’re going to love it.

If you’ve got a soft, squishy spot for classic comics too, then I highly recommend this volume. I’m very much looking forward to part two. And it makes me realise just how much I would enjoy seeing a modern Flash Gordon film!

You can find out more about Flash Gordon at Titan’s site.

1 comment:

  1. Does this contain the Sunday strips, the dailies or both?

    I have the first volume of the IDW collection of Sundays.