QUICK: who were the first two comic book superheroes enmeshed with a science fiction background? The answer (we’re talking old school comic strips here) is Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Both appeared within 6 years of each other, as Flash Gordon was designed to compete with Buck Rogers, but Flash Gordon quickly separated itself with lavishly illustrated comic strips. In fact, the art was so profound some would say (including Alex Ross who contributes a foreword in this book) Alex Raymond’s illustrations led to modern comic realists.
So, it’s not surprising that, once you’ve finished reading Flash Gordon: On the Planet Mongo: The Complete Flash Gordon Library (Vol. 1), coming out later this month on September 25th, you’ll feel a sense of nostalgia. You’ll find yourself making connections to current characters at Marvel or DC Comics, Star Wars and overarching science fiction themes we know and love today.
Flash Gordon: On the Planet Mongo: The Complete Flash Gordon Library
By Alex Raymond
Hardcover, 192 pages
Release Date: September 25, 2012 by Titan Books
The foreword by Doug Murray does an excellent job explaining the cultural importance of the character. For instance, its contribution to the silver screen changed motion pictures. The importance of the art is left to Alex Ross in an additional foreword that explains how important the comic was to not only his art but to the industry as a whole. It sets the reader up to understand why the illustration in the comic were so good and so profound.
Importance aside, I’d wager the newspaper comic strip format is archaic to most these days. If you ask me, the people who read comic strips these days are old folks, at least those found in newspapers. I’m not counting webcomics, like Penny Arcade, The Oatmeal, and xkcd, largely because they seem to be a little more reflective of my generation (mid to late 20’s) and since they aren’t tied to a newspaper they can be a lot more edgy.
Flash Gordon’s influence though has implications in more realms than you might think. For instance, recently in an interview with ComicBookResources Brian K. Vaughan was asked what influences inspired his latest series, Saga. His answer? You guessed it, Flash Gordon.
“I was probably as influenced by “Star Wars” as George Lucas was by old “Flash Gordon” serials — which is to say, a lot, but not nearly as much as we were each probably influenced by our parents, childhood fears, political leanings, etcetera.” – Brian K. Vaughan
After reading this anthology it’s really not surprising. Characters interact with aliens who dress like kings but drive rocket ships, fight underwater beasts while visiting underwater cities and everything is different from our world.
An inspiration to science fiction stories for decades? Vaughn admits it influenced his series, Saga.
After reading this anthology, it’s pretty clear Raymond had a lot of ideas. Completely new alien species and even new landscapes could pop up every week. Like a good Fantastic Four story, there was enough wonderment and creativity that I’d wager most kids in the 40’s would come back for more just to see the new elements. And really, it’s the main driving force for adults to peruse its pages as well.
Whether it’s the exceptional fight choreography…
…or a clever cliffhanger…
…you keep turning the pages wanting to see what happens next.
The cliffhanger aspect does bring up one annoyance with this series, which is the distinct formula Raymond used each week which grows tiresome after awhile. Each strip would open with a brief introduction, Flash Gordon then defeats the enemy or completes the task at hand then he falls into peril and we need to come back next week to see how he could possibly get out of the situation. In fact, this formula was present in the very first strip as seen here:
The formula that works.You know like Coca-Cola or Google search algorithms.
In later stories though, Raymond begins to play around with different layouts of the panels and breaks from the traditional formula. Stories take longer than a single week to go from capture, to fighting, to capture again. The earlier stories also follow the traditional “damsel in distress” story arc with a few eye rolling moments, but for the most part these strips are about action and spectacle first.
“…so strong, yet so tender,” predates Fifty Shades of Grey’s line, “…like steel wrapped in velvet.”
As the organization of the panels changed, so too the art changed. As time went on, Raymond took more artistic license with his weekly strip. He began to flex his muscles and draw some impeccably beautiful pages. In one week’s strip, for instance, he draws something that should probably be in a museum for how powerful and beautiful it came out:
Pretty sure these dudes inspired Hawkman at DC Comics.
Slightly earlier in his tenure, Raymond started to play around with a four panel structure with an incredibly exciting battle arena with a simple spike idea:
It goes without saying the restoration of these strips is an amazing feat. Opening this book takes you back to when young kids were goggle-eyed and grinning at its pages. The color alone would probably send kids into the backyard with dreams of space travel.
At the very least this is an incredibly vivid book that could be used as a coffee table book that guests flip through. There are new adventures and visual delights on nearly every page to fulfill the fancy of many. At most you’re going to get a lesson in discipline and art. There’s no way you can’t get quality art that only improves if the artist does it on a weekly basis as Raymond did. By the time you finish this book you’re going to wish the second installment was already released!
On top of all that, owning a book such as this is a slice of history. Knowing this work inspired generations to create the science fiction we know and love today may inspire you to create your own stories for tomorrow.