If someone were to mention the name Flash Gordon, there’s a good chance your first thought would be of Sam J. Jones battling alongside a bunch of Hawkmen while Freddie Mercury’s magnificent voice accompanied the action. But before the 1980 cult classic, and before what all of us know as modern day science fiction film, television, and comics, Flash Gordon appeared in the premiere fantasy medium of the 1930s – the comic strip.
Originally created by Alex Raymond in 1934 as competition against the successful Buck Rogers series, Flash Gordon’s popularity and influence has resonated across the medium of science fiction for the better part of a century. Without him, there would probably be no Battlestar Galactica, no Stargate, no Farscape, no Babylon 5, and certainly no Star Wars. (George Lucas has stated that the Flash Gordon movie serials he watched as a boy were his inspiration for the adventures of Luke Skywalker) Even science fiction juggernaut Star Trek has payed homage to Flash in the form of Star Trek: Voyager’s Captain Proton. After decades of serials, television and radio shows, comics, and a feature film, the spectacular adventures of this inspirational character are now collected by Titan Books in the first volume of The Complete Flash Gordon Library: On the Planet Mongo.
Collecting the Sunday comic strips from 1934 to 1937, this compendium chronicles Flash Gordon’s exploits on the planet Mongo as he and companion Dale Arden battle the evil Emperor, Ming the Merciless. Holding nothing back, Alex Raymond’s comic strips portray exciting action, captivating drama, and even throw in a dash of sexy here and there. Raymond’s gorgeous art still holds up to this day, even rivaling the work of modern day comic artists at times. As the strips progress from year to year, the evolution of Raymond’s art is noticeable. Strips from 1934 evoke memories of pages from Action Comics and Batman (which would not appear until several years later), while panels from 1937 showcase beautiful detail in images of giant lizards, speeding rockets, and alien landscapes. Even in a hardcover volume, you cannot help but feel as if you’re flipping the pages of a newspaper, eager to see the next vibrant panel.
The collection also features an introduction by renowned artist Alex Ross, who gives his own brief history of the character and credits Flash (rightfully so) as the inspiration for modern day comic book superheroes. When comparing Siegel and Shuster’s portrayal of Krypton to that of Mongo, Ross states, “It might be said, for metaphorical purposes, that Superman was the son of Flash Gordon.”
You don’t have to be a Flash Gordon fan to appreciate this collection. You don’t even have to be a science fiction or comic fan. The art is beautiful, the stories are entertaining, and the legacy of an entire genre is present in this volume. I’d say that’s enough to garner enjoyment and appreciation from any reader.
Volume 1, On the Planet Mongo is available now from Titan Books. Look for Volume 2, The Tyrant of Mongo this December.