Flash Gordon, Vol. 7
by Alex Raymond
Man, the first thing that hit me about this volume of Flash Gordon reprints (from 1943-1944 to be exact) is the art. Flash Gordon creator/writer/penciller Alex Raymond (also the brains behind the peerless detective/spy noir of Secret Agent X-9 – reprint that next!) was one of the finest artists to come out of that “Golden Age” period of comics, alongside Lou Fine, Reed Crandall, and Milt Caniff, without peer in terms of rendering golden-god superheroics. Unlike the darkling mysteries of Batman or the Spectre or the twisted whimsy of Plastic Man and Green Lantern, this was the realm of men who took a sweeping, cinematic view of the four-color format. Heroes were bigger, villains were badder, backgrounds were lush and lifelike, attention was lavished on small details like folds of clothing, stone walls, the leer of a brute henchman, the diaphonous skirt of a gypsy princess – what? With Raymond’s fine, confident lines, draftsman’s eye for detail, and sweeping imagination, he made this unlikely future seem bizarrely lifelike and plausible.
In this volume, Flash deposes a tyrant, befriends the king of thieves, shoots everything in sight, fights a giant spider, fights a giant snake, goes on a rocket boat chase, dances with a seductress, kisses loads of strange women, and runs through a room full of falling spears (!) – that’s what the comics page was made for! Imagine reading that over your morning coffee. Beat that, For Better Or For Worse!
Characterization is pretty black-and-white, as you’d expect. Men fall into two categories – slightly lunkheaded but noble do-gooders (like Flash, for instance) and cowardly dissemblers (everyone who’s not on Flash’s side). Women, ditto – there’s heroic (Dale) or seductive shrews (everyone else who’s currently vying for Flash’s heart), though both archetypes are prey to debilitating jealousy. I found it interesting on rereading these strips that Dale Arden, despite gratuitous forays into the “Oh Flash, I’m just a woman” gobbledygook, tends to kick quite a bit of ass more often than not. She’s shooting guns, flying rockets, knocking out baddies, catfighting, and following Flash into the direst of situations. One character outside of all this is the enigmatic Dr. Zarkov – the guy who brought Flash to the future lurks in the background until exactly the point when he’s needed, and doesn’t seem to have much feeling about anything – hmmm, I wonder if anyone’s written a paper on him yet?
The choice of formatting for these reprint volumes is a fascinating one. They’re basically the size and scale of a children’s hardbound picture book, instead of your typical graphic novel/omnibus format. So what this means is, you don’t get as much crammed-together content for your buck as you would with, say, a Marvel Masterworks or those Dick Tracy reprints from years back, but… this format is VERY, very friendly to Alex Raymond’s gorgeous illustrations (both in terms of size and detail), which was the whole point of the strip, dammit. I can’t help but wonder if this will give it more crossover appeal to children (it reads like a big, splashy kiddy book), pop art fans (man, why didn’t Lichtenstein steal this guy’s panels, they’re beautiful) and graphic design enthusiasts. And putting one strip per page preserves, in some way, the episodic nature of the series. Using glossy pages and full-color illustrations gets a thumbs-up from me as well. The panels jump out at you with this sort of square-jawed, optimistic Technicolor futurism that one moment dazzles you with the mysteries and alien wonders of times-yet-to-come, and the next minute pats you on the back to let you know that it’ll all be okay, since there’s a little Flash Gordon in all of us. And that was the point, all along, wasn’t it?
My biggest complaint? I didn’t get any Ming the Merciless in my volume! Come on, man! “Bloody” Brazor and Ardo are poor substitutes.
To the future…..
Checker Books: http://www.checkerbpg.com