Flash Gordon Volume 1


By Alex Raymond with Don Moore (Checker BPG)
ISBN: 978-0-97416-643-8 (HB)

By many lights Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but clunky Buck Rogers of Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th but in 1929), a new element was added to the wonderment: Classical Lyricism.

Where Rogers had traditional adventures and high science concepts, the new feature reinterpreted Fairy Tale, Heroic Epics and Mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for concise, elegant detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When all-original comic books began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Most of the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (which also began in 1934 – and he’ll get his go another day).

Thankfully there are a few collections knocking about, but I’m plumping here for the 2003 Checker hardcover which combines quality reproduction with affordability…

The very first tale begins with a rogue planet about to smash into the Earth. As panic grips the planet, polo player Flash and fellow passenger Dale Arden narrowly escape disaster when a meteor fragment downs the airplane they are on. They land on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, who imprisons them on the rocket-ship he has built. His plan? To fly the ship directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it!

And that’s just in the first, 13-panel episode. ‘On the Planet Mongo’ ran every Sunday until April 15th 1934, when, according to this wonderful full-colour book, second adventure ‘Monsters of Mongo’ began, promptly followed by ‘Tournaments…’ and ‘Caverns of Mongo’.

To the readers back then, of course, there were no such artificial divisions. There was just one continuous, unmissable Sunday appointment with sheer wonderment.

The machinations of the utterly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet; Flash’s battles and alliances with all the myriad exotic races subject to the Emperor’s will and the gradual victory over oppression captivated America, and the World, in tales that seemed a direct contrast to the increasingly darker reality in the days before World War II.

In short order the Earthlings become firm friends – and in the case of Flash and Dale, much more – as they encounter beautiful, cruel Princess Aura, the Red Monkey Men, Lion Men, Shark Men, Dwarf Men, King Vultan and the Hawkmen.

The rebellion against Ming begins with the awesome ‘Tournaments of Mongo’, a sequence spanning November 25th to February 24th 1935 – and where Raymond seemed to simply explode with confidence.

It was here that the true magic began, with every episode more spectacular than the last. Without breaking step Raymond moved on, and the next tale, which leaves this book on something of a cliffhanger, sees our hero enter ‘The Caverns of Mongo’.

Don Moore “assisted” Raymond with the writing, beginning soon after the strip first gained popularity, and Moore remained after Raymond departed. The artist joined the Marines in February 1944, and the last page he worked on was published on April 30th of that year. Mercifully, that still leaves a decade’s worth of spectacular, majestic adventure for us to enjoy. Why don’t you join me?
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc.

Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon: Volume 1 Sunday Strips from 1948-1953


By Don Moore & Mac Raboy (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-882-7

By most lights Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but quirkily clunky Buck Rogers by Philip Nolan and Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th, but in 1929) two new elements were added to the wonderment; Classical Lyricism and poetic dynamism. It became a weekly invitation to stunning exotic glamour and astonishing beauty.

Where Rogers blended traditional adventure and high science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted fairy tales, heroic epics and mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for galleons, chariots and magic carpets. It was a narrative trick that kept the far-fetched satisfactorily familiar – and was continued by Raboy and Moore in their run. Look closely and you’ll see cowboys, gangsters and of course, flying saucer fetishes adding contemporary flourish to the fanciful fables in this volume…

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for unmuddled detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When all-original comic books began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean-lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Almost all the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias).

Flash Gordon began on present-day Earth (which was 1934, remember?) with a rogue planet about to smash the World. As global panic ensued, polo player Flash and fellow passenger Dale Arden narrowly escaped disaster when a meteor fragment downed their airliner. They landed on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, who imprisoned them in the rocket-ship he had built.

His plan? To fly the ship directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it…!

Thus began a decade of sheer escapist magic in a Ruritanian Neverland: a blend of Camelot, Oz and every fabled paradise that promised paradise yet concealed hidden vipers, ogres and demons, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and shattering conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to drab and dangerous reality for millions of avid readers around the world.

Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’ with Don Moore doing the bulk of the scripting, ran every Sunday until 1944, when the artist joined the Marines. On his return he eschewed wild imaginings for sober reality and created the gentleman detective serial Rip Kirby. The continuous, unmissable weekly appointment with sheer wonderment, continued under the artistic auspices of Austin Briggs – who had drawn the daily black and white instalments since 1940.

In 1948, eight years after beginning his career drawing for the Harry A. Chesler production “shop” comicbook artist Emanual “Mac” Raboy took over the illustration of the Sunday page. Moore remained as scripter and began co-writing with the artist.

Raboy’s sleek, fine-line brush style, heavily influenced by his idol Raymond, had made his work on Captain Marvel Jr., Kid Eternity and the especially Green Lama a benchmark of artistic quality in the proliferating superhero genre. His seemingly inevitable assumption of the extraordinary exploits led to a renaissance of the strip and in the rapidly evolving post-war world Flash Gordon became once more a benchmark of timeless, escapist quality that only Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant could touch.

This first 260 page volume, produced in landscape format and printed in bold stark monochrome (although one or two strips appear to have been scanned from printed colour copies) covers the period January 8th 1948 to May 10th 1953 and opens with Flash as President of Mongo when Slyk, a refugee from the believed-uninhabited moon of Lunita, arrives. Beseeching assistance to liberate his world from the tyrannical depredations of the wicked siblings Rudo and Lura, the Lunite accompanies Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov to his hidden moon where the heroes are soon captured before Slyk saves the day.

This short transitional tale set up an unfailingly popular formula of nightmarish beasts, distressed damsels and outrageous adventure that would last until Raboy’s death in 1967.

Returning to Mongo Flash and Co. discovered a red comet hurtling towards that fabulous world. Whilst trying to deflect it they become trapped by the civilisation who inhabit its interior, creatures to whom gravity is but a toy… Once more romance, intrigue and beautifully depicted action were the order of many days until the trio toppled the masters and placed far more agreeable rulers in charge, saving their adopted world and the greater universe.

The saga lasted until June of 1949 and was promptly followed by a stunning undersea odyssey as a brief trip to Mongo’s beaches led Flash and Dale into murky waters when they rescued captivating Merma from monstrous sub-sea marauder Sharki and became enmeshed in a watery range-war and tricky romantic quadrangle involving hidden kingdoms, scaly savages and outrageous leviathans and sea-beasts.

It was off to the frozen principality of Polaria next where ambitious Prince Polon was covering up a plague of giant monsters preying on the people. Of course the scurvy villain was behind the plot, using size-shifting rays and his ultimate aim was to become dictator of all Mongo…

The scheme obviously gave other regional rulers ideas. No sooner did President Flash return than he was off again to the Tropix Islands where “Queen” Rubia had fomented rebellion and seceded from the democratic federation of Mongo States. Hands-on Flash went undercover with Dale in an Arabian adventure to rival Sinbad’s greatest: before the people were liberated and the despots destroyed there was a panoply of spectacular action and fantastic creatures to survive…

Rubia, defeated, was dispatched to the prison moon Exilia, but all was not right on that grim penal colony. Once more surreptitiously investigating our hero discovered that villains had taken over the penal-planet and were preparing to attack civilized Mongo. Luckily Rubia and criminal mastermind Zin believed Flash to be his own double, dispatched to Exilia for impersonating the President – but they’re were not fooled for long…

This awesome extended epic ran from 6th March to November 5th 1950 and was followed by a proposed change-of-pace as Flash and Dale took off for a much-needed vacation on Earth. Unfortunately ever-malicious Rubia sabotaged their ship and they crash-landed on the unexplored Planet Zeta. It surely came as no surprise to fans when they discovered another beautifully barbarous lost civilisation there…

Zeta was a world of colossal plants and feudal warriors, but hid a dangerous secret. Something in the environment consumed metal. Within minutes Flash and Dale saw their ship and weapons melt away… Befriended instead of attacked the castaways found the inhabitants lived on a world seemingly immune to technological advancement, controlled by “wizards” who soon decided that Flash was a threat…

Flash discovers the metal-eating plague was artificial and helped the Zetans rebel and they helped him construct a new ship. Once more en route for Earth Flash and Dale encountered a stranger meteor, but without further mishap arrived safely. On March 25th 1951 (17 years and some months after they departed) two of earth’s first star-travellers finally returned to their birthworld and were feted like royalty. Sadly they should have paid closer attention to that vagrant space-rock as soon, Earth was under attack by strategically aimed meteors.

With Einsteinish Professor Brite in tow, Flash and Dale tracked the attacks to the Moon where they met beetle-men and human dictator Rak who planned to conquer Earth with his lunar meteor gun. He had never encountered a man like Flash Gordon before…

With Rak’s threat ended Flash helped Earth build a sentinel Space Platform, but when he, Dale, engineer Dr. Ruff and his annoying niece Ginger began work 1000 miles up they clashed with a strange race of flying saucer-riding space gnomes from Mars…

At this time Mars clearly preferred, if not actually needed, Earth women and with Dale and Ginger abducted, another sterling romp ensued. Flash outfoxed the malign gnome-king Toxo before subsequently leading a full expedition to the Red planet where he discovered another advanced feudal civilisation and that Martian women – or at least their Queen, Menta – had no worries, looks-wise…

Menta was however, a spoiled and murderous psychopath determined to conquer Earth…

This epic ran until February 24th 1952, whereupon Flash returned to Earth to discover his homeworld gripped in a new Ice Age. Jetting to the Arctic the good guys found Frost Giants from Saturn (the fifth moon Rhea to be exact) and that the big Freeze was artificially induced. Although he destroyed their forward base the Giants dragged Flash back to Rhea and inadvertently introduced human smallpox into their population…

Earth commander “Icy” Stark abandoned Dale after a space battle but Flash, with new Rhean allies rescued her and once more led a hostage society to overthrow its unfit rulers. On the return to Earth the fleet encountered a guided comet and met a new foe in Pyron the Comet Master.

Reunited with Dr. Zarkov the heroes battled the demented scientist’s horrendous creatures, saving Earth from flaming doom but were catapulted helplessly to the surface of enigmatic Venus for the last complete adventure in this stellar collection.

Not only is our solar system teeming with unsuspected life, but it appeared most of it was ruled by complete sods, as Flash, Dale and Zarkov battled winged tree-men, swamp horrors and the nefarious overlord Stang, enduring staggering hardship and hazard before crushing the tyrant and freeing two separate races from terror.

With a new ship, the far-flung travellers set off for Earth but were forced to land on the Moon where a secret human base had been established. For unknown reasons Dr. Stella and her thuggish aide Marc detained and delayed them, but when an increasing number of close shaves and mysterious accidents occurred, a little digging revealed that they were the unwitting guests of ruthless space pirates…

As is probably fitting for one of the world’s greatest continuity strips this first volume ends on a gripping cliffhanger, but with so much incredible action, drawn with such magnificent style there’s no way any fan of classic adventure can possibly feel short-changed

Mac Raboy was the last of the Golden Age of romanticist illustrators, but his lush and lavish flowing adoration of the perfected human form was already fading from popular taste. The Daily feature at this time had already switched to the solid, chunky, He-manly, burly realism of Dan Barry and even Frank Frazetta. Here, however, at least the last outpost of beautiful elegant heroism and gracefully pretty perils prevail, thanks to these Dark Horse volumes which you can visit just as often as Flash and Dale popped between planets…
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon volume 2


By Don Moore & Mac Raboy (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-911-X

By almost every metric Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but quirkily clunky Buck Rogers (by Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins and also began on January 7th albeit in 1929) two new elements were added to the wonderment; Classical Lyricism and poetic dynamism. It became a weekly invitation to stunningly exotic glamour and astonishing beauty.

Where Buck Rogers mixed traditional adventure with groundbreaking science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted fairy tales, heroic epics and mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying “Rays”, “Engines” and “Motors” substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for galleons, chariots and magic carpets.

It was a narrative trick which made the far-fetched satisfactorily familiar – and one initially continued by Mac Raboy and Don Moore in their run of Sunday strips. Look closely though and you’ll see cowboys, gangsters and of course, flying saucer fetishes adding contemporary flourish to the fanciful fables in this second superb volume…

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for clean, concise detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When original material comicbooks began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean-lines of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Almost all the others went with Milton Caniff’s masterpiece of expressionism Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias).

Flash Gordon began on present-day Earth (which was 1934, remember?) with a wandering world about to smash into our planet. As global panic ensued, polo player Flash and fellow passenger Dale Arden narrowly escaped disaster when a meteor fragment downed their airliner. They landed on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, who imprisoned them in the rocket-ship he had built.

His plan? To fly the ship directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it…!

Thus began a decade of sheer escapist magic in a Ruritanian Neverland: a blend of Camelot, Oz and a hundred fantasy realms which promised paradise yet concealed hidden vipers, ogres and demons, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil yet magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and shattering conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to drab and dangerous reality for millions of avid readers around the world.

With Moore doing the bulk of the scripting, Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’ ran every Sunday until 1944, when the artist joined the Marines. On his return he forsook wild imaginings for sober reality: creating gentleman-detective Rip Kirby so the public’s unmissable weekly appointment with wonderment perforce continued under the artistic auspices of Austin Briggs – who had drawn the daily monochrome instalments since 1940.

In 1948, eight years after beginning his career drawing for the Harry A. Chesler production “shop” comicbook artist Emmanuel “Mac” Raboy took over illustrating the Sunday page. Moore remained as scripter and began co-writing with the new artist.

Raboy’s sleek, fine-line brush style – heavily influenced by his idol Raymond – had made his work on Captain Marvel Jr., Kid Eternity and especially Green Lama a benchmark of artistic quality in the early days of the proliferating superhero genre. His seemingly inevitable assumption of the extraordinary exploits led to a renaissance of the strip and in a rapidly evolving post-war world, Flash Gordon became once more a benchmark of timeless, hyper-real quality escapism which only Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant could touch.

This second 260-page paperback volume, produced in landscape format and printed in stark black-&-white (although one or two strips appear to have been scanned from printed colour copies) covers May 17th 1953 to February 23rd 1958 and opens with a scholarly Introduction on ‘Comic Strip Godfathers’ from Bruce Jones before the previous volume’s cliffhanger is addressed…

With a new spaceship, far-flung travellers Flash, Dale and Zarkov set off for Earth but are forced to land on the Moon where a secret human base had been established. For unknown reasons Dr. Stella and her thuggish aide Marc detain and delay them, but when an increasing number of close shaves and mysterious accidents occur, a little digging by our heroes reveals that they are the unwitting guests of ruthless space pirates…

After expediently dealing with the planetary privateers our heroes head for Earth, only to be promptly seconded to spearhead an urgent exploratory expedition to a newly discovered satellite body. Suitably dutiful, they hurtle off into the void again…

‘(Life on) Titan’ ran from 14th June to September 20th 1953 and details how the little world is populated by giants. However, after capturing one of the hulking inhabitants Zarkov is forced to conclude that the truth is far stranger than the Earthmen could have imagined…

The tireless boffin then builds a single-seater spaceship and required Flash to take a test run out to Jupiter’s moon ‘Callisto’ (27th September 1953 to 17th January 1954). A sudden illness causes the dauntless pilot to crash and Flash awakens in the care of elderly hermit Phylo, who cunningly embroils the troubleshooter in his own struggle against invisible psychic dictator The Mind

After overthrowing the hidden tyrant the indomitable Earthman heads home and actually enjoys a little rest before an ancient mystery unfolds in ‘Flash Gordon and the Thanatos’ (17th January-2nd May).

After archaeologist Dr. Sark finds incontrovertible evidence of an atomic blast in the Libyan desert in prehistoric times, our ever-inquisitive action man uncovers an alien in a bottle but is too late to save Dale from being abducted by the mind-bending survivor of an antediluvian starship crash…

Dashing in pursuit as his beguiled beloved heads off-world, Flash is drawn into the parallel dimension or Cortinus where god-like beings dwell. They welcome the intruders from fondly-remembered Earth but are sadly unaware that one of the visitors carries the malevolent spirit of their outcast brother Loki

Once freed the villain proudly boasts how he influenced and dominated many bellicose humans such as Alexander, Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan and now intends ruling two realms for his own benefit. Sadly for him, nigh-omnipotent Loki vastly underestimates the ingenuity and resolve of his mortal opponents…

With a ship donated by head deity Zustra, Flash and Dale re-cross the dimensional divide and arrive in deep space to encounter a scene of horrific barbarity at an Observatory Station. When the ‘Outlaw of the Asteroids’ (9th May-25th July) stole the outpost’s oxygen the crew almost died in hibernation. After pausing to revive the deep-frozen scientists the adventurers set off after the ruthless bandit and discover the reason for his heinous theft was both noble and desperate. The bandit perishes for his sins, but not before leaving young space orphan Pebbles with the only humans he can trust…

By the time Flash, Dale and Pebbles reach Earth the next exploit is already well underway as ‘The Star Tree’ (1st August-17th October) seed survives a meteor crash in the Amazon and immediately propagates itself in fertile soil. By the time our valiant wanderers accidentally land in the region, it has been transformed into an arctic wilderness where a gigantic plant is voraciously consuming every living thing its grasping branches can seize…

The vegetable invasion is no accident and as Flash leads the frozen rain forest’s native inhabitants in spirited resistance, cold-blooded aliens appear. They lived on Earth when it was a giant ice ball and after eons on Pluto want their original world back…

They would have succeeded too, had not one of the invaders found his heart warming to the plight of the disputed world’s current tenants…

With that threat ended normality returns but soon after packing Pebbles off to boarding school Flash, Zarkov and many other unsuspecting Earth folk are shanghaied by eerie metal globes and transported to ‘The Lonely Planet!’ (24th October 1954 to 9th January 1955)…

Here Herculean extraterrestrial barbarians and wily midgets conspire and compete to find fresh fodder for gladiatorial contests, but with the aid of a usurped king, Flash quickly upsets the unlikely alliance and overthrows the twisted regime. However, just as the liberated Earthlings enter home orbit, their always-embattled birthworld is attacked by the insectoid Antomni who require a fresh colony to exploit. The bug beings expect little resistance as they posses the power of Time Migration…

The invaders travel millions of years ‘Into the Past’ (16th January-27th March) to prevent the evolution of humanity but accidentally catch Flash and Zarkov in their temporal backwash, allowing our heroes to inspire a band of dawn men to exterminate the insectoids before returning to their proper time and place…

Always restless, Zarkov then organises an exploratory expedition to ‘Venus’ (3rd April – 19th June) where Flash and Dale find a feudal civilisation in turmoil beneath the planet’s impenetrable cloud layers. Before long they are assisting scientific prodigy Viko and his fellow exiled “Mistiks” in overturning the oppressive, superstition-ruled authorities and introducing rational enlightenment to the Second Planet from the Sun…

Soon after, Africa is beset by a strange sleeping plague and investigations reveal the source is escaped gasses from an unsuspected ‘City Within the Earth’ (26th June – 28th August). The accident also allows toxic oxygen to contaminate the subterranean metropolis of Centra and when its bravest warriors surface to investigate, a concatenation of misfortunes compel them to take Flash captive. Imprisoned and soon to become the treasured possession of flamboyant Princess Amara, Gordon is rescued by the indomitable Dale who braves the depths and deadly air to save her man and seal off the underworld forever…

‘The Dark Planet’ (4th September – 6th November) has lurked undetected at the edge of the solar system for all of humanity’s history but that occlusion ends when murderers Stragg, Rust and Tula are exiled from their advanced culture on the distant world of Ur and dumped on the frigid world.

When Flash, Dale and Zarkov’s planetary mapping mission brings them to the bleak outpost they are ambushed by the killers who then steal their ship. The aliens have never encountered human sneakiness though, and are soon back where they started and engaged in a lethal duel for control of the ship and their liberty…

Human trafficking underpins the saga of ‘Station Crossroads’ (13th November 1955 – 15th January 1956) as our heroes stumble upon a scheme to kidnap and sell human technicians to scientifically backward aliens. The vile human mastermind behind the plot operates out of Earth’s most popular orbital rest-stop but before the slavers are finally crushed Flash discovers a close friend is deeply involved in the abductions…

When Gordon discovers a hidden base at Earth’s North Pole is being used by aquatic aliens he becomes embroiled in an ‘Arctic adventure’ (22nd January-March 25th) where unscrupulous Earthmen use the freezing waters as a cost-free fish-farm to grow giant monsters for mysterious offworlders to consume…

After a far-distant world experiences an atomic accident the aftermath produces a voracious ‘Radioactive Man’ (1st April – 3rd June) who can only exist by absorbing deadly fallout. The authorities’ solution is to blast the mutant into the void where, after years of lonely travel, atomic exile Djonn Toth lands on the planet Rota just as Flash and Dale arrive for a visit.

Before long the humans’ vast troubleshooting experience is employed in defeating Toth’s efforts to enslave the population and consume all their radium…

When the fantastic planet’s eccentric orbit again intersects with Earth, Flash, Dale and Zarkov ‘Return to Mongo’ (10th June 1956 – 13th January 1957) for the first time in six years. However their proposed sightseeing trip inevitably involves them in an icily arctic cold war between Wolf Men and Walrus Men, a battle of wills with would-be supreme tyrant Gant, and clashes with leather-winged Dactyl Men.

This leads to capture by the arrogant cloud dwellers of Paxora where an outbreak of robot duplicates intent on conquest ends Mongo’s most secretive sub-culture. Upsetting the artificial men’s plan eliminates all but one of the inimical automatons, but ‘Rok’ (13th January – 10th March) is like no android the Earthlings have ever encountered before: both patronising protector and unstable enemy in one.

Although safeguarding the humans through the wildest regions of Mongo, the mechanoid’s ultimate aims are always unclear and his manner of demise most unexpected…

Brought to the edge of civilisation Flash, Dale and Zarkov enter a spaceship race, intent on winning a craft able to take them home to Earth, but the ‘Suicide Run’ (17th March-19th May) almost proves their undoing as most of the other competitors indulge in sabotage and subterfuge of every sort to secure the glittering prize…

Eventually victorious, our heroes ‘Escape from Mongo’ only to be lured into ‘The Space Tomb’ (26th May – 14th July) of nebula-dwelling desperado the Gatherer who wants to imprison them beside a legion of other valiant explorers in his vast Sargasso of Space. After outwitting the deranged collector the humans resume their homeward flight but are again diverted, this time by ‘The Space Genie’ (21st July-1st September): a fearsome yet affable, lethally literal-minded being who brings them to planetary paradise Superba.

The inhabitants are not pleased: they only just survived the Genie’s last visit and used all their ingenuity and wish-making ability to get rid of the interstellar pest…

Flash’s argosy home is then interrupted by a string of short interconnected adventures (‘Space Voyage/Strange World/The Wheel Men’: spanning 8th September to 24th November) detailing clashes with space moths, elastic primitives and woman-stealing whirling dervishes engaged in all-out war with sky-residing Gyromen. After brokering a lasting peace between the eccentric extraterrestrials, the humans finally reach Earth in a borrowed Flying Saucer only to fall prey to ‘The Mystery of the Lonely Crowds!’ (1st December 1957 through January 12th 1958). A telepathic plague of depression and rapidly-spreading isolation has an otherworldly cause but is not intended to be a menace. It still culminates in tragedy, however…

This second non-stop rollercoaster ride concludes with the merest start of ‘Missiles from Neptune’ (19th January 1958 to the cliffhanging last page of February 23rd) as the Tyrant of Neptune decides to impress the captive populace by testing his latest Weapons of Interplanetary Destruction against the Earth, prompting Flash and Co to go and discourage him…

Every week that he toiled on the strip Mac Raboy produced ever-more expansive artwork filled with distressed damsels, deadly monsters and all sorts of outrageous adventure that continued until the illustrator’s untimely death in 1967. Perhaps that was a kindness…

Raboy was the last of the great Golden Age romanticist pencillers; his lushly lavish, freely flowing adoration of the perfect human form was beginning to stale in popular taste (for example the Daily feature had already switched to the solid, chunky, He-Manly burly, realism of Dan Barry and Frank Frazetta) but here at least the last outpost of ethereally beautiful heroism and pretty perils prevailed, and thanks to Dark Horse you can visit as easily and often as Flash and Dale popped between planets, just by tracking down this book and the ones which followed…
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Kings Watch


By Jeff Parker, Mark Laming & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-486-2

Like so many other old fogies and devoted fanboys, I was convinced that I was going to hate this latest reconstruction of three of the oldest characters in comics. The newspaper strip triumvirate of Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician and particularly The Phantom were in many ways the blueprint for all comicbook superheroes who followed them, and as major properties had been re-imagined many times over the years, with varying degrees of reverence and success…

By most lights Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. He debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but rather clunky Buck Rogers strip by Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th, five years earlier). Raymond, however, added two welcome new elements to the wonderment; Classical Lyricism and astonishingly seductive visuals.

Where Buck mixed traditional adventure and high science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted Fairy Tales, Heroic Epics and Mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for spells, swords and steeds – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

Most important of all, the sheer artistic acuity of Raymond – his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for sumptuous detail and just plain gift for drawing beautiful people and things – swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When original-material comicbooks began a few years later, dozens of talented kids weaned on the strip’s clean-lined, athletic Romanticism entered the field and their interpretations of Raymond’s mastery became a ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. To be fair almost as many mimicked Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias) and they didn’t fare too badly either…

For over a decade sheer escapist magic in a Ruritanian Neverland, blending Camelot, Oz and every fabled paradise that promised paradise yet concealed hidden vipers, ogres and demons, enthralled the entire world, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek art deco futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil, animally magnetic Ming, emperor of a fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and fabulous conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to the drab and dangerous real world and made their own mark on the landscape of popular culture…

Regarded by many as the original American superhero, Mandrake the Magician debuted on 11th June 1934 (although creator Lee Falk had originally tried to sell the strip a decade previously), illustrated with effective understatement by the superb Phil Davis.

Educated at the fabled College of Magic in the Himalayas, the suave sorcerer roamed the world with his faithful African friend Lothar and his beautiful companion (and finally, in 1997, bride) Princess Narda of Cockaigne; solving crimes and fighting evil. Star of stage, screen (large and small), radio and a thousand forms of merchandising, Mandrake has always been one of the top guns of strip comics powerhouse King Features Syndicate.

In the 17th century a British sailor survived an attack by pirates and, washing ashore in Africa, swore on the skull of his murdered father to dedicate his life and that of all his descendents to destroying pirates and criminals. The Phantom fought crime and injustice from a base deep in the Jungles of Bengali, and throughout Africa was known as the “Ghost Who Walks”; considered an immortal avenger by the credulous and the wicked. Down the decades one hero after another has fought and died in an unbroken dynastic line, in a never-ending battle…

Lee Falk created globe-trotting Jungle Avenger at the request of his publishers, who were already making history and public headway with his first strip sensation Mandrake. Although technically not the first ever costumed hero in comics, The Phantom was the prototype paladin to wear a skin-tight body-stocking, and the first to have a mask with opaque eye-slits.

He debuted on February 17th 1936 in an extended sequence pitting him against a global confederation of pirates called the Singh Brotherhood. Falk wrote and drew the daily strip for the first two weeks before artist Ray Moore took over the illustration side. The Sundays feature began in May 1939.

Fan favourites for generations, the trio periodically made the sideways move into comicbooks, but never really teamed up until 1986 when TV cartoon series Defenders of the Earth updated and united all three and their support teams into a league resolved to save the world from alien invasion in the distant future of 2015 AD. This iteration had its own short-lived Marvel/Star Comics funny book series.

In 2013, the stars realigned again and Licensed-Properties specialist Dynamite Entertainment produced a remarkably engaging retro-futurist thriller which managed to pay due homage to the past iterations whilst opening the characters up for the latest generation of frantic fans. In the 5-issue miniseries Kings Watch scripter Jeff Parker and illustrator Marc Laming (with the invaluable assistance of colourists Jordan Boyd and letterers Simon Bowland) crafted a fast-paced, suspenseful and, most importantly, fun-filled yarn telling a big, bold, bombastic blockbuster story which also set up the three leads for new follow-up series…

Jeff Parker has worked in all aspects of the industry but is probably best-known for his wide variety of comics scripts, including Aquaman, Bucko, Batman ’66, Agents of Atlas, Spider-Man: 1602, X-Men: First Class, many of Paradox Press’ Big Book of… and more…

British collaborator Marc Laming is an unashamed tea-drinker who has flitted hither and yon throughout the business since 1990, alighting occasionally and only to superbly render such varied projects as bits of Revolver, American Century, The Dreaming, Grindhouse, Planet Hulk, Fantastic Four, Uncanny Avengers and many others.

The story here begins with the world beguiled by lights in the sky and wracked by communal nightmares of invading monster armies. As the ancient and vile Cobra cult searches ruthlessly and relentlessly for a supernal crystal that could spell doom for Earth, in East African Bangalla, in a grandiose hermitage in California and on a palatial estate in Connecticut, three amazing individuals ready themselves to fight the battle of their lives…

Rather than have me ruin the fun for you, just thrill in anticipation to the knowledge that a thrill-addicted playboy, a broken sorcerer and sham hero crushed by the weight of years of service will somehow become the planet’s saviours after intergalactic warlord Ming the Merciless acquires the enigmatic Kings Watch artefact and unleashes the hordes of the empire of Mongo upon an unsuspecting helpless humanity…

The ever-popular Bonus Features include a full Parker script, attendant script-to-completed art production pages and a gallery of covers and variants by Laming, Adam Street and Ramón K. Pérez but the real prize is the superbly fast-paced action-romp which easily mixes monsters, aliens, rocket-ships, mad doctors, feisty capable women, wicked villains, exotic locales and epic battles into a ripping yarn every fan of fantasy adventure will be unable to resist.
Flash Gordon © 2014 King Features Syndicate, Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. Mandrake the Magician and The Phantom © 2014 King Features Syndicate, Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

Al Williamson Archives volume 2


By Al Williamson with an introduction by Victor Williamson (Flesk)
ISBN: 978-1-933865-34-8

Al Williamson was one of the greatest draughtsmen ever to grace the pages of comicbooks and newspaper comics sections. He was born in 1931 in New York City, after which his family relocated to Bogotá, Columbia just as the Golden Age of syndicated adventure strips began.

The lad’s passion for “the Comics” – especially Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim – was broadened as he devoured imported and translated US material as well as the best that Europe and Latin America could provide in such anthology magazines as Paquin and Pif Paf. When he was twelve the Williamsons returned to America and, after finishing school, the artistic prodigy found work in the industry that had always obsessed him.

In the early 1950s he became a star of E.C. Comics’ science fiction titles beside kindred spirits Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Roy G. Krenkel, Frank Frazetta and Angelo Torres, and drew Westerns Kid Colt and Ringo Kid for Atlas/Marvel. During the industry’s darkest days he found new fame and fans producing newspaper strips, first by assisting John Prentice on Rip Kirby – another masterpiece originally created by Alex Raymond – and from 1967 with Secret Agent Corrigan.

As comicbooks recovered in the 1960s Williamson drew Flash Gordon for King Comics and worked on mystery tales and westerns for DC whilst drawing Corrigan, later becoming the go-to guy for blockbuster sci-fi film adaptations with his stunning interpretations of Blade Runner and Star Wars.

His stunning poetic realism, sophisticated compositions, classicist design and fantastic naturalism graced many varied tales, but in later years he became almost exclusively a star inker over pencillers as varied as John Romita Jr., Larry Stroman, Rick Leonardi, Mark Bright, José Delbo and a host of others on everything from Transformers to Spider-Man 2099, Daredevil to Spider-Girl and his magical brushes and pens embellished many of Marvel’s Graphic Novel productions such as The Inhumans or Cloak and Dagger/Predator and Prey.

Al Williamson passed away in June 2010.

After a memory-soaked celebratory introduction from his son Victor, this second oversized (305x229mm) 64 page collection features more sketches, working drawings, doodles, unlinked pages, model sheets, unused and unfinished pages as well as a few completed but unseen treasures from one of the stellar creators of our art form.

In assorted media and forms from quick line sketches in ink, broad brush and tonal studies, full pencils and finished illustrations, Williamson displays his mastery in magical pictures ranging from intoxicating fantasy and barbarian women, valiant sword-wielding warriors, wondrous dinosaurs, Cowboys and Indians, rockets and robots, sports heroes, period drama scenes, cosmic adventurers, beasts and monsters, aliens, action sequences, beguiling nudes and glamour studies, his delicious trademark cute lizards, and so much more.

Standout and extra-inspiration pieces include a fabulous page of the Rocketeer, a Reef Ryan pulp page, many 1960s Flash Gordon sketches, more glorious John Carter of Mars illustrations and a few hard-boiled crime scenes…

The beautifully intimate glimpses of a master at work, with full colour reproduction capturing every nuance of Williamsons’ gorgeous pencil strokes, make this a book a vital primer for anybody dreaming of drawing for a living and the astounding breadth and scope of work presented here make me itch to pick up my pencil and draw, draw, draw some more myself.

Enticing, revealing, rewarding and incredibly inspirational, no lover of wonder or art lover can fail to be galvanised by this superb portfolio of excellence.

© 2011 The Estate of Al Williamson. Introduction © 2011 Victor Williamson. Rocketeer illustration © 1984 The Rocketeer Trust. All Rights Reserved.

Al Williamson Archives volume 1


By Al Williamson with an introduction by Angelo Torres (Flesk)
ISBN: 978-1-933865-29-4

Al Williamson is one of the greatest draughtsmen ever to grace the pages of comicbooks and newspaper comics sections. He was born in 1931 before his family moved from New York City to Bogota Columbia at the height of the Golden Age of syndicated adventure strips.

The lad’s passion for strips – especially Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim – was broadened as he devoured imported and translated US material as well as the best that Europe and Latin America could provide in such anthology magazines as Paquin and Pif Paf. Aged 12 Williamson returned to America and, after finishing school, found work in the industry that had always obsessed him.

In the early 1950s he became a star of E.C. Comics’ science fiction titles, beside kindred spirits Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Roy G. Krenkel, Frank Frazetta and Angelo Torres, and drew Westerns Kid Colt and Ringo Kid for Atlas/Marvel. During the business’ darkest days he gravitated to newspaper strips, assisting John Prentice on Rip Kirby – another masterpiece originally created by Alex Raymond.

When comicbooks gradually recovered, Williamson drew Flash Gordon for King Comics and worked on mystery tales and westerns for DC whilst drawing such globally distributed newspaper features as Secret Agent Corrigan plus groundbreaking film adaptations of Bladerunner and Star Wars.

His stunning poetic realism, sophisticated compositions and fantastic naturalism graced many varied tales, but in later years he became almost exclusively a star inker over pencillers as varied as John Romita Jr., Larry Stroman, Rick Leonardi, Mark Bright, José Delbo and a host of others on everything from Transformers to Spider-Man 2099, Daredevil to Spider-Girl.

Al Williamson passed away in June 2010.

Flesk Publications is an outfit specialising in art books and the tomes dedicated to the greats of our industry include volumes on sequential narrative and fantasy illustration starring Steve Rude, Mark Shultz, James Bama, Gary Gianni, Franklin Booth, William Stout and Joseph Clement Coll. The guiding light behind the company is devoted and passionate art lover John Fleskes.

This initial oversized (305 x 232mm) 64 page collection of sketches, working drawings, unused and unfinished pages from one of the stellar creators of our art form stars captivating heroines, lusty barbarians, space heroes, beasts, aliens and so many wonderful dinosaurs, but also presents lesser known western scenes, science fiction tech, character sketches, duels, action sequences, nudes and glamour studies, unfinished pages from Xenozoic tales and John Carter of Mars, religious scenes and delicious unseen excerpts from Rip Kirby, as well as a glimpse into Williamson’s creative process.

The beautifully intimate glimpses of a master at work, with full colour reproduction capturing every nuance of Williamsons’ gorgeous pencil strokes, make this a book a vital primer for anybody dreaming of drawing for a living and the stirring lavish material revealed here will enthral and entice every fan of wondrous worlds and fantastic forgotten realms.

© 2010 Al Williamson. All Rights Reserved.

Flash Gordon: complete daily strips – 19th November 1951-20th April 1953


By Dan Barry & Harvey Kurtzman, with Frank Frazetta (Kitchen Sink Press)
ISBN: 978-0-86801-969-7

By most lights Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but rather clunky Buck Rogers strip of Philip Nolan and Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th, but five years earlier) two new elements were added to the wonderment; Classical Lyricism and astonishing beauty.

Where Rogers blended traditional adventure and high science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted Fairy Tales, Heroic Epics and Mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for spells, swords and steeds – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for sumptuous detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When all-original comicbooks began a few years later, dozens of talented kids weaned on the strip’s clean-lined, athletic Romanticism entered the field, their interpretations of Raymond’s mastery a ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Almost as many went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias).

For over a decade sheer escapist magic in a Ruritanian Neverland, blending Camelot, Oz and every fabled paradise that promised paradise yet concealed hidden vipers, ogres and demons, enthralled the entire world, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek art deco futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil, animally magnetic Ming, emperor of a fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and fabulous conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to the drab and dangerous real world…

Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’, with Don Moore doing the bulk of the scripting, ran every Sunday until 1944, when the artist joined the Marines. On his return he would create the gentleman detective serial Rip Kirby. The one continuous, unmissable weekly appointment with sheer wonderment, continued under the artistic auspices of Raymond’s assistant Austin Briggs who had drawn the daily instalments since 1940.

That Monday to Saturday black and white feature ran from 1940-1944 when it was cancelled to allow Briggs to take over the Sunday page. Often regarded as the poor relation, the daily strip got an impressive reboot in 1951 when King Features, keenly aware of the science fiction zeitgeist of the post-war world, revived it, asking Dan Barry to produce the package. The Sunday was continued by Austin Briggs until 1948 when Mac Raboy assumed artistic control, beginning a twenty year resurgence of classical brilliance. On Raboy’s death Barry added the Sunday to his workload until he quit over a pay dispute in 1990.

Barry (1911-1997) started as a jobbing artist in comicbooks, a contemporary of Leonard Starr and Stan Drake. Like them and his brother Seymour “Sy” Barry (who produced The Phantom newspaper strip for three decades) Dan worked in a finely detailed, broadly realistic style, blending esthetic sensibility with sharp detail and strong, almost burly virile toughness – a gritty “He-man” attitude for a new era and defined as “New York Slick”.

Dan Barry drew such varied comicbook series as Airboy, Skywolf, Boy King, Black Owl, Spy Smasher and Doc Savage before joining the Air Force. Returning after the hostilities he drew The Heap and assorted genre shorts for new titles such as Crimebusters. He also started his own business producing educational and informational comics.

He began the gradual departure from funny-books as early as 1947 when he took over the Tarzan daily strip for a year but he was still gracing DC’s crime, mystery and science fiction anthologies as late as 1954. When offered Flash Gordon he agreed, intending to write the feature himself. However, the financial rewards were meager and soon he was looking for a scripter.

The story of how cartoon genius Harvey Kurtzman came aboard (probably in February 1952) makes a fascinating postscript in this magnificent volume so I won’t spoil the revelations of the text feature at the back: a section which also contains a wealth of the new writer’s rough-penciled script layouts, sketches, ghosted pencils from young Frank Frazetta and a selection of Flash Gordon spoofs from other magazines. (If you’re interested, they include ‘Flesh Garden’ by Wally Wood from Mad #11 (May 1954), ‘Flyashi Gordonovitch’ (Jack Davis, Humbug #10, June 1958), ‘Little Annie Fanny’ (Playboy 1962, Will Elder) and Kurtzman’s own art for the cover of Snarf #5, September 1972).

This huge black and white tome, 320mm x 260mm, available as both hardback and softcover, reprints the entire run until Kurtzman’s departure with the 20th April episode. Later Flash Gordon story collaborators included writers Harry Harrison and Julian May and art assistants Bob Fujitani and Hillman Publications comrade Fred Kida – more magical material well worth collecting someday….

The new Flash Gordon daily debuted on 19th November 1951 with all the beloved history and scenarios of Mongo and the Ruritanian universe sidelined in favour of a grittier, harder-edged pulp fiction atmosphere. Sometime in the near future astronaut Flash launches into space, part of an expedition to Jupiter, However technical trouble forces the ship to stop at the Space Prison Station.

Docked for repairs the crew inadvertently triggers a riot as the ruthless convicts take a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escape the space rock… Terse and gripping, this two-fisted yarn rockets along with Flash, Dale and the crew fighting for their lives before finding an ally among the rioters, one who would eventually join them on their voyage to the gas giant and beyond…

With new iconoclastic tone and milieu firmly established, ‘Man Against Jupiter!’ began on Monday, February 25th 1952 (with Kurtzman’s first scripts appearing sometime in April). The crew orbiting the colossal globe once more experiences terrifying malfunctions and their atomic ship “Planet Pioneer” heads to the moon Ganymede to effect repairs. On landing the bold explorers discover a subterranean civilisation within the icy satellite and a young Earth boy…

Ray Carson was the son of a lost lunar scientist and his presence halfway across the solar system is but one of the intriguing mysteries challenging Flash and Dale as they battle alien madmen and malicious monsters in the hidden City of Ice… Of course the real threat is the willful, voluptuous Queen Marla who abducted Ray and his father…

Using teleport technology she had dispatched the missing scientist to another star-system to search for an element vital to the Ganymedan’s survival but when upheaval and revolution tear the city apart Flash, Dale, Ray and Marla can only escape by following the missing savant into an unknown universe…

Slowly the old accoutrements of the classic strip had been returning: lost civilizations, monsters, arena duels… and with this new sequence (beginning 17th June 1952) the creators brought back more fantasy elements as the survivors explore this new world hunting Dale, who had been lost in transit. After an intriguingly off-beat encounter with Butterfly Men and a grueling ocean odyssey the Flash, Marla and Ray discover a feudal race of horned and tailed, cloven-hoofed warriors in the devil city of Tartarus and an old friend making earth weapons for them as they strive to overthrow their tyrannical warlord…

Wherever Flash Gordon goes war and revolution seem to follow, but once the devil-men have settled their differences Flash, Marla and Ray resume the search for Dale, and stumble into the bizarrely advanced city of Pasturia, ruled by masters of the mind…

With “Planet Pioneer” crewman Bill Kent, the trio press on and soon make the most astounding discovery of all: this distant world is the retirement home of legendary Earth wizard Merlin, whose super technology includes a time-machine which not only recovers Dale and returns them all to Earth but subsequently endangers our home world by accidentally allowing criminals from the future to poison the planet…

Gripping, alluring, stunningly well illustrated (did I mention that the incomparable Frank Frazetta penciled a long sequence of incredible strips?) this lost treasure is pure graphic gold, presented on huge pages that perfectly display the virtuosity of all involved. Perfect, perfect comic strip wonderment…
© 1988 King Features Syndicate. Additional material © 1988 its respective copyright holders. This edition © 1988 Kitchen Sink Press. All Rights Reserved.

Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon: Volume 1 Sunday Strips from 1948-1953


By Don Moore & Mac Raboy (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-882-7

By most lights Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but quirkily clunky Buck Rogers by Philip Nolan and Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th, but in 1929) two new elements were added to the wonderment; Classical Lyricism and poetic dynamism. It became a weekly invitation to stunning exotic glamour and astonishing beauty.

Where Rogers blended traditional adventure and high science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted fairy tales, heroic epics and mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for galleons, chariots and magic carpets. It was a narrative trick that kept the far-fetched satisfactorily familiar – and was continued by Raboy and Moore in their run. Look closely and you’ll see cowboys, gangsters and of course, flying saucer fetishes adding contemporary flourish to the fanciful fables in this volume…

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for unmuddled detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When all-original comic books began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean-lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Almost all the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias).

Flash Gordon began on present-day Earth (which was 1934, remember?) with a rogue planet about to smash the World. As global panic ensued, polo player Flash and fellow passenger Dale Arden narrowly escaped disaster when a meteor fragment downed their airliner. They landed on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, who imprisoned them in the rocket-ship he had built.

His plan? To fly the ship directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it…!

Thus began a decade of sheer escapist magic in a Ruritanian Neverland: a blend of Camelot, Oz and every fabled paradise that promised paradise yet concealed hidden vipers, ogres and demons, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and shattering conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to drab and dangerous reality for millions of avid readers around the world.

Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’ with Don Moore doing the bulk of the scripting, ran every Sunday until 1944, when the artist joined the Marines. On his return he eschewed wild imaginings for sober reality and created the gentleman detective serial Rip Kirby. The continuous, unmissable weekly appointment with sheer wonderment, continued under the artistic auspices of Austin Briggs – who had drawn the daily black and white instalments since 1940.

In 1948, eight years after beginning his career drawing for the Harry A. Chesler production “shop” comicbook artist Emanual “Mac” Raboy took over the illustration of the Sunday page. Moore remained as scripter and began co-writing with the artist.

Raboy’s sleek, fine-line brush style, heavily influenced by his idol Raymond, had made his work on Captain Marvel Jr., Kid Eternity and the especially Green Lama a benchmark of artistic quality in the proliferating superhero genre. His seemingly inevitable assumption of the extraordinary exploits led to a renaissance of the strip and in the rapidly evolving post-war world Flash Gordon became once more a benchmark of timeless, escapist quality that only Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant could touch.

This first 260 page volume, produced in landscape format and printed in bold stark monochrome (although one or two strips appear to have been scanned from printed colour copies) covers the period January 8th 1948 to May 10th 1953 and opens with Flash as President of Mongo when Slyk, a refugee from the believed-uninhabited moon of Lunita, arrives. Beseeching assistance to liberate his world from the tyrannical depredations of the wicked siblings Rudo and Lura, the Lunite accompanies Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov to his hidden moon where the heroes are soon captured before Slyk saves the day.

This short transitional tale set up an unfailingly popular formula of nightmarish beasts, distressed damsels and outrageous adventure that would last until Raboy’s death in 1967.

Returning to Mongo Flash and Co. discovered a red comet hurtling towards that fabulous world. Whilst trying to deflect it they become trapped by the civilisation who inhabit its interior, creatures to whom gravity is but a toy… Once more romance, intrigue and beautifully depicted action were the order of many days until the trio toppled the masters and placed far more agreeable rulers in charge, saving their adopted world and the greater universe.

The saga lasted until June of 1949 and was promptly followed by a stunning undersea odyssey as a brief trip to Mongo’s beaches led Flash and Dale into murky waters when they rescued captivating Merma from monstrous sub-sea marauder Sharki and became enmeshed in a watery range-war and tricky romantic quadrangle involving hidden kingdoms, scaly savages and outrageous leviathans and sea-beasts.

It was off to the frozen principality of Polaria next where ambitious Prince Polon was covering up a plague of giant monsters preying on the people. Of course the scurvy villain was behind the plot, using size-shifting rays and his ultimate aim was to become dictator of all Mongo…

The scheme obviously gave other regional rulers ideas. No sooner did President Flash return than he was off again to the Tropix Islands where “Queen” Rubia had fomented rebellion and seceded from the democratic federation of Mongo States. Hands-on Flash went undercover with Dale in an Arabian adventure to rival Sinbad’s greatest: before the people were liberated and the despots destroyed there was a panoply of spectacular action and fantastic creatures to survive…

Rubia, defeated, was dispatched to the prison moon Exilia, but all was not right on that grim penal colony. Once more surreptitiously investigating our hero discovered that villains had taken over the penal-planet and were preparing to attack civilized Mongo. Luckily Rubia and criminal mastermind Zin believed Flash to be his own double, dispatched to Exilia for impersonating the President – but they’re were not fooled for long…

This awesome extended epic ran from 6th March to November 5th 1950 and was followed by a proposed change-of-pace as Flash and Dale took off for a much-needed vacation on Earth. Unfortunately ever-malicious Rubia sabotaged their ship and they crash-landed on the unexplored Planet Zeta. It surely came as no surprise to fans when they discovered another beautifully barbarous lost civilisation there…

Zeta was a world of colossal plants and feudal warriors, but hid a dangerous secret. Something in the environment consumed metal. Within minutes Flash and Dale saw their ship and weapons melt away… Befriended instead of attacked the castaways found the inhabitants lived on a world seemingly immune to technological advancement, controlled by “wizards” who soon decided that Flash was a threat…

Flash discovers the metal-eating plague was artificial and helped the Zetans rebel and they helped him construct a new ship. Once more en route for Earth Flash and Dale encountered a stranger meteor, but without further mishap arrived safely. On March 25th 1951 (17 years and some months after they departed) two of earth’s first star-travellers finally returned to their birthworld and were feted like royalty. Sadly they should have paid closer attention to that vagrant space-rock as soon, Earth was under attack by strategically aimed meteors.

With Einsteinish Professor Brite in tow, Flash and Dale tracked the attacks to the Moon where they met beetle-men and human dictator Rak who planned to conquer Earth with his lunar meteor gun. He had never encountered a man like Flash Gordon before…

With Rak’s threat ended Flash helped Earth build a sentinel Space Platform, but when he, Dale, engineer Dr. Ruff and his annoying niece Ginger began work 1000 miles up they clashed with a strange race of flying saucer-riding space gnomes from Mars…

At this time Mars clearly preferred, if not actually needed, Earth women and with Dale and Ginger abducted, another sterling romp ensued. Flash outfoxed the malign gnome-king Toxo before subsequently leading a full expedition to the Red planet where he discovered another advanced feudal civilisation and that Martian women – or at least their Queen, Menta – had no worries, looks-wise…

Menta was however, a spoiled and murderous psychopath determined to conquer Earth…

This epic ran until February 24th 1952, whereupon Flash returned to Earth to discover his homeworld gripped in a new Ice Age. Jetting to the Arctic the good guys found Frost Giants from Saturn (the fifth moon Rhea to be exact) and that the big Freeze was artificially induced. Although he destroyed their forward base the Giants dragged Flash back to Rhea and inadvertently introduced human smallpox into their population…

Earth commander “Icy” Stark abandoned Dale after a space battle but Flash, with new Rhean allies rescued her and once more led a hostage society to overthrow its unfit rulers. On the return to Earth the fleet encountered a guided comet and met a new foe in Pyron the Comet Master.

Reunited with Dr. Zarkov the heroes battled the demented scientist’s horrendous creatures, saving Earth from flaming doom but were catapulted helplessly to the surface of enigmatic Venus for the last complete adventure in this stellar collection.

Not only is our solar system teeming with unsuspected life, but it appeared most of it was ruled by complete sods, as Flash, Dale and Zarkov battled winged tree-men, swamp horrors and the nefarious overlord Stang, enduring staggering hardship and hazard before crushing the tyrant and freeing two separate races from terror.

With a new ship, the far-flung travellers set off for Earth but were forced to land on the Moon where a secret human base had been established. For unknown reasons Dr. Stella and her thuggish aide Marc detained and delayed them, but when an increasing number of close shaves and mysterious accidents occurred, a little digging revealed that they were the unwitting guests of ruthless space pirates…

As is probably fitting for one of the world’s greatest continuity strips this first volume ends on a gripping cliffhanger, but with so much incredible action, drawn with such magnificent style there’s no way any fan of classic adventure can possibly feel short-changed

Mac Raboy was the last of the Golden Age of romanticist pencillers; his lush and lavish flowing adoration of the perfect human form was already fading from popular taste (for example the Daily feature at this time switched to the solid, chunky, He-manly burly, realism of Dan Barry and even Frank Frazetta) but here at least the last outpost of beautiful heroism and pretty perils prevailed, and thanks to Dark Horse you can visit as easily and often as Flash and Dale popped between planets, just by picking up this book and ones which followed…
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.