Review by C.J. Bunce
The second volume in the high-quality restored hardcover library edition of the original The Complete Flash Gordon Library was released December 18, 2012, and it measures up in every way to the first volume, reviewed here at borg.com this past October. Volume 2, along with Volume 1, made the borg.com Best of 2012 for Best Comics Collected Edition.
The original weekly four-color comic strip series continues courtesy of restoration work by Peter Maresca. Continuing where Volume 1 left off, this volume, titled The Tyrant of Mongo includes strips originally published between April 1937 and January 1941, created by artist Alex Raymond and writer Don Moore.
Comic book and science fiction writer Doug Murray continues his essay setting the background for the times in which Flash Gordon was written. He includes interesting detail like the fact Raymond used life models for some of his work, much like that employed by artist Alex Ross today. Ross counts Raymond as a key influence in his own work.
The first chapter, “The Beast Men in Mongo,” begins as Flash Gordon and Dale Arden meet up with King Barin in the forest city of Arboria. Barin attempts to protect Flash by keeping him stashed in his city, as Flash has a bounty on his head issued by Emperor Mongo. We get to explore this exotic location and meet their resident horned tree men and harpy bats.
In the second chapter “The Outlaws of Mongo,” a traitor betrays Barin, and Flash leaves the city so as not to endanger Barin for his courtesy, but it is too late. Ming has already launched an attack on Barin’s kingdom and Flash in turn launches a one-man offensive, taking over one of Ming’s tanks. But the traitor captures Flash, dragging him behind one of his horses, presenting him near death to Ming. Zarkov returns and he, Dale, and Ming’s daughter Aura launch their own rescue mission. But is it too late? In true cliffhanger serial style, Flash is killed in an electric chair-style execution.
The chapter three, “The Tyrant of Mongo,” Flash is hurt in a submarine explosion. Flash recovers to face Ming in a saber battle. Ming becomes Flash’s prisoner, but not for long, as Flash has his own betrayer–the beautiful exiled countess Sonja. The heroes reunite with Barin, whose new son Alan (the Arborian word for flash) is abducted, and Flash & Co. pursues a mission to rescue the boy.
Early visions of the planet Hoth from George Lucas’s story for The Empire Strikes Back can be found in the fourth chapter, “The Ice Kingdom of Mongo.” We meet Queen Fria and her snowbird-drawn chariot, seen on this edition’s cover. Here we see possibly the earliest splash panel art–a two panel high image of a giant holding Dale.
In the final chapter of this volume, “The Power Men of Mongo,” Ming has kidnapped Dale and Flash launches a rescue attempt to save her.
Raymond’s cities and costumes become more elaborate for these four years of his run on the Flash Gordon series compared with the prior volume. His characters are well established in The Tyrant of Mongo, each character has his and her own look and there is no question who they are as you proceed through the story without needing to reference their names, an element frequently missing in many modern comic books. Raymond’s cities are epic in scope, his creatures are unique, and his vehicles are completely futuristic, to the point that we have not seen these creations yet in the 21st century. His two-head profile angle is employed as a great device for including dialogue between two characters, and provides an almost frame-worthy panel each time he does this.
Raymond’s future is still our future, despite some 1930s-era gender role concepts, which ultimately take little if anything from the story. Like you might find in classic fairy tales, there’s a good bit of women falling for the hero, here Flash, in The Tyrant of Mongo but every few pages you see a glimpse of a female–specifically Dale Arden–moving beyond even 1930s notions of the role of women, including Dale’s and Aura’s efforts to rescue Flash from Ming. We also see an early television and cellophane winter protection suits. More impacting are the uniforms and look of Flash himself, which seem emulated in Captain America, Batman, and Superman, and even the later superhero called the Flash’s supersuit. Flash Gordon is a great hero, in the Robin Hood sense he is constantly working to defend the common man, and he engenders the loyalty, admiration and support of everyone around him.
The library collected edition of Flash Gordon Sunday strips has set a new standard for hardcover series. From a catchy cover to great layouts and print quality, it’s hard to beat. I’m looking forward to the third volume in this series as a first time Flash Gordon reader. How will Moore and Raymond reflect the realities of World War II in their storytelling? The Complete Flash Gordon, Volume 3: The Fall of Ming, covering Sunday weeklies from 1941-1946, is scheduled to be released March 19, 2013.