Flash Gordon: The Tyrant of Mongo (Titan Books)

Fast-moving storylines and killer cliffhangers are the order of the day in this latest collection of the classic Sunday strip by Don Moore and Alex Raymond.


208 pgs., color; $39.95
(W: Don Moore; A: Alex Raymond)
At the conclusion of the first volume of Titan’s re-release of Flash Gordon, Flash and his companions, Doctor Zarkov and the beautiful Dale Arden, had already encountered a number of the different kingdoms and races (the latter includes red monkey men, hawk men, and lion men) and made an enemy of Ming the Merciless, a stereotypical “yellow peril” dictator who has the hots for Dale, while his daughter Aura has the hots for Flash. 
As volume two picks up, Dale and Flash arrive at the forest ruled by King Barin, who has constructed a city in the canopy four hundred feet above the forest floor. It has everything a kingdom needs, including a castle, roads, and vine elevators to get back and forth quickly. Everyone dresses like they belong in a Robin Hood play, right down to the feathers in the caps. Flash has lots of chances to take off his shirt (and sometimes his pants as well, although the strip is always safe for family viewing) in the course of acting heroically; the ladies tend to wear elaborate faux-Burgundian costumes, so this is one strip that has more male cheesecake than it does female.
Fast-moving storylines, goosed along by the cliffhangers that end many of the strips (these comics originally appeared as part of the Sunday newspaper, so part of the idea may have been to give you something to anticipate for the next six days), were a salient characteristic of Flash Gordon from the start. That means you don’t get much in the way of character development, just a series of episodes wherein someone is placed in danger, then escapes or is rescued and you’re off to the next adventure. This kind of story is fun to read because there’s lots of action but nothing too complex going on, and Gordon and Raymond both seem to be have been veritable founts of invention.
Alex Gordon is widely recognized as a master draftsman, and if you open this volume at random to any page, you’ll see why. He said it took him “four days and four nights” to do each Sunday comic, and that might not be entirely an exaggeration: the sequence of frames is carefully planned, and each frame is packed with detail. At the time he was drawing these strips (1937-1941), Gordon was also doing other types of artistic work, including movie posters and magazine covers, but decided to concentrate on his comics because it allowed him to be “playwright, director, editor, and artist at once.” The one thing I find odd in this volume is the regularity of the panels, although that may have been imposed by the editor, or been an artistic choice in order to focus the reader’s attention on what’s inside the panels. The consistent pattern is six equal sized panels (with a horizontal, 3 and 3 layout) for almost all of these strips, although sometimes two panels are combined into one, or one panel is divided into two.
Don Moore, already a successful writer and editor when he was recruited to write the scripts for Flash Gordon, would go on to write for television, including the shows Sea Hunt and Rawhide. Finally, the strips look absolutely beautiful thanks to Peter Maresca’s restoration—in fact, they may look even better in this book than they did in the Sunday funnies.
Flash Gordon: The Tyrant of Mongo was released on December 18, 2012. You can read a bit more about Titan’s Flash Gordon project on their web site (http://titanbooks.com/blog/definitive-flash-gordon-library/). Extras in the volume include an essay by Doug Murray about the history of the Flash Gordon franchise, and a chronological checklist of Flash Gordon comic strip stories. | Sarah Boslaugh

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