It can be frustrating to navigate the world of Flash Gordon. While the character’s core narrative exists in newspaper comic format, his history is also peppered with tales told in comic-book-format stories that may or may not conflict with the coherence of his main story, running concurrently with the newspaper strips. To complicate this further, Flash Gordon comic books have shifted between publishers a few times, each company taking him in a different direction, and in one instance, publishing a few incomplete issues handed to them by the previous publisher. All of which is to say this: Flash Gordon is a comic that needs to be taken at face value. There’s a much larger narrative in there somewhere, but if you want a real story that spans decades, read the collected newspaper strips. Either way, the comic books are equally enjoyable.
Dark Horse, for their part, has made a valiant effort to collect these comic book odds and ends, and they’ve done an outstanding job with their Flash Gordon Comic Book Archives series, finding and republishing comics and back-up pages from a variety of different publishers, all of it in relative order. It’s really a completist’s dream come true. At this point in the Archives series, Dark Horse has begun to explore the Bronze Age Flash Gordon comics of the 1970s, as originally published by Gold Key.
Flash Gordon, in all of his many forms, has also been drawn and written by a veritable who’s who of the classic comic world. During Flash Gordon’s time at Gold Key, the series didn’t have the luxury of employing the field’s most well-known creators (many of whom were working for Marvel or DC), but they still managed to create some wonderful comics. This particular cluster of issues concerns Flash returning to the planet Mongo after three years of adventures, only to find that it’s once again been subjugated by Ming the Merciless. True to the science fiction comic book traditions of the day, these are presented as a sequential narrative, broken up by visits to a different alien race with each issue, each ruled over by a new dictator, but all serving Ming in one way or another. Sure, it’s formulaic, but if anything needs to be given a little extra leeway for presenting itself in serial fashion, it’s Flash Gordon.
Dark Horse has revitalized these pages by remastering their colors so they brightly project from the page, far brighter then the pulpy originals. The art is reliably capable, though the two issues by Frank Bolle stand out for their use of detail and excellent ability to capture scene and action. Carlos Garzon’s artwork is more sketchy and less perfect, losing details here and there, but still demonstrates moments of total beauty. These stories, about enormous science towers and unnaturally evolved lizard queens, lava men, and Ming’s unending quest to steal Flash Gordon’s girlfriend, are full of imagination and inspiration and show off the best of the Bronze Age. They don’t bother trying to explain away too much, which is something that both enlivens and bogs down today’s science fiction, so the calm weirdness is always charming.
Due to the age and nature of these comics, they’re great for all ages. Even after 40 years, they still feel fresh and exciting, and are completely readable, in addition to being full of nostalgia.
Reviewed by Collin David on August 24, 2010
Flash Gordon Comic Book Archives Volume 1