Buy This Book: Jeff Parker, Doc Shaner And Jordie Bellaire’s ‘Flash Gordon’
I consider myself to be a pretty big Flash Gordon fan, but when you get right down to it, I only really like one very specific version of that character: The one from the amazing 1980 movie where he takes down Ming the Merciless while rocking out to Queen. I love that movie to pieces, but it's a very specific kind of love that doesn't necessarily transfer to other version of the franchise. Every time Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov make their perennial return to the comics page, it always leaves me pretty cold, and even though I'm the biggest possible fan of Jeff Parker, Doc Shaner, and Jordie Bellaire, there was a part of me that expected that the new series from Dynamite would end up doing the same thing.
And then I read the issue where Ming orders Flash to fight to the death in a gladiatorial battle against an army of beast-men, and Flash straight up gets in front of a space camera to cut a Stone Cold Steve Austin promo about how he's going to tear their horns off and choke them out with their own tails, and I realized things were going to be just fine.
The latest issue of Flash Gordon starts the second story arc, where Flash, Dale and Zarkov head to the planet of the Hawk Men and fall into the thrall of the skyrens -- but if you haven't checked it out yet, you should really start with the first four issues, if only to see how incredibly economical the storytelling is.
There's a page introducing Dale, a page introducing Zarkov, three pages introducing Flash, all set on Earth before the war against Ming, and then it just jumps right ahead into a battle over the skies of Planet Mongo, with all three characters in a rocket ship dodging laser fire as they try to escape through interstellar portals. Everything that's not directly relevant to what's happening now, all the stuff about these characters meeting each other and getting out to space to begin with, is skipped over, and it's pretty great.
Obviously part of that is because those moments happen in King's Watch, the crossover between Flash Gordon, the Phantom and Mandrake the Magician that introduced Parker's versions of the classic characters to the world he's continuing with Flash Gordon, and he understandably didn't want to cover the same ground. But it also serves to set the tone, showing readers that, right from the start, this book doesn't have time for anything that isn't a thrilling adventure through the treacherous depths of space.
Even when Parker and Shaner do recap the events of King's Watch for the benefit of any readers who might have skipped out on that book (which is also pretty great), they do it in a way that's both quick and absolutely beautiful, with Shaner turning in the single best looking recap I can remember seeing:
By the time they get around to catching you up -- three issues into the series -- you've already come to know these characters, and what's more, it's the first time any of the characters have had enough time to actually sit down and discuss their situation. It's storytelling that feels natural, that comes organically from what's already happening on the page, and it works really well.
In a book that's full of great elements, it's that character work that really sticks out. Much as I love the movie, part of its charm comes from Flash being almost completely free of the burden of having a character. Here, though, he has one instantly, and it's the kind of engaging one-sentence summary that seems absolutely effortless. One of the recap pages sums it up by saying that he's "great at everything on Earth (as long as it's not important," and that's the best way to put it. He's great at fencing, archery, swinging from vines and taking risks, all things that have very little practical application when you're expected to run a business.
If, however, you're in interplanetary empire that has banned technology from everyone who wasn't a part of the evil overarching government in order to prevent open rebellion, all of those skills are suddenly very important, especially when you add in the idea that he's just too impatient to sit around while there are injustices going on around him.
The end result is that Flash is bursting off the page with personality, both in Parker's dialogue and in the acting that Shaner puts in the book. It fires on all cylinders on virtually every page, and it's frequently pretty hilarious.
He's not alone, either. Flash is by far the focus, but there's an incredible amount of personality from everyone in the book, from Dale as the quick-witted reporter who's been dragged on an adventure that she doesn't think she'll ever be able to tell anyone about, to the bitter, sardonic Zarkov, who delights in proving that he's the smartest person not just in the room, but in the entire solar system. Even relatively minor characters like Prince Barin (who sadly lacks Timothy Dalton's luxurious head of hair) have an incredible amount of charisma that makes them ridiculously fun to read about.
It's also one of the most beautiful books on the stands today.
I've been a fan of Shaner's style in pin-ups and sketches forever, but seeing him do sequential work in this book has been a revelation. There's an expressiveness and a dynamic kineticism to his art that really sells the adventurous feel of the book, and thanks to Jordie Bellaire's downright breathtaking colors, it could not look any better. Bellaire creates vivid purple skies, bright green technological horrors, and absolutely gorgeous star fields. This is a book where everything looks and feels vivid.
That's what really makes me love Flash Gordon. There's a sense of adventure to it, a sense of fun and danger that comes through for the reader just as much as it comes through for the characters as they explore massive alien forests or floating islands. It's everything I want it to be -- and while it might not have Freddie Mercury's soaring vocals about saving the universe, there's a pretty good chance it might end up as my favorite version of the character.
Flash Gordon issues #1-5 are available on Comixology.