Annuals get a bad rap. I'm pretty sure it's because they formed the core of some truly terrible crossovers starting in the '90s -- lookin' at you here, Bloodlines -- but there's nothing congenitally wrong with them. In their purest form, annuals are just extra comics, and since we all like comics, that ought to be something to get excited about. And in the case of Dynamite's Flash Gordon Annual 2014, we've got something worth getting excited about.

Flash Gordon is already one of my favorite books on the stands, and this week's Annual continues that trend by providing a fantastic roster of great stories -- including a solo tale for Dale Arden that needs to be made into an ongoing series yesterday.

The annual's five stories are all unified by the same theme: They're prequels, of a sort, to what we've seen in the pages of Kings Watch and Flash Gordon -- and in one case, a prelude to what we're going to get when Dynamite launches their "King" line in January. It's a pretty simple way to go about giving the readers an extra story, but it lends itself to some pretty great possiblities, and in the case of our title character, they take the idea of a prequel literally. Chris Eliopoulos even goes as far as focusing his story on Flash as a baby who steals a DeLorean and goes on a joyride.

 

 

If you're a fan of Eliopoulos's work, it'll definitely remind you of what he did with his Franklin Richards stories back at Marvel, but that's not a bad thing, and it kicks things off in a way that sets the tone for the rest of the issue. Right up front, you know you're in for fun, and when the gallows humor of the Zarkov story and the dark turn of Princess Darya's origin hits, it works even better because of what's already here.

Incidentally, I have never identified more with Hans Zarkov than I do in this annual.

 

 

That's pretty much exactly what I say every time I hit "Publish" on one of my columns here at the site.

While everything here is good, the standout by far is the story that focuses on Dale Arden, Science Journalist, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker and Faith Erin Hicks. Even with a cover price of eight bucks, this one was worth the price of admission alone for me, if only because it's basically the Modern Age Lois Lane comic that I've always wanted to see.

 

 

I love this story, and the idea of Dale Arden having a long career of going on globe-trotting science reporter adventures while the rest of the staff is scrambling around the newsroom actually makes me wish that she wasn't actually out in space battling Ming the Merciless with Flash and Zarkov. Much as I love what she's doing in the ongoing, I would give it up in a heartbeat to see Acker, Blacker and Hicks -- easily one of my favorite artists thanks to her work on books like The Adventures of Superhero Girl -- take a regular gig doing Dale Arden solo stories.

Speaking of Acker and Blacker, it's worth noting that for me at least, the Annual serves as an introduction for them. They're going to be taking over Flash Gordon alongside artist Lee Ferguson in the new year, and while I'm pretty predisposed to react poorly to anyone who follows up Jeff Parker, one of my favorite writers, they do a great job with this one of assuring me that the book's in good hands.

Even if you haven't been keeping up with the adventures of Flash Gordon in the regular series, this is a great jumping on point to check out. Even with the pretty hefty price tag, it's 48 pages of story, and not a single one of 'em is a miss.