Flash Gordon Is Alive With The Holiday Spirit In Surprising New Special From ‘The Daily Show’ Writers [Review]
Of all the comics that could indulge in one of my beloved Holiday Specials, Flash Gordon seems like a pretty unlikely candidate. I mean, now that I think of it, if comics can give us that story where Superboy gets caught up in the Christmas Spirit and decides to get the Legion of Super-Heroes to hunt down the star that the Magi followed to the manger and ends up rescuing a race of alien bird-people from a flood in what can only very charitably be called a miracle, I guess you can wring a little holiday cheer out of just about anything. Still, the adventures of three humans trapped in an alien empire full of tree monsters and beast-men doesn't quite seem like it would easily lend itself to the spirit of the season.
And yet, that's exactly what the folks at Dynamite have done with the new Flash Gordon Holiday Special one-shot, and while I could not possibly be more in the target audience for this thing -- my interest in space adventure is only outstripped by my love of Christmas -- it's well worth picking up.
The first interesting bit of business about the Flash Gordon Holiday Special comes from the creative team, specifically the writers. If you're not already familiar with them, Dan McCoy, Elliott Kalan and Stuart Wellington are probably best known as a trio as the hosts of the popular Flophouse Podcast, where they, like so many podcasters, sit around watching bad movies and then crack jokes about them. It's a very funny show, which is unsurprising when you consider that McCoy and Kalan are also writers for The Daily Show, and as a result, I went in expecting their work with Flash Gordon to be skewed pretty hard towards comedy.
It turns out that's not the case, which isn't actually a bad thing. While there are certainly a few pretty funny jokes, the main focus is on more of a traditional holiday special that fits right in with the rest of the weirdness that we've been getting from Flash Gordon lately.
The first story, Dan McCoy, Joseph Cooper, Omi Remalante and Simon Bowland's "Jungle Bells," had the premise that I was looking forward to the most: Flash and Hans Zarkov decide to bring Christmas to the forest planet of Arboria, only to find that Prince Barin and his people are already having their own celebration of gift-giving and lights on the trees: Kris-Maas.
I'll admit that of all the regular tropes you see cropping up in Christmas comics, I'm definitely a sucker for stories where it turns out everyone throughout the universe has some variation of the winter holidays -- ask me about my favorite Green Lantern story sometime -- but here, the sheer goofiness of it propels the story into something different. I'm particularly fond of the two grumpy Beast Men who stand around complaining about everything, and it is my sincerest hope that they become an annual tradition in Flash Gordon comics, eventually teaming up for a series of madcap Holiday adventures, like a slightly more beastly Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.
Really, though, it's a story with an ulterior motive. Much like the Teenage Flash story in the annual, this one seems like it's leading into the next set of King Features titles by wedging in a spotlight for another character. There, it was Prince Valiant, and here, it's Jungle Jim, another Alex Raymond creation that debuted alongside Flash Gordon back in 1934, but sadly never had any Queen songs written about him. Still even though he's hinted at as being a big deal -- big enough that he's the guy the aliens have Christmas about, which I think is the biggest possible hint you can have that he's going to be important later -- but there's enough going on here that it doesn't seem like it's just characters you already like standing around talking about how great this other dude is. Which, to be fair, is kind of exactly what it is.
Speaking of characters you already like, we get another Dale Arden solo story from Stuart Wellington, Lara Margarida, Luigi Anderson and Simon Bowland to close out the book:
Maybe it's just because I can't help but compare it to the Annual's Dale Arden story, which is one of my favorites of the year, and as a result it ended up a little disappointing. It's essentially a story about Dale's history of lousy, boring New Year's Eves contrasted with a pretty kickass December 31 on the ice planet of Frigia battling a giant robot crab. That more or less follows with the original setup to the story, but now that I've seen Dale as the crusading science reporter, it's hard to ever want to go back. Still, it has robot crustaceans getting blown up, and that'll smooth over a lot of rough edges, at least for me.
Sandwiched between those stories is "Wonders and Salvations," by Eliott Kalan, Stephen Downey, Omi Remalante and Simon Bowland, and it's not only the longest story in the book, it's also the my favorite by far.
Hanukkah stories are outnumbered by Christmas stories at a rate of around forty thousand percent, give or take, so it seems like every Hanukkah story bears the responsibility of explaining what exactly Hanukkah is for the benefit of anyone who might not know. Kalan and Downey do the same thing here, but the way that they choose to do it is a pretty fantastic piece of work that ties it into the rest of Flash Gordon: One of Ming's Beast-Men has been trapped on Earth and ends up befriending a Jewish kid -- mainly because he's hungry and the kid has latkes -- and winds up contrasting the story of the Maccabees with his own revolt against Ming.
Like every holiday story that I love, It's both oddly resonant and completely ludicrous, fitting the themes of the holiday into something that's unique to the strange world that the story's taking place in, and Downey's art makes it work really well. I really, really loved the page that's laid out with a menorah forming the panel breaks -- particularly with Antiochus and Ming the Merciless reflecting each other -- and his art has a weight to it that makes a boar-man scrounging for potato pancakes seem moody and effective. I'll admit that it doesn't have a whole lot of competition, but it's easily one of the best Hanukkah stories I've read.
All in all, there's great stuff in here, especially when you consider that McCoy and Wellington are both newcomers to the comics writing game. It's festive, it's fun, and most of all, it's weird. And really, that's all I want out of a holiday special.