(Titan Books)

THE seminal American science fiction strip enters the war years, but before the US began battling Axis hoards across the world, Flash Gordon entered the final phase of his epic conflict with the insidious Ming the Merciless, tyrant ruler of the planet Mongo.

This is what literally years of Sunday newspaper strips have been leading up to, and once Ming is out of the way there’s nothing to stop Flash returning to Earth and becoming embroiled in a World War of his very own, before it’s back to Mongo for the outer space adventures which by now are his hallmark.

The reproduction on these 70 year old strips by comics historian Pete Maresca is nothing short of magnificent. They leap off the high-grade paper stock in a way they would never have achieved in their original publication on cheap newsprint, and Alex Raymond’s remarkable artwork is given the opportunity to shine in a way he probably never thought possible back in the 1940s.

This is a truly great comics creator at the very top of his game. His vision, talent and overwhelming skill at producing sequential art is breathtaking, even today. And because this volume collects several years worth of material, you can see the constant evolution of his material over the course of this period.

Unlike many strips of the time, speech balloons are rarely used, and Raymond prefers to use text captions alongside his artwork, so it comes across as more of an illustrated novel than a typical comic book.

Titan Books still have a long way to go in their mission to collect every Flash Gordon story, as the series ran until 2003, but the work they have done so far in carefully restoring and representing the earliest strips is incredible, and worthy of far more attention than they are currently getting outside the comics medium. This is meticulous art restoration which involves a painstaking attention to detail, and Maresca’s efforts are second to none.

The Fall Of Ming reprints all of Alec Raymond’s Sunday strips from January 19, 1941 to August 13, 1944 and includes an extensive essay examining his final years on the series by writer Doug Murray, as well as an introduction by Watchmen artist (and Redbourn resident) Dave Gibbons.

* The Complete Flash Gordon Library - The Fall of Ming (Vol. 3) by Don Moore & Dave Gibbons. OUT NOW, Titan Books, £29.99