Graphic Novel Review: Flash Gordon: On The Planet Mongo

(Titan Books)

“FLASH! Aa-aaaahhhh! Saviour of the universe!” As Queen’s classic anthem blares over the opening credits of the 1980 movie, viewers are treated to a wealth of images taken from Alex Raymond’s original comic strip, beautifully capturing the characters and worlds of science-fiction legend Flash Gordon.

A host of those scenes and images can be found here, in the first of many volumes from Titan Books which will eventually make up The Complete Flash Gordon Library.

First published in January 1934, and created to rival the adventures of 25th century space hero Buck Rogers, Raymond’s strip followed the exploits of polo player and Yale graduate Flash and his companions Dale Arden and Dr Hans Zarkov.

When the Earth is bombarded by fiery meteors from space, Zarkov builds a rocket ship to hunt down their source, kidnapping Flash and Dale in the process.

Travelling to the planet Mongo, the trio discover the attack was initiated by the evil Ming the Merciless, a ruthless dictator who holds all of Mongo in a grip of fear and oppression. As you might expect, Flash and his friends resolve to defeat Ming and save the Earth before it’s too late…

Beautifully illustrated in Raymond’s epic draftmanship, these early stories are rich with detail and elaborately composed in a style that is rarely seen in comics of this era, and stand the test of time remarkably well after almost 80 years, thanks in part to the careful restoration work undertaken for this Titan release.

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All of the characters and concepts seen in the Dino De Laurentiis film version are present and correct here, including Prince Barin, Vultan of the Hawkmen and the art deco stylings of Mongo’s spaceships, and there is a Saturday morning serial feel to these strips which went on to inspire George Lucas when he created Star Wars.

Raymond’s world-building skills are remarkable, and he succeeds in creating a Mongo which draws on various periods of Earth history for inspiration, as well as adding his own ideas and creations, ensuring there’s a depth to Flash’s adventures which are often lacking in other sci-fi comic strips.

In the tradition of previous books collecting other long-running newspaper strips like Modesty Blaise and James Bond 007, Titan are promising to create a library which includes every single Flash Gordon adventure ever published, encompassing all of the Sunday instalments and all of the daily strips, an ambitious but thoroughly admirable undertaking.

A remarkable volume which deserves a place on the bookshelves of comics historians and science-fiction fans alike.