Graphic Novel Review: Flash Gordon: The Tyrant of Mongo

(Titan Books, �29.99)

BEFORE Sam Jones dyed his hair blond and resulted in Brian Blessed being forever associated with the phrase “Gordon’s alive?!”, Star Wars creator George Lucas had been planning his own blockbuster version of the Flash Gordon comic strip, before rights issues led him to create his own space saga.

Yes, in a different world, we would have been treated to Lucas’ vision of Flash in 1977, and with no Star Wars to take off its shine, perhaps Disney would be looking at a 21st century revival of the strip even now.

In fact, the influence of Alex Raymond’s legendary series cannot be overlooked in any serious study of either comic books or science fiction, as it exerted an influence over both which still resonates to this day.

His skills in storytelling, artistic composition and imaginative flair ensured that the story of Flash, Dale, Zarkov, Barin, Ming and the rest entered the cultural consciousness of countries around the world, and yet until now no-one has attempted a complete chronological reprinting of the entire series.

The Titan Books Flash Gordon Library will not only reprint Raymond’s complete Sunday strips, but then move on to later creators including Austin Briggs and Mac Raboy, ensuring these remarkable stories are collected and preserved for posterity.

This second volume continues the story of Flash’s first adventures on Mongo, covering the period from 1937 to 1941, before the US entered the Second World War and things changed for the character. Interesting developments include the skin tones of the inhabitants of Mongo transforming from pale yellow to Caucasian, with no explanation for this in the strip, and a stylistic move towards Prussian-influenced military dress.

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Raymond’s use of live models brought a dramatic realism to the strip which was quite unlike anything seen elsewhere at the time, and he introduced dry brush techniques to maintain this approach. Instead of the conventional style of panels seen in other Sunday comics, Flash Gordon featured a variety of different sizes and styles, and even changed the style of speech bubbles to allow a greater focus on the artwork.

Without question, this was a golden age for American Sunday comics and the Flash Gordon strip, with a whole generation of creators honing their art during this period. The attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent involvement of the United States in wars in Europe and the Far East, would lead to the end of this halcyon age, and further changes for Flash. But all that comes in the next book, The Fall of Ming, which we shall cover when it is released in March, as Alex Raymond’s time on the strip comes to a close…

The Complete Flash Gordon Library - The Tyrant of Mongo (Vol. 2), by Alex Raymond & Don Moore. 6th December 2012, �29.99 by Titan Books