May 28, 2014

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Flash Gordon #1 - 2

Flash Gordon #1 - 2
Written by Jeff Parker
Illustrated by Evan "Doc" Shaner and Jordie Bellaire
Dynamite Entertainment


FLASH!!! AAAAAHHH!!! SAVIOR OF THE UNIVERSE!!!!

Flash Gordon has been around as a character for around 80 years. However, this is not a character that has constantly remained in the public consciousness. So, there are a lot of people who probably aren't that familiar with the story of Flash Gordon (other than the not-that-great movie* and very great Queen song**). Ideally, any new version of the character and story should both stay true to the spirit of the original classics, while making the story feel relevant and interesting for modern audiences. Thankfully, Flash Gordon from Jeff Parker, Doc Shaner and Jordie Bellaire excels on both counts. This is a terrific new book, particularly for someone (like me) who has little familiarity with the classic pulp series.

Issue 1 begins by showing us our 3 main heroes one year ago. Dale Arden is a science journalist reporting on the demise of the space shuttle program. Dr. Zarkov is drinking a bunch of men under the table to gain possession of rare crystals. Lastly, Flash Gordon is bungee jumping off of a bridge to the admiration of his fans when he's interrupted by an employee of his father's, to convey the message from his father that he's not going anywhere in life.

We then jump to a year later, where Flash, Dale and Zarkov have in fact gone somewhere, all the way to the planet Mongo where they're being pursued in a air chase. They fly through portals from one world to another, and they (and we) see glimpses of different worlds, apparently all under the control of Mongo and its emperor, Ming the Merciless. The team escape to a world called Arboria, which is full of (not surprisingly) giant trees and giant animals. Eventually, they are saved from a giant bug by a swashbuckling group of blue people to whom Dale has the good sense to lie and say that they are there on official business from Mongo.

In the second issue, the people of Arboria (especially their leader, Prince Barin), are suspicious of this group of "historians" from Mongo. The Arborians host the representatives for a dinner, and Flash impresses them with His daring and skill. They accompany the Arborians on a transport being taken to a factory, where Arborian men are being turned into mindless soldiers for the army of Ming (who is shown in a few scenes, enough to see his cruelty). Flash's heroic and impulsive instincts come through (he doesn't seem like he can help himself), and their secret is revealed. What dangers await them? Tune in next month to find out. 


This is a great book. It's a straightforward, uncomplicated comic, which may sound like faint praise though it is not meant to be. There's a clear sense of narrative in this book, even though the issue begins with one year earlier, most of the story takes place in the present. The story is also clear and accessible - the little snippets about each of the main heroes that we see is enough to give us a sense of the characters, and throughout, each is written in a consistent and interesting way. We learn that Dale has the common-sense brains of the group, and that Zarkov is easily distracted but very effective in his way, and that Flash has a strong moral compass that sometimes leads to impulsive decisions. Parker's writing throughout the story so far conveys great compassion and humor. 


All of this is made clear by their actions so that by the end of two issues we already feel like we know them pretty well. It's also helped by the stunningly great and effective artwork from Doc Shaner with vibrant, gorgeous colors from Jordie Bellaire. Shaner's artwork here is great storytelling in addition to being beautiful - his facial acting is very expressive for each character, and the action here is clear and easy to follow. Each issue has some great detail and varied coloring, and successfully conveys both big and small moments. Shaner's style is somewhat like Chris Samnee, with slightly more "realistic" character design, and conveying both a modern and "old school" sensibility.

All these elements add up to a very strong first few issues, and a fun, modern, adventure story with classic appeal.

*Starring Richard (Rocky Horror) O'Brien and future James Bond Timothy Dalton, I might add!

** Everyone should stop what they're doing right now and go listen to Queen.