December 11, 2014

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Flash Gordon 7 from Parker, Shaner, and Bellaire Packs a Pulpy Punch

Flash Gordon 7
Written by Jeff Parker
Line Art by Evan Shaner
Color Art by Jordie Bellaire
Published by Dynamite Comics

Flash, Zarkov, and Dale are in hot water, but for once it's not a bad thing as they conspire with a mad King to take on Ming but have a few tricks of their own up their sleeve as this series continues to be such a delight, visually and verbally.

Jeff Parker's ability to write fun comics is just about second to none. When he wants, he can be deadly serious (see Meteor Men), but the best comics from Jeff are where he just lets himself be a bit ridiculous and trust the artists to somehow keep it realistic--well, as realistic as a comic book can get, anyway. The fun of Flash Gordon is that, just like Parker's work on Batman 66, he's embracing the insanity of the pulp concept. Even a dangerous cliffhanger, like the one we're greeted with this issue, turns into having the sky planet's ruler do a cannonball, sees Zarkov design a new ship (that even has cup holders!), and features out-drinking someone as a key plot point.

At the same time, Jeff gives the situation just enough gravitas to keep it from falling into parody territory. The King may be jolly, boastful, and ready for action, but it's because his planet is part of why Ming has been so successful. There's sorrow mixed into the silly, and that balance is what makes Jeff Parker so good at writing comic books, especially superheroes.

As good as Flash Gordon is in terms of its plot, however, it wouldn't be one of my favorite comics of the year without the art team of Evan Shaner and Jordie Bellaire. Shaner's construction of this issue might be his best yet, as the shadow puppet sequence that tells of Ming's terror goes from being silly to serious on the turn of a dime, and he's tasked with going quickly from grand, open air sky scenes to the dankness of a cave or the cramped quarters of a ship, all of which he handles without missing a beat. He's got a great sense of visual timing, able to punctuate Parker's many jokes, but again, pull back when it's necessary.

Shaner gets compared to Chris Samnee a lot, and that's a very apt analogy. Both work extremely well with their writing partner, come up with imaginative, innovating layouts that can make anything interesting, and use a thin, slightly scratchy line style that lets them give amazing facial work. Heck, Shaner even remembers that when we see a character talking--their mouth should be open! He does such a great job with giving each main character their personality, even when Jeff doesn't have lines for them. Flash is excited by the possibility of it all, Dale looks at the truth behind the lies, and Zarkov looks like he just wants another beer, but hides his true talents behind a bottle cap.


And polishing off the perfection is Jordie Bellaire, arguably the best colorist in comics right now. Instead of going for natural colors, she opts to take advantage of the fantastic settings by making what we'd see on Earth as blue be a shade of pinkish purple, and making sure that the costumes of our protagonists stand out against the more classical look of the sky-people. But her shining moment here is the effect towards the end, when the heroes are ready to escape. While Shaner draws the image straight, Bellaire's colors make us see that things aren't normal as the team enters dimensional space.

Flash Gordon is everything comics should be, and while I know that Dynamite has big plans for their pulp hero line (including trying to get The Phantom going again, which I'm looking forward to), I'm really sorry this is the penultimate issue with this team. It's been a great ride, and I look forward to seeing how they wrap things up next issue.