James' Single-Minded for 1/28/15: Some Dynamite Comics

Flash Gordon #8
Written by Jeff Parker
Illustrated by Evan "Doc" Shaner
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Simon Bowland
Dynamite Comics

It's no secret that we at Panel Patter are huge fans of the Parker/Shaner/Bellaire run on Flash Gordon (review of issues 1 and 2 here, review of issue 7 here). While we're sorry to see this series end, I'm happy to say that issue 8 is a strong, delightful conclusion to the series that sets up a good status quo for the new creative team going forward.

Flash, Dale and Zarkov make their way back to Earth with much acclaim for their accomplishment of striking a blow against Ming's Empire (which had previously launched an assault against Earth in the Kings Watch miniseries). The creative team finds a way to make exposition interesting, by providing an overview of the few weeks after the heroes' return in the form of old-fashioned newsreel reports. These are completely anachronistic to the modern setting of the current Flash Gordon series, but they work perfectly in capturing the pulpy, old-timey feel of the original series, and in providing a lot of information in a relatively short amount of page space; other writers might have spent an entire issue dealing with how the heroes are adjusting back to life on Earth, but this way works better.

The issue (and the series) would not be complete without one last burst of heroism and derring-do; not to fear, there is heroism and excitement to spare (as the formal, sedentary life just doesn't suit our heroes), and this issue (and the series) ends in a way that makes it easily possible to tell more stories with these characters, now that they've established their heroic bona fides.

It's a short but compelling conclusion to the series. Even in a relatively brief battle sequence at the end of the issue, the creative team works wonders to show Flash Gordon's personality through word and action. Not to belabor the point, but this series has really been a showcase for Doc Shaner. In the sequence of a few panels, he uses fighting to convey everything you need to know about Flash Gordon's personality - brave, headstrong, athletic, fearless, and a feeling of fulfillment and the rush of action. Coupled with the joyful, vibrant colors from Bellaire and quick-witted dialogue from Parker, the sequence is a reminder of what great series this was. If you haven't been reading the series, I'd strongly suggest picking up this volume of Flash Gordon when it comes out in collected form.

King: Flash Gordon #1
Written by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker
Illustrated by Lee Ferguson
Colors by Omi Remalante
Letters by Simon Bowland
Dynamite Comics/King Features Syndicate

King: Flash Gordon #1 is part of Dynamite Comics' new initiative to use the "King Features Syndicate" name and branding (associated with classic characters such as Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Jungle Jim, Prince Valiant and Mandrake the Magician) under which the company will be releasing a number of miniseries for these characters (which exist in a shared universe) and which will lead into an event miniseries bringing all of these heroes together.  King: Flash Gordon #1 is a fun first issue for the series, which strikes a similar (but not identical) tone of excitement, humor, action and adventure to the Parker/Shaner/Bellaire series. If you enjoyed that series, this first issue is worth a look.

This first issue picks up some indeterminate amount of time after the end of the prior arc, as Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Professor Zarkov are making their way across the galaxy, rallying support and allies in the fight against Ming the Merciless and his Empire. They've found their way to the high-tech world of Planet T.R.O.P.I.C.A. where they hope to gain the support of a powerful ally, but as it happens, things don't go their way. Along the way there's subterfuge, rebellion, and battles, and as the issue ends, things look grim for our heroes.

The team of Acker and Blacker has experience telling pulp-style stories (as the writers for the Thrilling Adventure Hour), and in the first issue of King: Flash Gordon they capture what a reader would want in a Flash Gordon story. Is Ming cruel and (yes) merciless? He certainly is (I would not want to work for that guy). Is Flash strong-headed, well-intentioned, and sometimes leaping before he looks? He is, and the work by Acker, Blacker and artist Lee Ferguson captures his fighting spirit.  The creative team gets right the dynamic between the heroes. Interestingly, they also capture another part of the dynamic between Flash and Dale which is that Flash appears to be smitten with her (a story element not really addressed in the prior series). There's an amusing few pages of dialogue among Flash, Dale, and Zarkov as Zarkov attempts to explain his discoveries regarding a high-tech communications device, but Flash is far more interested in figuring out exactly what happened the night before between him and Dale (it seems Flash can't hold his liquor nearly as well as Dale can), and throughout the issue he amusingly brings up their relationship status at inopportune moments. 

Ferguson brings an appealing pulp style to the book that's complemented by Omi Remalante's bright, vibrant colors. Ferguson has a slightly rougher style than Doc Shaner, but he has a style that similarly owes a debt (as many artists do) to Darwyn Cooke (who illustrated the cover). Ferguson uses relatively straightforward panel layouts but within those panels he provides some engaging action, as scenes of movement (such as a ship, or Flash moving in battle) are illustrated with a very strong sense of energy and dynamism. Ferguson also has strong skill in facial expressions, as he captures nicely Flash's enthusiasm, Dale's skepticism, and Zarkov's sense of self-satisfaction.

King: Flash Gordon #1 is off to an entertaining start. If you're a fan of two-fisted action with a good sense of humor, this is a good pickup. 

King: The Phantom #1
Written by Brian Clevinger
Illustrated by Brent Schoonover
Colors by Robt Snyder
Letters by Simon Bowland
Dynamite Comics/King Features Syndicate

The Phantom (like Flash Gordon) is a character that's been around for a very long time in different incarnations.  King: The Phantom #1 is part of the King Features initiative from Dynamite, and is a promising start to the new series. This first issue sets a fun, pulpy tone both in writing style and art, and tells an engaging story.

A little context will be helpful in reading this story. In the Kings Watch miniseries, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and Flash Gordon teamed up to repel an invasion by Ming the Merciless and his invasion force. This invasion, however, did some serious damage to Earth's technological capabilities, and it also left behind some animal-man hybrids that were used as part of Ming's army but now seem to be trying to live life on Earth.

King: The Phantom #1 picks up soon after the events of Kings Watch where the prior Phantom was killed, and a man named Lothar Kehwabe has taken up the mantle temporarily until the next Phantom can be found (as there's a family component to being the Phantom). In this first issue there are a few threads developing in Bengalla, the African nation where the Phantom is based. In the midst of the chaos after Ming's invasion, ambitious forces are moving to take up power and control. Lothar has reluctantly taken up the mantle of the Phantom in order to take action against these forces, and these activities have also drawn the attention of journalist Jen Harris, who believe something suspicious is happening. By the end of the issue, these strands have been drawn together in a dramatic cliffhanger.

This is another fun first issue. Brian Clevinger (Atomic Robo) has a strong handle on the characters in the story. It feels fairly black-and-white (the heroes are heroic and the villains are, well, villainous), but that feels right in this story which is not meant to be about subtle gradations but about fun, exciting action and suspense, and it's done well here.  While Lothar doesn't truly see himself as the Phantom (but as more of a caretaker), he feels very much like someone motivated to do the right thing and comes across as both heroic and highly capable. His interactions with his helper Guran (whose people have a tradition of aiding the Phantom) are amusing and good-natured. 

Particularly in the jungle and cave sequences, Brent Schoonover (with colors from Robt Snyder) has a strong sense of pulpy style and action (his work reminds me of Chris Mooneyham on Five Ghosts, and Victor Santos, most recently seen on Black Market). Schoonover has a very strong handle on depiction of suspenseful, engaging action sequences. The pacing is solid, and there is some good visual humor in the story. The characters have a slightly exaggerated look to them which and the book has a weathered color palate which helps contribute to the old-fashioned feel of the story. The lettering from Simon Bowland is well-executed in all of the 3 books discussed today; he's got a good handle on lettering sound effects in an engaging way within the story.

The Phantom looks like a character straight out of the 1930's, with his traditional accouterments (a white horse, skull ring, skull cave). There are a few places where this feels somewhat incongruous, particularly in scenes depicting the modern world; somehow cell phones and modern clothing look slightly out of place in this world of two-fisted masked heroes. In this way, it's actually somewhat helpful to the storytelling that there was an event in Kings Watch which knocked the world decades back technologically; the creative team doesn't have to worry quite as much about incorporating satellite imaging or other modern devices into their story. 

King: The Phantom #1 is a fun story and an entertaining first issue, and it will be interesting to see how this book balances a pulpy sensibility in a modern setting.