Full confession: My previous knowledge of Flash Gordon is based on the infamous 1980 film (which I love), and maybe a glimpse at some of the earlier serials. Before cracking the cover of Flash Gordon: The Fall of Ming, I had never read a Flash Gordon comic or experienced the work of the famed Alex Raymond (aside from panels and pin-ups. Never read a full book.) But I was always curious. I’ve read some of the early Buck Rodgers strips, and I like that style of pulpy Sci Fi.
The Fall of Ming seemed like a good place to dip my toes in the water—after all, if you are going to read only one story arc of a series it might as well be the best one, right? That’s what I thought, anyways. I was surprised to find out that the actual fall of Ming the Merciless is only a handful of story pages long, before Flash and the gang are off on their next interplanetary mission. Flash, Dale, and Zarkov (Yes, all of the movie characters are here) soon find themselves rocketing back to Earth for a war with The Dictator, then off to some far-flung planet for an encounter with the beautiful Queen Desira and The Red Sword story arc that actually makes up the bulk of the book.
I’m going to level with you right now—Flash Gordon is not well written. The plots are thin at best and repetitive at worst. Don Moore gets a writing credit for this book, but I’m not sure that he deserves it. The story follows a template pattern that starts with a simple recap and resolution, then leads down four or five panels to the inevitable cliff-hanger. The stories involve some basic set-up, some obstacles to overcome, and some praise of Flash’s ultimate manliness and how he overcomes it. I am sure the newspaper syndicates had something to do with this—why mess with a winning formula. But bad as it is, the writing is more seditious than I would have guessed. Ming and Mongo are clear stand-ins for Hitler and Nazi Germany. I wasn’t expecting that.
But it doesn’t really matter, because no one is buying Flash Gordon for the writing. They are buying it for Alex Raymond’s art—some of the finest art to ever grace the comic book page.
Seriously, the art here is just stunning. Raymond’s art goes so far beyond what most other artists are capable of, I can’t believe he isn’t more high regarded. Sure, to connoisseurs and collectors Raymond is well known, but to the comics world at large he has faded into the mists of time. That’s unfortunate, because I honestly think every single artist working in comics today could learn a thing or two from Raymond’s stunning draftsmanship. The detail. The line control. Flawless.
And his women. Stunning. Seriously, these have to be some of the most beautiful, graceful, strong women to ever grace the comics page. In the opening (by Dave Gibbons, no less) there is a great photograph of Raymond casually sketching a nude woman in high heels. Raymond looks every inch the stylistic playboy, which I have no idea is a true or not, but it sure looks cool.
Titan Books put together an impressive portable museum to Alex Raymond’s art. This is a sizable book, weighing 2.8 pounds and measuring in at 11 x 1 x 10 and presenting what I assume was the original scale of the strips. Even as a bedside reader it was a little unwieldy. But looking at that gorgeous art you wouldn’t want it any other way.
This was my first experience with Flash Gordon, but it has left me hungry for more. I NEED to get the other volumes in this series. And frankly, so does everyone else who works in or loves comics. This is a true masterpiece.