When you hear the name “Flash Gordon,” what comes to mind? If you’re like me, you know it’s an old comic, and you think of George Lucas, who has stated that Flash Gordon was a major influence on Star Wars. But, mostly, for better or for worse, you think of that amazing film from 1980 starring Playgirl centerfold Sam J. Jones as a the title character and Max Von Sydow (not a Playgirl centerfold) as his nemesis Ming, you think of the explosive pop score composed and performed by Queen, and you think of Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen uttering the iconic line “Gordon’s ALIVE?”
The movie which is fantastical and fun and entirely a product of its time, is, however, not the most accurate representation of the property. Not by a long shot. Flash Gordon is a comic that dates back to 1934, when it was created by Alex Raymond to directly compete with the popular sci-fi comic strip Buck Rogers of the 25th Century. The Sunday strip quickly surpassed Buck Rogers in popularity and transformed Raymond into a legend. The strip was drawn exquisitely by Raymond, who is lauded for his line work and panel composition. Raymond often used live models to add realism and touted the comic medium as a creative, artistic, and relevant art form. For ten years Raymond wrote and drew the strip along with ghost-writer Don Moore, until, in 1944, overwhelmed by a sense of duty and patriotism, he enlisted in the Marine Corp of the United States and went of to join the war effort. Raymond never returned to Flash Gordon after the war, but left behind a decade’s worth of strips showcasing his unique artistic talent. And now, Titan Books has collected these beautiful, full-color strips into three luxurious hard cover volumes of Sunday comics chronicling his intergalactic exploits.
You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of Titan’s The Complete Flash Gordon Library: The Fall of Ming (Vol. 3), you should feel free to do so. It has an oversized, full-color bust of the devilishly defiant Ming, backed by his lieutenant, Warden Terro, hovering over a bold, fuscia banner with gilded title print and below that a black-and-white image of Flash and his companions moving through the exotic and astounding jungle-like terrain of the planet Mongo. And, this book only gets better from there. Upon opening the volume, the reader is treated to sepia-tinted panels showcasing Raymond’s work. These images, enlarged to fill the entire 10” x 11” page and which separate the table of contents, the publishing page, the title page, etc., reveal his absolute mastery of line art and an unparalleled level of detail and realism. Then, you flip a few more pages, and you are treated to a glowing introduction from Dave Gibbons (Watchmen) paired with various art pieces and photos from Raymond’s career. And, after that, nearly two hundred pages of original, vibrant Flash Gordon comic strips representing the last four years of Raymond’s work on the property.
The stories contained in this edition follow Flash from Mongo to Earth and back again, as he fights tyrants in the name of justice. But, this book is so much more. Flash Gordon: The Fall of Ming represents Alex Raymond at the height of his career, spinning tales of the extraordinary adventures of his most famous character. His work influenced the likes of Jack Kirby and Bob Kane and countless other comic artists. Through his excellence and devotion to the medium of sequential art, Raymond’s legacy has endured. And, if, like me, your only exposure to Flash Gordon was the 1980s movie, never fear! For, thanks to Titan Books, once again, Gordon is alive. He’s very much alive.