Dark Horse continues their acclaimed archival reprint series with a bold new title, collecting seven issues of the Silver Age Flash Gordon comic book series, collected here for the very first time. Originally published by Dell Publishing Co., Inc between 1947 and 1953, these books feature beautiful painted covers, epic 42-page stories and a bunch of fun facts about spaceships and outer space. Some of them even feature little cut-out spaceships that you can cut out and assemble to create your space battles in your very own living room (not that you’d ever actually cut this book up, of course)!
Created by Alex Raymond, Flash Gordon debuted as a comic strip in 1934. Created to compete with the popular Buck Rogers strip, Flash eventually overshadowed his rival and has since become synonymous with high adventure and science fiction, inspiring a host of imitators and even inspiring the legendary Star Wars franchise. In the 1940’s, a host of different publishers tried their hand at reworking Flash as a comic book rather than a strip and as a huge fan of the character, it does my heart good to finally get the opportunity to enjoy these stories.
How do they stack up? Well, when comparing variations of Flash Gordon, Ming the Merciless, Dale Arden and the rest, it’s tough for any creator to hold a candle to the genius of Alex Raymond. It goes without saying that the original version is the definitive and by far the best. That’s not to discount or discredit his sucessors though – Al Williamson, Mac Raboy and Jeff Jones come to mind as worthy torchbearers. So you’ve got a tough road to hoe if you’re a Flash Gordon artist; but Paul Norris and Frank Thorne hold up just fine. While they lack the grandeur and lush landscapes of Raymond or the jaw dropping spaceways of Al Williamson, the art holds up with solid compositions and a real sense of adventure. Paul Norris is best known as the man who created Aquaman, of course, and Frank Thorne had a healthy run on the Perry Mason newspaper strip as well as giving fans what many consider to be the perfect version of Red Sonja, in addition to his work in Heavy Metal magazine and National Lampoon. So it’s not like these fellows are slouches by any means.
The stories are fairly standard B-Movie, Silver Age comic book fare. Flash and Dale encounter an oppressed alien race, the female ruler (or daughter of such a tyrant) inevitably falls head over heels for Flash and in the end, our heroes save the day. There’s lots of rayguns and rocketships, fancy uniforms with sashes and knee-high boots and gloves that look like they might’ve been pilfered from the Three Musketeers’ wardrobe. Bubble-helmeted space suits and jet packs, illogical science and sword fights… essentially, it’s everything you love about Flash Gordon.
Some might argue that these kinds of stories are corny and don’t hold up to modern standards and I suppose they’re probably right. But for my money, this is the very definition of adventure. Dashing heroes and damsels in distress populate planets with exotic locales ranging from undersea kingdoms to arctic retreats. As someone who cut his teeth on space operas like Star Wars, it’s hard to find anything to complain about when reading stories like this. In fact, the more Flash Gordon adventures I am exposed to, the more I see the direct influence the character had on George Lucas. It’s a well-known fact, but it still puts a smile on my face every time I see it for myself.
Are these the best Flash Gordon stories out there? That depends. As I stated earlier, if you’re comparing them to the newspaper strip, they just can’t hold a candle – they’re certainly not as pretty and they’re a bit more dull. But it should be noted that in the era in which these books were being published, comic strips were put on a much higher pedestal than they are today while comic books were sort of the red-headed stepchild of sequential art. Judging them by that standard, these stories should be commended for the level of excitement and adventure they supply. And of course, your first exposure to a character is often the one you hold most dear. If you were a child when these comics were originally published, and these were the first Flash Gordon stories you read, then you’ll be amazed at what you find here and you absolutely must pick this collection up. Dark Horse has lovingly reprinted these classic tales in a handsome hardcover format that deserves to be on the shelf of any collector. Kudos on another job well done and thank you for re-introducing me to my hero. I’m looking forward to volume two!