by Alex Raymond
Publisher: Titan Books
The Book: Continuing the comprehensive library of the greatest science fiction hero of all time, this brand new collection of library editions feature all new restorations that will preserve these legendary adventures for generations to come. Starting with revered writer-artist Alex Raymond, this volume continues the adventures of pulp hero Flash Gordon on the planet Mongo as he begins his final battle with the merciless villain Ming.
With an introduction by Dave Gibbons and background feature material.
The Review: Titan continues its excellent series of high-end Flash Gordon collections, concluding Alex Raymond’s ground-breaking run of strips with this third volume of the series, as the acclaimed and influential artist continues to evolve his strip style – transformed completely by the end of this book.
Today, Flash Gordon is one of the most recognizable names in science fiction, but the SF adventure character’s fame rests ultimately on the ten years of newspaper comic strips by Alex Raymond, and Dave Gibbons pulls no punches in singing his praises in this collection’s introduction, musing on what might have been had the artist’s life not been cut tragically short by a car accident in 1956.
The newspaper strip was created following the sudden success of rival Buck Rogers, prompting King Features Syndicate to commission their own science fiction feature. In an age when film was still relatively new and television barely invented, comic strips considered by newspapers as a vital part of their Unique Selling Point and Flash Gordon, featuring the adventures of the eponymous daring-do space hero, aided by Dale Arden and Professor Hans Zarkov, quickly proved its worth as it gained millions of fans and spawned its own merchandise and film serials starring Buster Crabbe.
The popularity of Flash Gordon has continued unabated for decades and his influence spread like wildfire into every medium – films, television, novels, comic books, radio plays, and more.
But it’s the original comic strips that has inspired every generation to want their own incarnation of the character, and Alex Raymond’s work is undoubtedly the major reason for his longevity.
The mission of Titan’s The Complete Flash Gordon Library is be to collect every strip and every story, offering them in affordable, full-colour hardcover volumes, carefully restored and revealing the action and the artistry that thrilled audiences for decades, thanks to the painstaking efforts of renowned comic strip historian Pete Maresca.
Each installment is being meticulously reworked so that the intricate artwork, vivid colour and action explodes off of the page – and it does just that in this volume in these 1940s strips, as Flash engineers the downfall of Ming, returns to Earth and battles a dictator; and then returns to Mongo for further adventures.
Readers intrigued by the passion and regard in which Alex Raymond is held, but with no knowledge of the Flash Gordon strip or the way newspaper strips were presented in the 1930s and 40s may be bemused by the storytelling techniques featured in The Fall of Ming. For the most part, these stories are told in text and illustration, although there is some dalliance with word balloons in a few of the strips included – which seems to be an experiment, as the strip soon reverts to its more established form, albeit in Raymond’s updated style.
Despite this, the storytelling is engaging (if not without fault for its use of repeated themes – Flash getting into disguise being one! – and vanishing characters). The stories are a good-natured romp with relatively little on-panel violence despite the reputed evil nature of Ming. Oh, there’s plenty of set piece fights – but we rarely see an on-panel, gratuitous death.
What we do see is a glorious adventure (even if it does often involve a lot of Flash Gordon dressing up); amazing art from Alex Raymond, whose female characters would surely have pleased the eye of many a US soldier on the front line when the papers arrived; incredible vistas of the planet Mongo; and plenty of weird and deadly monsters.
All this, delivered in a superb, weighty collection in which the authors have gone to considerable lengths to make the best of the material available, makes The Fall of Ming well worth the price of admission.