Pulp Corner: On The Planet Mongo – The Complete Flash Gordon Library 1934-37
Flash Gordon is one of the great heroes of science fiction that’s seemingly become more and more obscure, now regulated by people of my generation to only the cult 1980’s movie. Having really enjoyed the 1936 Movie Serial a few years back I decided to finally get my hands on the original newspaper strip. There are many different options in print, but I went with the most recent. Titan Books has all of creator Alex Raymond’s work on the character in three hardcover 11” x 10” rectangular coffee table books. The first volume, On The Planet Mongo covers the period of 1934-1937 and will be what today’s focus in the Pulp Corner.
If you’re not familiar with the story of Flash Gordon, I’ll give you the main points. A new planet (Mongo) is set on a collision course with Earth and the population is panicked. Yale graduate and famous Polo player Flash Gordon is on a flight with the beautiful Dale Arden. Part of Mongo shoots off as a comet and destroys one of the wings of the plane. Flash takes Dale and parachutes out (screw the pilot’s safety, I guess). They land near Dr. Zarkov’s lab who has been working on a way to stop the impending planet but its driven him insane. At gun point he makes Flash and Dale accompany him in a rocket he built that’s going to collide with the planet and knock it off course. That never happens, before they even get the chance they are sucked into Mongo’s atmosphere. The Rocket crashes and our heroes are scooped up and brought before Emperor Ming. Ming wants Dale to be his bride and throws Flash into jail. This is the setup that the rest of the story springboards out of. Reading through the strips made me appreciate the tv serial even more. It is a very faithful adaption; they really got the look of the characters and the story beats right off the page.
The first thing that grabs you in this book is the rich colors and Alex Raymond’s art. This is what Flash Gordon is all about. The writing (done by Raymond himself at first) takes a back seat to the art. If you aren’t familiar with his stuff, do yourself a favor and google it. It belongs in a museum. It’s so beautiful to look at, all the cityscapes, bizarre creatures and even the clothing alone is spectacular. You’re getting to see a master of the craft letting his imagination run wild and dictate everything.
In the earlier strips, it’s amazing that the panel layouts start with 12 small panels! As things progress Raymond adopts a structure of 6 later on which is much better and you can really focus on his art. In the middle of the book though it’s presented with 2 or 3 panels per page spread out over 2 pages as opposed to the later 6 panels on page. Sometimes the panel order is complicated and challenging (but also exciting) that they are numerically labeled for you to follow. There’s some other weirdness as a modern reader that I wasn’t use to. The order for dialogue is occasionally a little strange and they’ll have the person on the right side on the panel speaks first as opposed to the person on the left. This goes against everything my brain and eyes have been trained to do from consuming comics my entire life. This happens with the narration boxes as well; these are placed at the bottom of the panel and are made to be read prior to the dialogue. This never ceased to confuse me.
There is no characterization whatsoever throughout these stories. We don’t learn anything about these people other than the bare minimum. Dr. Zarkov is smart, Flash is strong, Dale is desirable, Emperor Ming is evil etc. This can take the modern adult reader a long time to get use to in a day and age where characters can sometimes be overly complicated. In a way it’s kind of nice to know where everyone stands right off the bat. You also have to think of it as part of the charm of the newspaper strip’s age. Along with that you might find yourself adjusting to the story’s breakneck speed. Because of the weekly serial nature of the strips there is almost zero downtime. In likely the first 3 days on the planet Mongo, Flash has been through like 8 different cities and fought countless creatures and Ming himself multiple times. Not to mention being captured and recaptured several times over the span of a few hours. It’s chaotic, but it’s part of the appeal and something you just get use to as it rolls along.
The story begins to really pick up with the third storyline (no doubt due to Don Moore taking over scripting duties) titled “Tournaments of Mongo” where Flash agrees to enter a contest with some unique and interesting death defying events. The winner is declared a King of one of the realms of Mongo. Flash of course does win, but Ming pulls a fast one and gives Flash a kingdom that is unconquered. This leads directly into the next story “The Caverns of Mongo” in which Flash begins his trek through Kira the cave realm. Further adventures follow with his crew exploring the untamed lands of Mongo giving us more depth to this planet as well as its vast geography.
At times towards the middle of the book there are some issues with the color being a bit off and washed out at times, but I just chalk this up to the age of the original strips and trying to reproduce it as naturally as possible without enhancements. Flash’s hair color seems to change from bleached blonde to orange sometimes, but it’s all part of the tradeoff. Especially in a collection that is housed so gloriously. Throw all your other copies of the reprints out because this blows them away. Anything that allows you to be able to analyze Raymond’s art at an intensified level is well worth its price. I love that you can literally see the line from him to Jack Kirby in certain panels. It’s a thing of beauty and if you even have a passing interest in Flash Gordon or Sci-Fi in general this belongs on your bookshelf.
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Posted on December 8, 2014, in COMICS!, Features, Pulp Corner, Reviews and tagged Adventure, Alex Raymond, COMICS!, Dale Arden, Flash Gordon, Ming The Merciless, Newspaper Strips, Pulp, Sci-Fi, Titan Books. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.