Monday, June 3, 2013

Review- FLASH GORDON: THE TYRANT OF MONGO- SUNDAYS 1937-1941

FLASH GORDON: THE TYRANT OF MONGO- SUNDAYS 1937-1941 (Titan, 2012; Hardcover)
Collects Flash Gordon Sunday strips from April 25, 1937- January 12, 1941
Writer: Don Moore
Artist: Alex Raymond

Alex Raymond is the greatest comic strip/ comic book artist of all time, bar none. I am confident in making this statement after reading this book and poring over every panel. The man was a genius, end of story. I'll go a little further out on that limb and say that Raymond and Norman Rockwell were the greatest artists of the 20th century. There! Now that I've either won you over or completely lost you with that statement, you know exactly where I stand. 
Flash Gordon was obviously a huge influence on a young George Lucas. You can see it everywhere in the strip, from Arboria (the city in the trees), to the Great Mongo Desert, to Frigia (the frozen world in the unexplored northern hemisphere of Mongo), to Princess Leia's ear muff hairstyle which was obviously lifted from Queen Fria's, to Dale's “slave girl” outfit when she was captured by Ming. The seeds to Star Wars are everywhere in this strip. 
While Ming the Merciless' appearance may be considered somewhat offensive and stereotypical to modern sensibilities, one has to take into account the world at the time these were released. Also, I say that folks are way too sensitive. People get their panties in a bunch over the tiniest thing these days. Grow a pair and man up. 
Alex Raymond's creature designs are so imaginative. Remember, there was no television when these strips were originally published, and little in the way of true precursors save Buck Rogers. Raymond seemed to make character designs on the fly. His architecture and costume designs were equally inventive. He created entire worlds and cultures with reckless abandon. I envy the creative freedom he must have had in a time where he could make a trail where few, if any, had gone before him. He could boldly go where no man had gone before him and let his imagination run wild, confident that whatever he came up with was original. 
Don Moore's writing is excellent if at times repetitive. There is a recurring theme of Flash meeting a king and the queen immediately falling in love with Flash, which makes Dale jealous of him. Dale always fell prey to another women making a move on him when she enters a room, etc. These strips were published a week apart, so some of these plots and threads can seem repetitive when read over the course of a month or two instead of over several years like they would be if you had read them when they were originally published.
Flash's Power-Man outfit (Mongo's electric company, if you will) is such an obvious influence on the design of (DC's) the Flash's Silver Age costume, which debuted in 1959, some 19 years after this, that I can't believe that they weren't sued. 
If I had to pick a favorite arc in this book, it would have to be The Ice Kingdom of Mongo, which ran for 57 weeks (or 57 pages in this book). The creatures of Frigia are amazing, and so is the design of the kingdom and vehicles. Again, Alex Raymond's designs were out of this world, no pun intended. I love how the strip shifts seamlessly to spaceships battling in the sky to underwater battles to battles in the snow, sword fights, giants...anything and everything goes here. I love it. 
Volume 3 was supposed to be out months ago and is due out any time now. I can tolerate the tardiness because the end product is worth the wait. I'd rather Titan take an extra month or three and make it perfect then have the book come out on the originally solicited release date and be a piece of shit that I have to live with for the rest of my life. Your mileage, as always, may vary. I look forward to reading the next volume, which will finish Alex Raymond's legendary run, and the fourth and fifth ones as well.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- IDW has been doing their own reprints of this same material. I have compared them side by side (my friend has them), and I am at a loss to pick a winner. You know what? There are no losers when it comes to reading Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon. Whichever one you buy, rest assured that it will be awesome.
Linework and Color restoration rating: 4 out of 5. The restoration is high resolution scans with the yellowing removed. They are generally excellent, although there are a few pages that look so-so (many of the 1937 strips). My guess is that this was the result of inferior source material (poorly printed strips) rather than the scanning itself.
The four color printing process used in comic books of this period is primitive and yields often lackluster results. Newspapers must have used superior printing processes, as the line bleed and off register coloring is at an absolute minimum. I am blown away by the smoothness of the original color blends. While I adore fully restored material like the Marvel Masterworks and DC Archives lines, this original color palette has a soft, muted blend to it and blends so well that you can at times forget that these were actually dots. The original printed strips were that well done. Incredible.
Paper rating: 5 out of 5. Wonderful uncoated stock paper. There is zero light glare and it can be read under any kind of lighting. I read different paper stocks under different kinds of lighting due to glare. Some are best in natural sunlight, others in florescent lighting, others in incandescent light. Yes, I am that mentally ill.
Binding rating: 5 out of 5. Sewn binding with room for the casing to flex, allowing the book to lay perfectly flat from the first page to the last. A plus plus! I'll admit that I worry about the long term durability of the binding on all strip books since they are horizontal in length. My OCD will force me to store this one spine down so as to take the strain off of the binding long term. Or you could use a pad of the strip Post-It notes at the end of the book to prop it up. #nerdworldproblems
Hardback cover coating rating: 5 out of 5. There is no dustjacket on this book. The image is printed on the hardback itself. The coating is highly durable and scuff resistant. The gold lettering is a nice touch.




 

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