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Book Review: Flash Gordon On The Planet Mongo: The Complete Flash Gordon Library, Vol.1
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Flash Gordon On The Planet MongoFlash Gordon On The Planet Mongo
The Complete Flash Gordon Library, Vol. 1
Hardcover
By Alex Raymond and Don Moore
Introduction by Alex Ross
Titan Books
206 pages
Release Date: September 25, 2012

I grew up reading the comics section of my local newspaper every day and on Sundays I anticipated my parents getting that day’s paper on our doorstep bright and early so I could tear into that brick of smudgy newsprint and pluck the full-color comics supplement from its depressing clutches. Back then I cared little for what was happening in the world because kids didn’t really need to know; we had plenty of time to fret over foreign wars, rigged elections, and skyrocketing gasoline prices when we got older. When I began my decade plus-dalliance with comics it was the funnier strips like Blondie, The Family Circus, Hagar the Horrible, Funky Winkerbean, and of course Beetle Bailey that I favored above all others.

Back then it was not necessarily my choice because the superhero, sci-fi, and adventure strips that my peers from decades before the birth of my own parents thrilled to on a daily basis were all but a distant memory. At least in my city’s newspapers they were. I had to venture to my local public library to check out volumes of the collected comic strip escapades of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, a boyhood hero of mine for a short while following the release of the 1990 movie directed by and starring Warren Beatty. Once I entered my teen years and embraced comic books I stopped reading the daily comics section almost completely, with exceptions made for certain rare days when I would be having breakfast and only lacked decent reading material within my grasp.

I had the good fortune of growing up in a era where kids were afforded the easy choice between comic books and strips. The youth of 1930s America were not as lucky. The nation was still in the grip of the Great Depression that left millions of people out of work and struggling to make ends meet for their families while Washington politicos and millionaire business and banking titans battled over the future of American prosperity, much as it is this very day. The realities of everyday life were so unrelentingly grim that for many the only escape could be found in the lavish fantasies on the comics page and the movie screen. But only in the pages of the nation’s newspapers could heroes like Superman, Lee Falk’s the Phantom, and Buck Rogers engage in adventures far beyond the limits of the imagination without the budgetary constraints of their cinematic counterparts.

One of the most popular adventure strips to emerge in this period was Alex Raymond’s epic intergalactic thrill ride Flash Gordon. Debuting on January 7, 1934, Flash Gordon would be published in Sunday and daily comic strips around the world for the next seven decades and inspire countless imitators as well as spin-off into movie serials, live-action and animated television series, a radio program, and most notably a spectacular 1980 motion picture whose makers had hope would ride the way of popularity of genre films kicked into gear by the blockbuster success of Star Wars (a movie greatly influenced by Raymond’s creation) only to see it perform far below expectations and live on for all time as a beloved cult film.

For the inaugural volume of their new hardcover series The Complete Flash Gordon Library Titan Books presented us with the first three years of the character’s Sunday comics adventures in Flash Gordon On The Planet Mongo – The Complete Flash Gordon Library Vol.1. This fantastic book collects nine complete story arcs from the strip’s Sunday running from it’s debut on January 7, 1934 to April 18, 1937: On the Planet Mongo, Monsters of Mongo, The Tournaments of Mongo, The Caverns of Mongo, The Witch Queen of Mongo, At War with Ming, The Undersea Kingdom of Mongo, The Forest Kingdom of Mongo, and The Tusk Men of Mongo.

Working in conjunction with King Features Syndicate a full restoration on each strip in this volume has been overseen by comic book historians Peter Maresca and Keiran McMeekin of Sunday Press Books. The adventures of Flash Gordon look more vibrant and colorful than ever before. Raymond’s fast-paced storytelling style is strongly in evidence here as every strip explodes with dangers, close calls, new allies, feared adversaries, romance, fantastic space vistas, rocket ships as shiny and childlike in their design as a young child’s toys, and the pure manliness that is Flash Gordon. After reading each installment you almost feel out of breath as Flash and friends race from one exciting adventure to another, with character development unveiled carefully and while on the run. Famed comic artist Alex Ross of Marvels and Kingdom Come and Doug Murray, the writer of the classic 1980’s Marvel Comics war saga The ‘Nam, both provide introductions to this volume: Ross devotes his to the legacy of Flash Gordon while Murray documents the history behind the character.

Reading through this beautiful, expansive collection prove to be a sheer joy as it temporarily brought me back to the days of my youth when comics were still as fresh a discovery as the world itself and everything it would have to offer me as I aged and matured into a more enlightened but no less optimistic adult. It also made me realize that even though the strips that clutter the comics pages of our daily and Sunday papers are often innocuous little humor strips (I still fail to see how Pluggers can endure after all these years) the legacy of Flash Gordon lives on in the comic books, television shows, and films that it has inspired and influenced since Alex Raymond first began to visualize the fantastic adventures of “Yale graduate and world-renowned polo player” Flash, his beautiful lady love Dale Arden, the spacey but brilliant Dr. Zarkov, and others on the planet Mongo as they combat the forces of the evil Emperor Ming the Merciless.

Flash Gordon On The Planet Mongo – The Complete Flash Gordon Library Vol.1 is a fun-filled hardcover volume packed with zippy storytelling, muscular artwork, and some good old fashioned unpretentious adventure and thrills to entertain that kid in us all sneaking around corners in their neighborhood, blasting unsuspecting pedestrians with their plastic, light-up toy laser guns. It is a book to nourish the imagination.

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