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August 2003
2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon Volume I by Alex Raymond
Checker Trade: ISBN 097416643X PubDate: 08/01/03
Review by Unassigned

200 pgs. List price $ 0
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A planet-sized comet speeds towards Earth. A mad, or at least visibly perturbed, scientist -- Dr. Zarkov -- stares at it through a telescope. Internationally-renowned polo star -- and Yale graduate -- Flash Gordon, and Dale Arden are passengers on a flight across the United States.

A piece of the comet/planet hits the plane's wing; Flash Gordon parachutes out (where do passengers get parachutes?), holding Dale Arden.

They land on the lawn of Dr. Z, who immediately kidnaps them at gunpoint into his rocket ship, which, using some kind of scientific ray, pushes the deadly comet-planet away from hitting Earth. There's a ruckus, the rocket crashes on said planet-comet, yclept Mongo.

And that's all in the first two pages.

Although, arguably the name of Buck Rogers is invoked more often in much of SF's hoary history, Flash Gordon...

Unlike Buck Rogers, which was abysmally drawn (I've got a big old hardcover reprint book of the strips, I checked) and wasn't plotted so hot neither, Flash Gordon was pretty well drawn from the start, and got better. The plotting, not so hot -- but at the rate it moved (except for some of the last quarter of this volume) -- what might have stretched for a week in Little Orphan Annie took only two or three panels in Flash Gordon -- you might never notice.

Flash Gordon Volume 1, as the name suggests, reprints our intrepid space hero's first adventures -- the first two years in this volume. (The rest of Alex Raymond's run on this strip will be in Volumes 2 and 3.) Being a Sunday-only strip at the time, they're all in color.

It's not clear whether Flash and love interest Dale Arden knew each other before their fatal flight, or whether things developed off-stage early in their adventures. Nothing like being stranded on a foreign planet, with the well-muscled guy dressed in skimpy shorts, and getting shot at, kidnapped, enslaved, whipped, flame-broiled and generally put through hi and low tech heck to stir up romance, I guess.

According to some of my history-of-comic-strips/artists I checked, Raymond began as a so-so artist. His previous work included Tim Tyler's Luck and Secret Agent X-9 (with Dashiell Hammett doing the writing on this one) But by the time he created Flash Gordon, he'd gotten pretty dang good, and got even better over time. You can't fully appreciate it from this book, sadly, due to the size. (Some of the larger-sized reprint panels in my other books show this better.)

In theory, Flash Gordon was supposed to have less "science stuff" than Buck Rogers, though what there was equally if not more hokey -- flaming liquid oxygen, gas rays, anti-gravity light, flaming radium-tipped spears and other handwaving hoohah, not that it mattered much. (I'm more curious about simple things, like how did an international polo star get so good with swords and bare-handed fighting strange animals and dudes to the death?)

E.g., from page 78 "Here is the secret of how the hawkmen support their city five thousand feet above the ground! They burn radium in these atom furnaces to make great beams of polarized anti-gravity light! Solidified light rays ... huge stilts..." I'd like to say they don't write them like that no more, though I fear some do.

A few Flash-Facts, courtesy of some quick Googling:

  • Flash Gordon is still an active comic strip, available from: http://www.kingfeatures.com/features/comics/fgordon/about.htm.
  • :In addition to the comic strip, Flash has also starred in a live-action serial, a radio show, novels, comic books, animated cartoons, and he even appears on his own U.S. postage stamp."
  • Some good places for more info include this general info site , and a bio of Alex Raymond .
  • According to http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_Gordon, "In 1988, DC Comics produced a modernized version of the comic strip. It featured a Flash as washed up basketball player who finds new purpose in life on Mongo, a Dale who is an adventurous reporter who is just as capable as Flash and a Ming who is less of an Asian stereotype." (I remember these comics.)

Is this book worth getting?

If you're a Flash Gordon fan, definitely -- Raymond's work isn't available anywhere else (certainly not at reasonable prices).

If you're a fan or student of the art form, science fiction, or space opera, maybe.

If you're simply a comic strip fan, but not a Raymond/Gordon fanatic, I'd consider investing my dollars elsewhere ... but if a copy shows up in your local library, do borrow it!

Meanwhile, upcoming projects from Checker include two volumes of Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon: 1947 and 1948.

Daniel P. Dern (bio)

2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
columns - events - features - booksmedia                    home  /  subscribe