Book Review: Flash Gordon On The Planet Mongo / Writer: Alex Raymond / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: Out Now
Titan Books have really done it this time. Long established as the premiere publishing house for genre material, they’ve just published what must surely be the ultimate Flash Gordon book. And the even better news is that this is merely the first in a series that will become essential reading for fans of Golden Age science fiction as well as comic book fans. This, in a way, is really where it all started.
Buck Rogers was really the first of the comic strip sci-fi heroes, there’s no denying that, but Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon is arguably the more recognisable and the better remembered. This handsome volume reprints the strips published in Sunday papers from January 7, 1934 through to April 18, 1937. It contains nine complete stories published on fairly heavy stock paper to show Raymond’s magnificent artwork to its best advantage.
As should be borne in mind, the plots are fairly simplistic, given that Raymond had basically half a page of a broadsheet paper to tell each installment and readers keen to observe political correctness would do well to observe that the book also contains the warning that characters may have views or use language which some of today’s readers may find offensive, but these are archive stories, reflecting the opinions and attitudes of the times in which they were written. Thus, for example, Ming the Merciless, tyrant ruler of the planet Mongo is obviously an eastern stereotype. The real beauty is in the fine line work of Raymond’s graceful inks and his incredible eye for detail and realism.
In reading the opening strip, I was struck by how closely Universal Studios had kept to Raymond’s concepts, costumes, spacecraft and interiors when they produced the first Flash Gordon serial in 1936. The resemblance between actor Buster Crabbe and Flash Gordon is stunning. Speaking of the serials, The Witch Queen of Mongo, the fifth story in the book, introduces us to Azura, The Witch Queen of the Blue Magic Men and is the basis for Universal’s second serial, Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars.
The book’s one flaw, and I might be overly critical here, is that some of the strips in the book seem to have been blown up to twice their size for formatting - a bit too much to show the art at its best. This is only evident in the strips between February 3, and May 26 1935. But it's a small gripe when we get to see the golden age of science fiction and the dawn of comic strips as we know them today unfold in front of our eyes.
I look forward to the future volumes.