When comic fans think of Flash Gordon, chances are that it’s Alex Raymond’s beautiful illustrations and fantastical storylines they remember. But when King Features Syndicate decided to revive the strip a handful of years after Raymond’s departure, they asked artist Dan Barry to take the controls. The results were very different from Raymond’s original – gone were the hyper-imaginative but scientifically bogus rocketships and death rays, the exotic creatures and uber-sexualised women – even though, at heart, the characters of Flash and Dale remained basically unchanged. Mongo was gone and so was Dr. Zarkov, in favour of a new cast of team mates that included bespectacled Kent, a physicist turned wrongly-convicted murderer, and Ray Carson, a freckle-faced earth boy whose scientist father was lost during a space mission. But some things never change – the gorgeous-but-chaste Dale Arden, who had always battled other extra-terrestrial lovelies for Flash’s affection, had a new nemesis in the form of Marla, a beautiful but black-hearted ice queen who joined the crew after her own civilisation was destroyed. And there were still plenty of monsters for Flash to fight and incomprehensible gladiatorial arenas to fight them in. As Dave Schreiner describes it in the fascinating foreword to this book, Dan Barry and his writer Harvey Kurtzman shared an uncomfortable partnership, never being quite content with what the other was doing, but the results were still impressive.
‘The City of Ice’ collects Barry and Kurtzman’s dailies from 1951 to 1953 – in total, seven stories that evolve Flash from the swashbuckling blonde-haired Adonis of Alex Raymond’s ‘golden age’ into a hero who, although no less heroic, has convincingly matured and grown more comfortable in his own skin. It’s true that, without the reassuring environs of Mongo and the unmatchable menace of Ming the Merciless to contend with, this version of Flash Gordon doesn’t thrill quite as much as the original, but the opening story – about a revolt on a space prison – is a muscular introduction to Flash Mk. 2 and sets up the rest of the adventure quite neatly. Before long we are almost back in familiar territory, fighting tyranny on a doomed planet, being pursued by butterfly men and devilish satyrs, finding ourselves trapped in a fearful forest, and trying to save Earth with the aid of an elderly alchemist’s ingenious time machine. Barry’s artwork, although very different from Raymond’s, is impressive and jam-packed with wonderful details (check out the panels when Dale is forced to serve drinks to a rabble of escaped convicts or later, in the ‘awful forest’, when a myriad of grotesque demons threaten our heroes from amongst the trees) and it’s a terrifically exciting and nostalgic trip, packed with fabulous gadgets like the ‘Badulator’ (“See how much evil she registers! Wow! One thousand ‘ergs’ of evil! The top of the scale!”) and the ‘Cornucopiak’, which goes explosively wrong if it’s overworked. There’s even the promise of Dr. Zarkov’s reappearance in later issues - who knows, maybe the Emperor Ming will tag along too? We can only hope and, in the meantime, be grateful for the triumphant gloriousness of this new collection, a fine antidote to the insipid (and plainly stupid) version of Flash Gordon currently starring in the most recent comic book incarnations.
Don’t delay - release your inner hawkman and swoop this tremendous collection off the shelf before Klytus gets there first.
FLASH GORDON DAILIES: DAN BARRY VOLUME 1 - THE CITY OF ICE / AUTHOR: HARVEY KURTZMAN / ARTIST: DAN BARRY / PUBLISHER: TITAN COMICS / RELEASE DATE: 24TH MAY