By Andy Mansell | Contributor Published: 06/10/2013 10:00 am EST
Publish date: June 11, 2013 Publisher: Titan Books
It’s okay really…Ming fell quite a lot and picked himself back up to make life difficult for our stalwart blasé hero Flash Gordon. Thus was the norm in what Ron Goulart described as The Adventurous Decade. Before we go any farther, I need to point out something: I am a Comic Strip junkie. I cannot get enough reprint books of the classic newspaper strips. I also need to confess a little secret: I am sick and tired of all of these multiple publishers offering the same strips over and over and over. You’d figure our little comic stripping community could unite and make all the printing presses point in the same direction, if you’ll pardon the pureed metaphor. During the early nineties there was too much (or so I thought) and I had to stop. Before you could say Limited-Signed-Hardcover-Omnibus-Variant Cover, the ‘90s comic explosion imploded and in the aftermath there was hardly a trickle of strips reprints to come from any of the surviving publishers. So, I spent the last 15-odd years bidding online for those volumes I was unable to afford in earlier years. And one of the series that cost me an arm and a leg was the Kitchen Sink volumes collecting the Science Fiction masterpiece Flash Gordon by the late, great Alex Raymond. In today’s marketplace, it’s a whole different story.
When shopping for Flash Gordon reprints, you have four options. Most of us can’t afford to collect all of them and the idea of owning even two of the collections sets off an alarm in my therapist’s office. You can go to the auction sites and used book stores for the Kitchen Sinkers, or buy the Checker edition from a few years back that reprinted the KSP volumes virtually pixel for pixel. But neither is ideal. The real battle is between Dean Mullaney’s Library of American comics Complete Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim and Titan’s Complete Flash Gordon.
We need to discuss strip reproduction. In the past, I didn’t really care. I was just so grateful to read the great old strips that I’d settle for anything. Now, thanks to technology and such a volume and variety of strip tomes available, we have the luxury of being demanding and even down-right picky. IDW always does a great job. They have published 75 books and all are worth perusing. Titan—another truly impressive comic publisher—has engaged the efforts of Peter Mascera to make the strips as print-worthy as possible. Mr. Mascera is the hard-working visionary behind Sunday Press Books. In my humble opinion, SP’s Forgotten Masterpieces of Fantasy is the best comic-related book to come out in the past 10 years.
Regarding the strips themselves, the stories are fun and serviceable. Once (Spoiler Alert!) Ming has fallen, Flash returns to Earth in 1941 to fight a World War to save earth’s freedom the menace of the Red Hand. It is engaging to read a fictional WWII story-line that culminates the week before Pearl Harbor. But little of the plots matter, because when it comes to the sequential art of Alex Raymond, you are in it for the pictures, not the words. It’s the alien vistas, the erotically shaped space ships, and the scantily clad women that keep you coming back for more. This is comic art at its best. There are pages where you will just stare at a particular panel and marvel at Raymond’s vision and talent.
So every respectable comic’s library must contain Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon. Which volume do you choose?
If you are a Raymond completest, you will want to treat yourself to the over-sized and much higher-priced IDW volume that collects the “topper strip” Jungle Jim along with Flash. But if your only interest is science fiction in general and Flash Gordon in specific, the TITAN editions are for you. They are easier to handle, they look beautiful on the bookshelf, and again, these TITAN editions’ reproduction is fabulous.
If I could do it all over again, I would have waited and gone with the Titan edition. Although it is pleasant to look at, I find Jungle Jim rather mediocre and in the last years of Raymond’s run, it seems as though he and his writer Don Moore lost interest in it as well. TITAN plans to keep collecting Flash Gordon Sunday strips through the brief but impressive tenure of Austin Briggs, then hopefully they will continue on and publish the 20-year run of the incomparable Mac Raboy!
Andy Mansell lived in Chicago for over 40 years until his doctors advised him that he would die soon unless he got as far away from the land of Italian combo sandwiches and soft serve frozen custard. He is currently growing rather old rather quickly in Charlotte, NC as a member of the Waistline Protection Program. He lives for four things: his family, baseball, opera, and of course great comics. He is also looking for a ride back to Chi-town for just one more breaded steak sammich. He will provide gas, guaranteed. Contact him at this address.