Review – Flash Gordon: The Tyrant of Mongo

Before Star Wars, before Star Trek, before Doctor Who… there were names amongst names in science fiction that resonate to this day.  One of the most venerable of that bygone age is Flash Gordon.  How influential is this character?  “Originally I wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie, with all the trimmings…” — George Lucas.  ‘Nuff said.  Flash Gordon was created as the direct competition back in the day for the incredibly popular Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  Featuring the incredible work of King Features Syndicate’s staff artist, creator Alex Raymond and the talents of pulp writer Don Moore, Flash Gordon brought something to Sunday newspaper strips that were a rare commodity indeed in the 1930s: plot and characterization that actually maintained a consistency and continuity from week to week, combined with a level of artwork that matched or exceeded the challenges of the story.  The result was, as we know now, one of the biggest success stories in the realm of science fiction and comics.

On December 18, 2012, Titan Books is releasing to the world the next in line of the Flash Gordon series, Flash Gordon: The Tyrant of Mongo, reprinting the restored Sunday newspaper strips from 1937 to 1941  We here at SciFiFX appreciatively received a review copy of this, which admittedly I’m still in the process of devouring.  As a kid in the age of Star Wars, I grew up on Flash Gordon, from the classic serials featuring Buster Crabbe to the 1980 big screener featuring the music of Queen, with a handful of TV incarnations in between.  The history of quality sci-fi and fantasy is important to me, regardless of the medium in which these great legacies are to be found.  All my life I have seen still shots of these newspaper strips.  But I’ve never had the opportunity to read them until now.  So when we were asked if we’d like to review it, of course I jumped at the opportunity.

So was it worth it?  Did this book satisfy a lifetime of curiosity and anticipation?  The simple answer to this is that my fellow SciFiFX compatriots may have to pry this book from my cold, dead hands.  In terms of story, this is a great swashbuckling adventure with all of the elements a pulp fan like myself is predisposed to love: a confident hero, strong and beautiful women on both sides of the good/evil line vying for the hero’s affection, a truly memorable villain, and a fantasy flavor that’s somewhere between Buck Rogers and Robin Hood in terms of aesthetic.  The literary aesthetic is matched in the artwork, which is nowhere near as primitive as the comic books of that age.  I love the look of the Joe Shuster Superman or the Bob Kane Batman, both of whom were contemporaries to this work, but side by side with this art – and it hurts to say this – you’d swear those venerable classics were simply not up to such levels of competition.  Such is the power and majesty of the Alex Raymond pencils that this work stands in a higher class alongside the likes of Prince Valiant and, of course, Buck Rogers.  Raymond was known as “the artist’s artist” for a reason.  He drew from live models, and the result is a level of character that in my mind establishes a high watermark in the history of comics art.

Flash Gordon: The Tyrant of Mongo features five serialized stories in their entirety:

  • “The Beast Men of Mongo”: 4/25/1937 – 8/8/1937
  • “The Outlaws of Mongo”: 8/15/1937 – 5/29/1937
  • “The Tyrant of Mongo”: 6/5/1938 – 3/5/1939
  • “The Ice Kingdom of Mongo”: 3/12/1939 – 4/7/1940
  • “The Power Men of Mongo”: 4/14/1940 – 1/12/1941

Peter Maresca deserves special mention for his restoration work, as this collection truly catches and holds the eye as though it were rendered yesterday.  Certainly this work could not have looked so good in the Sunday newspapers of the age.

As I say, the book is released on December 18, and if you read this beforehand, you can place a pre-order at Amazon.  If you claim to love sci-fi and heroic comics art, this book is for you.  And now that I know this is not the first book in the set, I will be tracking that down soon enough.  How these slipped beneath my fanboy radar before now is a mystery, but it will be mine.  Oh yes, it will be mine…