Friday, June 30, 2017

FLASH GORDON PART 3

“AT WAR WITH MING” | “UNDERSEA KINGDOM OF MONGO”
by Alex Raymond & Don Moore

Following from the prior story arc, which saw Flash finally installed as King of the cavern land of Kira, Flash receives a note from Ming in which the emperor says he doesn’t believe Flash won over Queen Azura, and the despot will not recognize Flash as ruler of Kira until he executes her. Flash, being a careful, level-headed ruler, immediately declares war on Ming for this outrage.

…Look, I know this is an action/adventure serial, and as such, there should be some form of action and/or adventure every week, but Flash seems way out of line here. And we’ve seen this impetuous, impulsive side of oour hero before, but it’s usually in the heat of the moment as he’s forced to come up with a game plan on the fly or something. But here he’s won his freedom from Ming, he’s tamed his kingdom, and he’s more or less dropped off the merciless warlord’s radar. You’d think he might want to lay low for a while and build up his strength before racing into a foolhardy war against the emperor of the world!

But such prudence is not the way of Flash Gordon, so a war begins. Ming marshals the various kingdoms of Mongo loyal to his banner, while Flash receives aid from King Vultan and the Hawkmen, plus Prince Barin (now wearing a spiffy Robin Hood getup since becoming ruler of Mongo’s tree kingsom) and his forces. Unfortunately none of these are enough to save Flash from the treachery of Aura, who — though she has apparently settled into her role as Barin’s bride — still harbors loyalty to her father. Aura gives away Flash’s battle plans to Ming, who wipes out his army and takes him captive.


This leads Dale and Zarkov to Mongo’s capital on a quest to rescue Flash, who manages to escape on his own even as his friends are captured. In the ensuing scenes, Flash wanders around the city in various disguises — a soldier, a beggar, and a commander in Ming’s army — without raising the suspicion of anyone around him despite the fact that his skin is not yellow.

Now let’s be clear: we’ve learned by now that not all the denizens of Mongo have yellow skin. In fact that pigmentation seems to be unique to Ming’s people, in the capital city. The Hawkmen aren’t yellow, Queen Azura and her people aren’t yellow, etc. So on its face, Flash disguising himself seems like it could work — except that all of Ming’s soldiers are yellow-skinned! Thus our hero looks incredibly out of place among them, even though no one so much as raises an eyebrow, even as they all know they’re looking for Flash Gordon, and even as he barks orders at them in his guise as a high-ranking member of the army.

The frustrating thing is that this weirdness could’ve been avoided quite easily by simply showing some members of Ming’s army with other skin tones besides yellow — but that thought apparently never occurred to the strip’s colorist.

Moving on: Flash and friends are reunited and manage to capture Ming, but he escapes as they make their way to their hidden aircraft. Our heroes take to the skies and depart Mongo’s capital, but their craft crashes into the Sea of Mystery. Dale and Zarkov wash up on an island, while Flash lands in the realm of the mer-people, where their queen, Undina, has him converted into a water-breather in order to make him her consort.


So, yeah — the trope we discussed last time, of the various queens of Mongo falling for Flash, continues here. But on the plus side, the underwater kingdom is called Coralia, which would seem perhaps to be another influence on George Lucas and his development of STAR WARS a few decades later, where Han Solo's homeworld was known as Corellia.

Subsequently, Dale and Zarkov are found and brought to Coralia as well, and when Flash tries to save them he is arrested. Then, for reasons unknown, Ming declares war on Coralia. Undina pardons Flash and the others in exchange for their help in her war against Ming. Together, Flash and Zarkov rout Ming’s forces. A feast is held in their honor and Undina reveals her heretofore hidden love for her right-hand man, Triton. All’s well that ends well as our heroes return to the surface world, able to breathe air once more.

On one hand I like visiting the various realms of Mongo, meeting its peoples and seeing the antics Flash gets into everywhere he goes. On the other hand — besides the above-noted instance of yet another queen falling for Flash — this stopover under the sea feels unnatural, and far more like filler material, than any of Flash’s other various pit-stops so far.

That said, as usual Raymond draws the heck out of it. He has a style I don’t think I would’ve liked as a child; it’s a bit too photorealistic. When I was younger I liked my comic characters to look like real people, but the comic book equivalent thereof; something you might see from a John Romita or a Gil Kane. Then I went through a phase where I liked super-cartoony stuff such as the work of Joe Madureira or Mike Wieringo. Nowadays, while I still enjoy both those styles, I’ve found my tastes leaning towed the semi-photorealism of an Alex Raymond or an Al Williamson — guys who clearly use photo-reference but whose characters are stylized enough to still look like they belong in a comic book. I think certain artists are too photorealistic — see Greg Land or Bryan Hitch for example — but Raymond straddles the line of what I like just about perfectly.

Add to that his fantastic use of light and shadow and the usual extraordinary imagination in creating locales such as Coralia or the retro-futuristic vehicles and technology of Ming and his forces, and it’s easy to see why Alex Raymond would go on to be a massive influence on cartoonists for years to come.

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