Monday, April 27, 2020

FLASH GORDON: KINGS CROSS #1 - 5

Written by: Jeff Parker & Jesse Hamm | Drawn by: Jesse Hamm
Colored by: Grace Allison | Lettered by: Simon Bowland
Packaged & Edited by: Nate Cosby

I don't really follow Dynamite much. I peruse their Comixology sales now and then, but I don't pay a lot of attention with what they're doing with their various licenses -- I just buy stuff that looks interesting. And FLASH GORDON: KINGS CROSS looked like something I might enjoy. Starring some of King Features' most popular comic strip heroes and drawn in a really clean, cartoony style, it looked like a lot of fun. So I picked it up and let it sit for a while, finally reading it recently.

...And boy was I confused! At first I thought we were jumping into some new epic en media res, with the characters having already met at various points in the past and lots of references to things that had already happened, but had never actually been published. Sort of like George Lucas's concept for the original STAR WARS: joining the saga as if it were the middle of an ongoing movie serial. So I figured things like the presence of a black Phantom and a Phantom-in-training named Jen would be explained as we went along, and the oblique references to unseen past events would be fleshed out.

This was my impression, at least, until partway through the second issue when a footnote appeared. "Check KINGS QUEST 1 - 5 for that epic tale!", it said.

KINGS... QUEST? Wow, they're really going all-in on pretending there were stories that preceded this one! A fake footnote! Clever, I thought. But still... I figured maybe I should just Google this to be sure.

Well, Imagine my surprise when I learned that prior to KINGS CROSS, there was inded a mini-series called KINGS QUEST. And prior to that, were separate mini-series starring Flash Gordon, Mandrake, and the Phantom. And prior to those was a mini-series called KINGS WATCH! All set in the same continuity, following from one another. Like I said, I don't pay much attention to Dynamite -- but even so, I was surprised I had been completely unaware of this franchise!


And now I was conflicted. Did I really want to read a story with so much continuity preceding it? Or should I just scrap the idea? But I was already an issue and a half in, and I didn't feel totally lost yet. I at least knew who the black Phantom was before issue 1 was finished. (It's Lothar, Mandrake's former sidekick -- though how he took up a hereditary title when he's clearly not related to the Walker family remains a mystery -- as does the backstory of the young Phantom-in-training, Jen. Her last name isn't even mentioned in this series.) And hey, picking up a comic series in the middle of an ongoing storyline is how pretty much all of us got started on our favorite characters, after all!

So I soldiered on, and found a mostly enjoyable story. It's pretty much straight action from start to finish -- Earth is in sort of a technological dark age, having apparently lost all of its digital technology and relying on radios and other vintage devices for information and survival. Ming the Merciless, who was believed dead, returns and plants one of Mongo's continents smack dab on Earth. Flash, Mandrake, the Phantoms, Doctor Zarkov, and Dale Arden travel to the continent, battle Ming's forces, team up with two more King Features characters in Jungle Jim and Prince Valiant, and eventually save the day, banishing Ming to Mars, where he sets up his new home.

There's lots of MCU-style banter, as is in vogue these days, which I don't think really fits most of these characters -- but it's not terribly distracting either. There's also some weirdly graphic violence early on, however, which doesn't sit right at all. Doctor Zarkov is accosted by several Russian agents, and Flash bursts in to save his friend, jovially slaughtering all the bad guys in insanely over-the-top fashion: he uses one as a human shield against a machine gun, grabs a machete from a second guy and uses it to slash a third's throat and stab a fourth in the forehead, then breaks the last guy's neck on the back of a chair. And he does it all with a jolly grin on his face, like some sort of psychopath. I mean, seriously? This is grossly out-of-character for any version of Flash I've ever seen, and it's even at odds with his behavior in most of the rest of the story. I honestly don't get it.

But again, overall the story is a pretty fun romp. That said, I do have an additional issue or two with it. One: I'm not a fan of this being set in the present day. Sure, it looks like Earth's technology was set back thanks to events in prior stories, but characters are still wearing contemporary fashions and talking about cell phones, nuclear missiles, etc. Flash and company were all created in the thirties. There have been many attempts to modernize them over the decades (heck, their ongoing comic strips are always set in the present day, whenever that may be), but for me, it never works. Just keep them in the pre-war era, where they work best.

Second, a bit more explanation of certain things would've been appreciated. We get a lot on Ming, such as how he was deposed and how he came back, but that's it. Why not explain how Lothar became the Phantom and who the heck Jen is? I get that these things were shown in the prior series, but I like flashbacks and exposition in my comics, darn it! They help both to get new readers up to speed, and simply to remind those who were already reading of things they may have forgotten.

(Oh, one more minor quibble: this version of Zarkov is a self-proclaimed second-generation American. He uses American slang. It just doesn't work for me.)

But on the other hand, the story is a pretty fun, breezy read, and the artwork is great. I've seen Jesse Hamm's name around around here and there for years, but never read anything he drew until today. I think I can declare that I'm officially a fan!

3 comments:

  1. Only question I have is how much of this series is Zarkov out of action for? I must know!

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    1. Actually, he's front and center through the entire story! No amnesia, madness, presumed death, or anything else. Clearly these guys aren't the biggest Alex Raymond fans!

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    2. They clearly didn't do their homework, yeah.

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