Along with Radical, Ardden are my favourite new publisher. Both companies seem committed to wisely selecting original titles, rather than flooding the market with more spandex wannabes. Flash Gordon is a great licence for any company to have, and the decades old sci-fi hero hasn’t always been treated with the respect he deserves. Ardden look set to change that by putting the focus unashamedly on the hero’s swashbuckling roots but with a contemporary shine that makes it hard to resist. The recent announcement of the company’s new series, The Stand-In, by writer Jim Krueger (DC’s Justice, Dynamite’s Project Superpowers) makes an intriguing second series for this new publisher.
The third issue of Alex Raymond’s classic hero begins with Dr Hans Zarkov (who inadvertently dropped Flash, and FBI agent Dale Arden knee deep in their current predicament) on the Penance Wheel before soon cutting to Flash and his new hot blonde friend Eldun, an Aroborian Ranger. The captured pair are being taken to Mount Karakas by Prince Thun, leader of the lion men. Then it’s another cut to Dale as she’s being given a city tour by the oddly accommodating Ming.
These three main developments occupy the bulk of the story and through some smart exposition we learn that there was once a civil war on Mongo. King Jugrid, Prince Thun’s father was negotiating a peaceful resolution, before he vanished, leaving Ming to take control. Of course, Ming tells Dale his version of the story. His words seem dipped in honey and poison, but Dale appears swept up by his charismatic ways, so much so that she manages to curb an assassination attempt on his life. Meanwhile, Flash and Eldun are thrown into the arena against Thun, thanks to Flash putting his foot in his mouth and insulting the lion men. Finally, Zarkov faces his own threats, namely at the hands of Prince Vultan who demands Zarkov’s help in breaking the slave collars from himself and his winged brothers-in-arms. Dale and Zarkov aren’t the stars of the show in this issue however, and as the title suggests, it’s Flash all the way, joined by Eldun. At issue’s end we learn Eldun’s real identity, but the two sub-plots centred on Flash’s friends leave them in a place where they must decide who can be trusted. On the weird, cruel world of Mongo, everyone wants something from these strange new visitors.
The fast moving plot, quick cuts at pivotal points, and constant action reminded me of Star Wars (the original trilogy). That’s high praise, to be sure, but this series has all the hallmarks of George Lucas’ greatest creation-rogueish characters, separated friends on their own missions, strangers in a strange land, different alien races and cultures, and hints of drama and romance along the way. Of course, Star Wars was inspired by Flash Gordon, and other old-timey adventurers of the past, but Flash has been out of the cultural lexicon for a long, long time. Ardden know that and are smart enough to give Raymond’s characters a fresh paint of ink that will resonate more with today’s pop culture lovers.
Brendan Deneen’s scripts give enough back story to fill the gaps if this is your first Flash issue, but as the title continues and the story becomes more involved, a “Previously in Flash Gordon” page may be a welcome contribution. The only real misstep in the script is the unclear nature of Thun’s relationship to King Jugrid, as ‘explained’ by Eldun. Are they father and son? In the same sentence she seems to offer opposing truths. Paul Green’s slick art retains its manga-lite flavour and is as simply dynamic as ever. In a few panels it’s obvious that some are simply copied, with new word balloons, but it’s not distracting, and as he continues to hone his craft he’ll hopefully become quicker and bolder, allowing for more risk taking in his page designs. I must also mention Richard Emms’ lettering. Along with Deneen, Emms is the main force behind Ardden, and shows what a great job he can do with some creative text design. Flash’s captions and Ming’s speech balloons have enough flourish to give them a distinctive look.
I’m glad Ardden are having success with this series and presenting, or re-presenting, Flash Gordon to a wider audience. Now that the main characters are all introduced, things on Mongo are starting to heat up. If you are, or know a Flash Gordon fan who also happens to be a comics collector, then you can also grab a great Christmas special from their on-line store, consisting of all 13 variant covers to the first three issues for only $US 45.