The Complete Flash Gordon Library Volume 3 (Titan Books) Review

Volume 3 of The Complete Flash Gordon Library wraps up creator Alex Raymond's run on one of the most influential comic strips in the history of the genre.

The Complete Flash Gordon Library Volume Three: The Fall of Ming collects nearly three years worth of the full-color Flash Gordon Sunday strips and represents the last of Alex Raymond’s work on the iconic space adventure hero that he created. I’ve already gone on at length about the importance of Flash Gordon to superhero history, and about the quality of Titan’s line of Flash Gordon hardcover editions (and you can read all about the first two volumes right here), and in that respect, The Fall of Ming is no different. However, the stories contained in here are rather unique, and the introductory materials (by Dave Gibbons and Doug Murray) help illuminate why. Like many four-color heroes, it seems like Flash Gordon was fighting World War II well before the United States actually got involved. Alex Raymond’s concerns about the rise of fascism and the conflict in Europe spill onto the page, almost from the very beginning. While “The Fall of Ming” story began publication in January of 1941 (nearly 11 months before the attack on Pearl Harbor), there is an increasingly recognizable militaristic fashion sense that’s present in Ming’s troops, and the Emperor’s prisoners are held in somewhat presciently named “concentration camps.”Considering that this volume is entitled “The Fall of Ming” it’s worth noting that the actual fall of Ming takes up only the first six months of strips contained in the book (roughly 25 pages worth). Ming is dispatched relatively quickly, before Flash and Doctor Zarkov are alerted to the presence of an imperialist menace overtaking their home planet. “The Red Sword” are Nazis in all but name, and it’s not long before Flash, Dale, and Zarkov are off to Earth to combat this earthly menace with their interstellar weaponry in the “Return to Earth” story which wraps up at the end of 1941. While it’s not quite as literal as Captain America socking Hitler on the jaw on the cover of his own comic, the intent is the same, and the message is clear.Raymond’s own patriotism is on full display during the “Return to Earth” story, with Flash working in concert with American armed forces, and reasserting his commitment to battling tyrants wherever he may find them. Somewhat ironically (considering that they were drawn months in advance), the segments of “Return to Earth” that ran in the weeks surrounding the bombing of Pearl Harbor depict a harrowing air/sea battle between U.S. forces and those of The Red Sword. It seems like an unfortunate coincidence, but it may have been comforting to readers to see “Major Flash Gordon” emerge victorious over an increasingly familiar foe.Don’t worry…Flash returns to Mongo and his more familiar interstellar haunts later in the volume, although World War II ends up affecting the Flash Gordon strips in another, more literal fashion. War rationing included paper, and (as detailed in Doug Murray’s introduction), this entailed the shrinking of newspapers’ commitments to comic strips. Flash Gordon had long run with a Jungle Jim topper, which was eliminated. I haven’t seen IDW’s line of Flash Gordon reprints, which include the Jungle Jim topper strips, but I’d be curious to see how that was handled in those volumes. Given the way the strip changes format slightly in these pages, it appears that Jungle Jim would have disappeared from Flash Gordon‘s pages around May of 1943.Alex Raymond’s artwork remains absolutely stunning. While it lacks the (comparatively) crude dynamism of the first volume, every panel manages to tell the story almost completely independently of the text that accompanies it. Raymond’s grasp of anatomy and draftsmanship is virtually unparalleled, and it puts many of his monthly comic book contemporaries squarely in their place. The restorations of these strips by Peter Maresca do justice to Raymond’s work, and there’s none of the muddiness that crept into a few adventures in the first volume (although I imagine that Titan and Maresca had far better sources to work with here). As a rule, this entire series of reprints is easy on the eyes!World War II’s final influence on Flash Gordon involved Raymond’s ultimate departure from the strip to enlist in the Marines. Never fear, though. Fans of Flash Gordon, classic comic strips, and Titan’s handsome line of reprints should be thrilled to know that the series will continue into the Austin Briggs years, and a fourth volume, Kang The Cruel, is promised for later this year! Until then, these three volumes, comprising the entirety of one of the most important and influential characters and creators in the history of the medium, are absolutely essential.Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!