Review: Flash Gordon: The Fall of Ming

Flash Gordon: The Fall of Ming
Sundays 1941 – 1944
Alex Raymond
Titan Books

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The Story So Far…

It’s been sixty-nine years since Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon graced the full color Sunday comic sections of local newspapers. Since that time, Flash has been the subject of movies, Saturday morning cartoons, songs, and fueled countess homages. But time has managed to do what his arch nemesis Ming the Merciless could never do: relegate him to relative obscurity. Ask a baby-boomer and they’ll bend your ear about the exploits of the world’s greatest interplanetary traveler and man of valor. Ask a Gen-X’er and they’ll tell you about Queen, tight white T-shirts, and kitsch.  Ask the folks at Titan Books and they’ll tell you about Alex Raymond: Flash Gordon’s creator, its greatest writer/artist, and a run that ran every Sunday for nearly ten years.

Freed now from a tomb of relative pop obscurity Titan Books has put together three volumes collecting Raymond’s work. Each page contains a week’s strip in saturated full-color printed on heavy paper, bringing it leagues away from its inaugural appearance on flimsy newsprint. It is more than a coffee table book: it is a time capsule. Much like Flash’s own narrow weekly escapes, these pages preserve a story rich in sci-fi operatic and fine beautiful line-work from falling into history’s dark corners.

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Each installment overflows with rich imagery, expressive characters, and compulsive visual world-building. There are no corners cut in these panels; no black backgrounds and no half-tone filler. Instead we get detailed views of pre-computer schematics, diverse alien landscapes, and tables littered with utensils and discarded missives. This is a world to lose oneself in and study. Raymond invites us to be flies on the wall and witnesses to daring escapades and nefarious plots. We become the hero’s unseen companion and invisible conspirator.

In my favorite series of strips, “Upside-Down World”, Raymond flips the panels as our protagonists find themselves trapped without gravity. The end result leaves us unsure as to whether we should read the panels first or focus on the art. The effect is one that mimics the same strange sense of disorientation Flash and the gang must feel. There are no editor’s explanation or fan forums to detail the rationale, Raymond assumes that we invisible onlookers simply understand it is all part of the adventure.

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As the age of Sci-fi serials died and WWII ushered in a wave of existential cynicism, Flash couldn’t keep up. The age of wonder became an age of fast cars, Rock’n’Roll, and superheroes. Without Raymond’s sense of story pacing, his eternal supply of cliffhangers, and precision line-work, Flash appeared even more lost. But Titan has preserved those glory years and transcended time and space. They have given us a crystal clear view into a world many of us never knew existed.

Hard Case Crime in October

In the ‘Take All My Spare Money” Department, Hard Case Crime will be releasing eight Michael Crichton crime novels from the late ’60’s and early 70’s when he wrote under the name John Lange.
Both Zero Cool and Grave Descend have been published before, but you really should order them all for the integrity of the set.

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Here’s the lowdown from the Titan Publishing press release:

ODDS ON (1966): The perfect heist, planned by computer, in a luxury hotel off the coast of Spain.

SCRATCH ONE (1967): On the French Riviera, a case of mistaken identity could cost an American lawyer his life when a group of international assassins confuse him for the secret agent sent to take them down.
EASY GO (1968): Can an Egyptologist and his band of thieves find a lost tomb buried for centuries in the desert – and get away with its treasure?
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ZERO COOL (1969): An American doctor vacationing in Europe gets caught between rival criminal gangs who both demand his help to find a legendary gem.
THE VENOM BUSINESS (1970): An expert on venomous snakes and smuggler of rare artifacts accepts an assignment working as a bodyguard to a man everyone wants dead.
DRUG OF CHOICE (1970): Bioengineers at a secret island resort promise pleasures beyond imagination – but what’s the secret behind the strange drug they’ve created?
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GRAVE DESCEND (1970): A diver in Jamaica, hired to search the wreck of a sunken yacht, uncovers secrets deeper and darker than the waters in which the ship rests.
BINARY (1972): A terrorist mastermind and a federal agent wage a battle of wits and of nerve when the villain plots to unleash poison gas on San Diego, killing one million people…including the President of the United States.

Tiki PI this weekend

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Co-creator and artist Bill Hewitt’s opening page

Hello Bibliodiscophiles!
Sorry I have been away so much recently, but I’m busy putting the finishing touches on the Tiki PI short story and special edition of X.X.X which you can get by picking up a copy of the book.

Who is Tiki PI and why should I care?

Tiki PI is Hawaii’s only supernatural detective. He’s a cross between Steve McGarrett and Dolemite.
Together with his partner, Hunter the Owl, they rid the islands of evildoers, ride the waves of justice, and bed the secretaries of the police dept.  Bizarre Men for Bizarre Times.

Well, any way here are some shots from the book and pin-ups. If you happen to be in New Jersey this weekend swing by the table and say ‘hi’.

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Johnny Destructo does the cover to the short story.

 

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Limited Edition Tiki PI Fan Club Buttons
Designed by Bill Hewitt

 

Something Nice

If You Had Ears, You Could Not Ignore It: Mainstream Responses to Punk by David Bloom – This article looks at the reaction of pioneers like Springsteen and Young to the birth of punk in ’77.

For those looking for an interesting read, here are a few books I’ve finished this month:

The Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of Death – Charlie Huston
This is easily one of the best novels I have ever read. I’m not saying it’s Steinbeck or  DeLillio, but it holds its own amongst the top ten. Webster Fillmore Goodhue is an ex-teacher profession slacker who has decided the time has come for employment. Unfortunately, the only one willing to hire him is Clean Team – a family run trauma cleaning business. And a woman who needs a favor.

Huston creates compelling characters – believable in their characterization and motivation. You not only feel for each one despite their foibles, but you find yourself empathizing with them as well.

Caught Stealing – Charlie Huston
For years I have been hesitant about reading more Huston for the fear that nothing could compete with The Mystic Art….Well, Caught Stealing doesn’t quite make it there, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t completely intense and captivating in its own right. Caught Stealing is another ‘wrong place/wrong time’ scenario and for protagonist Hank winning out in the end comes at a such a loss, it almost is easier to accept just laying down and dying as a resolution.

Joe Golem and the Drowning City – Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola
This quick read started with a mystic, a half sunken New York, and a 14 year old street rat, it quickly found itself running out of steam. I love the work of Mignola and Golden, but the severe lack of subplots creates a literary mouse wheel effect, you feel like you’re getting somewhere but the incessant metal squeaking could drive you mad. Joe Golem looks to be a great core character (in the way that Baltimore did), and his continued quest will certainly fill the pages of Dark Horse spin-off books, but overall its feels like its missing the same sense of fun Hellboy or BPRD does.

Something Nice – Planet Stories

I am most likely the last man on earth to comment on these, but since Hard Case isn’t currently doing monthly subscriptions, I needed another monthly fix of pulp novels.

Looking through my collection I noticed that the Manly Wade Wellman book I picked up when I did the podcast last summer was part of a series of rereleases. So I now belong to the Planet Stories Book Club. Get me my damn ring. 

BTW – This cover is for one of the greatest female science fiction writers ever. She also did the screenwriting for The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, Rio Bravo, and The Empire Strikes Back.