So “Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo,” the first in a series of beautiful hardcover collections of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday newspaper strips, is essential perusing for anyone who wants to understand the origins of modern space opera.
The first oversized hardback collection curates Raymond’s Sunday strips from Jan. 1, 1934 to April 18, 1937 and features an introduction and appreciation by artist Alex Ross.
What’s fascinating about the collection is how quickly Raymond populated the world of Mongo with bizarre characters and creatures. By the time of the second Sunday strip – the second – Raymond had introduced giant dinosaur lizards for Flash to battle. By the third Sunday, red ape-like creatures are brought out to wrestle a Speedo-sporting Flash.
Lion Men, Hawk Men and other staples of the strip follow one after the other.
Raymond quickly grew more confident in his art. The early strips contain up to 12 panels. They’re colorful and stuffed full of wild figures and story twists but Raymond’s talents are not shown off by the cramped layout.
By the fall of 1934, Raymond had made his panels bigger – sometimes using as few as eight – and telling his story more effectively.
By mid-1935, the panels were as few as four a week. On June 16, 1935, Raymond used just three panels – one taking up much of that week’s strip – to show Hawkmen, spears in hand, buzzing out of the sky on an enemy army on the ground below.
In these first adventures, Flash and his allies war against Emperor Ming, explore undersea kingdoms and are forever being thrown into pits with reptilian beasties.
It’s all fun and, thanks to the propulsive plots and beautiful art of Alex Raymond, a classic.