Sometimes when I decide to read certain comic books on this blog, I have to struggle to make connections with those I might have read previously in order to make some sort of case that I have a particular style or continuity in the types of books I like reviewing.
With this week’s edition of the good ol’ American Read Pile though, that’s not the case. This week’s book happens to be waist deep in call backs to previous read piles and other articles that I’ve written here at GotS. So get ready for to be a wash in links to other articles you can read once you are done with this one, as they are for sure coming!
I mean the most obvious reason most of you have probably already pointed out as to why I picked this book was because it features the daring space adventurer that happens to have a kick ass Queen song written about him, the one and only Flash Gordon. Yep, I think other than Spider-man or Machine Man, I’ve probably written more articles about the Champion of Mongo, than any other comic book character out there, such as my treatise on why if you are a fan of Star Wars you should give Flash a go.
Second this book also includes the Phantom as a main character, another 1930s newspaper strip super being that I wrote a couple articles on including this one on his DC mini series written by Peter David.
Finally, we have the author of today’s comic in Jeff Parker. We’ve both covered Jeff Parker’s work on the actual podcast covering his short lived Flash Gordon series that I believe preceded his work on this series, as well as I personally covered part of his run on the Red She Hulk. I’ve always liked Jeff’s writing whether it be the aforementioned Flash Gordon series, his run on Age of Sentry at Marvel, or others as its got a light and breezy bubble gum fun feel to it, punctuated with clever/witty dialogue. I’d say it’s similar to some of my other favs in writers like Chip Zdarsky , Nick Spencer, and Fred Van Lente.
In any case, with that said, it’s time to see if the epic Dynamite Comics/King Features Syndicate version of an “The Avengers” style mega team up in “King’s Watch” was truly equal to the sum of all of it’s terrific parts.
Was it? Let’s Read on to find out…
Mandrake the Magician’s most deadly foe, The Cobra, has just launched his latest devilish scheme which could have Earth changing consequences. He has decided to steal a recently found “Quantum Crystal” which the brilliant scientist Dr. Zarkov has used to develop an experimental plane/space ship for millionaire Flash Gordon. With the Quantum crystal, he can open a space portal to the planet Mongo, and in turn help Ming the Merciless funnel his armies of unstoppable Animal men on to the planet in hopes of turning it into another enslaved colony in his vast space empire.
What the Cobra and Ming didn’t count on though was that Mandrake and Flash Gordon would join forces with fellow super hero adventurer, The Phantom, in order to combat their nefarious schemes and hopefully defend the Earth from this alien invasion!
Things I Liked:
Well, I really do like the characters of Flash Gordon and the Phantom. I feel like you could give me any book with either of these characters and as long as you were at least in the ballpark of a good story, I would rank the tale higher than I normally would just because of the characters. Especially Flash! AH AH! DEFENDER OF THE UNIVERSE!
Sorry, I’m just going to use this section to talk about how much I love Flash Gordon now. Yep, Alex Raymond’s sword swingin’, polo playin’, spaceship flyin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ dealin’ son of a gun is just one of the best comic book characters ever in my opinion. Not sure if I have the goods to back up that claim, other than I’ve always loved the character since I first saw Larry “Buster” Crabbe play him in the 1939 Universal Serial Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. Hell I even like the campy 1980s movie and I feel like I’m one of the few people in America that watched the 2007 Live Action show on SyFy.
For my fellow Flash Gordon fans, I do have some great news! I’m not sure if you are aware but Disney/Fox is now in development of an animated Flash Gordon movie with Taika Waititi of Thor: Ragnarok fame slated to both write and direct it! That’s a super great call, as animation is the right way to go with this character vs. live action as Flash has always worked better as a family friendly franchise vs. a super serious thing. Plus, as I’ve mentioned constantly with the Jeff Parker/Doc Hammer Flash, you need a certain degree of poppy zany fun with Flash to make him really work with modern audiences. Not so much camp, but just free spirited cleverness.
Something like this animated short that was put out a couple years back by former Disney animator, Robb Pratt. Hell yes! This would put fannies in those movie seats!
…Yeah…is it obvious I didn’t really want to talk about King’s Watch in this section…
Okay…let’s move on then too…
Things I Didn’t Like:
It’s kind of hard to put my finger on what exactly I didn’t like about this book, but let me just say that despite what I wrote above, on the whole, I really didn’t care for this book at all. As I mentioned in the opening, I typically like Jeff Parker’s style of writing as it can be funny/quirky stuff, but that was totally missing from this story. It was more “by the numbers” as in someone gave Jeff a specific story he had to write, specific things and characters he had to include, specific outcomes even, and he just wrote it. And although I’ll give him a heck of a lot of credit in synthesizing all that into a cohesive tale, in the end, it wasn’t anything to write home about. It was bland and pretty forgettable, and again I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I just expected more.
I mean, that could have been my problem. Maybe I was expecting something more like his work on the Flash Gordon series with Doc Hammer, and this wasn’t even really in the ballpark. Initially, I was going to blame the Marc Laming art for the difference in feel, as his more realistic traditional comic artwork I felt was far from Doc Hammer’s more cartoony Alex Toth inspired stuff which seems to fit these characters better. However, as I read more and more, I realized that issues I had went far beyond just the artwork and in the end, instead of something memorable and different, I got a somewhat derivative King Features version of the JLA in a “been there, done that” invasion story.
I mean, most of the characters other than the Flash Gordon crew were just pale stand-ins for other famous comic book team characters, such as Mandrake being written as a Dr. Strange clone and the Phantom as pretty much a Batman clone. And although sure, these characters predate both of them historically, nowadays, both Batman and Dr. Strange are much more well known, so it does challenge you to develop Phantom/Mandrake in such a way that they aren’t just compared to these more socially recognizable characters. And with that, I really thought the book somewhat failed.
As I mentioned before, this series pulled heavily from being a modern retelling of the 80s cartoon series “Defenders of the Earth” which featured many of the same characters we see in this series including Flash Gordon, Mandrake, Lothar, and the Phantom. Not as well known in some circles as some of the other 80s cartoons such as GI Joe, He-man, and Transformers, I thought I’d use the fun facts on today’s blog to give a brief synopsis of the show as a way of providing some backstory into the series.
The show first aired in 1986 and ran for one 65 episode season in syndication. Developed as a joint venture between Marvel and King Features Syndicate, it eventually had it’s own 4 issue comic book mini series as well, through Marvel’s “Kid Brand” Star Comics. It’s interesting to note that the legendary Stan Lee actually wrote issue 1 of the series and the art for the entire series was done by Stan’s collaborator from the Spider-man Newspaper strip in Alex Saviuk.
Like “King’s Watch”, the series primarily dealt with Flash, Mandrake and Phantom’s struggle to stop Ming the Merciless from conquering Earth and exploiting its natural resources for his cosmic war machine. However, unlike “King’s Watch”, there was an additional focus placed on a second generation of heroes, in the children of these famous characters, such as Flash Gordon’s son, Rick, and the Phantom’s daughter, Jedda. This focus even extended to the bad guys’ camp as we are introduced to the evil children of Ming as well in Prince Kro-tan and Princess Castra.
This aspect was most likely added to the series to make it more appealing and relatable to the children who would be watching the show, as Marvel spared no expense in bringing in consultants from Q5 which included psychology PhDs in hopes of delivering solid social messaging in the midst of all the laser gun “pew pewing” and fist fights.
In the end, it was popular enough to warrant both a toy line as developed by Galoob, as well as a video game released in 1990 for the Commodore 64 and Atari Home Computers.
Currently you can get the entire series on DVD however it’s starting to become somewhat difficult to come by given the last release was made in 2010 by Mill Creek Entertainment, so it’s now pretty much a secondary market pick up now.
However I do believe it’s currently available through Amazon Prime for those of our fans that subscribe through that service.
In the end, I don’t think I really disliked this book as much as I had somewhat high expectations that I don’t think this book ever met. It’s similar to the way I felt about Dynamite’s “Masks” series, in that I was super excited about a comic team-up of some of my favorite pulp characters like “The Green Hornet” and “The Shadow”, but in the end, it was produced in a way that just left me cold. It lacked a lot of heart and originality, and the characterization was missing to a large degree.
And again given I thought I knew that Jeff Parker had a real understanding of the Flash Gordon universe and how to write interesting books with that character group, my expectations were even higher. But to see them ultimately dashed in what seems like a very “C” effort, that really stuck in my craw like a raspberry seed in your dental work. Not really painful, as much as annoyingly distracting.
Also given I wasn’t really a fan of the Defenders of the Earth series despite my write up of it above as frame of reference means that this series didn’t even gain bonus points for itching any sort of nostalgia bone. Although I will say that, the removal of the second generation kids from the story probably will be enough to annoy those that would have bought this book because of their love of that cartoon TV show.
Yeah, I’m just disappointed. I feel that’s the easiest way to describe it. I can’t call this story a couple fail because it did contain a good deal of elements that make for a happy Andy. However, I may or may not read the follow up story to this in “King’s Cross”, which up until this series I thought was a done deal. Perhaps it may redeem “King’s Watch” to a certain degree, but I’m not holding my breath.