Friday, June 23, 2017

FLASH GORDON PART 2

“TOURNAMENTS OF MONGO”
“THE CAVERNS OF MONGO” | “WITCH QUEEN OF MONGO”
by Alex Raymond & Don Moore

In the climax of the previous story arc, Doctor Zarkov’s scientific acumen saved the city of Hawk Men from plummeting to the surface of Mongo, thus winning Flash and company the eternal gratitude and friendship of King Vultan, ruler of the Hawk Men. As the “Tournaments of Mongo” arc opens, Ming arrives in the floating city to take back his bride, Dale — but Vultan declares Dale under his protection and proposes a contest to determine the freedom of both her and Flash. Ming agrees and begins the “Tournament of Death”.

Though it’s not exactly spelled out in narration, it seems that the tournament is intended for those people of Mongo with nothing to lose in life: convicts, the poor, etc. The rules are simple: any number of contestants enter, and following a series of challenges, there can be only one living victor. The champion may then select a woman of his choice as his bride, and will be awarded one of Mongo’s kingdoms to rule.

In addition to Flash, the rebel Prince Barin also enters the tournament, disguised with a mask. We learn over the course of the challenges that Barin is in love with Ming’s daughter, Princess Aura, and that he is the rightful ruler of Mongo, a position Ming somehow usurped from him. In the end, it’s down to Flash and Barin, and when the prince is unmasked, the people of Mongo cheer for both of them to win the tournament. Backed into a corner by this overwhelmingly popular support, Ming allows both men to live. Flash chooses Dale as his bride, while Barin picks Aura. Ming awards the men their kingdoms, two of the planet’s most untamed: Barin will rule the Forests while Flash will have the Caverns.

Monday, June 19, 2017

DAREDEVIL #182

"SHE’S ALIVE”
Story & Art : Frank Miller | Finished Art & Colors: Klaus Janson
Letters: Joe Rosen | Editor: Denny O’Neil | Supervisor : Jim Shooter

The Plot: Matt awakes in the middle of the night, convinced Elektra is still alive, and goes out in search of her. Meanwhile, in prison, the Punisher kills three of his fellow inmates and is soon approached by a government agent who will arrange to break him out so he can intercept a drug shipment entering the country via Long Island.

After learning that the Kingpin has a big underworld summit upcoming, Matt spends the day at Nelson & Murdock obsessing over the coroner’s report on Elektra. That night, the Punisher escapes from Ryker’s Island Penitentiary while Daredevil questions the Kingpin about Elektra. After the hero leaves, Kingpin assures the other mob bosses that DD will be busy chasing Elektra's ghost and will not interfere with their drug shipment.

Late at night, after learning Matt attempted to get Elektra's remains exhumed, Foggy goes searching for his partner. Meanwhile, the Punisher thwarts the drug-running operation and KOs his government benefactor before the man can re-arrest him. At the cemetary, Matt digs up Elektra's coffin and is horrified to realize that it actually is her body that was buried and that she is truly dead. Foggy arrives to take him home.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Glenn Industries’ board of directors, who we haven't seen since way back in issue 165, is still plotting to steal the company from Heather. I guess they work very deliberately.

Friday, June 16, 2017

FLASH GORDON PART 1

“ON THE PLANET MONGO” | “MONSTERS OF MONGO”
by Alex Raymond & Don Moore

These initial FLASH GORDON strips, comprising nearly the entire year of 1934 — January 7th through November 18th — introduce us in very quick order to our hero and his situation. And I mean very quick order. The first strip presents us with the news that a newly discovered planet is hurtling toward Earth, and the world’s preeminent scientific mind, Doctor Hans Zarkov, is working to knock it off course. We then meet renowned Yale polo star Flash Gordon and his girlfriend, Dale Arden, aboard an airplane which is struck by a meteor presaging the larger planet’s impact. They bail out, conveniently landing near Zarkov’s lab, and the addled scientist forces them aboard his rocket at gunpoint, then takes off on a collision course with the mystery planet.


I'll repeat: that's all one strip — thirteen panels! Fortunately, subsequent installments are a bit more reasonably paced, and really, it's easy to realize why the story needs to begin in such a seemingly rushed fashion. This isn't a twenty-some page comic book or a novel or a half-hour TV show or a two hour movie. It's half a page in the local newspaper, and it's the very first installment of a new feature. Once the strip is established, it can afford to be more leisurely with its storytelling, but in order to get that far, it needs to hook new readers immediately, and so we wind up with the above.

So — Zarkov’s plan is a success and the other planet, Mongo, is diverted from its crash-course with Earth. But Zarkov himself perishes when his rocket crashes, and Flash and Dale find themselves marooned on Mongo. What follows is a long and winding serial which sees the pair captured, separated, recaptured, escaped, and more, in a series of non-stop, genuinely exciting cliffhangers which introduce them to the varied species which call Mongo home.

Monday, June 12, 2017

DAREDEVIL #181

"LAST HAND”
Story & Art : Frank Miller | Finished Art & Colors: Klaus Janson
Letters: Joe Rosen | Editor: Denny O’Neil | Supervisor : Jim Shooter

The Plot: In prison, Bullseye fantasizes about revenge on Daredevil. Upon learning that Elektra has replaced him as the Kingpin’s assassin, Bullseye accepts an offer for a TV interview and uses the event to stage a daring escape. He learns from Eric Slaughter that Elektra has been assigned the task of killing Foggy Nelson, so Bullseye tails Nelson the next day until Elektra makes her move. When she ultimately lets Foggy go, Bullseye attacks and kills her.

As he spies on Nelson & Murdock identifying Elektra's body in the morgue, Bullseye suspects Matt Murdock is actually his arch-enemy. He goes to Matt’s brownstone and attacks, but Daredevil appears to fight him off. Ultimately DD wins, and this time, rather than saving Bullseye’s life, he lets the assassin drop several stories, crippling him.

Later, as Bullseye lays in traction, unable to move or speak, he fantasizes about revenge on Daredevil.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Bullseye is incarcerated under the name Benjamin Pondexter, which dates back to the Roger McKenzie days, though here he identifies it as one of many aliases he's used and refuses to disclose his true name.

Bullseye recalls Daredevil saving his life in issue 172, though there is no footnote. Also, even though his tumor was removed in issue 169, he still suffers agonizing headaches as a side effect. He feigns one of these headaches to facilitate his escape.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

THE SUMMER OF FLASH GORDON

Though he worked in comic strips for years before launching FLASH GORDON and had another successful strip, RIP KIRBY, for a decade after FLASH ended until his untimely death in 1956, I think it's generally agreed that FLASH GORDON was Alex Raymond's magnum opus. The character's adventures have been translated into other languages and adapted into movie serials, comic books, novels, big screen motion pictures, animated cartoons, and television series. FLASH inspired STAR WARS, for Pete's sake! And virtually all the adaptations draw their inspiration from Raymond's decade on the strip over any of the other material presented in its sixty years of existence.


As I discussed last weekend, lately I've been big into newspaper action/adventure comic strips, and I decided to write about one this year. SHATTUCK this past Friday was a warm-up for this: ten weeks looking at Alex Raymond's full original run on FLASH GORDON. I'll be using Titan Books' hardcovers for this project, and each post will cover between one and three story arcs. (The original strips weren't identified by story arc titles so far as I know, but in the intervening decades, the various plotlines have been divided up into arcs which seem to be universally agreed upon by one and all.)


Beginning this Friday, we'll travel to the myterious planet Mongo with renowned Yale polo star Flash Gordon, his girlfriend Dale Arden, and their trusty ally, Doctor Hans Zarkov. I hope you'll be along for the ride, too.

Available on Amazon: Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3

Friday, June 9, 2017

SHATTUCK

About three years ago, I wrote about Wally Wood's CANNON comic strip, which was published by the Overseas Weekly some decades back. Wood also furnished two other strips to the Weekly back then: the very well-known SALLY FORTH, and the much more obscure SHATTUCK. Last year, Fantagraphics Books, who published the CANNON collection in 2014, issued a hardcover for SHATTUCK as well. I had enjoyed CANNON and SHATTUCK's price was right, so I went ahead and picked it up.


SHATTUCK is a western strip, and while the division of labor isn't perfectly spelled out, it seems that it was masterminded by Wood and produced by his studio: written by Nicola Cuti and drawn at various points by Howard Chaykin, Dave Cockrum, Syd Shores, and Jack Abel, with contributions from Wood himself as well.

The book's afterword notes that the story behind the strip's creation, and the people who worked on it, is probably of more interest and importance than the actual strip itself, and that may well be true. SHATTUCK isn't awful by any means; but it's not exactly groundbreaking, either. It tells the story of Merle Shattuck, an outlaw who kills the sheriff of a town called Sundown and then goes on the run.

Monday, June 5, 2017

DAREDEVIL #180

"THE DAMNED”
Story & Art : Frank Miller | Finished Art & Colors: Klaus Janson
Letters: Joe Rosen | Editor: Denny O’Neil | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Daredevil beats up Turk, Grotto, and an associate of theirs. Meanwhile, Ben Urich develops the photos he took of the Kingpin’s meeting with Randolph Cherryh and realizes that the vagrant woman he saw may be Kingpin’s wife, Vanessa. He informs Daredevil and together they descend beneath the city in search of her. Eventually DD goes on alone, ordering Ben home, but Ben is immediately kidnapped by a group of vagrants.

At the same time, election results come rolling in Cherryh wins the mayorship of New York in a landslide. Underground, Daredevil is brought before the vagrants’ King, who has taken Vanessa as his queen. The King attempts to feed DD and Ben to his alligator, but the man without fear frees himself and defeats the beast, then the King as well.

Later, Daredevil brings Vanessa’s wedding ring to the Kingpin and offers a trade: Vanessa for Cherryh. Kingpin agrees and Cherryh withdraws from the mayoral race, admitting the Daily Bugle’s allegations against him were true. Kingpin wants someone to pay for this, and orders Elektra to kill Foggy Nelson.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Two weeks have passed since last issue, during which Daredevil has had his ankle in a cast thanks to Elektra’s bear trap, while Ben has recovered from her sai attack. In that time, Ben has taken Elektra's advice and spiked his story on Cherryh’s mob ties, forcing Jonah Jameson to publicly retract the Daily Bugle’s prior articles to that effect.