Dn, dn, dn ,dn, dn, dn, dn, dn, Flash (and Phantom and Mandrake), a-ah, savior of the universe. Flash, a-ah, you saved every one of us.
Sitting here blasting Queen, perusing retro/future websites, and learning about the real life Mandrake the Magician, Leon Mandrake, your chill Padre of the comicsphere finds himself wishing he had a groovy comic at hand that merged a bit of that retro adventurism with the trappings of the modern world. Something akin to Agents of Atlas, maybe. What’s this you say? Speak up a bit. I can’t hear the congregation kneeling in the pews to the far back. There’s a comic just like that right in front of me?
Well, Hail Mary full of cupcakes!
King’s Watch is a new team book from Dynamite Entertainment, uniting Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, and Billy Za.. uh.. The Phantom. It’s written by Jeff Parker (Hulk, Thunderbolts, Agents of Atlas) and illustrated by Marc Laming (American Century, Exile on the Planet of the Apes, The Rinse). So right off the bat, I’m pulled in by the team’s solid resume. The only question I had going in then, however, was whether that talent would be enough when only one of the King Features Trio has ever been truly appealing to me.
Things start off with an oft-used plot device, a terrible dream. This “horrific vision of impending doom” affects not only one of the primary characters in Dale Arden, but people in the world over. Thus, the comic proceeds to a few 1-page intros for each of our cast of characters — both good and bad — that further sets up the mystery unfolding in the background. A bit clichéd, sure; but, there’s hardly a complain in the air when JP and Marc “The opposite of” Laming deliver it well enough to get the First Church of Hell-Yeah-Awesome out of their seats.
Watch also feels like the Ultimate re-imagining of these characters, without straying too far off course from what makes them tick. They are thrust into the same world. This world has a young Flash Gordon working with Zarkov well before any adventures on Mongo. He’s not yet the one “who will save every one of us” — or the guy in red with the yellow lightning streamed down his tights (for the clinically confused) — as it’s fairly clear early on that elements of his traditional story will be changed. This is the modern interpretation of these characters.
This book definitely shares some familiar beats with Parker’s cult-classic Agents of Atlas series from Marvel. If you miss his work there, just replace superpowers and secret spy organizations with: mysterious cults, sci-fi, magic, and pulp adventures. Lest we not forget GIANT M%$#@! Dinosaur Men.
That’s right, at one point in the issue, shit gets seriously real — or unreal, as the case may be. Things look bad for a non-plussed photo safari party and a feisty elephant when, awww yeah, The Phantom bursts onto the scene to slam evil! One gripe your very own Guy Padre has, though, is that their reactions don’t exactly reflect piss-your-pants-and run! It’s kind of just, “ooh, well ain’t that somethin’…” Even so, Phantom does what the friggin’ Phantom does, busting plenty of zenomorphic caps, regardless. And, hell, at least the safari party tour guide has the wits to acknowledge the ginormous half-man/half-effing-T-Rex that just burst onto the scene.
King’s Watch #1 appears to do far more right than wrong.
Even in all its slightest bits of predictability, the comic makes up for it with mysterious intrigue and nice character moments featuring Flash, Dale, and Mr. Lothar (the aforementioned tour guide). There is a mysterious cult that seems to know what’s going on, too, with their own interesting way of extracting information. And, yet despite Mandrizzy appearing more the background actor of the bunch, it’s perhaps understandable that the spotlight would split its shine between Phantom action and the Flash-verse.. considering the larger mystery Parker is setting up. Hopefully, Dale’s character gets fleshed out (oh, stop!), because so far she’s appeared no more than a cheap plot device.
Look, I’m not that familiar with the Phantom, outside of the basic premise and a few comics here and there over the years. Mandrake, I know next to nothing about. And that’s fine. The team does its damnedest to let you in on enough here, through Flash’s attitude and his Dad’s exposition early on, the Phantom’s #fullretard Dino-Man fighting action, and the Magician’s.. uh.. spooky voice?
Again, the 70-year plus history of these characters is not necessary.
Though, my concerns with this possibly becoming the Flash Gordon guest star book of the month aside, my biggest gripe with the King’s Watch — not to be confused with GOT’s Night’s Watch — is not once did Flash mention his tenure as quarterback of the NY Jets (though, really, who would want to admit to that?), or bust out his badasss-80’s “hey look, I wear my own name on my t-shirt” FLASH t-shirt. Come on, man. Thankfully, Laming does give Flash a bit of that Sam Jones jaw line in some instances, as well as excellently render a variety of scenes from the nightmarish (monkey-men riding demon-esque dinos) to the ordinary. He has a realistic style that’s hardly stiff and has no problem keeping the pace of the story flowing. Jordan Boyd’s colors really make the images pop off the page, too.
So, kiddies.. what time is it? It’s time to buy the King’s Watch (or least a copy of it), sing a little “We Are the Champions”, and get ready for what should be a fun-tastic romp with some classic characters. Parker is crafting a good mystery mixed with some high adventure.