Jeff Parker (Writer), Marc Laming (Artist) Jordan Boyd (Colorist)
The Story: The Phantom learn more about what is going on about the Kings Watch, while Flash gets attacked by the Cobra.
The Review: Old characters still hold some kind of charm, don’t they? After all, the most iconic of super heroes all picked up one or several elements from pulp characters or other old tales in their conception, as traces of the Shadow and Zorro can be seen in Batman, some bits of Mandrake the magician can be seen in Dr. Strange and the list goes on. They may not be the most seriously taken characters nowadays thanks to some of most silly aspects that are attributed to them (like the Phantom’s costume), but for some they hold a cherished place in the collective consciousness of comic readers.
It seems they hold a dear place to Jeff Parker’s heart as well, as he seems to not only respect the origin of those characters, but also manage to bring them to modern time without making them look ridiculous or dated. It would be particularly tough to see the Phantom as an effective and threatening figure, yet Parker seem to succeed as he build on many elements of his mythos to bring the story up to speed while adding flavour to the ongoing narrative. The same also goes with Flash Gordon, a character mostly know for the serials that would nowadays look quite dated, as he participates in the action, showing what makes him special without destroying the tale in the process.
It’s a bit inconvenient then that there simply isn’t much so far to the plot, as Parker move some of his pieces from point A to point B effectively, yet doesn’t provide much excitement in the process. We get to know a bit more about the side characters, the world, the conflict as well as two of the main characters, creating an ambience that is a delightful mix of pulp era sensibilities to some closer to our own. It’s just a bit disappointing then that it isn’t delved deeper upon, never establishing a contrast or perhaps a sense of historical mesh that strengthen the whole issue. It’s a testament to Jeff Parker’s respect of those characters that none of them use slang, speak about the Internet or make cultural references all the way, yet this respect doesn’t really contribute to the story at hand.
Thankfully, there is a good pacing in terms of diversity, with good jumps from scene to scene, as the story goes from Africa to New England, giving enough space for each scene to get to its point without taking too much panels. There is also a nice division between exposition and action, as the Cobra sends henchman against Flash Gordon. It ends up bringing some more fun to the issue as it allows for some of its characters to participate in the plot without being exposition dumps. It may look a bit heavy-handed to see the likes of Hans Zarkov and Dale Arden fight off henchman rather easily alongside Flash, yet it is part of the sensibility of an older era brought to the present.* It may end up being silly, but that is perhaps the exact point Parker wants to get across.
The artistic quality is brought forward by Marc Laming here, who makes sure all the silliness gets away from the premise and its characters. He does a successful job at telling the story visually with some potent panelling along with a competent narrative flow. Laming may not be the most experimental artist around, yet he is still solid in his approach to the characters and the background, using his rougher line wisely as he never jumbles the details in an incoherent manner. Some of the very finer details may end up looking a bit sketchy, yet the more important ones are all easy to the eye, like the costumes, expressions and the bigger elements in the background. It’s not the most impressive-looking book, yet it’s definitely a strong effort on Laming’s part.
Jordan Boyd is impressive enough though, thanks to his colorization. The dark overtones in the colorization serve the story well as they put a certain ominous presence in the book without overdoing it. There’s a certain atmosphere to the book that never overshadows the optimism of certain characters along with the more realistic take on certain elements. This precise take also create some strong contrasts with the more surreal elements, like Mandrake the magician, the Cobra and the Phantom, who all stands out as a result of Boyd’s choice of palette. When something it supposed to be immensely different, it really is thanks to his work here.
The Conclusion: Despite a rather slow burn in the plot department along with some missed opportunity here and there, this issue still mostly delivers thanks to its level of craft in its pacing, art and colorization. A nice read, yet one that could get better considering the talent of the creative team.
-Hugo Robberts Larivière
*No matter in which settings the story is written, henchmen shall ever be henchmen. It’s almost gotten normal for them to be incompetent considering the untold amount of stories in which they fait at their job.