by Jeff Parker (Writer), Marc Laming (Artist), Jordan Boyd (Colorist)
The Story: Ming comes out of the gate, ready to integrate Earth to his empire, whether its population wants to or not.
The Review: Revamping characters has got to be a rather hard task. Whenever a character needs to be updated for a newer audience, there is always the need to preserve what has been unique to the character while removing the elements that might not be working as well today. Some characters, in many ways, do tend to translate well to a modern audience thanks to a good imagination and some solid concepts behind them, but not all character are so lucky.
It’s why it’s rather impressive to see that Jeff Parker has successfully brought back some older pulp character to the forefront without removing much of what made them likable to begin with. In Kings Watch, parts of the fun was the merging of old-school sensibilities with newer methods to push forward some characters that were definitely simple back in what some might call ”the good old days”. However, with the way the story got bigger with each issues, how could Parker actually continue in a way that could keep up with the conflict without sacrificing any of the previous strengths?
The writer mostly find a way. Without being a perfect continuation to this rise in terms of threat, the opening of the issue as well as the ways the trio of protagonists deals with the army from Mongo does make for an interesting continuation of the story.
The threat that Ming represent is made clear in this issue, bringing in various humanoid beasts, aliens and some clever additions and changes in the battlefield that is the Earth that allows for the heroes to shine in various ways. The way their army and their technology makes them a superior force to reckon with makes it so the stakes are big, but also indubitably clear. Those are the kind of problems that super heroes are there for.
However, in a refreshing manner, there is a manner in which Parker is able to make most of his characters count as well as the rest of the world which does not present an overblown importance to the trio of main protagonists. While it is the heroism and actions of the Phantom, Mandrake and Flash Gordon that set things up for humanity to fight back, it is a neat addition to see that the rest of the world isn’t just counting on a few men to resolve the current situation. It’s decidedly not a norm in the genre and it’s nice for Parker to subvert this particular tradition.
However, what he isn’t able to subvert is the lack of use of several of his characters. For all that Zarkov, Lothar and the trio of main heroes do, some characters are pretty much left out of the loop in term of action and importance. Dale Arden and Karma, for all their addition in term of humor and exposition in the first few pages, aren’t of particular consequence to what happens. Jeff Parker, it seems, unfortunately forgot to update the approach this age of storytelling had with women characters.
Despite that point, the comic still do manage to count in ways that matter, like with the art of Marc Laming. There are perhaps a few too many lines in some elements and a certain roughness in his details, yet Laming knows how to compose a panel efficiently. Putting a great number of panels in this issue with multiple elements, he is able to make most of them count in the action or in setting a tone. The army, the face of Ming in the sky, the manner in which they fight the masses and plenty of other things that could get lost amidst a sea of imprecise additions.
The manner in which he accomplishes such a feat is mostly due to his backgrounds and sceneries, which are downright amazing most of the time. Putting a good emphasis in certain panels on implementing a good setting, the artists saves a lot of time focusing on the rest of the action thanks to some establishing panels that are rather intricate, yet also deceptively simple in their approach.
Where it might be a bit more mixed, though, is with the colorization. With Jordan Boyd setting down for a more realistic and nuanced approach, some of the duller colors appears a bit more so, as if trying to emphasize on the destruction and the lack of diversity in some cases. While it does make the brighter and more bizarre elements stand out, like the Phantom’s suit and the magic of Mandrake, it does tend to make the contrasts a bit less effective, as if they had been passed through a filter to render their strength a bit less apparent. Boyd does manage to present a dichotomy between the colder and warmer colors in some pages, yet it’s the brightness and more somber tone that suffers for this aesthetical approach.
The Conclusion: Presenting a good mix between older sensibilities and newer one for the most part, Jeff Parker presents a good action tale with clear stakes and some fun moments that makes this issue definitely enjoyable. With very competent art, yet a bit of a weak colorization, it makes this a good continuation of the storyline, making the wait for the conclusion an awaited affair.
-Hugo Robberts Larivière