Gone in a Flash: An Appreciation of Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner’s “Flash Gordon”

By and | January 28th, 2015
Posted in Longform | 3 Comments

Today marks the end of the line for “Flash Gordon,” the eight-issue series written by Jeff Parker, illustrated by Evan “Doc” Shaner, and colored by Jordie Bellaire. With the release of #8, these creators have finished their story, and a new creative team jumps on for the (also released today) “King: Flash Gordon” miniseries.

Before we say goodbye to the series, fellow Multiversity writer Greg Matiasevich and I wanted to share our thoughts on why “Flash Gordon” was one of our favorite books of the last year.

Line art from Flash Gordon #1

Brian: So, Greg, you and I have been the “Flash Gordon” drum beaters for the past year or so, singing the praises of Jeff Parker and Evan “Doc” Shaner’s fantastic Dynamite series. Today marks the finale of that series – tell me, what is it that drew you to the book, initially?

Greg: To the book? Jeff Parker. I’d read his “Kings Watch” miniseries and really enjoyed it. I’ve been a fan of his since the Agents of ATLAS days, so I knew he could deliver. But seeing his handling of Flash & the rest of the King Syndicate characters made me excited to see where he was taking things. But once I saw that first preview, Shaner and Bellaire made sure I was going to be on for the (not-so) long haul. Did you read that miniseries, or did you come into this Flash Gordon series cold?

Brian: I did read “Kings Watch,” and I really dug it. We are pretty contemporaneous, age-wise, so I’m sure you remember Defenders of the Earth, the mid-80s cartoon starring the King Syndicate characters, so I have been aware of the characters, and marginally a fan, since then.

Of course, I also saw Flash Gordon and had the Queen soundtrack record as a kid, so I had that going for/against me.

But I’m with you – I wasn’t necessarily aware that I needed a Flash Gordon series, but once the creative team was announced, I was all in.

Let’s talk about some of the highlights of the series: was there a particular issue or arc that really spoke to you?

Greg: I’ve said this a few times before on the podcast and in conversations, but that Flash Gordon movie was the first defining comics experience of my childhood. (I am, no joke, listening to the Hawkmen attack War Rocket Ajax on the soundtrack right now as I type this). Seeing the Alex Raymond artwork zip past my eyes with one of Queen’s most anthemic rock songs was like the brainwashing scene from A Clockwork Orange but in the best possible way. That said, I was never a rabid Flash Gordon fan other than that film and its context. I appreciated the Raymond aesthetic when I saw it other places, but the newspaper strips were something I couldn’t get into until VERY recently. I wanted to like the Alex Ross stuff from Dynamite a few years back, but it just felt unfocused in a lot of ways. I thought Millar & Parlov’s “Starlight” was going to be the cure for my Flash blues, and it is both gorgeous and one of my favorite Millar stories in forever, but this Parker/Shaner/Bellaire joint came out of nowhere and saved me. Because that’s what Flash Gordon does.

As for particular arcs? It doesn’t feel like we got enough to break it down into arcs, so I’ll cop out and say all of it? Actually, without going back and checking out the issues, the things that instantly come to mind are just a bunch of little moments that made me smile when I read them. This series made it so easy to invest in and root for these characters, because Parker had such a great handle on their roles in the dynamic of their relationships with each other and in the series as a whole. It’s easy for series to spend so much time trying to nail the grand gesture or over-arc that they forget that its the moments we remember. This book built moment after moment until it made the grand gesture, and that’s why I’m so excited about it.

Continued below

What was the point where you knew this was going to be one of those series that you’d keep coming back to, even after it was finished?

Brian: I don’t know if I can pinpoint just one moment – like you, I was gobsmacked by just how perfect of a handle Parker has on these characters, but I think he did something even greater than that: he so thoroughly defined the characters for modern comics that he left them in a perfect space for other creators to come in and take them over. Little touches, like making Zarkov the world’s most high functioning alcoholic, really created something that is tangible and can be easily described/adopted by others.

Issue 7 Page 2

My favorite sequence, however, was all of the business in Skyworld, but especially dealing with Vultan, As I described in a micro-review of #7, he is half Volstagg, half Hawkman, with a touch of Troy McClure playing Hercules tossed in for good measure. I could read an entire ongoing just about Vultan.

Sadly, I don’t think I’m going to get that.

Greg: We have to be thankful for what we have. That’s what I’ve been telling myself ever since I heard the axe was falling…

The sequence I keep coming back to is from the end of issue #2. Barin is giving Flash and Dale a tour of the factory he has to send his people to in order for them to be turned into animal men/slaves for Ming. The last page in particular gives you almost everything you need to know about why this run is so awesome (there is, sadly, no alcoholic Zarkhov on it):

The designs are a mix of comic strip (Barin) and film (the factory droid looks like Ming’s guard). Dale is as horrified as Flash but she knows him well enough to know he’s about to do something stupid and can’t stop him, so she’s probably already thinking of damage control. Flash completely disregards his own safety because someone else is in trouble. And that last panel, with the two-balloon parsing of “Flash…Gordon” uses the most basic of comic tools to punctuate Barin’s realization of who he’s actually with, and caps off the tension of the entire issue up to that point of trying to keep Barin from realizing that very thing.

Issue 2, Page 22

There are 22 pages just as good as this in each issue, and there are 8 issues total. Everyone can do the math of how much awesome that is.

Are you going to keep following the Dynamite/King books after this?

Brian: I am, if only because this series taught me that I want these characters in my life. Today, the same day as the last Parker/Shaner issue hits stands, the first of the new “King: Flash Gordon” miniseries issues hits the stands, and writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker do a nice job continuing the tone and feel of the prior series. Because of that issues successes, I will stick around.

How about you?

Greg: Same here. The “Kings Watch” miniseries also put The Phantom in a pretty interesting place, so on top of Flash Gordon I’ve got that miniseries piquing my interest. Plus editor Nate Cosby has put together a pretty solid crew for these titles. Brian Clevinger on “King: Phantom”? Yes please.

That doesn’t mean I’m not insanely stoked for that Convergence Captain Marvel mini from our ex-Flashers. And I got a chance to talk to Parker at NYCC last year, and he confirmed that the three of them are going to be working on something together again in the future. So, as Flash himself says, “there’s always hope”!

Brian: I feel like, somehow, we managed to gloss over just how amazing Doc Shaner has been on this book. He manages to present an extremely classic look to the book that never felt pandering or nostalgic. Shaner’s art managed to pack so much energy and movement into each panel, that the classic adventure feel was absolutely unavoidable.

Continued below

Tell me – what is it about Shaner’s work that was so appealing to you?

Greg: You do know I still have this week’s Multiver-City One column to finish, right? I say that because I could go on and on about what I find appealing about Shaner’s work, but in the interest of not pissing off my co-writer, I’ll try and keep this manageable…

Shaner is smack dab in the middle of the “Alex Toth” school of cartoonists, alongside Jason Howard, Declan Shalvey, and class valedictorian Chris Samnee. His action is clean and easy to follow without being dull or leaden. His design sense is just as uncluttered and bold. He leaves tons of room for Jordie Bellaire and Simon Bowland to do their work, which is a gift to us all. His artwork comes off just as confident and energetic as Flash himself; there’s no extra shading or hiding drawing flaws behind extra noodling or cross-hatching. There’s a swagger to this book that might almost come off as arrogant but Shaner just sticks EVERY. SINGLE. LANDING. that Parker tells him to jump.

It’s ultimately hard for me to be objective about Shaner’s art on this book because I am a total Toth fiend, so anyone from that area of comic design and aesthetic basically has me in the tank for them from jump. But I can’t imagine that I’m the only person who just wants to get lost in the world that he and this team bring to the page. And isn’t that what good comics do?

Brian: I couldn’t agree more – the deceptive simplicity of his work gives the book a nod to its comic strip roots, and Bellaire’s coloring contributes to its classic feel. Shaner’s art on this book is, perhaps, the best he’s ever done. But boy howdy do I think he’s going to knock “Shazam” out of the park.

Ok, back to your 2000AD work, drone!

Greg: We prefer to be called “droids”. Something having to do with the dollar/pound exchange rate, I think.

Thanks for letting me gush about one of my other favorite comics of 2014!

//TAGS | Multiversity Rewind

Brian Salvatore

Brian Salvatore is an editor, podcaster, reviewer, writer at large, and general task master at Multiversity. When not writing, he can be found playing music, hanging out with his kids, or playing music with his kids. He also has a dog named Lola, a rowboat, and once met Jimmy Carter. Feel free to email him about good beer, the New York Mets, or the best way to make Chicken Parmagiana (add a thin slice of prosciutto under the cheese).


Greg Matiasevich

Greg Matiasevich has read enough author bios that he should be better at coming up with one for himself, yet surprisingly isn't. However, the years of comic reading his parents said would never pay off obviously have, so we'll cut him some slack on that. He lives in Baltimore, co-hosts (with Mike Romeo) the Robots From Tomorrow podcast, writes Multiversity's monthly Shelf Bound column dedicated to comics binding, and can be followed on Twitter at @GregMatiasevich.


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