Flash Gordon first crashlanded onto the comic book page back in 1934, courtesy of creator Alex Raymond. Dark Horse Comics have been publishing archived volumes of the polo-player turned liberator of planet Mongo since August 2010 and with this fifth volume, have reached the 1980’s output of the title – just in time to cover the release of Mike Hodges’ cult classic.

Of course Breck Eisner is currently prepping yet another film adaptation, attempting to salvage the franchise following the failed television series. In an interview with site Flash Gordon film adaptation Airlockalpha, he made the following statement on Hodges’ film – “”It was campy and the effects were not so good – this version is in no way a remake. Our version goes back to strips from ’30s and we will update those and shoot the movie as if the strips were drawn today. It will be an action and adventure sci-fi.” Brave words from the bloke who made Sahara.

This collection includes an adaptation of the Hodges film, with a script from Bruce Jones and art courtesy of Al Williamson. Unfortunately the comic has neither the camp fun of the film, nor even the coherent pacing of a strip. It skips and jumps along the plot of the movie, with incongruous beats from the picture sticking out painfully without the free-wheeling tone achieved by the organized chaos of Hodges. Williamson, having achieved latter-day notoriety courtesy of fan George Lucas’ request that the artist adapt The Empire Strikes Back, returned to the characters he had worked on years before. However, it appears he was expected to style Flash after the features of Sam J. Jones, or Ming after Max von Sydow. Sadly Flash here more resembles Klaus Kinski. Perhaps the artist chaffed under the restrictions of this promotional film tie-in.

Even after the adaptation concludes, the collection reveals that when the action returned to writer John Warner’s own Flash plots the artists were still expected to retain the visuals from the film, with Carlos Garzón, Gene Fawcette and Al McWilliams also producing images that owed more to Mike Hodges than Alex Flash Gordon as Klaus Kinski Raymond’s vision of Mongo. The movie tie-in also fatally interrupted the flow of Warner’s own saga, depicting Flash’s ascension to ‘King of all the Cave Kingdoms’. For a book produced in the 1980’s, it’s curious to watch the character embark on such an old-school colonialist approach to defeating Ming’s totalitarian regime. Instead of liberating the people of Mongo, Flash concentrates on becoming their latest ruler. Presumably he’d be a benign dictator. Flash here is less a rebel hero and more a sf William Walker.

This stodgy approach to classic comic characters by Warner does nevertheless produce some rare highlights, in particular the script for Dreams of Death which features Flash, lover Dale and scientist Zarkov battling mental demons. It is based on a standard sf story trope, but lampshades itself amusingly, with Zarkov’s fantasy involving him encountering his own brain in a jar.

The collection also includes an affectionate account of the strip and its artistic team from Michael T. Gilbert. Nevertheless it has to be said this latest archival volume from Dark Horse would be enjoyed by completionists only. Overall the ongoing storylines never recover from the intrusion of the film adaptation issues, while Warner’s story is hampered by an oddly nostalgia tinged approach to Flash and crew.

Ok folks, one – two – three -