After seeing the ads for Kings Watch in a number of Dynamite books over the last few months, I didn’t know what to make of it. The publisher has been doing some great mashups of late, bringing together characters that have never really come together before. We saw this in the pages of Masks, where many of the classic characters from the early 20th Century came together to fight an extremely oppressive government. Bringing together so many characters – The Green Hornet, The Spider, Zorro, to name a few – was something I had never seen before in comics, just in fan fiction. Each of those characters had their own creators, their own backstory, but yet within the pages of Masks they were able to come together and a great story was delivered. We’ve seen a few other mashups from the publisher recently and I have enjoyed all of the ones I’ve had the chance to pick up. This week brings us Kings Watch, another such book, and I was not sure how to feel about it but based on my experience with the publisher I gave it a shot.
And it was fun. Was it the best book of the week for me? No, but it was not even close to being the worst. In fact, I’d rate it in my top 10% and I picked up over 30 titles this week. I felt it was a little bit of a risk here, as the 3 main characters in the story – The Phantom, Flash Gordon, and Mandrake the Magician – I have never once read in comic form before. In fact, I would not hesitate to say that I didn’t know these characters well at all before this issue. I know Flash from the old 1980s movie and the TV series that aired on Sci-Fi/SyFy/Whatever-it’s-called-now a few years back and I know there was a Phantom movie… but I never saw it. And I had honestly never heard of Mandrake the Magician before now. These were 3 relative unknowns for me. And, unlike Masks which took place in the era when the characters were originally created around (more or less), this story takes place in present day. (Space chips, computers, the Internet… it’s present day even though they don’t say as much directly.)
Writer Jeff Parker (Thunderbolts, Willow Wonderland) has managed to introduce the characters so well that, even if you know nothing about them, you get a sense of who they are. As someone new to these characters, this was necessary for me to care about what’s going on but also to explain what each character is capable of. The Phantom is the powerhouse of the trio, Mandrake the Magician appears to be the smarts and the mystic component, whereas Flash Gordon embodies the youth, impetuousness and energy. I can see these 3 forming a relationship akin to Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm – a love/hate relationship all the way. I see that forming only because the characters never once appeared in panel together – this issue was all for story setup and placement, and even as such an issue it was definitely a great read. To make me care about characters I really couldn’t care less about before is a great feat, and Parker has succeeded in that for this reader.
Marc Laming is a name I was not familiar with before (Dynamite keeps finding these wonderful artists and introducing me to them!!). With the number of different tones of the book, I cannot think of many artists who could handle jumping from a jungle environment to a space element to a mystical place. Somehow, Laming has managed to do so and his wonderful artwork is embellished wonderfully by Jordan Boyd as his colorist. Each of the main characters has a visual feel to them, which will be interesting to see what happens when they all finally come together. The lightning and the shadows of the mystic component is done extremely well, with the lighting and the shadows adding that perfect mysterious touch. The jungle scenes with the safari are so detailed but yet so general that it’s not overdone, and the space scenes with Flash Gordon are just… well, fun! I was surprised that this book was done so well, to be honest, and I hope that this team sticks around for the entirety of this miniseries (I was quite upset when Alex Ross was not the artist on subsequent issues of Masks and I really hope that doesn’t happen again here).
OK, Dynamite, you got me to pick up another book and you lured me in. I think that be launching a number of miniseries you provide great jumping on points for new readers to try new things, let creators tell the story they want to tell, and gauge interest for maybe further stories of those same characters. It’s a great strategy. And, dammit, it’s working.