Written by JEFF PARKER / Art by MARC LAMING / Colors by JORDAN BOYD / Letters by SIMON BOWLAND / Published by DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT
The heroes of modern American Comics owe much to their Pulp Fiction predecessors. While Superman was the first character to possess all the attributes of what came to be known as a superhero, the roots of the character can be traced back to the science-fiction stories of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Likewise one can draw a clear line from Batman to Lee Falk’s Phantom, who was himself inspired by both Zorro and Tarzan. And it’s unlikely we’d have Zatara or Dr. Strange had there never been a Mandrake the Magician
Given that history, it’s no wonder there have been numerous attempts over the past century to revive these pulp properties. Nor is it surprising that these revivals would see said properties being paired together to reach a more diverse audience. Kings Watch #1 is the latest effort to team the three greatest heroes owned by King Features Syndicate – Flash Gordon, The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician – together in a single series.
As our story opens, the world is in dire straits. Thousands of people – including reporter Dale Arden – are tormented by recurring nightmares of being hunted by unearthly creatures. Bursts of wild energy fill the skies at random; strange storms seemingly summoned from space – a phenomenon that billionaire adventurer/entrepreneur Flash Gordon is eager to explore in his newly constructed space plane.
In the distant African nation of Bangalla, strange creatures stalk the jungles that The Phantom calls home and the animal friends of The Ghost That Walks seem to sense the approach of a great evil. In California, the magician Mandrake fears that the end of the world is nigh – a fear seemingly confirmed by a demon the heroic sorcerer has bound. And in an unseen location, a mysterious cult seeks to open a mystic pathway called The King’s Watch…
Kings Watch #1 is surprisingly insular for a first issue presumably meant to introduce new readers into the shared universe of these characters. Writer Jeff Parker covers a lot of ground in this opening issue yet gives the reader surprisingly little introduction to the core cast and little exposition of the world at large. There is no continuity between the various scenes making up this issue, save that all our heroes see the same strange lights in the sky. The disconnection between our protagonists is so great that this comic might as well be an anthology of separate stories. Another problem is that no explanation is given as to who the mysterious cult are and how they tie into the story.
Flash Gordon is probably the single-most well-developed member of our core cast. Even then, most of what we learn about him is told to us by his father as he talks about Flash over the phone. Conversely, what little we learn of The Phantom is shown to us by how he fights when he moves to save an endangered safari. Mandrake The Magician barely appears in the issue at all, though his manservant Lothar is seen leading the safari that is saved by The Phantom – a fact that will only be obvious to those already familiar with the characters.
Thankfully, while the story is somewhat inaccessible, the artwork in this issue is stupendous. Marc Laming – best known for his work on American Century – has a bold, detail-oriented style that is perfectly suited towards Parker’s pulp-driven script. This story requires an artist of diverse talents – one who can draw rampaging dinosaur men as well as art-deco rocket ships and strange magical effects. Marc Laming is such an artist. His work is further enhanced by the palettes chosen by colorist Jordan Boyd.
In the end, such visual finery may not be enough to save this comic for most new readers, but those who are bold will find much to enjoy if they don’t mind being a little confused. Parker’s script is lively and the action scenes are thrilling, despite this issue doing a poor job of introducing our heroes. However, those already familiar with the characters involved will find this series to be an enjoyable piece of nostalgia.