With a footnote on the inside cover indicating that all of the stories in "Flash Gordon Annual 2014" take place before "Kings Watch" #1 and "Flash Gordon" #1, this comic book welcomes a host of creators in to tell a handful of tales featuring Flash Gordon and members of his supporting cast before they all met one another.
Chris Eliopoulos kicks off this fun-filled anthology with a story titled "Flash's First Flight" that stars "Baby Flash Gordon." As readers might expect from a story completed created by Eliopoulos (save colors, which Jeremy Treece capably handles) the adventure is light-hearted and funny, bordering on goofy and full of chuckle-worthy moments. Eliopoulos' style makes the six-page "Flash's First Flight" feel like a young Calvin and Hobbes adventure. Along the way, Eliopoulos offers visual commentary on the 1980s and even includes a fun "Back to the Future" tribute. This chapter sets a light-hearted tone to the comic, which is followed, but with considerably less goofiness.
"Thrilling Adventure Hour" co-creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker add their voices to the next three chapters of "Flash Gordon Annual 2014," starting with a tale illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks and colored by Jeremy Treece that features Dale Arden. Partially delivered from Arden's point of view, "Action Science Reporter," sends Dale and her intern/gal Friday, Jen, down to San SiÃ±ero on the trail of a scientific revelation. Given that this is a science fiction anthology, that revelation is slightly more devious than anticipated by Arden, but restrained enough to fill the eight-page story from Acker and Blacker. Hicks' art is magnificently matched for this tale, while Treece applies some fun color to match Hicks' storytelling and pattern choices while letterer Simon Bowland has some fun of his own with translated dialog. This chapter is a surefire hit to scratch the daring reporter itch many Lois Lane fans are suffering.
Following that, Acker and Blacker turn their attention to Professor Zarkov and alcohol in an eight-page vignette titled "Thirst Contact." In this instance, Treece checks in on art and Bowland once again provides the letters. Treece's style is gritty, detailed art, not unlike that of Riley Rossmo, but with a considerably more cartoonish bend. In this adventure, "the world's least respected scientist" encounters some aliens and is provided a revelation of his own future. The writing duo seed this story with dark humor, more than appropriate for Zarkov, but this installment truly feels like the least complete of the bunch.
For their third chapter in "Flash Gordon Annual 2014," the "Thrilling Adventure Hour" creators deliver "Water Ways," a story of Princess Darya of Coralia. Lee Ferguson draws the story of Ming the Generous' visit to Coralia on Darya's seventeenth birthday, bringing a style that is a gorgeous mix of Cully Hamner's geometry-based figures and the more animated style of current "Flash Gordon" artist, Evan Shaner. Marissa Louise steps in to color this chapter and hits Ferguson's finely detailed art with strong, bold colors. The coloring alone make this chapter the most visually striking of the entire offering. Hopefully more of Louise and Coralia are on deck in future Flash Gordon adventures. Acker and Blacker leave more than enough story here to be investigated and expanded upon, and Darya's development over the course of eight pages deserves more space. Once again, Bowland's lettering is fun and entertaining, going simply beyond conscribing words to balloons as he captures the capriciousness of a spoiled teenager in Darya's dialog.
Current "Flash Gordon" scribe Jeff Parker and series editor Nate Cosby close out "Flash Gordon Annual 2014" with "Good at Anything (As Long As It's Not Work)." This seven page, Craig Rousseau-drawn adventure features high school age Flash Gordon. Rousseau's animated characters and dynamic facial expressions carry this story nicely, filling the panels with fun and adventure while Omi Remalante's colors keep everything grounded. This chapter seems to move the quickest, establishing Gordon's physical prowess and knack for getting out of tricky situations. To keep readers on their toes, however, Parker and Cosby finish this chapter -- and "Flash Gordon Annual 2014" -- with a surprise. That surprise is more of a revelation for readers who have been checking out solicits, but for readers simply enjoying this comic book for what it is, that final page is an eye-opening invitation to wild, unpredictable adventure.
Behind a steep price of admission, "Flash Gordon Annual 2014" gives readers a handful of fun stories, even if their connection to the current "Flash Gordon" series is clinical. Continuity-light, but still connected to the legend of Flash Gordon, this comic book is a nice introduction to Flash and friends, a fine example of what Acker and Blacker bring to the franchise and a snappy sample of the stories these characters are capable of. While I can appreciate the buffer page that highlights the start of each chapter, I would have preferred some pin-ups instead and a static table of contents on the inside cover. That said, that's a small nit to pick, especially for a comic book that features some fantastic comic book creators clearly having fun with one of King Syndicate Features' most well-known properties.