In the 1930s, creators Lee Falk and Alex Raymond revolutionized both four-color adventure stories and pop culture when they introduced readers to the stars of three newspaper comic strips. Raymond’s Flash Gordon was a sci-fi hero who set the stage for such influential science fiction franchises as “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.” Falk’s Phantom was the first costumed four-color hero and his Mandrake the Magician was arguably the world’s first super hero, predating the creation of Superman by four years. Falk and Raymond’s heroes aren’t just influential — they’re enduring icons that have entertained readers for nearly 80 years. This September, the trio comes together for “Kings Watch,” a new five issue mini-series from Dynamite Entertainment by writer Jeff Parker and artist Marc Laming.
CBR News spoke with Parker about the development of the series, and the writer discussed bringing together three incredible genre heroes into a single series, the other familiar faces readers might see, the significance of the series’ title and more.
CBR News: Jeff, your interest in four-color pulp adventure heroes is long documented. How does it feel to be given the reigns of the three characters that pretty much kicked off the genre?
Jeff Parker: It’s pretty cool! So many characters trace their lineage to these three. The trick is to present them fresh, to approach it like nobody knows who they are, yet — has an understood idea of what all these men represent.
Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, and the Phantom, aren’t just incredibly influential, they’re also enduring. Why do you think that is? What was it about them that originally resonated with you, and why do they still interest you today?
The point of entry would have to be the art with all of them. All three consistently had top notch artists creating their worlds. If you’ve ever seen an actual Alex Raymond page up close, you know you can stare at it all day. The weird floating cities of Mongo, the treacherous jungles of Phantom (and cool Skull Cave) and the myriad illusions that Mandrake would manifest.
Each are prototypical and yet broad enough that you can plug them into all kinds of stories.
“Kings Watch” isn’t the first time Flash, the Phantom and Mandrake have joined forces. They were also brought together in the ’80s for the animated series “Defenders of the Earth,” which was primarily a show dealing with the mythos and rogues of Flash Gordon. By contrast, it seems your book will explore the mythos and related characters of all three protagonists.
Yes, I’m trying to combine their casts more, but there’s no way there aren’t similarities with “DOE,” even though I never watched the show. I did watch the Filmation “Flash Gordon” cartoon and enjoyed that.
Speaking of related characters, your three protagonists all have large supporting casts that sprung up around them over the decades. Which supporting cast members will we see in “Kings Watch?”
First off, you see Lothar, Mandrake’s old friend, except you see him interacting with The Phantom. He connects things really well and gets to kick butt right away.
You also soon see Dale Arden and Hans Zarkov. I’ve tweaked their roles a bit, especially Dale’s. She now is very science savvy, and is someone Zarkov can relate to on that level. And The Cobra figures in heavily, now not just Mandrake’s enemy but everyone’s.
Let’s talk briefly about the significance of the title “Kings Watch.” Is this simply a nod to King Features Syndicate, the owner of your three protagonists, or is it connected to the story as well?
It’s both. In the story it refers to specific thing that The Cobra is trying to find, and if he does he can change the world. Spoilers: he does!
What can you tell us about the inciting incident that brings Flash, Mandrake, and the Phantom together in “Kings Watch” #1? And what kind of dynamic will they initially have?
It’s worldwide phenomena that you’ll recognize as being close to Flash Gordon’s origin, but it’s triggered by Cobra, possibly. Though actually one of our good guys may have just as much to do with it. The population is also being beset by demonic nightmares.
Anything else you can tell us about the plot, themes, or setting, of “Kings Watch?” Can you hint, tease, or talk about the identities of your characters’ antagonists? From what you said it sounds like Mandrake’s foe, the Cobra, will play a significant role.
There’s something kind of neat about who The Cobra is, but that will come out later in the series.
The Phantom is not Kit Walker, or at least not literally (beyond being The Ghost Who Walks). We play heavily with his role as a legacy hero.
Wrapping up, you’re working with Marc Laming on this project. What do you feel he brings to the book as an artist?
I think readers are going to flip over Marc Laming’s art colored by Jordan Boyd.
These guys have already gelled into a powerhouse art team. It doesn’t look like a lot of what’s on the shelves right now either, it really has it’s own feel, which fits for these characters. You won’t say, “Oh they’re taking the approach of this book.” I suspect the look of it will be influential on more books to come, which is the way it should be. It’s gorgeous, and menacing, and thrilling, and if it were a movie it would definitely cost a lot. They and editor Nate Cosby have been sneaking cool bits up on Twitter. You might want to follow them and watch: (@natecosboom, @monkeymarc, @jordantboyd).
Finally, “Kings Watch” is a mini-series but it stars three very different adventure genre heroes who each have almost 80 years worth of history. If given the chance, would you be up for penning more adventures with Flash, Mandrake and the Phantom?
This is a five-issue arc that can lead to more stories based out of what happens.
And it does blend multiple types of adventure genre, as you say. So more stories with Flash, Mandrake and the Phantom is definitely a possibility.
“Kings Watch” #1 hits stores this September from Dynamite Entertainment.
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