"Kings Quest" #1 is an enjoyable, old-fashioned adventure that brings together an impressive host of heroes. Flash Gordon, Dr. Hans Zarkov, Mandrake the Magician, Prince Valiant, the Phantom and Jen Harris (the junior Phantom) all set off into space to rescue their friend, Dale Arden -- but complications dog them from the start. The issue suffers somewhat from a bloated cast and simple plot, but it gets enough right to make for quite a fun read. Ben Acker and Heath Corson bring life and surprises to the rescue-a-damsel plot, while artist Dan McCaid and colorist Omi Remalante capture the active spirit of these characters' original strips. Overall, "Kings Quest" #1 tells its story charmingly.
Jen Harris, the junior Phantom, serves as primary narrator. She adds a funny, down-to-earth voice to the proceedings, with thoughts like, "My name's Jen Harris. You can call me doomed" and "One second, a jungle is trying to kill you and the next, it's your biggest fan." As the voice of the reader, she offers the audience an easy entry into the story and a character with which to empathize. Her wryness is also key to Acker and Corson's overall approach, but they also don't darken or shy away from the humorous sides of their characters. We see Valiant's bluster, Flash's reputation and the Phantom's gun-slinging in both their awesomeness and their absurdity. This is a difficult balancing act, and the creative team manages it. They give "Kings Quest" #1 a sense of fun without belittling their concept.
However, relatable as Jen's narration is, there's something uncomfortably paternalistic about having the only woman on the team be so dramatically hapless. When she's so easily outmatched, her lack of self-confidence almost reads as justified rather than an obstacle she must overcome. I do wish they'd paid more attention to those gender politics.
McDaid and Remalante have plenty of fun with the far-out settings. From jungle monsters to warrior hordes, their creations are full of vigor and panache. Remalante does particularly impressive work contrasting Jen's sleek office past with her space-adventure present. Once the team lands on Arboria, he switches out of a cool, neutral palette, and his colors take on more contour and shading. McDaid's heavier inking and sketchier lines --- dashes across the nose and neck, heavier wrinkles in the fabric -- almost summon up the sensation of newspaper ink. Though the inking is occasionally too dark, it's more often an asset than not.
The battle on Arboria was the highlight of the issue as well as the climax of the plot. I could really feel the drawn-down bulk of Jungle Jim's monster form, the speed of Ming's ships and the force of Flash's kicks. In addition, the creative team draws every hero a solid character moment, giving new readers a clear sense of their fighting style and abilities.
I've enjoyed Simon Bowland's work in other Dynamite titles, and I quite like his approach to the lettering here. He demonstrates his intuition for pulpier, more outlandish titles, where he can lean into the aesthetic without cheapening it.
All told, "Kings Quest" #1 is a fine first issue with some excellent moments. Once Jen has some more time to develop as a narrator, this could grow into a rewarding -- not just entertaining -- series.