Cliff Biggers writes:
In 2013, Dynamite first united some of the most popular heroes in comics history in the limited series King's Watch. In 2015, they brought them back in five interrelated miniseries focusing on each individual hero. And now, in 2016, the band is getting back together again in King's Quest, a four-issue limited series by Ben Acker, Heath Corson, & Dan McDaid that brings Flash Gordon, Mandrake, Prince Valiant, and two Phantoms together for a spacefaring adventure.
CLIFF BIGGERS: What threat is so great that it merits the attention of all of these heroes?
NATE COSBY (Consulting Editor): Ming The Merciless is back on his galaxy-oppressing grind! That's a dang good reason for our heroes to get back together!
BEN ACKER: When last we left the far reaches of space, in four issues of Flash Gordon that preceded this arc, an uprising against Ming was beginning. Dr. Zarkov faked Flash's death, martyring him to give the universe the spur to fight. In escaping back to Earth, Dale Arden was left behind as was the gatestone, the path to Earth that would mean doom at the hands of Ming should the universe fail in their revolt. So our heroes are returning to the far end of the universe—some to save Dale, some to keep the gatestone safe, all united against Ming.
JOSEPH RYBANDT (Senior Editor): We've always envisioned this universe as a group effort, and with the right creative teams, the interplay is fantastic. As it's all building towards something big and cosmic, keeping the characters in one series is the best way to make it all work.
CB: The King heroes are some of comics first superheroes, predating characters like Superman, Batman, Captain America, Namor, and the Human Torch. Is there a sense of history involved in dealing with these characters?
BA: Absolutely! We have a responsibility to stay true to 75 years of storytelling by highlighting what makes them vibrant characters to this day. It's not just punching space monsters in the face, you know? It's how they punch space monsters in the face!
CB: How challenging is it to offer a contemporary storytelling approach to these heroes rather than falling into the pastiche pattern?
BA: We have the advantage of telling the stories right exactly now. The stories and both the writers take place now, this year! It's fun, if you think about it, that the original Flash Gordon stories with futuristic sci-fi, with rockets and all—and now it's what, the actual future we're living in? We have rockets! The characters have never gotten to live in 2016 before. It's fun to justify Mandrake in the here and now. It's fun to see all of them organic to the present.
HEATH CORSON: I think the challenge is capturing the voices of each of these very well-known characters and dropping them in situations where they are gonna ricochet off each other in really interesting ways. Just because they're all on the same team doesn't mean they have to like each other. Sparks will fly! Make sure you get that in caps: SPARKS WILL FLY!
CB: The storyline may make it seem that this is the sort of adventure where Flash Gordon will be the man in charge.
BA: Hoo boy, Flash is not in charge. He's just a man, with a man's courage, you know? Everyone brings something to the table. Everybody brings their specific perspective to the story. They're a team in that they're united in purpose, but how each one thinks, well, it doesn't all go swimmingly. What'd be the fun in that?
NC: Every member of the team'll get their time to shine. Lots of different planets and enemies will call for the particular talents of Mandrake The Magician, Prince Valiant, and the rest. They all want to defend the universe, but Flash is hugely driven to save Dale Arden from Ming The Merciless's clutches.
BA: Flash is headstrong and knows what's right. He's black and white like that. Mandrake is wiser, more thoughtful and reliant on his wits. Valiant is displaced in time, so while he is ostensibly a fish further out of water than the rest, he's seen war before so he is in his element more than the others in a way. The two Phantoms are a mentor and a reluctant hero. I don't consider it streamlining, except in the way that these characters are borne of the recent relaunch Jeff Parker did so expertly. They are fresh. These characters have never been in this situation—a star war—in this way before.
CB: And speaking of those two Phantoms—who are they?
BA: First, things first. The Phantom is a mantle passed on from father to son. When a Phantom dies, his son dons the skintight bodysuit, making it appear that it's been one Phantom this whole time. The Phantom has been a jungle hero for hundreds of years.
A recent Phantom gave his life to save the Earth from Ming, and Lothar took up the mantle so there would always be a Phantom and while the heir could be found. Lothar is tied to the tradition and has as much knowledge of the jungle as he does of what it means to be the Phantom. It's important. He's lived with it his whole life.
Jen, meanwhile, is a nice bisexual teenager adopted by a Jewish couple in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She doesn't know or care about the jungle. She loves science and reporting and being a science reporter. If she's going to be a super hero, it's going to be on her terms.
HC: Ben and I really latched onto the idea of the weighty sense of history and tradition in the Phantom identity as well as the notion of Jen as the least likely person to assume that esteemed mantle. So, from the start, as Ben points out, these two characters aren't coming from the same place in their thinking about the Phantom and what it means. From there, the mentor/mentee relationship between Phantoms Jen and Lothar really started to speak to us. It's one of my favorite dynamics in the whole series."
NC: Yeah, what did happen to Jungle Jim? Wonder if he'll show up?….
CB: Mention a Flash Gordon adventure, and it's inevitable that fans will envision the classic fineline style of such classic Flash Gordon artists as Alex Raymond, Mac Raboy, and Al Williamson. As the King's Quest artist you doesn't traditionally work in that sort of style.
DAN MCDAID: There's probably more of that Williamson/Raymond approach going on than you think, particularly in terms of my inking. The piece that landed me the job was a commission I did of a handful of out of copyright Golden Age characters—Stardust and guys like that. And my rendering there was intentionally more restrained, slightly more crisp and pulpy. So there's definitely going to be some of that in the book. But my main inspirations on King's Quest are people like Mike Zeck and Paul Smith: artists who bring equal amounts of detail and dynamism to the page. That's what I'm aiming for here.
CB: Once you landed the assignment, how much time went into determining how you wanted to approach the King heroes?
DM: Characters like Mandrake and Flash came to me fairly easily: Flash doesn't look totally different to Barock from Jersey Gods, design wise, and Mandrake has shades of Doctor Who about him," McDaid said. "The real problem was the Phantom, who has a great, very stark look, but it's very spare. Not many details in the costume to play around with. So my approach to him took quite a long time. I did a lot of sketches of that guy, trying to figure out how to make him work."
DM: It did, but I've been selective. I only watched the Flash Gordon movie eight or nine times, and the Phantom movie, um… Almost one whole time. Where's the Mandrake movie?—that's what I want to know. Johnny Depp as the Master of Magic—get on that, Hollywood, none of us are getting any younger!
Beyond that I've been reading as much classic Flash Gordon, Phantom and Mandrake as I can get my hands on, absorbing it into my bloodstream so I can become as powerful as possible. I've also been watching the Defenders of the Earth intro on a constant loop. It's entirely possible that working on this book has driven me insane.
King's Quest #1 is scheduled for a May 4th release. The book will be offered with covers by Marc Laming, Dan McDaid, Jonathan Lau, Chris Eliopoulos, and Colton Worley.
And at about the same time that the first issue of King's Quest ships, Dynamite will also offer a massive 496-page King Collection TP assembling the Flash Gordon, Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, Prince Valiant, and Jungle Jim 2015 miniseries in a single volume.
For more information click here.