Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Marc Laming
Published by Dynamite Comics
Release Date: 8/13/2014
This week Dynamite Comics released the KINGS WATCH TPB Volume 1, which collects all five issues of the limited series which concluded earlier this year in January. Written by Jeff Parker (Aquaman, Batman 66) and illustrated by Marc Laming (Flash Gordon), when I first heard the news that this trade was coming out, it immediately caught my attention for many different reasons.
Mandrake the Magician was one of the earliest comic characters I was introduced to at a very young age. I remember always wanting to visit my grandparent’s house because they received the local newspaper on a daily basis. It was in that newspapers comic section where I discovered Lee Falk’s Mandrake the Magician. I must have been six or seven years old but I can still recall some of the stories from the daily strips, which were just like three or four small panels. There was Mandrake, Lothar, Narda, Karma, and even Hojo, as they faced off with the Rat People, Octon, and explored El Dorado, the lost city of gold. I actually collected the newspaper comic sections as a child because of this, and had years’ worth of clippings in my closet. Later I discovered the Phantom in the same comic section with the same Lee Falk name associated to it, although I never did read Flash Gordon. It is because of this that I would just a few short years later find comic books so appealing and ultimately led to my passion for them. As I turned my attention to Marvel and DC titles, and the years went by, newspapers began to disappear and with it, the comic sections. I lost touch with Mandrake and The Phantom, never seeing them again until many years later when I came across a 1987 Defenders of the Earth comic book from Marvel’s Star Comics. I remember being excited, but the book was only four issues and ended without a resolution if I remember correctly.
I read Kings Watch over the weekend and the story really did bring back that classic Lee Falk feel. The series once again brings together Mandrake, The Phantom, and Flash Gordon, as they once again must band together and defend the earth from the villain known as Ming the Merciless. It all begins with a strange anomaly of lights that have been appearing and witnessed by people all across the world. It is no coincidence that ever since this strange phenomenon began, the people of Earth have all began having the same strange recurring nightmare, which has led to mass hysteria, fear of Armageddon, the formation of cults, and even group suicides. Scientists have noticed that these lights are pointed and focused on certain regions of the earth core, especially strongest in Africa (Western Tanzania) and New Haven, Connecticut (which just so happens to be close to where most of our main characters are located).
So as a result of these celestial occurrences, new threats begin to pop up across the globe, as we see a safari expedition group (led by Lothar) suddenly come across some kind of alien looking dinosaur creature. This is where The Phantom makes his first appearance, as he and Lothar work together to fend off this new threat. The beast actually attacks an elephant first, and these action sequences are captured impressively by Marc Laming.
Meanwhile, Flash Gordon and his companion Dr. Zarkov are headed towards this illuminating aberration for a closer look. Zarkov has constructed a jet craft capable of space flight, and the technology he is using to make this possible is a significant part as the story progresses. As they draw closer to the lights, both Gordon and Zarkov begin to see images, much like the ones people are seeing in their dreams. The character of Flash Gordon is much younger than both Mandrake and The Phantom. He is a young, wild, millionaire playboy type who seems to be both careless and adventurous. Again, not being an avid Flash Gordon reader, I was not familiar with his characteristics, although they seem to be somewhat accurate after researching, just written more with a contemporary style. In fact, all of these characters were created back in the 1930’s, and obviously have all evolved through the decades.
Lothar ends up calling in Mandrake who had been out of reach for quite some time, quietly suffering from the loss of Narda, who betrayed him for The Cobra, and the head of the Order of the Eternal Serpent, a group that has existed since ancient Egyptian times and responsible for the mystical abnormalities occurring. Mandrake explains that The Cobra is attempting to open up a gateway, referred to as the Ka’the K’Mor (The King’s Watch), a legendary stone that is used by demons to spy on others. Cobra is already in possession of one of the keys (crystals) and has agents across the world in a desperate search and pursuit of the second, which will allow an opening up of this celestial gateway. We later discover that this second quantum crystal is in the possession of Flash and Zarkov, being used as the energy source that allows the jet to travel in space.
It is somewhere around here where Ming the Merciless is revealed as the orchestrator behind the events, and has been plotting with The Cobra this entire time to obtain a pathway to Earth, so that he and his army of imperators can invade from the planet Mongo. This all leads up to an epic battle, as our heroes must come together and defend the Earth from this sinister threat. I will not recap and reveal how the series ends; I think I’ve done enough spoiling in this review already. That being said, there are a couple of events that occur in the final issue that may be key to future issues that I really enjoyed, and will talk about now.
WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!
First off, those who are familiar with Lee Falk’s classic comics and characters should know that The Cobra is one of Mandrake’s oldest and most sinister foes. Historically, he is Mandrake’s half-brother and his goal has always been to obtain one of the powerful crystal cubes in hopes of increasing his mental powers. At the end of issue five, Mandrake’s wife or ex-wife (Narda) puts on the sacred cobra mask and becomes the new head of the snake.
Next, those familiar with The Phantom origin know that to don the costume is a privilege and responsibility that has through the centuries been passed down from father to son. This tradition is broken here, as we see Lothar become “The Ghost Who Walks”, vowing to carry on his legacy until the true successor can be found.
I love how Jeff Parker has taken these classic characters and stories, and incorporated them into a tale that absolutely works in a contemporaneous setting. The way he closes out this series, I could not help but think of what Marvel (months later) did with Captain America, The Falcon (Sam Wilson), and Thor. Along with Marc Laming’s striking and impressive illustrations, Parker has delivered a well written and meaningful rendition of these classic comic characters.
REVIEW: KINGS WATCH TPB VOLUME ONE
Peter Rodriguez (Geek Sushi)