The Phantom, Flash Gordon and Mandrake the Magician all debuted in a two-year span between 1934 and 1936, and each are non-powered heroes whose comic-strip adventures have been published by King Features Syndicate for decades. The Phantom and Mandrake share a common creator, Lee Falk, while Flash Gordon was conceived by Alex Raymond.
The latest link between the classic characters is Dynamite's Kings Watch, a five-issue miniseries debuting in September teaming the three together in a time of global calamity. It's not the first time The Phantom, Flash and Mandrake have been placed together — they also starred in 1986 animated series Defenders of the Earth — but this time around they're written by Batman '66's Jeff Parker, and illustrated by The Activity's Marc Laming, with Nate Cosby (former Marvel editor and writer of Archaia's Cow Boy) on board as editor.
We talked to both Parker and Laming about Kings Watch, plus a look at interior pages by Laming, and a variant cover by Tale of Sand's Ramón Pérez.
Newsarama: Jeff, Marc, the first question I have about Kings Watch is — what's the significance of the title "Kings Watch"? Obviously they're all characters from King Features Syndicate, but does it have meaning to the storyline?
Jeff Parker: It is fairly meta, but Kings Watch means something important in the story. It's connected to the logo, and will be revealed soon.
Nrama: Also, you're featuring three very different characters in The Phantom, Flash Gordon and Mandrake the Magician — other than the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-esque appeal in putting them together, what makes them work as a team?
Parker: Two of them share the same creator, Lee Falk, and feel very much part of the same world to me. Flash Gordon had very different adventures on Mongo, but if you read those strips, especially when he comes back to Earth, he could easily be in that world too.
Their dynamics sync up really well, and we're treating them as very different personalities who complement each other.
Nrama: Given that, are there any other Kings Features characters that you see as maybe fitting into the series? (An adventure with Mark Trail? A consultation with Rex Morgan, M.D.?)
Parker: Oh man, thanks for pointing out that I could have put Mark Trail in there and didn't think of it. There are bad guys with beards and everything, too!
Nrama: What kinds of stories are you looking to tell with Kings Watch? Is it about capturing the spirit of the 1930s-era original adventures, or bringing them to the modern day to an extent?
Marc Laming: I think it's about telling an exciting high adventure story that respects what has gone before and doesn't seek to re-invent the wheel.
Parker: Exactly, where everyone goes wrong is trying to make the characters something they're not. We run right at what they are and celebrate it.
Nrama: Marc, from an artist's perspective, how much room is there with these characters to bring an element of your own interpretation? The designs in the art shown look classic, but like a lot of comics characters that have been around for decades, I'm guessing there's some latitude there to put a new spin on them while keeping them recognizable.
Laming: I wasn't given any restriction really on where to go with the look of the characters, and my takes are informed by my respect for characters themselves. There's always a reason why these characters have survived all these years and not significantly changes; it's not purely fan nostalgia, Lee Falk and Alex Raymond hit gold when they came up with these guys and they are, like Superman & Batman, pretty bulletproof archetypes.
With The Phantom and Mandrake I've made very few changes really for reasons that are driven by Jeff's story and with Flash I based him more closely on Al Williamson's look for the character with some of the more anachronistic elements removed.
Nrama: You both came into Kings Watch as fans of the characters — it's a very broad question, but for folks who may be less familiar with them, what is it that's appealing about them for both of you, either individually or as a group?
Laming: I discovered Flash Gordon through the movie serials on morning TV in the pre-Star Wars '70s. I'd never seen anything like it before, and it was far more exciting to me than Star Trek and Doctor Who. so I was hooked. It was high adventure with crazy looking space ships and deadly peril that Flash & crew would miraculously escape from at the beginning of the next chapter.
Phantom and Mandrake I discovered through my aunt's collection of British reprints like Amazing Tales Of Suspense. They both stood out as the majority of the comics we had easily available in the early '70s here in the UK were costume adventurer light, and they both seemed very exciting to me — and were cool because none of my friends knew who they were.
Parker: I also was really into those Buster Crabbe serials which I saw on PBS here in the States. As well as the Flash movie, campy as it is I still love it. I also really like the Phantom movie, though it falls apart at the end.
I think what readers will like is that they're guys who are smart and quick on their feet — they can't solve problems with superpowers, but the common thread is their confidence and heroic instinct to do what needs to be done.