By Jeff Parker & Evan Shaner
What makes a hero?
For almost a year and a half now, Jeff Parker has been scripting the adventures of Flash Gordon, first as a member of King’s Watch, then in an eight issue solo title which wraps up this week. Throughout Flash has been a reckless daredevil, always ready to leap head first, when cooler temperaments might have paused for a moment. At times this has nearly gotten him and his companions killed, though it is hard to fault the guy. His rashness comes from his heart, his dedication to helping others in need. He is not going to stand-by simply for the sake of preserving his cover and let Ming’s minions torture someone. Better to do the right thing and let the details sort themselves out later.
As commendable as bravery is, though, it is not what solely constitutes heroism. After seven issues of swashbuckling adventure, Parker shifts gears for #8. Zarkov has successfully navigated Flash, Dale and himself back to Earth, where they are welcomed as champions for their role in defeating Ming’s invasion attempt. They immediately become the most celebrated, admired people on the planet. As one banner lovingly reads “[Flash] saved every one of us!” Dale and Zarkov are now at the pinnacle of their fields, anything they could desire is within their grasp.
And Flash? Well, Flash grew up the child of privilege, gifted with not only outstanding athletic prowess but the resources necessary for harnessing it to his fullest potential. For him the return to Earth has been bittersweet. He thinks of John Glenn, quickly declared a National Treasure and kept away from anything dangerous. He also remembers time he spent with a Peace Corp like organization, how important that work felt to him. He thought that he would be watching something grow, only to realize that he was only temporarily passing through while surrounded by other transients who were more concerned with acquiring a good resume hook. Finally, he is haunted by the origin of his nickname, the taunting of a high school teacher: “you’re all flash and no substance.”
Parker fills these scenes with a strong poignancy as Flash wrestles with what it means to be home again. Did he simply do his tour in space, make some small dent in Ming’s empire and should now step back to let someone else pick up where he left off? These quiet character scenes show that there is more to being a hero than a willingness to lunge into the fray without thinking twice. More important is the ability to look within yourself, recognizing your strengths and weakness, then building on both. Doubts are fine, healthy even. They help us clear our head and get a sense of priorities. No matter what we have achieved, we should never rest on our laurels; we should always aim a little bit higher. This is not only what heroes do but how they can inspire us in our everyday lives.
Not that the entire issue is introspective; there is plenty of rollicking adventure as well. For these later sequences, Shaner’s art is as dynamic as ever. His illustrations are full of exciting action, which perfectly captures the playful pulpiness of Flash’s exploits. At the same time, though, Shaner conveys well the mood of the character moments back on Earth. He has one particularly nice sequence where Flash is sitting in his spaceship before it is scheduled to be mothballed in the Smithsonian. There is very little dialogue in these panels, yet they relay perfectly the feelings of the character. Jordie Bellaire’s talented coloring work heightens the strong sense of atmosphere as well.
Altogether, this issue is an outstanding conclusion to Parker and Shaner’s time with Flash and friends.