The penultimate chapter of Jeff Parker and Marc Laming’s highly enjoyable Defenders of the Earth modernisation, adds just the perfect amount of real-world grit, while sacrificing none of the comic strip characters’ sense of fun or adventurism.
Following the dire events of last issue, with the portal between Mongo and Earth now open, Ming the Merciless uses the energies of the King’s Watch to force the Earth into a global technological shut down, as his armies arrive and poise to take the planet. Meanwhile, Flash Gordon, the Phantom and Mandrake the Magician push back against Ming’s infantry forces on the streets of London.
Jeff Parker employs here the tried and tested formula of separate individuals uniting to combat an alien invasion, a formula recently made famous by the Avengers. What firmly and fundamentally sets this story apart however, and prevents it from ever being tired, is despite the colourful costumes this isn’t a story about superheroes at all… It’s about adventurers. These characters aren’t gods, monsters or super-soldiers, they’re three normal men and an illusionist, bare-knuckled, with horses, planes and handguns, fighting against an interstellar tyrant and his army of ray gun armed beast men, teleport devices and giant lizards. These practical aspects of the story alone are enough to put Kings Watch on a far different trajectory than both the Avengers and the Justice League. There was a wonderful line of dialogue in issue #3 spoken by the antagonist, Cobra, which was more than enough to sell me on Jeff Parker’s take: “We seem to be running into the toughest living obstacles. Fitting for such an undertaking.” A fascinating idea that from crises rise the greatest among us.
Fans of the pulp genre, Flash Gordon, and of Lee Falk’s creations: Mandrake, Lothar and the Phantom, should all be picking up this book. Parker and Laming are doing an excellent job with this limited-series, which blends the best of today and yesterday, and it’ll truly be a crime if it doesn’t lead into an ongoing-series. Though for now, with one issue to go, there’s still at least one more opportunity for the Phantom to say, “By jungle law, the Ghost Who Walks calls forth the power… of Ten Tigers!”