Last week, Dynamite Entertainment released word on its plans to relaunch classic newspaper science fiction hero Flash Gordon in a new comic series. The news came as a surprise to many comic readers since Gordon already carries a comic series in the direct market -- one published by Ardden Entertainment since 2008.
"With all due respect, it's just a nasty way to do business," Ardden Co-President and "Flash Gordon" writer Brendan Deneen posted Thursday on CBR's message boards. "Dynamite is a big(-ish) company with many titles. Ardden is a small company with a couple of titles, 'Flash Gordon' being its flagship book." While Dynamite declined comment on the issue due to the fact that they're unaware of the particulars of Ardden's deal with the character's owners at King Features Syndicate, incoming Dynamite "Gordon" writer Eric Trautmann shared this on the boards: "My understanding (and I could very well be wrong) is that King grants non-exclusive licenses to Flash Gordon (and presumably their other properties), which is why Ardden does their thing, we'll do ours, Dark Horse reprints older material, as does Checker, as does Titan, etc. etc. Personally, I wish Ardden continued success with their efforts, and am quite content to deliver the best work I possibly can on our series. I'm of the opinion that there's room for both rather distinct interpretations of the character and source material."
With Dynamite's announcement casting questions as to whether both versions can continue moving forward, CBR News reached out to Deneen for his take on the situation, and the publisher opened up on his company's plans to continue with "Flash Gordon" for its planned four-series epic while also sharing an exclusive preview of "Flash Gordon: Invasion of The Red Sword" #4, which ships to comic shops next week. Read on for the writer's take on Dynamite's deal, his full plans to bring Alex Raymond's character full circle and more news on what's next for Ardden Entertainment.
All right, to get the basics of what's happened here out of the way first, folks who have seen the comment thread on the CBR forums know that Dynamite moving on a "Flash Gordon" was not the happiest surprise for you guys. In general, how does this impact Ardden's moving forward on the property if at all?
Brendan Deneen: We’ve known about this for awhile but seeing the latest wave of news about it is certainly upsetting. First and foremost, it doesn’t impact us moving forward whatsoever. Issue #4 of "Invasion of The Red Sword," our latest arc (AKA issue #11 of the entire 25-issue run, plus the anthology, "The Secret History of Mongo"), comes out next Wednesday and will conclude with issue #6. That will then lead to our next two 6-ssue story arcs, "The Vengeance of Ming" and "King of The Impossible." But to have someone else come along and start publishing the same character while we’re in the middle of our run... yeah, it stings. It kind of feels like someone stabbing you in the back. Sure, they’re technically “allowed” to do this but that doesn’t make it any less lame on their part. I would never do that to another publisher. Never. I mean, if I found out that I could get the rights to, say, Green Hornet, I wouldn’t go after them unless I was 100% sure Dynamite was done with them. That just seems like a professional courtesy in this relatively small industry, a courtesy that Dynamite didn’t bother extending to us.
While the Ardden Flash stories have gotten a lot of great buzz, there are still comic readers out there who may not know what's come so far and where you're at. Can you give us a brief recap of the rollout for "Mercy Wars" and your publishing plan on the whole?
Absolutely. "The Mercy Wars" was our first arc, seven issues (if you include the #0 issue), which was collected into a critically-acclaimed trade paperback (Publishers Weekly called it “good, old-fashioned fun, freshly polished.”) It’s set in the modern day but retains all of the elements that are necessary when telling a Flash Gordon tale: Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov are rocketed off to the planet Mongo. I read all of the original Alex Raymond strips before plotting the entire four arcs. I think the main differences in my version are that Ming is much more complex... he is really trying to save Mongo from decades of civil war, even if his methods are less than merciful; and Dale is a much tougher, more modern heroine. In this version, she’s in the CIA and she’s pretty much a badass. "The Mercy Wars" chronicles Flash and crew’s arrival on Mongo, their immersion in this exciting, sci-fi landscape, and then their attempts to rally the different races of Mongo to fight back against Ming.
Flash Gordon is a character that's had several different media adaptations since the old school Alex Raymond days, and I think one of the big challenges has always been "How do you make that character relevant today?" What's your response to that idea? In what ways have the Ardden Flash comics updated this classic hero to appeal to modern audiences?
I touch on this above, but I don’t think the character needs to be modernized to the point where he becomes grim and humorless. If you read those original strips, Flash is a straight-up hero who’s just looking to do the right thing, but he’s also got a bit of a wry sense of humor. In my version, he was in CIA training with Dale but washed out because he always had a bit of a problem following the rules. I also made him an Olympic athlete and a professor at Yale as a nod to the original strips (he was a professional polo player and a Yale graduate). His superior officer made fun of his nickname, so he busted the guy’s nose. I think you can combine old-fashioned fun with a modern sensibility. I think Robert Kirkman does it, and so do Geoff Johns and Brian K. Vaughan. It’s a tough needle to thread but I think it can be done, and I’m doing my best to do so.
Stepping into the Red Sword -- the driving force of this phase in Ardden's story seems to be a struggle over the soul on Mongo with invaders from Earth providing a twist on the classic "return home with an army" kind of space-faring tale. Overall, what's your conception of how this story stands on its own, and what does it contribute to the overall Flash Gordon mythology?
The “Red Sword” is actually from Alex Raymond’s original strips. Flash and crew actually end up back on Earth once during Raymond’s run on the character. While back home, they battle a shadowy menace known only as “The Red Sword” (a thinly-veiled reference to Communism). I really liked this idea, so I took the name of the group and the general menace associated with them, and brought them to Mongo. I loved the idea of having F-16’s attacking the floating Hawk Man city, etc. In the next arc, "The Vengeance of Ming," we get to see Ming invading Earth, so you have Hawk Men circling the Empire State Building and such, so I think there’s a nice symmetry to those two arcs. While it helps to have read "The Mercy Wars," you can read "Invasion of The Red Sword" and know what’s going on. And what’s especially fun is that this arc is actually Dr. Zarkov’s story, as will be revealed in issue #6.
Issue #4 is just about to hit. For readers who will be able to pick it up in stores this week, what's the next turn in this series that will propel them through to the finish?
At this point in the arc, our heroes have been separated into three groups (Flash on his own; Dale and Vultan along with Vultan’s daughter, Talon; and Zarkov with Prince Barin and King Thun). But each group has found an unlikely group of allies, and each is about to bring the battle back to The Red Sword. It’s an exciting end to this arc, I think.
You've announced since the beginning of your run that this Flash Gordon series (or set of series) will have a definitive end. Why did you conceive the story this way, and how successful would you say the journey has been so far?
It’s always been conceived as a four-arc storyline. I’ve known from the very beginning exactly how it was going to play out. The first arc is the classic Flash Gordon storyline. The second is Earth invading Mongo. The third is Mongo invading Earth. And the fourth is a Flash Gordon that has never been seen before. I’ve kept this one pretty quiet because I think people are really going to dig it. It’s entitled "King of The Impossible," like I said, and I am very, very psyched about it. The ending really will be the perfect denouement to what I’ve been trying to do with this character/series.
You've got a lot of product ramping up for the next phase, set to debut at New York Comic Con. What can you tell us about all the books that will be available there?
While "Flash Gordon" is our flagship book, we have a lot of things going on at Ardden. We are obviously working with Atlas Comics on the return of their incredible line of characters, which started with "The Grim Ghost" by Tony Isabella, Stephen Susco and Kelley Jones, "Wulf" by Steve Niles and Nat Jones, and "Phoenix" by me, Jim Krueger, and Dean Zachary. We’re launching "Atlas Unified" #0 at New York Comic-Con, which sees all of these heroes team up for the first time in the 35-year history of the company, in addition to some other familiar faces. Plus, we’ve got other Ardden titles, including "Comeback Kings," a dark satirical action/adventure book by Matt Sullivan and Gabe Guarante, which teams Bruce Lee, Tupac, Elvis, Jim Morrison, Andy Kaufman and Michael Jackson. We’ve also got "Minx" by Andrea Grant, a cool supernatural thriller; "The Devil Is Due In Dreary" by David Parkin, which is a supernatural western; "Knightingail" by Wayne Gardiner, a fun all-ages fantasy book; and many others in the hopper. "Flash Gordon" is a big deal for us but it’s not our only book by a long shot.
On the whole, what does Flash Gordon mean for Ardden, and how do you feel the company is operating in total now that we're a few years into your publishing output with even more properties rolling out?
"Flash Gordon" is our lead title, like I said, and it’s especially important to me because it was our first book and I don’t only publish it (along with my business partner, Rich Emms), I also write it. I saw the 1980 movie in the theater when I was 8 years-old. I love this character. I’m not trying to be contentious just for contention’s sake but you can bet I’m going to stand up for myself, and for my company, and for what I feel is right. We’re a small company... we’re only three years-old... and this is a very tough market, which isn’t news to anyone. But I love comics. I’ve been reading them my entire life. We’re trying to put out fun, non-cynical stories. It’s not easy being a small comic book publisher in 2011 but damn it, we’re having a blast.
"Flash Gordon: Invasion of The Red Sword" #4 ships tomorrow from Ardden Entertainment.