By Alex Raymond Titan Books, 2012 Way back in the beneficent 1950s – in 1954, to be exact – there appeared on the metal spinner-rack of Trow's Paper Goods (in a sleepy little Iowa town with neither bookstore nor library) a slim thing of wonder: a new comic book called Jungle Action #1. For the asking price of 10 cents, the reader could thrill to the exploits of Leopard Girl, Jungle Boy, and an enormous and bad-tempered Gorilla named Man-oo the Mighty. But for the real connoisseur of jungle adventure, the star of the issue was a muscular young man named Lo-Zar, Lord of the Jungle. Lo-Zar's creator, a hack named Don Rico, didn't expend much mental energy bothering his readers about exactly why Lo-Zar was Lord of the Jungle, beyond the obvious facts: he was white, he was clean-cut, he seemed grimly purposeful, and in a pinch he could call on elephants and lions to get him out of tights spots (and boy, did he have his share of tight spots! He spent more time tied up than Harry Houdini). For a precious handful of adventures, Lo-Zar traipsed around the jungle in a loin cloth and shampooed hair, thwarting gun-runners and poachers and then swinging off into the sunset in (apparently) virginal self-satisfaction. Then Jungle Action folded, and the veldt fell silent. Lo-Zar had never been an entirely happy creation, for one simple reason: he was an echo, a knock-off, a pale (-skinned) imitation of the real Lord of the Jungle, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes. He could break up all the spy-rings he wanted, but at the end of the day, tourists would still point at him and say, “Hey! Are you that Tarzan guy?” It's a common affliction among pulp characters – just ask the Fighting American how he feels about Captain America, or buy Captain Marvel a beer while he complains about Superman. And the big boys aren't free of it either – the Man of Steel certainly wouldn't like it if you mentioned Philip Wylie's novel The Gladiator, even though oft-read copies of it were on the nightstands of his two boy-creators, Joe Siegel and Jerry Shuster. The point, as entrepreneurs like Don Rico would be quick to point out, isn't originality: it's what you do with what you've got. This is no doubt a great consolation to Flash Gordon, the subject of a gorgeous new set of hardcover omnibus reprint volumes from Titan Books – because we should be honest about this upfront: Flash Gordon started his life back in January 1934 as an imitation-with-slight-variation of a character whose comic-strip debut happened five years earlier, in January 1929. That character was Buck Rogers (his original moniker was 'Anthony' but we need not dwell on that), a tough-guy veteran of World War I who gets trapped in a mine collapse and exposed to radioactive gas that throws him into suspended animation for five hundred years. He awakens in AD 2419 to a chaotic and slightly enfeebled world where his rough, bruising ways impress the locals. The character was a huge hit. Novels, comic strips, breakfast cereals, belt buckles, radio shows, and movie serials followed in quick order. The hustlers and con men running King Features didn't need a house to fall on them; they approached artist Alex Raymond about creating a rival character to take some of the liquid helium out of Buck Rogers' jet pack. The move was crass and purely capitalistic – it would have been fodder for contempt except for one important detail: Alex Raymond was a full-blown artistic genius. He didn't start out that way. Geniuses hardly ever do. In those first Sunday comics in 1934 – brought gloriously back to life in these beautiful Titan pages – his style was cluttered, rough, and clunky. Like everybody else at the time, he had very little concept of how to draw advanced technology, mainly because advanced technology didn't yet exist in the world. Science fiction – what pioneering science publisher Hugo Gernsback called “scientifiction” – paved the path for reality, as it has ever since (your cell phone is a Star Trek communicator; your iPad is a Star Trek data-padd Raymond's earliest readers would have nodded comfortably at the appearance of a bi-wing prop-plane passenger flight, but today's readers will nod just as comfortably at the sight of alien war-fleets composed essentially of fighter jets – and when an entire city on Mongo is annihilated in a single instant of blinding light and heat, 21st Century readers will shudder with a recognition mercifully spared their 1934 counterparts. Raymond couldn't foresee any of that, of course. He was given one simple task: out-do Buck Rogers. To do this, he came up with an opening scenario that would later become a staple of the genre. He imperiled the world in order to call forth a champion.