INDEPENDENT COMIC-BOOKS

Merciless: The Rise of Ming

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Set decades before the would-be interplanetary conqueror turned his attentions upon an unwitting Earth, MERCILESS chronicles the formative years of Prince Ming, heir to all he surveys and all the fabulous peoples of distant Mongo, a planet politically divided by its divergent species and as physically fractured as the ring of shattered moons orbiting it. Disillusioned by his father’s rule and anxious to begin his own dynasty, Ming engineers events to seat himself upon the imperial throne of Mongo, sooner rather than later. Ming’s ascent to power is as much a descent into his own depravity as he strikes alliances and sparks wars of expansion to cement his claim, finding time for love (or lust, depending on one’s point-of-view) and uniting all of Mongo under one rule… HIS. Ming’s adversaries underestimate him at their peril. He has a plan. In fact, he ALWAYS has a plan… and it doesn’t end on Mongo. Armed with mind-boggling weapons of planetary destruction, Ming the Merciless won’t settle for anything less than dominion over his world… and every galaxy in the known universe!

This was strictly an impulse-buy for me. Before this I’d never read any Flash Gordon comics or pulp magazines, nor read any books or seen any of the various animated series’. My only knowledge of Flash Gordon and the various supporting characters, comes from the cult-classic 1980 film, Flash Gordon, starring Sam J. Jones, in which Max Von Sydow played the evil intergalactic dictator, Ming The Merciless. I first saw this film as a kid and I’ve always loved it, despite (or perhaps because of) it’s campy-ness.

Well this 4-issue miniseries, written by Scott Beatty and drawn by Ron Adrian, serves as a prequel to the film, showing Ming’s rise to power. It begins on the planet Mongo, which is at the time ruled by Ming’s father, Emperor Krang. Ming, already an adult, is the Prince, his father’s heir and right-hand man. Krang rules the planet through keeping a truce between the various races who inhabit it, the Sharkmen, the Lion Men, the Tree People, the Ice People, and the Hawkmen. In the first issue the Queen of the Hawkmen refuses to attend a royal banquet at Krang’s palace, where the rulers of the other races have gathered for negotiations. Krang sends Ming to the floating city in the sky where the Hawkmen live to meet with the Queen and she humiliates him. Ming does not take that lightly, and formulates a plan for revenge. And without spoiling Ming’s scheme, let’s just say that by the time he’s finished, the Queen’s son, Prince Vultan, gets a promotion.

In the 2nd issue we learn that the peace-pact with the Sharkmen is kept by virgin sacrifice. Once every tidal cycle, a young female is chosen and tossed into the ocean for the Shark King and his men to devour. Even Ming finds this practice barbaric, and when the latest virgin selected, a woman named Auranea, catches his eye, he unexpectedly changes the rules. What follows is a brutal underwater battle as Ming single-handily fights the Shark King and his troops. In this issue we are also introduced to Ming’s future right-hand man, General Klytus, and learn why he always wears a metal mask. In issue 3, after slaying the Shark King, Ming has taken Aranea as his bride, against the will of his father. But Ming has no tolerance for his father’s disapproval, and makes his final move to overthrow his own father and take the crown for himself. And when Aranea gives birth to his daughter and heir Aura, the new Emperor begins his War of Expansion. And after conquering the entire planet of Mongo, becoming it’s unquestioned leader, Ming turns his attention towards conquering other worlds in the universe.

Oh, but first he has to deal with the fact that his wife is having an affair with one of his ambassadors. And let me just say that Ming’s reaction shows above all else how he earned the title “Merciless.”

This is a really great series, Beatty shows Ming as a cold and unemotional and utterly ruthless. He’s written with a royal arrogance befitting of his character, and even as just a prince he inspires fear and devotion from those around him. He orders people’s deaths as easily as you might order a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Throughout the series we also get some flashbacks to past events, like Ming as a younger man learning to fight with a sword. And, in a slightly humorous scene, we learn why all the men of Ming’s race are bald. And Ron Adrian does a fine job as illustrator, giving this series a modern yet retro appearance. Also, Ming and his race are golden-skined humanoid, to avoid the stigma of the Asian stereotype that the original version of the character portrayed.  I very highly recommend this series to all sci-fi fans.

Chacebook rating: 5 STARS

Available in print via AMAZON or digitally via COMIXOLOGY

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