The U Ray Review

By | Thursday, January 11, 2024 Leave a Comment
What if Flash Gordon had been created in Belgium instead of the United States? Flash Gordon, of course, was the brainchild of Alex Raymond and debuted in 1934. It was created basically as a direct response to Buck Rogers, which had been proven to be immensely successful right from its start a few years earlier. But Raymond was talented enough that Flash Gordon, too, became immensely successful and soon became one of the most popular strips of its day. Popular enough that it was being run in newspapers beyond the United States, being translated into eight different languages.

However, once World War II broke out, overseas publication of Flash Gordon dropped from countries that were occupied by Germany, a nation in which the comic was banned. Belgian publishers, after being forced to discontinue Flash Gordon sought a replacement from cartoonist Edgar P. Jacobs. He created The U Ray, a story about how the scientist Marduk has created a novel "U Ray" weapon to help end the war between Norlandia and Austradia. However, Marduk only had enough of the mineral Uradium that is needed to power the U Ray to create a prototype. So Norlandia has instructed Major Walton to lead an expedition to the Black Isles to procure more Uradium.

Needless to say, the expedition does not go smoothly. The team encounters sabotuers, dinosaurs, ape men, deep sea monsters, and all manner of challenges.

In terms of the story structure and the types of plot devices that get used, it's not appreciably different than many other pulp-style stories of the era. The Flash Gordon inspiration is immediately obvious from the very first page that introduces the cast; the character designs are more than passingly similar to those in Flash Gordon. This was, no doubt, a very deliberate decision since the whole point was to act as a replacement for Raymond's comic.

Where Jacobs differs from many other pulp storytellers, though, is that his character's interactions have carry-over consequences. For example, in trying to cross a large gorge, they use some explosives to fell a massive tree over the chasm. As they cross the makeshift bridge, they're met with a giant snake that happened to be asleep high up in the tree. Now that kind of incident, by itself, is reminscent of King Kong. However, in fleeing the snake, they lose some of their critical equipment, causing some additional challenges later. Furthermore, using explosives to knock over the tree sparked a wildfire which they also had to escape from. Compare that against Kong where the bridge sequence caused the loss of some nameless crew, but they're replaced as soon as Denham gets back to the camp and the story totally ignores that Driscoll needs to cross the ravine again to get back to the village but Kong dropped the tree bridge into the crevas, making the obstacle impassable.

Jacobs' artwork is lovely. Stylized for the era and not as illustratively impressive as Raymond, but lovely nonetheless. Particularly considering this was his first ongoing comic. The storytelling is a little heavy on the narration, a bit closer to Prince Valiant than Flash Gordon. But heavy narration was the style in the adventure strips of the time and it's not like there's no dialogue at all, so I suspect it would only be an issue for folks who aren't used to that style.

Cinebook's reproduction is brilliant. They seem to have used a combination of original art and production stats from the time (Dargaud published an Artist's Edition version of the book last year) so everything looks gorgeous. The coloring credit tells me that Bruno Tatti re-did all the color work but, from what I can tell, he adhered very closely to the original. (The Artist's Edition includes some of Jacobs' color guides.) But the better printing keeps some of the nuance from getting lost on old, cheap paper.

I bought this for all the historical checkboxes this ticks. But it was much more delightful and fascinating than I had anticipated, and I'll definitely being picking up some of Jacobs' other works on the strength of this, his first real outing. I believe this was originally solicited for Septermber, but only just came out in the past month so I wouldn't be surprised if the sequel, The Fiery Arrow, is a bit delayed beyond its February solicit. Regardless, The U Ray is available fro Cinebook now for $14.95 US.
Newer Post Older Post Home