Some significant details about the end of this issue are going to be SPOILED like old milk below
I appreciate how quickly things happen in Kings Watch #3. There’s never really a beat where anyone pauses to gather their thoughts, make a plan, or explain what just went down. Everyone, hero and villain, is perpetually moving forward in this comic, which opens mid-fight and ends with an army invading Earth through a magical intergalactic portal. Between those events, there’s basically a race, with several groups trying to reach the same spot first. That spot is the titular “King’s Watch,” a stone in Tanzania that’s an essential part of opening the gateway for the evil invaders at the end of the issue. Those invaders are, as is only natural, the forces of Ming the Merciless, and they look fantastic. The closing splash page resembles a group of imperial stormtroopers riding on dinosaurs, except both the people and their mounts have a particular edge to them that makes them all the more intimidating. Plus a couple of the guys are more like ape-demons than stormtroopers, adding to the already interesting mix of primitive and futuristic visuals.
Marc Laming’s art is all on point here. His panels are solidly built, with wide white gutters in between. He uses a lot of wide angles, panels that stretch across the whole page, but keeps them short and contained enough that there’s always room to tell the whole story. When he does break into bigger panels, it’s for great effect, like the aforementioned closing splash or the horrific illusory hellscape that Mandrake conjures up in the opening combat. Like with the script, there’s a nice steady and speedy rhythm to the layouts.
The strongest and most helpful aspect of the art is how distinct each member of the cast is in their emotional ranges. Flash Thompson is serious but also smug, Zarkov’s always on edge, Dale is focused and level-headed, The Phantom is grizzled and rugged and bit snarky, etc. Their facial expressions and body language express their personalities in every panel, whether they have dialogue or not. Getting so much across about the characters without the need for superfluous talk is a big part of why Jeff Parker can pull off the breakneck pace of the action.
The other thing Parker does to keep things moving is to give his reader a lot of credit. When Mandrake gives Flash a weapon in the real world by magically tapping into a memory they share (young Flash as an audience volunteer at Mandrake’s stage show), the explanation of how all that works is a single line: “I can give you this because I’m in your memory.” There’s no introduction to the memory setting or follow-up questions from Flash. The need for Mandrake’s help is too urgent, so Flash accepts it readily, and the reader is given just the most basic information and trusted to work out the rest. A little later in the issue, Flash vocalizes his awe at Mandrake remembering their brief encounter from so many years ago, but that gets brought up more to point out that Mandrake apparently doesn’t age than to poke holes in or add exposition to what happened before.
Similarly, at the end of the issue when Ming is finally making his move, he delivers a short but dramatic speech about the more tourism-based goals of the original builders of the gate he’s using to attack Earth, and how he repurposed it so he could conquer multiple worlds rather than merely visit them. It’s a useful bit of background info, necessary even, but Parker doesn’t waste too much space with all the sci-fi details of it. He gives us the broad strokes in a single page, four captions across three panels. It’s just the right amount so that everyone knows what’s going on, but nobody’s time gets wasted with overly-wordy narration. Parker treats his readers like they’re intelligent and observant, is my point, and I always appreciate being thought of that way, whether it’s true or not. Certainly it’s preferable to having every tiny story detail handed to me like I’m too dumb to spot anything on my own, which happens more often than you might think, in comics and elsewhere.
My only complaint about Kings Watch so far is that I’d like to see more Phantom action, because I have a fondness for the character dating back to my childhood. Everything he has done or said so far, including his badass action-heroism this issue, has been wonderful, but he never gets quite as much to do as the rest of the cast, and I’d love if it he could have more spotlight time. Making me want more of something that’s already present is a pretty awesome thing for a series to have as its biggest weakness, though, so applause for this title all around. It’s been heavy on action, excitement, and humor in the face of evil so far, and with Ming the Merciless officially in the mix now, I have to assume everything is only going to ramp up to whole new levels of intensity and entertainment.