Monday, August 31, 2020

Fantastic Fashions Of Mongo!

It's a cliche that to overcome nervousness in an interview or public speaking or some such situation, it is suggested that the audience should be imagined to be without clothes. This is supposed to make them more humble looking and take off the tension. Don't know if it works, but I do know that seeing the mighty Ming the Merciless bereft of his typical robes and overpowering collars I do feel less threatened. (By the way, did Doctor Strange's cloak come from Ming? It's all I could think of recently when I watched the original serial again.)

Apparently one of the gimmicks used by King Features to maximize the allure of the Flash Gordon strip is to have Alex Raymond make paper dolls out of all of the characters. It certainly was a nifty means of extending the adventures into the imaginations of the kids who read it week in and week out, but did boys play with these? I would have, but I was the product of a more modern attitude.

Getting a fashion  paper doll for Dale Arden makes all sorts of sexist sense,but seeing Flash and Zarkov in their skivvies (or near it) is a big odd.

And really, just how many outfits is a Lion Man going wear anyway.

I certainly would've played with a Princess Aura paper doll, as taking off her clothes might be fun indeed. It still might be.

Don't judge me please.

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Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Sunday Funnies - Flash Gordon 1941-1942!

Flash Gordon proved to be one of the most successful adventure comic strips of any era. But unlike Prince Valiant it quickly fell into other hands after Alex Raymond departed during the war and beyond. The potency of the strip though had already weaken before Raymond's departure.

Alex Raymond (1909–1956) - Toons Mag

In this final of four over-sized volumes we get Flash Gordon's last Raymond drawn adventure. After a brief stay on Earth to help defeat an all too familiar foreign enemy, Flash, Dale and Zarkov seems all too ready to jump into a rocket and get back to Mongo. The expressed reason is to get radium to help with the war on Earth but when Flash crashes the rocket (his patented landing technique) that is quickly forgotten as they try to survive in the land of Tropica.

Black Gate » Articles » Blogging Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon, Part  Twenty-One – “Triumph in Tropica”

Tropica is ruled by Queen Desira who is quickly deposed by her general Bazor and the next two years are swallowed up by the struggle to put Desira back on the throne, in the name of freedom no less. I've always been struck by how monarchies are the default governmental form in these stories, but that's owing to their fairy tale roots I suspect.  Without Ming to tussle against Flash is clearly a hero in need of an antagonist and we get Brazor, a remarkably bland wannabe dictator. The strip becomes nearly pure adventure for a few years with almost no real science fiction elements present save for the random appearance of a peculiar creature or vehicle. Flash owes as much to H. Rider Haggard as to Edgar Rice Burroughs in these final Raymond stories.


Frankly it all gets a bit stale and more than a little bit dull. Flash and Dale seem to have finally moved passed her getting jealous of his every encounter, though shadows of that do surface and the villains and turncoats in the comic are dispatched with as little concern as they are developed. It's all been done before and with more dash and spirit, but eventually Desira is returned, the land of Tropica is happy and our heroic trio head off to new adventures which will alas be more of the same.

I possess the Flash Gordon comic strip adventures in three forms. The first is the amazing Nostalgia Press volumes from the 70's which I still remember seeing ads at the time and lusting after. I got them pretty quickly and enjoyed the stories and tucked them away.

Much more recently I found the Checker Publishing volumes for exceedingly discounted prices and went ahead and picked them up since my Nostalgia Press tomes were showing the wear and tear of age and sometimes indifferent storage due to the hazards of daily life. That series offers up one more Flash Gordon adventure, his trip to Marvela after leaving Tropica. (I note that Flash leaves the rocket in Dale's capable hands and she doesn't crash. Hmm.) In Marvela Flash and Dale match wits with a devilish pair named Lura (beautiful with designs on Flash...check) and Ardo (scientist who makes monsters...check). By the end we earn Lura and Ardo are siblings (shades of the Skywalker twins) and are pawing each other before Flash and Dale can get into the air for more shenanigans in another land.

Joker", by Steve Sailer - The Unz Review

The drop off in the allure of the strip is quite remarkable, especially comparing it to the rip-roaring wonder of those earliest adventures. Reading it alongside Hal Foster's Prince Valiant it is clear that the quality of the latter is much more refined and much more satisfying over the long stretch. Flash Gordon was printed for many years, and I'm positive some of those adventures are dandy, but once they were glorious and mythic.

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Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Saturday Serials - Universal's Flash Gordon!

When Flash Gordon was adapted to the big screen by Universal studios it was appropriately enough in the serial or chapter play format. Serials were commonly the domain of pulp or comic heroes and in 1936 the Flash Gordon comic strip had become very successful and had maintained that success for a few years, a good sign that interest would be strong for a film rendition. When they started looking for someone to play Flash they found the rough and tumble but handsome mug of Buster Crabbe looking at them. An inspired choice, Crabbe became one of the mainstay stars of the serial in the 30's and 40's and beyond when serials became television. He was joined by Jean Rogers, probably a bigger star at the time and Frank Shannon as the intrepid trio of terrestrials who fly to the speeding planet of Mongo to save the Earth.

Flash Gordon | Comic, Description, & Facts | Britannica

They find on Mongo the deadly Fu Manchu, or the variation on the "Yellow Peril" villain designed by Don Moore and Alex Raymond called Ming the Merciless. Joining forces with Thun the Lion Man and Prince Barin the trio battle Ming and his forces again and again until ultimately prevail and return home (spoiler alert?). I've always liked the idea that Thun was played by a Tarzan actor and that he joined forces with Crabbe, a one-time ape man himself. The serial worked hard, sometimes to its detriment, to cleave to the images that Raymond had burned into the memories and imaginations of the youth of America. Universal borrowed sets sets from Frankenstein, clips from Just Imagine, and costumes from who knows where, but still they pulled it off, and with sufficient success to warrant a sequal..

Now the first Flash Gordon serial was a huge success and so a rare sequel was scheduled. But by the time it rolled around one Orson Welles had made a big star out of the planet Mars so it was decided that Flash and his allies would go there instead of Mongo in the directly titled Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars. (Not all that surprisingly it looks a whole lot like Mongo.) This new adventure has more polish than the first one, more surface production value and while the first one cleaved to the Alex Raymond original to its detriment at times (do we really need to see Frank Shannon's knees?) this one felt comfortable enough to add a character.

Olympic champions have a history with Hollywood - Los Angeles Times

That character was named "Happy Hapgood" a news hawk (played by Donald Kerr) who ends up accidentally along for the ride into space. Happy is added to the mix to give jokes, to be the comedy relief. He's totally unneeded and unwanted and he messes with the classic Flash Gordon formula something awful. One of the strongest aspects of  this installment is the presence of the Clay People who are cursed and as a consequence are able weirdly blend into the walls of their territory. Watching them blend in and out of the walls is seriously creepy and one of the scariest memories of my childhood. They are wraiths in nearly every sense of the word, ghosts blended with goblins to form a really unsettling creature.

Then some years later they did it again with Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (a most unwieldy but memorable title. As in the comic strip Flash, Dale, and Zarkov go back to Mongo and get involved with saving the planet from Ming yet one more time. Again the movie looks like the comic strip, but by this time the comic strip was lush and handsome indeed. This is a good looking serial and one of my favorites, because it was this serial I owned first as it has always been in the public domain for some reason. 

Buck Rogers - Flash Gordon -- Old Time Radio Program

There is much daring-do and the serial looks great. Buster Crabbe never looked more handsome or dashing on the screen. But some of the blood and thunder was missing, and that's true of the comic strip as well. There's a sense at times of going through the motions, both on screen and on the Sunday funny supplement. More on that tomorrow. 

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Friday, August 28, 2020

Flash Gordon Zeitgeist!

Flash Gordon Zeitgest is the brainchild of Alex Ross, an artist of great reputation and talent who apparently adores the 1980's versions of Alex Raymond's iconic hero. In fact both the DeLaurentis film and the Filmation cartoon adaptations are given no small heed as this potent retelling of the classic clash unfolds.

This rendition of the Flash saga takes place in 1934 and includes on the villains roster alongside Ming and Klytus, the original super-villain of the comic book world -- Adolf Hitler. Here Hitler is a lackey, serving at the whim of Ming who is supplying the Third Reich with technology to make it even stronger. When the war is over the little Paper-hanger will be one of the myriad "rulers" who serve beneath the heel of Ming the Merciless. We follow three fighters from Mongo (a lion man, a hawk man and a golden woman) who seem to be working in sympathy with the Allies.

On Mongo itself the familiar story unfolds with a change and alteration here and there. Flash is still condemned by Ming and as usual he overcomes the many threats to his life and brings something new to Mongo -- esprit de corp.

Dale Arden is once again the sexual desire of Ming, though as usual his desire stems more from a wish to overpower than to woo her. She is the Earth in raven hair and as such Ming wants her to submit and like it. She disagrees.

The story flows back and forth from Earth to Mongo with designs from Ross which evoke the old Sam Jones flick. The silliness of the movie is erased, though some of the inherent absurdity of the inter-planetary struggle remains embedded in the yarn. The battle on this planet rages throughout and we even get brief glimpses of other heroes who are defending the Earth.

The artwork by Daniel Indro is pretty good, though like some much in the modern art of comics a wee bit busy. It is lush, but that gives way somewhat when in later issues Ron Adrian is tapped to illustrate the Eric Trautmann scripts.

Throughout the run Alex Ross supplies the stunning covers and in this instance was the motivating force for the series and so designed all of it. as well. It's interesting to see the interplay of the various  versions of Flash Gordon get tapped in part as the story unrolls.

One very interesting change is an emphasis on Zarkov who steps out of the shadows a bit to contribute to the inevitable defeat of Ming. It's all too clear in the original that his ideas were central to the success of the uprising to this point.  We get some powerful biographical information about Zarkov and how this man came to be what he was.

As with any of the Flash Gordon yarns a victory is the result of the unending fighting, and as in all the there is an eventual victory over the forces of Ming or whatever substitute is on hand. Ming is defeated in this story as well and new leadership is put into place and that's a surprise in its own way.

But as in the classic Alex Raymond comic strip, Ming is not quite finished and his revenge is terrible indeed. This iu that rare Flash Gordon story that truly has a finale that allows for, but doesn't beg for another story. Flash Gordon Zeitgeist is a dandy story, if imperfect and does quite a bit to move Flash Gordon into a new era.

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Thursday, August 27, 2020

Ming The Merciless!

Dynamite  Comics has done quite a bit with the King Features characters, most notably Flash Gordon. In fact there seem to be two versions of Flash even at Dynamite -- a version designed for the crossovers with other heroes and the version crafted by Alex Ross in celebration (nigh worship) of the Dino DeLaurentis movie version of the story. There seem to be two comic series dedicated to the latter, one featuring Flash as its protagonist and then there's a four-issue event called merely Merciless -- The Rise of Ming.

In these comics written by Scott Beatty we travel back in time to when Ming was just Prince Ming under the thumb of his father Emperor Krang. The brisk quartet of tales relates how Ming uses his wits and savage ability to kill to solidify the world of Mongo in anticipation of his inevitable rise to power.

We see him dominate the Hawkmen and weirdly put Vultan into power, we see him challenge the Shark-Men and reconstruct the basic way in which that society fits into the larger empire, and we see him utterly destroy an entire race of Mongo, wiping them literally off the face of the planet.  This is a ruthless Ming, willing to kill anyone who he feels needs to die in order for his power to remain unassailable.

It's that latter point which did bother as the story leads up right to the beginning of Ming's clash with Earth and his nemesis Flash Gordon, and it's that Ming's utter bloodthirstiness and his cavalier manner is dispatching even those loyal to him but who have failed in some small regard making him less credible to me as a leader. I just cannot fathom how a man keeps power by killing everyone, even those who have talents and skills he might need. It makes for nifty drama, but it's literally overkill in  my opinion. But on the other hand it is a quartet of stories that live up the title for sure. These are a prequel of sorts for another Dynamite series called Flash Gordon Zeitgesit -- more on that tomorrow. 

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Flash Gordon - The Movie Comic!

Flash Gordon had been one of the most popular and well-crafted comic strips of its or any era. Not the first of the space stars in comics (Buck Rogers gets the nod) Flash Gordon was the most accomplished and beautiful. It made a tremendous impression on those who saw it, and the folks at Universal made it even more famous when they cast Buster Crabbe as Flash in a trio of serials which drew heavily from the Don Moore and Alex Raymond source material.

But there came a time when a new Flash Gordon was, if not needed, then certainly sensible. Star Wars had lifted the style and substance of the old sci-fi serials and created a blockbuster success in the cinema. Vintage sci-fi properties such as Buck Rogers and Star Trek were dusted off and given a new big screen gloss. So it was only logical that Flash Gordon would get the nod, and that nod came from Dino DeLaurentis, the most flamboyant producer from an era keen with flamboyant movie figures.

Whitman (Western Publishing) had the rights to Flash Gordon in comic books when the movie landed and did a dandy job of adapting it to the comics form. Actually it's difficult to think how they might have improved. Landing ace Flash artist Al Williamson to draw the comic made it an instant classic. I've read that the artwork to the adaptation by Williamson was physically stolen and it's at least comforting to realize that the thief had such good taste, if not morals. The story was published in big book by Western and then divided up for the comic series itself.

Given the company's history with licensed projects and photo covers (mostly back in the days of the collaboration with Dell) it's not suprising that they put out photos of the stars on the covers, though leaving plenty of room for the artwork itself.

Williamson's take on Flash is perhaps more serious than the movie itself, his art creating a sense of realism that the bright color scheme of the film among other decisions intentionally avoids. Many of the campy details are gone, though no significant plot points are changed. I did much appreciate that Dale Arden has her raven tresses back. The strongest difference is the ending in which Flash collects Ming's ring and there is not last moment suggestion that the tyrant might well return.

Bruce Jones wrote this adaptation which does a remarkable job documenting a movie in a time when the movies themselves were coming into the hands of the consumer. Once upon a time of course these comics would have been the only practical means to relive the experience of the film save for its releases.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

DC's Flash Gordon!

In the summer of 1988 DC Comics was well along in the process to reinvent itself and attempting to shuffle of the rags of bygone eras. To that end they had devised a "Crisis" which pruned the sprawling DC Universe and gave opportunity to reinvent and update some of their iconic heroes. In that same spirit the company got its mitts on the King Features classic Flash Gordon.

The task was handed to Dan Jurgens ably assited by inker Bruce Patterson. Jurgens has proven to be quite an auteur for DC over the decades, working as a one-man band of sorts writing and drawing some very high profile comics, and even inventing one of DC's most impressive newer characters -- Booser Gold.

The Flash Gordon franchise offered up great opportunity, but also great challenge. Clearly the editorial folks at DC, first Mike Gold and then John Greenberger wanted a leaner meaner Flash. The high romance of the classic Raymond comic strip couldn't be utterly abandoned, but in the 80's as the century queued up to close out, a grittier hero seemed of the moment.

Flash Gordon is a retired athlete, specifically an over-the-hill Boston Celtic, a man with an ex-wife and child who has found life to be not nearly as much fun as it once was. We meet him as he crashes his Ferarri, a man literally in a mid-life crisis.

He finds himself soon enough partnered with Dale Arden, a journalist and a crazy scientist named Zarkov who has invented a ship that travel to other dimensions. Of course they go there and find Mongo, a world ruled by a despot named Ming the Merciless. But this Ming is a little different, eschewing his "Yellow Peril" roots and presenting as just your run-of-the-mill nigh immortal megalomaniac. He is willing to kill and even genocide is just an afternoon's diversion.

Mongo is a world filled with Arborians, Hawkmen, Paquans (Lion Men), and Aquatics (Shark Men) among others. These are races specifically developed by genetic manipulation to fulfill the needs of Mongo society, one wracked by a lack of resources until Ming found a way allow all men and women to find a place. That place was one of abject servitude but there was a social balance which was held together by pitting the races against one another and the use of absolute cruelty to maintain control.

Into this brew Flash and Dale come and find themselves attacked and taken captive time and again. Ming seeks to kill Flash over an over again but always fails. Dale escapes his harem barely and she and Flash find a romance between them that takes time to kindle. And always there are the others such as the treacherous Princess Aura, the unreliable Prince Barin, and the gruff King Vultan. Allies along with Professor Zarkov returned from seeming death eventually work together to fight Ming.

The story is told from Flash's perspective and we discover that what is really going on is Flash is a man in a mid-life crisis who is slowly and grudgingly finding meaning again. One issue switches gears and tells the tale from Ming's perspective and while we don't get any sympathy for the devil we do at get some clarity as to his motives.

This is a story of Flash Gordon that has a definite ending and I would be most remiss to say much more about it. I enjoyed the reading, though at this distance I found the story telling a little dated even given it was attempting update the scenario. With over thirty years having passed this story too has signs of age. But if you find it, it's an interesting spin on the Alex Raymond classic and worth time.

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