Alex Raymond first brought Flash to life as a comic strip in the newspapers of the day. From there, he traveled to radio shows, movies, tv shows, cartoons – you name it.
Though the interpretations have varied throughout the years, the core story remains the same: Flash Gordon and Dale Arden find themselves pseudo kidnapped by a crazed scientist named Doctor Hans Zarkov. Zarkov builds/invents a space ship and launches them into space.
The ship crashes on the planet Mongo, where they come into contact with Ming, a merciless ruler who has the planet well under his heel. Ming has plans for the three, and for their home planet of Earth – which Flash can’t allow.
Along the way, they meet the different races and peoples of Mongo and those who rule them: Prince Barin of Arboria, Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen, Prince Thun of the Lion Men and even Aura, daughter of Ming himself.
Mischief and adventures ensue.
In 1980, Dino De Laurentis brought Flash Gordon back to the big screen in an adaptation starring Sam J. Jones as Flash, Melody Anderson as Dale Arden, Topov as Hanz Zarkov, Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin, Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan, Omelia Muti as Ming’s daughter Aura and Max Von Sydow as Ming the Merciless (“Klytus? I’m bored…”).
We’ve all seen this movie – there’s no need to recap it here. Except to say, of course, “FLASH! *crack of thunder* Ah-ahhh!”
In this telling, Flash is a washed up basketball player (in the original it was Polo, in the movie it was football). They give him an ex-wife, a ton of hang ups and lots of baggage to carry around with him.
Dale Arden is a reporter with ‘Inside’ something or other – one of those ‘flair & expose’ type syndicated news shows from back in the day – like that one O’reilly was on – whatever that was called. Unlike the original incarnation of Dale from the 30’s, this one is every bit as capable as Flash himself (which is a good thing, of course). Though put in several funky situations, she is by no means a ‘damsel in distress’.
Zarkov is still crazy in the beginning (Eventually he comes to his senses. Mostly.), having heard ‘messages from space’, prompting him to build a space ship to investigate it. He invites Arden to his home for an interview, but really he intends to kidnap her and her photographer/camera man to document the trip into space.
They are waiting for the cameraman when Flash shows up, fresh from a car accident and looking for a phone to call for help. Zarkov knocks Flash out (they explain this, plausibly, by Flash himself thinking something like, “Damn! If it weren’t for the car accident, I’d be faster/mop the floor with this guy…”), puts him and Dale into the ship and off they go.
Once on Mongo, we get our first look at Ming, a grey skinned, skull tattooed over the eye monarch who has set himself up as a god. Ming has a resurrection chamber (Similar to the Goua’ould of StarGate fame) and an organ harvesting scam going on – all to keep him and his favored few, alive and kicking forever. He uses this ‘immortality’ to promote himself as a god in the eyes of the people and to manipulate them into doing whatever he wants them to do. Without question.
He takes anything he wants, and, of course, he wants Dale in his bed, Zarkov building space ships for him so he can invade and rule other worlds, and a certain, annoying Flash Gordon – dead.
A bit more faithful to the original tale than the 1980 movie was, this Maxi-Series from DC was excellent in my mind. Like the movie, we had Barin and Vultan, Ming and Aura – but we also see a version of the underwater city and it’s leader, Kala and the ice kingdom of Frigia where Ming has setup an organ harvesting scam, using a sort of ‘Carousel’ driven society similar to the one from Logan’s Run. The people here have no idea that they are being used as nothing more than an organ farm for Ming, and they go off, blissfully, when they reach a certain age and their time is up (taken to a facility, killed, and then harvested). Creepy.
Also back in this version is Prince Thun, a ‘lion man’ who Flash befriends early on and who helps them escape several times. He also is one of the first of the Mongo people to think that maybe things aren’t so great (or at least, the first to say it out loud) and that maybe, just maybe, there might be something they could do about it…
Definitely one of my favorites. Flash Gordon is the reluctant hero, and don’t we all love the reluctant hero? In this series, he has a definite arc, going from washed up, kinda arrogant, former ex-basketball player to someone just trying to survive in a series of impossible situations and then, finally, to the guy who just might be able to free this planet from the oppressive regime that’s been grinding them down for centuries.
Of course, the series has over the top dialogue, tons of monologuing, quick solutions to complex problems and tons and tons of nick of time escapes from impossible situations. Heck, if it didn’t we wouldn’t love it now would we?
Plus, there’s the inconsistency/silliness of Dale complaining about the skimpy outfit Ming puts her in, about how all the men do is ogle her (being a feminist, she is, of course, horribly offended by it all) and then, when she has numerous chances to change into something less revealing, she keeps putting the skimpy back on. Ahh, comic books.
Only nine issues, I think they (DC) hoped that this series would be popular enough to be followed by a regular, ongoing monthly title. Frankly, so did I. But, alas, it was not to be. After issue #9, which had a conclusion to the story but a pretty solid lead in to a continuing series if they wanted to do one (I won’t spoil it for you, just in case you decide it’s worthy of a trip to the local comic book store to pick the series up – which is it), no new series was forthcoming. Which tells me that the sales just weren’t there, which is sad because I thought it was fantastic. And we don’t see this sort of straight forward scifi storytelling much anymore, which is sad.
As much as I love the convoluted, all encompassing, mega-story line, I also enjoy a good adventure tale with a little swash and buckle, if you know what I mean. Flash Gordon, like Buck Rogers before him, always delivers.