Savior Of The Universe
Just a man
With a man's courage
He knows nothing but a man
But he can never fail
No one but the pure in heart
May find the golden grail
Oh oh, oh oh
Freddie Mercury, Queen
Greetings from the desert fellow a CBSI members.
This piece has been a true labor of love. Flash Gordon has spanned over eight decades. So how do you take that depth of information and translate it into a entertaining piece for all fans of comics?
Well I am going to try.
There is a ton of data to follow. So stay for the duration of the party as it’s better consumed whole than piece by piece. This will mostly focus on the comics, and touch on the brilliant 1980 movie.
The TV serials, radio shows, pop up books, toys, etc, etc. will be covered at another time.
However, first a few disclaimers:
- Let’s all just get it out now, I know it’s in your mind. No one can say Flash without the other part so have at it. Okay, all together now… Flash AHHHHHH. We good now? Out of the system? All of you would make Queen very proud with your collective rendition.
- The movie Ted for those who have seen it know that Mark Wahlberg’s character has a bit of an obsession with Flash. In fact you all witnessed here a 10 minute scene that plays out like a dream come true for any true fanboy.
Ah yes, that would be me in real life too. I know the whole movie verbatim. It has consumed me that much. Dinner with 5 people before you die? Dam sure one of those taking a seat next to me would be Sam J. Jones, minus the nose candy!
- Finally, I am going to sprinkle in a few actual dialogue exchanges from the movie. It gives a feel to the overall tone of Flash. Also, some of them are just pure gold!
The Emperor Ming: Klytus, I'm bored. What play thing can you offer me today?
Klytus: An obscure body in the S-K System, Your Majesty. The inhabitants refer to it as the planet… Earth.
The Emperor Ming: How peaceful it looks.
[He activates a console, and watches as earthquakes, floods, etc. start to occur. They both get a good laugh out of it]
Klytus: Most effective, Your Majesty! Will you destroy this, er, Earth?
The Emperor Ming: Later. I like to play with thing a while… before annihilation.
Alright, with that out of the way let’s start shall we?
Flash Gordon was created by Alex Raymond in the 1930s to compete with Buck Rogers. It was a comic strip that ran monthly from January 7th,1934 until March 16th,2003.
Soak that in for a second… just shy of 70 years with monthly material.
It’s influence can be felt by millions in many different fashions. A example or two you say for reference in our world? Well, look no further than two of the very biggest icons in comic book history.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster based Superman's uniform of tights and a cape on costumes worn by Flash Gordon. Bob Kane's drawing of Batman on the cover of Detective Comics No. 27 (the first appearance of the character) was based on a 1937 Alex Raymond drawing of Flash Gordon.
Something a little more of today’s relevance? Ok, you know that guy that has a beard and always wearing jeans and a flannel shirt? Yes, that dude, George Lucas creator of a little known universe Star Wars.
Truth be told, he wanted to make Flash Gordon but could not get the rights so he created his own universe. Furthermore Luke, Mr. Lite-Brite who is always cranky, and that harry Bigfoot looking thing that ran with Han, all were in influenced by Alex Raymond’s classic.
One more for fun, the famous opening crawl of words at the beginning of all Star Wars movies that sucks you in immediately. Yep, took that too was from Mr. Gordon.
Does all of this help paint the picture of just how important Flash Gordon was in laying the very foundation of the world we have today in movies and comics? It’s roots are felt all around us.
Now let’s look at the beginning. The 1st original comic strip of Flash by the publisher Kings Features as stated above was featured in early January of 1934.
However, technically, the first appearance ran in an a day before to draw attention that is was coming to their respective papers.
84 year old spec anyone? Here is that ad, followed by the 1st comic strip. Amazing nostalgia.
Flash Gordon in essence is a very simplistic story. He is a polo player, and Yale University Grad who is accompanied by Dale Arden and Dr Hans Zarkov.
With the earth being threatened by a planet called Mongo, Dr. Zarkov builds a rocket ship to fly into space and stop the destruction of all mankind. He kidnaps Flash and Dale taking them into space where they end up landing on that very planet Mongo and come face to face with the iconic Ming the Merciless.
The tales of what happens on this world and many others make up the meat of this ongoing story. Here is the 1st interaction between Ming and Flash.
Okay, so let’s dig in a little to other key pieces that make up the beginning. With the success of Flash in full swing a important part of history arrived.
In December of 1936, a Pulp magazine titled Flash Gordon Strange Adventure Magazine was released. It contained a novel and three unrelated stories with illustrations.
The publisher Harold Hersey tried to capitalize on the popularity. Unfortunately, the artwork was horrible and another issue never saw the light of day.
In today’s world, this book is extremely rare and a crown jewel for any collector. Good luck finding this in a dollar bin, or paying the amount of money these are worth.
A CGC 2.0 goes for around $1600 if that gives you any indication on its rareness.
Here is a picture:
Ok let’s move onto Flash Gordon in a comic book. Remember, the above listed was a Pulp magazine.
King Comics were comics that featured various King Features characters. They were generally reprints of the comic strips, yet they command a good value due to the age and scarcity.
In late 1936, King Comics released Issue # 7 of its initial run. This is the 1st appearance in comic book form. Amazing the others that fill this book as well such has Popeye.
I can’t imagine finding a good copy with that dirt magnet white cover!
Now let’s fast forward a little bit in time until the 1950s. As a reminder, the comic strips continued to be published monthly in newspapers.
We are starting to see other series pop up now. Let’s first take a gander at a four-issue series published by Harvey.
The 1st issue was released October 1st, 1950.
Here again another eight issue run published by Atlas. This series started in July of 1956.
How about we venture into a little rabbit hole with some Flash Gordon comics from Norway? Six issue series published in 1967.
One more for fun!
Flash Gordon: The game's lost, Ming! Stop your attack on Earth and I'll spare your life!
The Emperor Ming: You pitiful fool! My life is not for any Earthling to give or take!
[Ming attempts to hold back Flash with the power of his ring. Flash approaches unaffected and menaces Ming with his sword. Ming cowers]
Flash Gordon: Your power is fading, Ming!
Also in the late 1960s to the early 1980s was a 37 issue run starting with King Comics. We all know Gold Key right?
Well they published issues 19-26. The covers of some of these are amazing!
How about some more Norwegian issues for fun?!
Swedish runs! Deep hole we are going down now…
Deeper down we go, a ten issue run from Portugal.
Princess Aura: Look! Water is leaking from her eyes.
The Emperor Ming: It's what they call tears, it's a sign of their weakness.
Phew! Let’s come up for some air. That was a long trip down the hole. Alright, DC tried their hands with Flash in the 1980s with a nine issue run.
One thing of note is Dan Jurgens was the writer.
Marvel also threw their hat into the ring with Flash under the Star Comics imprint with a very popular four issue run titled Defenders of the Earth.
This was viewed as a team up like the Avengers which featured Flash Gordon, Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and the super strong Lothar.
There was also a popular television series as well under the same title.
Ok, let’s hit the pause button for a second on comics and learn a few reasons why Flash Gordon the motion picture in 1980 was made the way it was in terms of the camp nature and subsequently bombed at the box office.
Now I could write a 20 page dissertation on this flick. However, that’s probably left best for another article.
Let’s just take a little peek behind the curtain for fun shall we?
The producer Dino De Laurentiis set out to make a big budget sci fi flick. The real truth of the matter is that it was doomed from the start.
How you say?
Let’s listen to screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr describe things:
“I blame much of the total confusion of that movie on the great leeway given to the art director, Danilo Donati,” Semple charges.
“He was a crazed Italian who literally never read the script, but instead went off on his own. The stuff he designed was fantastic, but it had nothing to do with the story, and would actually be un-shootable.
For instance, he spent $1 million on the Arboria set, which was used in one shot. It was really disorganization carried to the ultimate degree. Dino wanted to make Flash Gordon humorous,” he relates. “At the time, I thought that was a possible way to go, but, in hindsight, I realize it was a terrible mistake.
We kept fiddling around with the script, trying to decide whether to be funny or realistic. That was a catastrophic thing to do, with so much money involved.I never thought the character of Flash in the script was particularly good,” he concedes.
“But there was no pressure to make it any better. Dino had a vision of a comic-strip character treated in a comic style. That was silly, because Flash Gordon was never intended to be funny. The entire film got way out of control.”
Well there you have it, a set in total chaos. Trust me there is a whole lot more to this cult classic we can discuss another time. The flip side is the movie is adored by millions of fans today. There are conventions devoted to it. It is without question a piece of Americana sure to be enjoyed by many generations to come.
Zogi, the High Priest: Do you, Ming the Merciless, Ruler of the Universe, take this Earthling Dale Arden, to be your Empress of the Hour?
The Emperor Ming: Of the hour, yes.
Zogi, the High Priest: Do you promise to use her as you will?
The Emperor Ming: Certainly!
Zogi, the High Priest: Not to blast her into space?
[Ming glares at Zogi]
Zogi, the High Priest: Uh, until such time as you grow weary of her.
The Emperor Ming: I do.
Dale Arden: I do NOT!
Okay un-pause now, let’s go back into comics.
Now Flash Gordon within the comic realm took a little nap for awhile and was dormant until 2008. Then a little known company Ardden Entertainment brought the series alive.
The reveal was at the 2008 New York Comic Con. Attendees had the chance to purchase a exclusive that had a lot of buzz. In addition there were six issues to follow.
Here are a few covers…
Three years later in 2011, Ardden tried again to kick start the Flash universe with another six issue run…
In 2013 Dynamite had taken over the property and created this eight issue series involving Flash, Ming, and Hitler?!
Alex Ross created some of these covers and are sought after today.
Dynamite in 2014 also tried to bring back the Defenders of the Earth team in a series titled King’s Watch.
Finally and the most current series, late 2014 yet another series was launched under Dynamite.
Alright I promise this is it.
It made me think of something Ben C would find in a bin to put with his Christmas collection!
Well if you are still reading and have made it this far…Thank you!
There are many, many more Euro issues, magazine issues, TPBs, One Shots, and repackaged books with the old comic strips in them – way too many to list.
Flash Gordon has a special place in comic lore after 80+ years. I am going to leave with with some dialogue in which I believe in a few words really sums Flash for almost the past century.
Amazing how powerful just a few words can be in the right context. Pay special attention to the words in bold. Brilliant exchange here.
Flash Gordon: You know we'll never make that opening with nobody at the wheel!
Prince Vultan: Come on! You'll be blown to pieces, Flash! It's suicide!
Flash Gordon: No, a rational transaction! One life for billions!
Prince Vultan: [Vultan grabs Flash's shoulders and shouts] Come on! You'll be destroyed!
Flash Gordon: [shouts] You loony bird!
[Pushes Vultan away]
Flash Gordon: Get outta here! They need you on the ground!
Prince Vultan: [Vultan holds out his right hand] Well, good bye, Flash! It's been…!
Flash Gordon: [Flash shakes Vultan's hand] I know! For me too, Vultan!
Flash Gordon: [Vultan heads back to the ladder and starts climbing] Tell Dale
Flash Gordon: I know it would've been good!
Prince Vultan: [shouts] That must be one hell of a planet you men come from!
Flash Gordon: Not too bad!
He truly is the savior of the universe!