Sunday, June 8, 2014

Why Flash Gordon?

Actually, I have been meaning to approach this character for quite a while, because I was recently reacquainted with him by sheer coincidence...

The first time I met Flash Gordon was through the 1970's Filmation Saturday morning cartoon.  It was episodic, dramatic, and filled with daring-do. Later, as a young adult, I would discover the original Buster Crabbe serials of the '40s, and how closely they resembled each other in delivery, if not content.

The turning point for me was when, in 1981, Flash Gordon came on HBO.  From Ming's opening ennui, "Klytus, I'm bored...", to the rocking Queen soundtrack (Flash! *boom* Aah-aaah - saviour of the universe!) to Sam Jones's deadpan self-introductions and Max von Sydow's merciless emperor of alien Mongo ("Pathetic earthlings..."), to Barin's vicious streak and Vultan's gregariousness ("Gordon's alive?!?")...Lucky for me, my local public library had a beaten copy of the original strips...

That was the first time I ever considered comics as art.  One look at Alex Raymond's dynamic anatomy, his alien landscapes, his seductive females, his futuristic design sense and his pulp action sequences, you're aware that you are holding a Work in your hands.

The irony is that King Features originally didn't particularly care about the strip.  They just wanted something to compete with rival strip Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  Even the hero's name, in the context of the 1930s, denoted style without substance, a fad.  He was a jock who never used his fancy education (the sport has changed over time; in the first strips, he was a polo player, but he's also been a basketballer, quarterback for the NY Jets, a snowboarder, and in one poorly-thought-out version, the drummer of a rock band).  But his heart, his desire to win, his sense of honor, and his ability to build great teams (including paramour Dale Arden and scientist Hans Zarkov) raised him above the other Sunday comics heroes.  He fights Ming not for glory, but because it is right to fight tyranny and terror, even if you are the only one who knows.

Not too long ago, I was hunting for our new home in Utah, and the local comic shop was putting up Alex Ross posters up, one of Emperor Ming in particular stood out from the others.  The move was my own adventure into unknown territory, looking for work, fighting for my family's survival, fighting my own imperial terror. That night I streamed that 80s Flash, and I knew everything would be fine. As Queen sang, all it takes is "just a man, with a man's courage".

Not long ago, Eric Trautmann and Alex Ross collaborated on a miniseries called Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist, a pulpy love letter to all of the different iterations of the character, and why he is still relevant today.  This year, he turns 80, and what better way to celebrate his birthday than with a week of Thoughtballoons  one-page tributes.

King of the impossible, indeed...


  1. Travis M. HolyfieldJune 13, 2014 at 11:23 PM

    Presuming Stan Lee’s adage that “every comic is someone’s first”, we will do a pithy one-page recap of who Flash Gordon is, suitable to kick-off just about any story.

    Four smaller panels with one large panel at page bottom.

    1. A scene of destruction as flaming meteors hurtle through the sky and come crashing to earth, pulverizing buildings and causing massive devastation. Panicked citizenry flee through the streets. Flash Gordon, in the foreground, clutches Dale Arden close to his chest, as he helplessly watches the wanton destruction.

    CAPTION: Earth under attack!

    2. Zarkov’s rocket ship blasts through the cosmos. An inset panel [points towards the cockpit of the rocket, and we see Flash and Dale looking on as Zarkov, wide-eyed and mad with purpose, steers the rocket towards its destination.

    CAPTION: A desperate journey!

    3. Our first view of the planet Mongo in this story, as we see Zarkov’s rocket approaching the strange new world.

    CAPTION: An alien world!

    4. The rocket has crashed on Mongo. The hatch is blown open, and Flash, Zarkov, and Dale stand outside the ship. They are surrounded by Ming’s forces – robots, monsters, and alien soldiers. Dale and Zarkov are both wielding makeshift weapons against the horde – a broken piece of metal from the wreckage, or a strange, moss-covered log, perhaps. Flash stands between them, and slightly in front, hands raised in a bare knuckle boxing stance.

    CAPTION: Enemies without mercy!

    5. A circle of cheering and jeering aliens surround Flash and Ming as they clash in a deadly sword fight. Their blades are crossed and both lean in to the clash, their muscles straining, and their faces locked in grimaces of rage and hate. In the circle in the background we can perhaps see familiar faces; Prince Baran, Princess Aura, etc. Zarkov holds Dale by the arms, preventing her from attempting to rush in and stop this battle, which will no doubt end in the death of one of the combatants.


    1. I have a feeling that this is one of those scripts that would work much better actually drawn out than it sounds just written out. The actual intent would probably be much clearer and better if it could actually be seen.

      Props on your attempt at doing a minimal-word recap, though.


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