Flash Gordon is the hero of a adventure
comic strip created by and originally drawn by Alex Raymond. First
published January 7th, 1934, the strip was inspired by, and created
to compete with, the already established Buck Rogers adventure strip.
The Buck Rogers comic strip had been
commercially very successful, spawning novelizations and children's
toys, and King Features Syndicate decided to create their own science
fiction comic strip to compete with it. At first King Features tried
to purchase the rights to the John Carter of Mars stories by Edgar
Rice Burroughs. Unable to reach an agreement with Burroughs, King
Features then turned to Alex Raymond, one of their staff artists, to
create the story.
source for Flash Gordon was the Philip Wylie novel When Worlds
Collide (1933). The themes of an approaching planet threatening the
Earth, and an athletic hero, his girlfriend, and a scientist
traveling to the new planet by rocket, were adapted by Raymond for
the initial storyline. Another inspiration is Edmond Hamiltons
1928 pulp story Crashing Suns, which has a similar plot, but
Hamiltons space rangers are captured by evil aliens when they
approach a sun which is on collision course with Earth.
Raymond's first samples were dismissed for
not containing enough action sequences. Raymond reworked the story
and sent it back to the syndicate, who accepted it. Raymond was
partnered with ghostwriter Don Moore, an experienced editor and
writer. Raymond's first Flash Gordon story appeared in January 1934,
alongside Jungle Jim (also created by Moore and Raymond). The Flash
Gordon strip was well received by newspaper readers, becoming one of
the most popular American comic strips of the 1930s.
Along with Raymond's art the imagination
of veteran pulp editor and writer Don Moore contributed to the
success of the strip. The stories appealed to both a young and adult
audience. The creative team didnt shy away from romantic
themes, and created double love triangles between Ming, Dale, Flash,
Aura and Barin.
As with Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon resulted
in numerous licensed products being sold, including pop-up books,
Coloring books, and toy spaceships and rayguns. The Flash Gordon
comic strip ran as a daily from 1934 to 1992, with the Sunday strip
continuing until 2003. Reprints are still being syndicated by King
The comic strip follows the adventures of
Flash Gordon, a handsome polo player and Yale University graduate,
and his companions Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov. The story begins
with Earth threatened by a collision with the planet Mongo. Dr.
Zarkov invents a rocket ship to fly into space in an attempt to stop
the disaster. Half mad, he kidnaps Flash and Dale and they travel to
the planet. Landing on the planet, and halting the collision, they
come into conflict with Ming the Merciless, Mongo's evil ruler.
For many years, the three companions have
adventures on Mongo, traveling to the forest kingdom of Arboria,
ruled by Prince Barin; the ice kingdom of Frigia, ruled by Queen
Fria; the jungle kingdom of Tropica, ruled by Queen Desira; the
undersea kingdom of the Shark Men, ruled by King Kala; and the flying
city of the Hawkmen, ruled by Prince Vultan. They are joined in
several early adventures by Prince Thun of the Lion Men. Eventually,
Ming is overthrown, and Mongo is ruled peacefully by a council of
leaders led by Barin. Of course Ming or one of his many descendants
are always nearby plotting some sort of revolt.
Flash and friends return to Earth and have
some adventures before returning to Mongo and crashing in the kingdom
of Tropica and reuniting with Barin, now married to Ming's daughter
the 1950s, Flash became an astronaut who travelled to other planets
besides Mongo. The long story of the Skorpi War takes Flash to other
star systems, using starships that are faster than light.
In addition to Ming and his allies, Flash
and his friends also fought several other villains, including Azura,
the Witch Queen; Brukka, chieftain of the giants of Frigia; the
fascistic Red Sword organisation on Earth; and Brazor, the tyrannical
usurper of Tropica. After Raymond's tenure, later writers created new
enemies for Flash to combat. Austin Briggs created Kang the Cruel,
Ming's callous son. Prince Polon, who had the power to shrink or
enlarge living creatures, the unscrupulous Queen Rubia, and Pyron the
Comet Master were among the antagonists introduced during Mac Raboy's
run. The Skorpi, a race of alien shape shifters who desired to
conquer the galaxy, were recurring villains in both the Mac Raboy and
Dan Barry stories. The Skorpi space-fighter ace Baron Dak-Tula became
a periodic nemesis of Flash in the late 1970s stories.
King Features sold the Flash Gordon strip
to newspapers across the world, and by the late 1930s, the strip was
published in 130 newspapers, translated into eight foreign languages,
and was read by 50 million people. In France, his adventures were
published in the magazine Robinson, under the name "Guy
l'Éclair". Dale Arden was named Camille in the French
translation. In Australia, the character and strip were retitled
Speed Gordon to avoid a negative connotation of the word
"Flash". (At the time, the predominant meaning of
"flashy" in Australia was "showy", connoting dishonesty.)
However, events in the 1930s affected the
strip's distribution. Newspapers in Nazi Germany were forbidden to
carry the Flash Gordon strip, while in Fascist Italy it was
restricted to two newspapers. In 1938, the Spanish magazine
Aventurero, the only publication in the country to carry Flash
Gordon, ceased publication because of the Spanish Civil War. The
outbreak of World War II resulted in Flash Gordon being discontinued
in many countries. In Belgium, artist Edgar Pierre Jacobs was
therefore asked to bring the current Flash Gordon story to a
satisfactory conclusion, which he did.
After the war's end, the strip enjoyed a
resurgence in international popularity. Flash Gordon reappeared in
Italy, Spain and West Germany, and it was also syndicated to new
markets like Portugal and the Irish Republic. From the 1950s onward,
countries like Spain, Italy, India and Denmark also reprinted Flash
Gordon newspaper strips in comic book or paperback novel form.
BY ALEX RAYMOND
Raymond was one of the most influential American newspaper comic
artists of all time. He is widely praised for his realism, beautiful
and elegant depictions of women and clever use of black and white.
With Flash Gordon (1934) he redefined the science fiction genre,
while his post-war detective strip Rip Kirby (1946) stood out for its
contemporary realism and cosmopolitan look and feel. Raymond's other
co-creations Secret Agent X-9 (1934) and Jungle Jim (1934) have also
become classics. Despite his relatively short career - Raymond died
in a car crash at age 45 - he has left a lasting mark on comic book
realism, together with his contemporaries Hal Foster, Milton Caniff
and Burne Hogarth.
Raymond was born in 1909 in New Rochelle,
New York, into a family of Irish-American descent. His father was an
engineer who worked in the Woolworth Building, and strongly supported
his son's artistic talents. Although Raymond showed an early interest
in drawing, he held several jobs to support his family after his
father passed away in 1922. He dropped out of high school in 1928 and
became an order clerk with a brockerage firm in Wall Street. In the
evenings, he took a course from the Grand Central School of Art. His
career as a stockbroker was cut short when the economic crisis hit
the USA in 1929. Raymond worked as a mortgage salesman for a while,
but eventually chose to further pursue his artistic ambitions. By
1930 he started assisting his former neighbor Russ Westover, the
cartoonist of Tilly the Toiler. He initially served as an errand boy,
but eventually got some small lettering and background art tasks.
Westover introduced Raymond to King Features, the syndicate related
to William Randolph Hearst's media empire. He was hired as an
assistant artist in the King Features bullpen in 1931. In the
evenings he helped Chic Young with his comic strip Blondie (below).
Raymond joined Young full-time in late 1931, and continued to work on
Blondie until early 1933, shortly after Blondie and Dagwood's wedding.
Also in late 1931, he began assisting Chic
Young's younger brother Lyman Young on Tim Tyler's Luck. In 1932 and
1933, he ghosted both the daily and Sunday installments of Tim Tyler,
after which his talent was truly recognized by King Features manager
Joseph V. Connolly. Competing syndicates had launched several popular
newspaper comics in the previous years, so Hearst's company had to
strenghten their position in the market. This resulted in Raymond
debuting no less than three major comic strips in January 1934. Flash
Gordon was Hearst's answer to the popular feature Buck Rogers in the
25th Century (1929) by Dick Calkins and Phil Nowlan, Jungle Jim had
to compete with United Feature's Tarzan by Rex Maxon and Secret Agent
X-9 stepped in on the wave of popular crime features initiated by
Chester Gould's Dick Tracy (1931) at the Chicago Tribune-New York
News Syndicate. Of all these creations, 'Flash Gordon' has become the
Raymond crafted his plots in a steady
collaboration with pulp writer Don Moore, who served as a
ghostwriter. They came up with the most extraordinary worlds and
creatures, which Raymond brought to life with his skillful brushwork.
Getting his visual inspiration from leading magazine illustrators
like Matt Clark, Franklin Booth and John LaGatta, Raymond managed to
bring character into his settings through his strong sense of realism
and unique use of perspective. From the lush landscapes of Mongo to
the egocentric splendor of Ming's environment - Raymond was one of
the first artists who made science fiction "believable".
Raymond was assigned to fill a full page
in the Sunday newspapers. To accompany Flash Gordon, he and Don Moore
came up with Jungle Jim (above). Although it was meant as a
competitor for Tarzan, Jungle Jim's adventures were set in South-East
Asia instead of Africa and starred a big-game trapper. The hero was
named after Raymond's cartoonist brother Jim Raymond, and can be
considered a fictional rendition of real-life adventurer/writer Frank
R. Buck, the author of Bring 'Em Back Alive (1930). The initial
stories dealt with regular genre villains like pirates and slave
traders, but the feature took a war-themed direction at the beginning
of World War II.
Jim is one of the few Sunday companion features to become a classic
in its own right. During the 1940s it's popularity justified its
transformation into an independent Sunday page, apart from Flash
Gordon. In the post-Raymond period, Jungle Jim has also received
comic book series with original stories published by Standard Comics,
Dell Comics, Charlton Comics and Dynamite Entertainment.
Secret Agent X-9 (left), Alex Raymond's
third comic strip, made its debut a few weeks after Flash Gordon and
Jungle Jim, on January 22nd 1934. King Features Syndicate had managed
to hire Dashiell Hammett to write an original daily comic strip,
starring an unnamed government detective. As the nation's top author
of hard-boiled detective novels, Hammett was surely a crowd puller,
whose work could easily compete with Chester Gould's Dick Tracy.
Raymond proved to be capable of
visualizing the seedy underworld as well. After crafting four
storylines, Hammett left the feature and was replaced by Don Moore
and then by Saint author Leslie Charteris. To keep up with the
workload of producing six daily strips and two Sunday features,
Austin Briggs was brought in to assist Raymond on Secret Agent X-9.
Raymond left the strip on November 16th 1935 to fully concentrate on
Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and his ambitions of becoming a magazine
illustrator. Secret Agent X-9 continued to run in newspapers until
February 10th 1996; from 1967 onwards under the title Secret Agent Corrigan.
popularity of Raymond's Flash Gordon Sunday strip meant a daily
strip was also introduced. This strip was drawn by Austin Briggs with
plots by Don Moore and ran from 1941 to 1944. Raymond continued to
work on the Sunday page, while also providing illustrations to
magazines like The Saturday Home Magazine, Collier's, Blue Book
Magazine, Esquire and Look. He also provided artwork to clients like
Alfred A. Knopf Publishing and The Atlantic Mutual Insurance Company,
and became a member of the prestigious Society of Illustrators. In
February 1944 he enlisted as a volunteer with the US Marines. The
daily Flash Gordon strip was dropped and Austin Briggs was brought in
to take over Raymond's Sunday page. Jungle Jim was handed over to
several ghost artists (Jim Raymond, John Mayo) and then Paul Norris,
who continued the feature until 1954. Alex Raymond initially served
as an artist with the Marine Corps Publicity Bureau in Philadelphia,
during which he drew a weekly illustrated panel and designed war
bonds and recruitment posters. His most iconic work of the period was
the painting "Marines at Prayer", which appeared on the
cover of the December 1944 issue of the Marine Corps' Headquarters
Bulletin. In 1945 he served in the Pacific Ocean theater on the
aircraft carrier Gilbert Islands, where he documented the everyday
life and on-board camaraderie. Alex Raymond returned to civilian life
with the desire to resume his career as a cartoonist. King Features
Syndicate had however signed on Briggs to produce the Flash Gordon
comic until at least 1948. With no chance of returning to his
trademark series soon, the syndicate offered him the opportunity to
develop a new daily strip.
With his wartime experiences fresh in his
mind, Raymond returned to territory he had previously explored in
Secret Agent X-9 and created the private investigator Rip Kirby
(above). The daily strip debuted on March 4th 1946.
main star was however different from earlier comic strip sleuths.
Instead of solving crimes with spectacular car chases and hard-boiled
fist fights, the cosmopolitan and sophisticated Kirby rather used his
wit and power of deduction to overthrow New York's criminal
masterminds. Although his busted nose hinted at a more action-filled
past (he was an ex-marine like his creator) Kirby was an intellectual
in the tradition of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. He smoked a
pipe, wore a suit and glasses, and lived in an extravagant penthouse apartment.
His sidekicks were his British butler
Desmond and his love interest, fashion model Honey Dorian. The
storylines were also far more realistic and Rip Kirby didn't feature
grotesque villains or a wisecracks slinging protagonist, but focused
on contemporary issues like drug addiction, juvenile delinquency, the
dangers of atomic and bacteriological weapons, black market babies
and war orphans.
This return to reality also prompted a
further enhancement of Raymond's drawing style. The artist carefully
documented the strip's New York settings and trendy cars, while using
real life models like Beulah Bestor for his portrayals of Honey
Dorian, femme fatale Pagan Lee and other female characters. He
carefully studied the leading women's magazines of the time to
accurately apply the latest fashion in his strips. Fashion consultant
Joan Weed also kept the artist up to date on the latest trends in
The format of a daily strip furthermore
urged Raymond to experiment more with the use of black and white.
This resulted a photo-realistic drawing style with delicate pen lines
with dramatic brush strokes which has been widely copied since.
Raymond had relocated to the the quiet
back country of Stamford in Fairfield County, Connecticut, in 1940.
The county was the homebase for many cartoonists and illustrators,
largely because there was no state income tax. Raymond enjoyed the
same lush lifestyle as his main hero. He was a member of the local
Country Club, played golf with his colleagues and became an avid
sports car collector.
was also an active member of the National Cartoonists Society, and
succeeded Milton Caniff as its president in March 1950. Although the
society was largely a social group, Raymond helped establish several
functioning committees which offered trainings, studies of the comics
art form, aid to financially struggling members and legal advise.
Although Raymond was held in high esteem by his peers (he won the NCS
Reuben Award in 1949) he always maintained a desire to become a
magazine illustrator and fine artist. Alex Raymond had however no
disdain for comics at all, as he wrote in "Famous Artists &
Writers of King Features Syndicate" (1946): "I decided
honestly that comic art is an art form in itself. It reflects the
life and times more accurately and actually is more artistic than
magazine illustration - since it is entirely creative. An illustrator
works with camera and models; a comic artist begins with a white
sheet of paper and dreams up his own business - he is playwright,
director, editor and artist at once." Unfortunately his other
ambitions remained unfulfilled. On September 6th 1956 he crashed Stan
Drake's Chevrolet Corvette convertible into a tree while speeding in
bad weather, killing Raymond and seriously injuring Drake.
Even after his lifetime, Alex Raymond has
remained an influence on nearly the entire industry. Both Flash
Gordon and Rip Kirby have become templates for their respective
genres. Comic book artists like Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Gil Kane,
Russ Manning, Frank Thorne, Al Williamson and Juan Ortiz have cited
Alex Raymond as an important inspiration for their work.
After Austin Briggs left the Flash Gordon
Sunday strip in 1948, he was succeeded by former comic book artist
Mac Raboy, who drew the strip until his death in 1967. In 1951, King
Features created a new daily Flash Gordon strip. This strip was drawn
by Dan Barry. Barry was assisted during his tenure by Harvey Kurtzman
(who is best known for creating Mad in 1952) and Harry Harrison, who
both wrote scripts for the strip. Barry also had several artists who
aided him with Flash Gordon's illustrations, including Frank
Frazetta, Al Williamson, Bob Fujitani, Jack Davis, Sy Barry, Fred
Kida and Emil Gershwin. When Barry left the strip in 1990, various
artists and writers worked on Flash Gordon. The daily strip was ended
in 1993. The final artist to work on the Flash Gordon Sunday strip
was Jim Keefe. Keefe was occasionally assisted on the strip by other
artists, including Williamson, John Romita Sr. and Joe Kubert. King
Features ended the Flash Gordon newspaper strip in 2003, although
re-runs of Keefe's strip still appear in a few US newspapers.
Flash Gordon is regarded as one of the
best illustrated and most influential of American adventure comic
strips. Historian of science fiction art Jane Frank asserted that
because of his work on Flash Gordon, "Raymond is one of the most
famous science fiction artists of all time, although he never
contributed an illustration to any science fiction magazine or
book". Comic book artist Jerry Robinson has said "What made
Flash Gordon a classic strip was Raymond's artistry and the rich
imagination he brought to his conceptions of the future" and
described the final years of Raymond's tenure on the strip as being
characterized by "sleek, brilliantly polished brush work."
The science fiction historian John Clute has stated that "The
comics version of Flash Gordon was graceful, imaginative and
soaring" and included it on a list of the most important
American science fiction comics. In an article about Raymond for The
Comics Journal, R.C. Harvey declared that Raymond's Flash Gordon
displayed "a technical virtuosity matched on the comics pages
only by Harold Foster in Prince Valiant". The Encyclopedia of
Science Fiction stated that Flash Gordon's "elaborately shaded
style and exotic storyline" made it one of the most influential
comics, and that its art emphasized a "romantic baroque".
Gordon (along with Buck Rogers) was a big influence on later science
fiction comic strips, such as the American Don Dixon and the Hidden
Empire (1935 to 1941) by Carl Pfeufer and Bob Moore. In Italy, Guido
Fantoni drew Flash Gordon in 1938, after the prohibition by the
fascist regime. In Belgium, Edgar P. Jacobs was commissioned to
produce a science fiction comic strip in the style of Flash Gordon.
Jacobs' new strip, Le Rayon U ("The U-Ray") began serial
publication in Bravo in 1943. This version had text boxes which
described the action and the dialogue, in the style of many Belgian
comics of the time, similar to Hal Foster's version of Tarzan and
Prince Valiant. In 1974, Jacobs reformatted Le Rayon U in order to
include speech bubbles. This version was published in Tintin magazine
and in book form by Dargaud-Le Lombard. The British comic The Trigan
Empire, by Mike Butterworth and Don Lawrence, also drew on Flash
Gordon for its artistic style.
Flash Gordon was also an influence on
early superhero comics characters. 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. Dennis Neville modeled the
comics hero Hawkman's costume on the "Hawkmen" characters
in Raymond's Flash Gordon comic strip. In Avengers: Infinity War,
Iron Man mockingly refers to Star-Lord as Flash Gordon due to their
similar appearance and both being space heroes.
Most of the Flash Gordon film and
television adaptations retell the early adventures on the planet
Mongo. Flash Gordon was featured in three serial films starring
Buster Crabbe: Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars
(1938), and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). The 1936 Flash
Gordon serial was condensed into a feature-length film titled Flash
Gordon or Rocket Ship or Space Soldiers or Flash Gordon: Spaceship to
the Unknown; the 1938 serial into a feature-length film entitled
Flash Gordon: The Deadly Ray from Mars; and the 1940 serial into a feature-length
film entitled The Purple Death from Outer Space.
In 1967, a low-budget Turkish adaptation
of the comic was made, called Flash Gordon's Battle in Space with
Hasan Demirtag played the title character.
the 1970s, several noted directors attempted to make a film of the
story. Federico Fellini optioned the Flash Gordon rights from Dino De
Laurentiis, but never made the film. George Lucas also attempted to
make a Flash Gordon film in the 1970s. However, Lucas was unable to
acquire the rights from De Laurentiis, so he decided to create Star
Wars instead. De Laurentiis then hired Nicolas Roeg to make a Flash
Gordon film. However, De Laurentiis was unhappy with Roeg's ideas,
and Roeg left the project. De Laurentiis also discussed hiring Sergio
Leone to helm the Flash Gordon film; Leone declined because he
believed the script was not faithful to the original Raymond comic
strips. Finally, De Laurentiis hired Mike Hodges to direct the Flash
Hodges' 1980 Flash Gordon film stars
former Playgirl-centerfold Sam J. Jones in the title role (left). Its
plot is based loosely on the first few years of the comic strip,
revising Flash's backstory by making him the quarterback of the New
York Jets instead of a polo player. Raymond's drawings feature
heavily in the opening credits, as does the signature theme-song
"Flash!" by rock band Queen, who composed and performed the
entire musical score. Riding the coattails of Star Wars, Superman,
and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Flash Gordon was not a critical
success on release. Melody Anderson co-starred with Jones as Dale
Arden, alongside Chaim Topol as Dr. Hans Zarkov, Max von Sydow as
Ming, Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin, Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan,
Peter Wyngarde as Klytus and Ornella Muti as Princess Aura. Produced
by Dino De Laurentiis, with ornate production designs and costumes by
Danilo Donati, the bright colors and retro effects were inspired
directly by the comic strip and 1930s serials.
Brian Blessed's performance as the Hawkman
Prince Vultan lodged the veteran stage and screen actor into the
collective consciousness for the utterance of a single line
"GORDON'S ALIVE?!" which, more than 30 years later,
remained the most repeated, reused, and recycled quotation from both
the film and Blessed's career. In addition, the film's cult status
led it to feature heavily in the comedy films Ted (2012) and Ted 2 (2015).
Various studios and producers have
expressed interest in bring Flash back to the big screen over the
years. In 2014 The Hollywood Reporter had a report that 20th Century
Fox was developing the Flash Gordon reboot with J.D. Payne and
Patrick McKay writing the film's script. An animated film was under
development at Disney/Fox but was later canceled.
TELEVISION AND RADIO
Steve Holland starred as Flash Gordon in a
195455 live-action television series which ran for 39 episodes
(above). The first 26 episodes had the distinction of being filmed in
West Berlin, Germany less than a decade after the end of World War
II. This is notable, given that some episodes show the real-life
destruction still evident in Germany several years after the war. The
final 13 episodes were filmed in Marseille, France. In this series,
Flash, Dale (Irene Champlin) and Dr. Zarkov (Joseph Nash) worked for
the Galactic Bureau of Investigation in the year 3203. The actual
timeline was established in one episode, "Deadline at Noon",
in which Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov went back in time to Berlin in
the year 1953. The GBI agents traveled in the Skyflash and Skyflash
II spaceships. The series was syndicated, appearing on stations
affiliated with the long-defunct DuMont Network, and many other
independent stations in the United States. It was recut into a movie
In 1979, Filmation produced an animated
series, often referred to as The New Adventures of Flash Gordon,
though it is actually titled Flash Gordon. The expanded title was
used to distinguish it from previous versions. The original project
was produced as a made-for-television feature film, partly as a
reaction to the mammoth success of Star Wars in 1977. When NBC saw
the finished work, it was decided to turn the work into what became
the 1979 Saturday-morning animated TV-series.
Although the film was developed before the
1979 animated series began, it did not premiere on NBC until 1982 in
the United States and was first shown in December 22nd 1983.
While the Filmation TV-series has become
available on DVD, the TV-movie has never become commercially
available except from occasional off-air bootlegs. The only known
commercial releases were by VAP Video in Japan (in both laser disc
and VHS tape formats) and in Bulgaria (on VHS). The movie also aired
numerous times on the "Diema" Channel in the late 1990s.
Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of
All TV-movie was written by Star Trek writer Samuel A. Peeples. It
was critically well-received, and is considered one of the best film
versions of Flash Gordon.
Apart from a subplot involving Ming
passing advanced weapons to Hitler, which is not touched upon in the
later animated series, there are several other notable differences
that seem to indicate that this animated film was intended for an
older prime time audience. The differences between the TV-movie and
the animated series include:
departure of the trio from Earth to Mongo is depicted. In order to
make Zarkov sympathetic from the start, the original story element of
him forcing Flash and Dale to board his rocket is changed to him
inviting them in when they flee into his hidden laboratory/launch
site, threatened by flooding molten lava. In this case, Zarkov's
rocket is their only chance of survival and they board without
hesitation with Zarkov's apologies that he cannot drop them off
before continuing to Mongo. For their part, Flash and Dale understand
Zarkov's mission and quickly agree to help him.
The use of 1939 earth style firearms by
Flash and Zarkov and Mongian firearms that look much more like their
earth counterparts than those used in the animated series.
The clear destruction of the Hawkmen's sky
city, whereas in the series it is only captured.
A discussion between Flash and Thun
indicating that Ming's Lizard Woman overseers eat human prisoners.
There is also a reference to killing prior to the final fight between
Ming and Flash, as Barin, Vultan and Thun claim their right under the
laws of Mongo to trial by combat before they can be put to death.
More revealing costumes are featured in
the TV-movie. After they are captured by Ming's forces, Dale spends
the majority of her time in a belly-dancer-like costume in Ming's
harem while Flash does not receive his red and blue uniform until the
last 20 minutes of the film.
The final fight between Ming and Flash
involves the use of both pistols and swords by both parties, whereas
Flash does not use a pistol and loses his sword rapidly in the
Ming's daughter Aura is a much less
sympathetic character. The romance between her and Prince Barin is
downplayed and, at the end, she refuses to swear allegiance to him as
Regent, resulting in him ordering her imprisonment.
It is made clear at the end that Flash,
Dale and Zarkov will never be able to return to Earth, whereas in the
animated series that door is left open.
In the 1986 cartoon Defenders of the Earth
(above), Flash teamed up with fellow King Features heroes The Phantom
and Mandrake the Magician in 65 episodes. This series took extreme
liberties with all the characters, revealing that Flash and Dale
Arden had conceived a son, Rick Gordon, who is in his mid-teens when
the series begins. Dale has her mind torn from her body by Ming in
the first episode and is preserved in a crystal, which Rick is able
to recover and give to his father. Dale is reborn on Earth as
Dynak-X, the strategic super-computer based in the Defenders' Headquarters.
In 1996, Hearst Entertainment premiered an
animated Flash Gordon television series (above). In this version,
Alex "Flash" Gordon and Dale Arden are hoverboarding
teenagers, who become trapped on Mongo after stopping Ming's attempt
to invade Earth.
2007, a live action Flash Gordon TV series debuted on the Sci-Fi
Channel in the USA and Space in Canada. This version of Flash Gordon
was an American-Canadian co-production developed by Peter Hume, who
served as executive producer/show runner and wrote the first and last
episodes, among others. The traditional primary supporting characters
of Ming, Dale Arden, and Dr. Hans Zarkov were drastically altered.
Eric Johnson, best known for his earlier work on the WB's Smallville,
played the title character of Steven "Flash" Gordon. Gina
Holden (who has appeared in Fantastic Four in 2005 and Aliens vs.
Predator: Requiem in 2007) played Dale Arden, Jody Racicot (Night at
the Museum) played Dr. Hans Zarkov, and John Ralston portrayed the
Advertisements featured a cover version of
Queen's "Flash's Theme" (from the 1980 film) performed by
the band Louis XIV. The song was not present in any episode of the show.
Flash Gordon Classic is a 2015 animated
fan film made by Robb Pratt. It is a remake of "The Tunnel of
Terror", the second episode of the 1936 Flash Gordon serial. In
creating Flash Gordon Classic, Robb Pratt drew inspiration from the
1930s Flash Gordon serial starring Buster Crabbe after learning of it
as one of the major influences behind Star Wars. Realizing he could
not replicate Alex Raymond's elaborate artwork from the comics, Pratt
based his designs on 1940s science fiction pulp magazines. Like
Pratt's previous works, Superman Classic and Bizarro Classic, Flash
Gordon Classic uses hand-drawn animation with digital paint and
effects. The soundtrack consists of Clifford Vaughan's score from the
Flash Gordon serials and Heinz Roemheld's score from the 1934 film
The Black Cat. Eric Johnson, who played the title character in the
2007 Flash Gordon TV series, reprises that role in this short film.
Joe Whyte provides the voice of Hans Zarkov, G.K. Bowes is Dale
Arden, John Newton is Ming the Merciless and his wife Jennifer Newton
is the voice of Princess Aura. Pratt only made one episode but after
seeing it we wished he could have done the whole series.
Flash also enjoied life as a Radio serial.
Starting April 22nd, 1935, the strip was adapted into The Amazing
Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon, a 26-episode weekly radio
serial. The series followed the strip very closely, amounting to a week-by-week
adaptation of the Sunday strip for most of its run.
Flash Gordon was played by Gale Gordon
(above), later famous for his television roles in Our Miss Brooks,
Dennis the Menace, The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy (the latter two with
Lucille Ball). The cast also included Maurice Franklin as Dr. Zarkov
and Bruno Wick as Ming the Merciless.
The radio series broke with the strip
continuity in the last two episodes, when Flash, Dale and Zarkov
returned to Earth. They make a crash landing in Malaysia, where they
meet Jungle Jim, the star of another of Alex Raymond's comic strips.
The series ended on October 26th, 1935
with Flash and Dale's marriage. The next week, The Adventures of
Jungle Jim picked up in that Saturday timeslot.
Two days later, on October 28th, The
Further Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon debuted as a daily
show, running four days a week. This series strayed further from
Raymond's strip, involving Flash, Dale and Zarkov in an adventure in
Atlantis. The series aired 60 episodes, ending on February 6th, 1936.
In 1989, Lee Ahlin and Gary Gordon wrote a
musical for children, Flash Gordon, based on the comic. The musical
premiered in 1989 in Oak Hall Performing Arts Theater in Gainesville,
Florida. Flash Gordon starred Brian LeDuc as Flash, Kim Ehrich as
Dale Arden, John Pelkey as Ming, and Julie Hamric as Princess Aura.
the years, several publishers, including King Comics, Dell Comics,
Harvey Comics, Charlton Comics and Gold Key, have produced Flash
Gordon comics, either reprints or original stories. Raymond's work,
particularly his Sunday strips, has been reprinted many times over
the years by many publishers, most notably Nostalgia Press, Kitchen
Sink Press and Checker Book Publishing Group.
Several issues of the King Comics series
were drawn by Al Williamson, who won the 1966 National Cartoonists
Society Award for Best Comic Book for his work on the series.
Williamson later said, "I was paying homage to Alex [Raymond],
you know. I tried to treat his creation with respect and dignity and
tried to do it to the best of my ability. I find that other artists
who have done Flash Gordon just don't seem to get the feeling of the
strip, you know. Flash is a noble guy and it's kind of nice to have
that kind of a hero." King also released a comic version as a
part of their Comics Reading Library in the 1970s.
Williamson provided artwork for a Western
Publishing adaptation of Dino De Laurentiis' Flash Gordon film,
written by Bruce Jones. It was released by Western Publishing in both
hardcover and softcover formats to coincide with the film's release,
and was also serialized in three issues of Whitman's Flash Gordon
comic book, #31-33, MarchMay 1981.
In 1988, Dan Jurgens wrote a modernized
version of the comic strip as a nine-issue DC Comics miniseries. It
features Flash as a washed up basketball player who finds new purpose
in life on Mongo, Dale as an adventurous reporter who is just as
capable as Flash, and a gray-skinned Ming who is less of an Asian
stereotype. The series ran for the planned nine issues and was left
with an open-ended conclusion. Though Mongo is not a threat to Earth
in this series, Ming had every intention of conquering Earth once he
coerced Dr. Zarkov into designing the needed ships.
In 1995, Marvel Comics published a new
two-issue series, written by Mark Schultz with art by Al Williamson,
in the style of the Flash comics Williamson had produced for King and others.
new comic book series was released by Ardden Entertainment in August
2008, though with inconsistent release dates for subsequent issues.
The series was written by Brendan Deneen and Paul Green and debuted
in 2008, with the first arc entitled "The Mercy Wars". The
initial story arc concluded in mid-2009 with an open door to an
announced new story arc to begin fall 2009. These were followed by
further storylines. Ardden also published a Flash Gordon anthology
entitled The Secret History of Mongo. Ardden's second Flash Gordon
arc is titled Invasion of the Red Sword (2010). Two other arcs were completed.
A reprint of all of Al Williamson's Flash
Gordon comic books in black and white was printed by Flesk in 2009.
In 2010, Dark Horse Comics began an
archive reprint series in hardback, starting with the original comics
published by Dell. The second volume covers the comics published by
King Comics, the third covers the comics published by Charlton
Comics, the fourth covers the comics published by Gold Key, and the
fifth covers the comics published by Whitman.
In 2011, Dynamite Entertainment began a
new series called Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist. The series is written by
Eric Trautmann (Vampirella, Red Sonja), from a story and designs by
Alex Ross (Kingdom Come, Marvels, Project: Superpowers) and
illustrated by Daniel Lindro. The company also produced a spinoff
miniseries, Merciless: The Rise of Ming, in 2012, with story and art
by Scott Beatty and Ron Adrian. Following a crossover miniseries
called King's Watch (where, much like Defenders of the Earth, Flash
Gordon teamed up with Mandrake and the Phantom; albeit, set in the
21st century), Dynamite launched a new Flash Gordon ongoing series in
2014, with story and art by Jeff Parker and Evan "Doc"
Shaner. In 2015, Dynamite followed this run with another Flash Gordon
miniseries as part of their "King:Dynamite" series. This
series was written by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker and illustrated by
1936, one issue of Flash Gordon Strange Adventure Magazine was
published by Harold Hersey, featuring a novel about Flash Gordon,
entitled The Master of Mars. It was written by little-known author
James Edison Northford. The saddle-stitched novel was based (more or
less) on the comic strip story lines, and included color
illustrations reminiscent of Alex Raymond's artwork. On the back
pages a second installment, The Sun Men of Saturn, was promised, but
it never saw print. Even though the series did not gain in
popularity, the lone issue of Flash Gordon Strange Adventure Magazine
has become a much sought-after item for pulp magazine collectors.
The first novel based on the strip, Flash
Gordon in the Caverns of Mongo, was published in 1936 by Grosset &
Dunlap. The credited author was Alex Raymond, but Doug Murray claims
the novel "was almost certainly ghost-written". Like the
pulp magazine of the same year, it failed to launch a series.
In 1973, Avon books launched a six-book
series of adult-oriented Flash Gordon novels: The Lion Men of Mongo,
The Plague of Sound, The Space Circus, The Time Trap of Ming XIII,
The Witch Queen of Mongo and The War of the Cybernauts. Although the
books were credited to Alex Raymond, the first three were written by
SF writer Ron Goulart (under the house name "Con
Steffanson") and the other three novels were by Bruce Cassiday
(the first under the "Steffanson" name, and the latter two
under the pseudonym "Carson Bingham").
In 1980, Tempo books released a series by
David Hagberg: Massacre in the 22nd Century, War of the Citadels,
Crisis on Citadel II, Forces from the Federation, Citadels under
Attack and Citadels on Earth. Except for the names of the hero and
his co-stars of Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov, this series had
little to do with any other version of Flash Gordon.
The name "Flash Gordon" was
emblazoned on the proscenium of a ride at the 1939 New York World's
Fair. An article in Popular Science (March 1939) described how 150
people could enter a ride designed to resemble a rocket ship with a
motion picture screen and vibrating seats for a simulated trip to
another planet. The ride was located "at the opposite end of the
amusement zone from the parachute tower". Fairgoers walked
around a simulation of Venus as a jungle planet, inhabited by
mechanical dinosaurs to enter a "Martian Headquarters",
where weirdly costumed Martians and mechanically animated models of
giant beasts recreated episodes from the adventures of Flash Gordon.
The ride's Martians did not look like those in the 1938 serial, nor
did the rocket ship.
BACK TO THE FUTURE: AN
George Lucas has often said that his
original idea for the project that evolved into Star Wars was to
remake the Flash Gordon movie serials from the 1930s. The license
wasn't available so Lucas set out to create his own story that would
take place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Gordon itself borrowed images and ideas from world's first science
fiction comicstrip, Buck Rogers (launched in 1929 - above). They both
featured very similar spaceships, laser pistols, costume styles,
gadgets, hairstyles and alien creatures. Raymond's strip had captured
the public's imagination because it had better art, better
storytelling and was the first to reach the theaters, but most of the
Flash Gordon science fiction "vocabulary" came from Buck
Rogers. Universal Studios made a good profit with Flash Gordon, so
when the series ended they wanted to follow immediately with another
science fiction serial. The obvious solution was to make a serial
based on Buck Rogers, and the obvious actor to play him was the same
actor who had been so popular as Flash Gordon, Larry
"Buster" Crabbe. This repeated cross-borrowing blurred the
two characters together (Flash below left - Buck below right).
Buck Rogers first appeared in a novella
called Armageddon-2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan, from in the
August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. John Flint Dille,
president of the National Newspaper Service syndicate hired Nowlan to
write scripts based on his Buck Rogers novel, and artist Richard
Calkins to illustrate them to make the first science fiction comic
strip. The spaceships and most of the gadgets in the Buck Rogers
strip were strongly influenced by the paintings of Frank Paul, done
for Amazing Stories Magazine from 1926 through 1929. Pauls'
illustrations were responsible for creating the public perception of
what a spaceship would look like for the next forty years. In 1946
the world was offered the first widely-accepted alternative spaceship
design, the "flying saucer," but Paul's image remained
dominant until Star Trek's Enterprise shook up the rules in 1966.
Alex Raymond, Francis Nowlan, Frank Paul
and George Lucas were all influenced by the John Carter, Warlord of
Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs (who would go on to write
Tarzan). Burrough's first novel was A Princess of Mars (1912), which
was the first swashbuckling science fiction novel and features a
heroine, Dejah Thoris, who is portrayed as a strong female role-model
even by today's standards. John Carter is magically transported to
Mars, which is filled with beautiful, forever-youthful women who wear
elaborate jewelry and not much else.
Like many early science fiction adventure
writers, Burroughs borrowed ideas from H.G. Wells (above). You could
say Wells invented the genre we now call "science fiction"
(he called it "scientific fantasia") in his first novel,
The Time Machine (1895).
believed because of the Industrial Revolution traditional fairytales
no longer captured the publics imagination so he used this new
industrial era to create a new kind of fairytale: time machines
instead of magic carpets, Martians were the new dragons and
scientists were wizards. Wells based his "new kind of myth"
partially on the work of other writers, including Jules Verne, Edgar
Allen Poe, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley whos proto-science fiction
novel Frankenstein in 1818 may itself borrowed themes from the Jewish
"Golem" myth. This Wells idea of a fairytale in which
technology plays the traditional role of magic shows up in Flash
Gordon and of course later in Star Wars with the invention of
The Star Wars films are filled with other
influences from the Flash Gordon movie serials, including the Rebels
vs. the Imperial Forces, a Cloud City run by an ally with wavering
loyalty, the "soft wipes" between scenes, the underwater
city with a manta ray-shaped sub, space dogfights, and even the
famous title crawl which begins each movie.
While Flash Gordon featured the prince and
Flash disguised as enemy soldiers to enter the evil Emperor's
fortress, Star Wars has Han and Luke dressed as Stormtroopers. And
instead of Ming the Merciless, he gave audiences Darth Vader and his
evil planet the Death Star, as opposed to Ming's Mongo.
George Lucas has given interviews stating
that Princess Leia's iconic "cinnamon" hair buns were
inspired by styles worn by women of the Mexican revolution. With
photographs of women during this time period failing to produce
enough evidence to support this some suggested Leias hair more
closely resembled a traditional hairstyle worn by women of the Hopi
Native American tribe. Lucas could have taken inspiration from both
and may have also been influenced by Flash Gordon as well. In the
comic Queen Fria (above right), ruler of Frigia (an ice world not
unlike Hoth in Empire Strikes Back) is drawn by Alex Raymond in 1939
with her hair in buns on the side of her head (she also has a third,
even larger bun, on the back of her head). And if we are going to get
nitpicky about this, and we are too far into this now not to, the
names Fria and Leia sound a lot alike and they even dress alike as
well. Though Fria's dress (above) is somewhat more revealing than
what Leia wore in Star Wars - A New Hope Leia would be dressed more
like an Alex Raymond drawn Flash Gordon female character in The
Empire Strikes Back (below).
If Star Wars is a "tribute" to
Flash Gordon, Star Trek would also step up to honor it's science
fiction roots. Star Trek Voyager featured a homage to Flash Gordon,
Buck Rogers and other Si-Fi serials of the 1930's and 40s in the
Adventures of Captain Proton. The holodeck story was created by
Voyager crewmember Tom Paris, who always played Proton along with a
sidekick Buster Kincaid, played by Harry Kim. Proton also had a
secretary, Constance Goodheart, who dressed and screamed a lot like
Dale Arden in the first Flash Gordon serial. Proton fought against
the "evil forces" of Doctor Chaotica, whose appearance is
based on Ming the Merciless, and Queen Arachnia who was played by