“The Tusk Men of Mongo” was the ninth installment of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally printed between February 7 and April 18, 1937, “The Tusk Men of Mongo” picks up the storyline where the eighth installment, “The Forest Kingdom of Mongo” left off with Flash and Dale unknowingly venturing into Tusk Men territory. The Tusk Men are a Neanderthal-like race of blue-skinned men with prehensile tails. They live in tribes and have fashioned crude tools such as axes. One of their scouts spies Flash and Dale and despite Flash carrying a makeshift spear, they are quickly overwhelmed by five of the Tusk Men.
Flash and Dale are bound and led many miles away to a vast network of caves where the Tusk Men dwell. There, we learn that the Tusk Men can speak a simple form of English as well as their own bestial language, and that they are cannibals who have captured Flash and Dale to devour them. The tribe is ruled by One-Tusk who claims Dale for his mate. Dale pleads for Flash’s life is to be spared to no avail. Just as he is about to be pitched into the flames, Flash breaks free of his bonds and fights against his captors. The Tusk Men greatly outnumber him and the Earth man is quickly recaptured. Death appears unavoidable.
A predatory tigron (a tiger with a single horn on its head) attacks One-Tusk just as Flash is about to be burned alive. Taking advantage of the distraction caused by the tigron’s attack, Flash rescues One-Tusk by lassoing the tigron and throwing it into the flames. His actions win him a reprieve. One-Tusk offers Flash the chance to hunt with the tribe. If Flash is successful in providing for the tribe’s feast, his life will be spared. If he fails, Flash will be eaten instead.
While hunting with One-Tusk and his men, Flash discovers they fear the predatory saurian tridentaurus indigenous to the area. The Tusk Men call tridentaurus “gwak” in their bestial tongue. Flash teaches the tribe how to prepare more complex traps allowing them to capture larger prey by utilizing saplings, vines, and spears. The tridentaurus is lured into the trap and, upon tripping the vine, is speared through the heart when the trap is sprung.
One-Tusk praises Flash’s hunting skills. As the tribe begin cutting up the tridentaurus, the creature’s mate attacks. The Tusk Men flee to the trees, but Flash leaps upon its back and cleaves its skull with one of the Tusk Men’s axes. The tribe returns home to their cave network long after nightfall laden with fresh meat from the pair of tridentaurus Flash has killed.
Emboldened by his success, Flash quickly becomes arrogant and rash. Despite Dale’s warnings, he watches while the Tusk Men become drunk on an alcoholic drink called buska after their feast. Flash approaches the tribe and declares that if they make him their chief, they can enjoy a feast every day. The tribe is divided between those who favor the idea and those who are loyal to One-Tusk. The tribe’s chieftain challenges Flash to a duel with crude stone hammers to determine the leadership of the tribe. Flash eagerly accepts the challenge.
One-Tusk conspires with the elderly witch doctor, Bent-Back to give him the advantage over the Earth man. Flash is given a broken hammer to fight with. Dale cowers in terror during the duel, but Flash easily defeats One-Tusk in hand-to-hand combat and is declared the tribe’s new chieftain. Flash breaks with tradition by not ordering the deaths of One-Tusk and Bent-Back declaring instead that all Tusk Men should live in peace. Flash guards Dale’s bed of furs through the night. Alex Raymond regularly depicts Flash as indefatigable, able to stay vigilant while Dale must rest. Modern readers doubtless were amused at the sight of One-Tusk and Bent-Back who sleep together beneath the same animal furs, conspiring to kill Flash and Dale while the rest of the tribe is asleep.
Flash is nodding off toward morning when One-Tusk and Bent-Back strike. Both Flash and Dale are knocked unconscious with hammers and carried off by the two Tusk Men who plan to sell them to slavers in exchange for guns to allow One-Tusk to take control of the tribe again. This last-minute change in the story likely reflects confusion between Alex Raymond’s plotting and Don Moore’s scripting.
One-Tusk and Bent-Back make their way downstream by raft. As they approach the shore, One-Tusk strikes Bent-Back down with an oar as he no longer needs the witch doctor’s help. While a bound Flash and Dale sit helplessly nearby, One-Tusk communicates with the slavers by drum signals. The slavers arrive and the reader is startled to see it is Captain Truno and his men. Truno recognizes Flash and asks if he wants One-Tusk taken prisoner. Flash sets his enemy free as he and Dale are overjoyed to have reached Prince Barin’s kingdom at last.
William Patrick Maynard was authorized to continue Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu thrillers beginning with The Terror of Fu Manchu (2009; Black Coat Press). A sequel, The Destiny of Fu Manchu is due for publication in December 2011. Also forthcoming is a collection of short stories featuring an original Edwardian detective, The Occult Case Book of Shankar Hardwicke and an original hardboiled detective novel, Lawhead. To see additional articles by William, visit his blog at SetiSays.blogspot.com