“Queen Desira” was the seventeenth installment of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between January 4 and June 14, 1942, “Queen Desira” gets off to a rollicking start with Colonel Gordon called to a meeting with the Defense Department in Washington DC. The US needs Dr. Zarkov’s ray beams for national defense (a subtle reference to the Second World War that the US had recently entered), but the radium shortage prevents the realization of the project. Flash and Zarkov convince the Defense Department to allow them to build a rocketship to return to Mongo to mine more radium. Flash tells Dale that he is going off on a secret mission, but cannot tell her where. Suspicious, Dale pays a visit to Zarkov and snoops around his house for clues. Confronting him with the truth, Zarkov admits their mission is to return to Mongo. Dale pleads with Zarkov to take her with him and he agrees to smuggle her aboard the rocketship in a trunk.
Reunited at last, Flash is overjoyed to have Dale with him once more. However, they experience electrical problems once in Mongo’s orbit and the rocketship is forced to crashland on the uncharted continent of Tropica. Zarkov is seriously injured in the crash. The three of them are soon taken captive by soldiers and come face to face with the exotic Queen Desira of Tropica. Don Moore expands Flash’s backstory a bit by making the renowned polo player a former college football star while Alex Raymond’s artwork is as stunning as ever. His depiction of Dale in this installment may be the most beautiful rendition yet. Desira is portrayed more in the tradition of H. Rider Haggard’s She or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ La of Opar rather than Raymond’s Princess Aura. Burne Hogarth’s run illustrating the Tarzan strip may be the only serious rival that Raymond had at this juncture. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous throughout.
Where the story does adhere to the established formula is in quickly establishing a male rival, in this instance Captain Brazor, who Flash inadvertently supplants and for Dale to quickly become threatened by Desira. Also following the traditional template, the Queen is immediately imperiled (this time by a tree dragon) giving Flash the opportunity to save her and giving the Queen good reason to become even more smitten with him. Where Raymond and Moore offer a variation on the familiar themes is in having Flash slip into a coma after being cut by the dragon’s poisonous talons and in having Dale expose to the Queen that Brazor allowed the dragon to attack her and Flash in his desire for vengeance. Unexpectedly, Brazor drugs the Queen with a powerful narcotic and claims she has had a stroke. He plots to usurp the throne with only Dale as a threat who knows him for a traitor. A nice change of pace is the introduction of the noble Lieutenant Caran, Brazor’s adjutant, who secretly loves Desira.
Brazor and Dale reach a truce with Brazor honoring his promise to provide much-needed medical attention for Zarkov and Flash at his nearby castle in exchange for Dale keeping silent about his treachery. Dale quickly settles into a life of decadent luxury at Brazor’s castle. Alex Raymond fits her out in a semi-transparent bathrobe (with a surprising absence of lingerie) which is the closest he has yet come to detailing the fully-revealed female form in the strip. Much of the action in this installment is confined to Brazor’s castle which seems to more strongly resemble a modern hospital than a gothic stronghold. Flash and Zarkov are bedridden through much of the strip. Queen Desira refuses Brazor’s offer that she abdicate to save her life.
Finally, Flash and Zarkov recover sufficiently to help Dale out of her moral dilemma in aiding the traitor, Brazor. Joining forces with Caran, they rescue Desira and manage a daring escape by scaling down the castle wall using bed sheets. We are told the drop is 1000 feet (presumably there were a remarkable number of sheets in the room). In the time-honored tradition, the villains break through the barricade, overpower Caran (who stayed behind as a sniper), and cut the sheets sending our heroes tumbling to their doom. Except of course that luck and skill save them and they wind up stranded on a mountain ledge. Naturally, the bad guys gather outside the castle to blast the ledge from beneath their feet. As is often the case, it is necessary that the villains be poor shots and the cannon only succeeds in blasting an opening in the mountainside that allows our heroes to escape into the interior of the mountain upon which the castle was built. A short time later they blast their way back into Brazor’s castle where they overpower a guard and saddle up a few gryphs (Tropica’s local steed) and ride off into the jungles of Mongo. It is a surprising choice to divide the Tropica storyline into two halves, but the change in setting after the confined castle scenes in the first half perhaps made the transition to a jungle setting too drastic a change to consider for the same storyline. In any event, readers must have been eager for a return to more traditional thrills with Brazor and his men pursuing Flash, Dale, Zarkov, and Desira in an exotic setting once more.
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 coming soon from Black Coat Press. 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