“Triumph in Tropica” was the twenty-first installment of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between February 13 and August 13, 1944, “Triumph in Tropica” marked the transition from Alex Raymond to Austin Briggs as artist for the strip. The storyline picks up where the preceding installment, “Battle for Tropica” left off with Flash and Dale entering the capitol with Tartara and her son, Timor. The cowardly Timor turns Flash and Dale in to the secret police. A gunfight ensues ending in Timor’s death. Flash, Dale, and Tartara manage to elude the police with the aid of Trico, the beggar who poses as a half-blind cripple.
Trico hides the fugitive in his home and when the secret police arrive, searching all the houses in the neighborhood, he serves them poisoned brandy. Flash and Trico disguise themselves in the uniform of the secret police and, along with Tartara and Dale, they follow Trico to Tropica’s hidden criminal underworld from a secret passage beneath his home. Tartara is reluctant to trust the lowlife criminals. Gypsa, an exotic dancer who is the most desired woman in Tropica’s underworld, performs a wild Saraband dance with Flash. The revelry abruptly finishes when Brazor interrupts with a special broadcast announcing that Desira will be executed for treason the next day.
Flash spurns Gypsa’s advances leading her to secretly swear to even the score with him. Meantime, Flash and Trico drive a stolen police car packed with explosives into the munitions dump, diving for safety just before impact. In the chaos surrounding the explosion, Flash and Trico enter the Tropican Broadcasting building and inform the program director that the secret police have an emergency broadcast concerning the explosion. As Flash goes live on the air, he reveals his identity and tells Brazor he cannot halt the March of Freedom and demands the usurper abdicate. Enraged, Brazor orders the radio station surrounded.
Flash and Trico barely manage to escape thanks to the quick thinking of the switchboard operator who directs the secret police to the elevator and then cuts the power, trapping them inside. Flash and Trico boldly steal a police helicopter. Trico is wounded as the secret police fire on them while they make their daring escape. Back among the criminal underworld, Flash has Trico’s mechanics outfit the helicopter with missiles while Gypsa convinces Flash to let her perform for Brazor and use her wiles to find where Desira is being held captive. Flash agrees and Gypsa performs a mad, erotic dance for Brazor. The King is unmoved by her considerable charms and orders her executed as a spy.
The Thieves’ Guild gets word that a beautiful woman is being held prisoner at Brazor’s summer palace. Believing the prisoner is Desira, Flash sets out with Dale and Trico to perform a daring rescue by helicopter, but the prisoner they liberate is Gypsa. The four of them barely manage to escape during a shootout with Brazor’s guards. Desira stoically faces her execution while Flash and Trico lead a council of war to stage a last-ditch attempt to rescue the Queen. Gypsa disrupts the council by revealing there is a traitor in their midst who informed Brazor that she was a spy. Flash stubbornly discounts Gypsa’s warning and so the dancing girl follows Roag, one of the thieves, as he visits the palace and betrays Flash’s plans to Brazor. Gypsa rushes to return before Roag to warn Flash of his treachery. Flash allows Roag to believe he has deceived him and plans to use the knowledge of the King’s spy to his advantage.
Brazor has General Mogard execute Roag for being a double agent. Flash subdues a Major in the secret police to steal his uniform and sends Trico off with an order to have the Thief Guild’s chemists manufacture nose-masks to allow them to survive Brazor’s gas bombs. As Flash attempts to get close enough to sabotage the scaffold, he is startled to see tanks moving in on an unexpected raid on the Guild’s underworld lair. Fearing for Dale’s safety, Flash uses his uniform’s rank to give conflicting orders to the troops and lead them away. He arrives at the Guild’s lair only to find Dale, Trico, Gypsa, and Tartara captives of the secret police. Taking command of the prisoners, Flash convinces the guards that rebels have stolen secret police uniforms and leads them to open fire on their own ranks while he leads his friends to safety.
The explosive finale comes at a rapid pace. When Brazor learns that Flash has rescued his friends, he orders Desira be executed immediately. The Thieves’ Guild leads a revolution in the streets while the secret police open fire on the people of Tropica. Trico boldly takes on a suicide mission to fly the stolen helicopter through Brazor’s fire barrier. Somehow, he manages to survive the wall of flames and fires his missiles into the generators powering the scaffold’s electrodes that are to electrocute the Queen. At that point, Flash learns that Gundar has succeeded in infiltrating Brazor’s inner circle and the two of them succeed in rescuing Desira. Gypsa sacrifices her own life by throwing an atomic grenade into the midst of the secret police. Flash opens fire on the gas tank of Brazor’s car, killing the tyrant in the resulting explosion.
General Mogard surrenders and the rest of Brazor’s men swear allegiance to Queen Desira who is restored to the throne of Tropica. The Queen pardons Trico for his crimes and accepts Gundar’s marriage proposal to make him her royal consort. The only reward that Flash and Dale will accept is a triphibian rocket car to allow them to traverse Mongo once more as the epic length Tropica story arc finally reaches its conclusion. The quality of these last two storylines suffered from Alex Raymond’s over-reliance on his assistant. Austin Briggs’ decision to take over the Sunday strip from Alex Raymond spelled the end of the daily strip he and Don Moore had overseen for the past four years. One remaining storyline co-plotted by Alex Raymond remained before Austin Briggs had total control of the artistic direction of the Sunday strip. We shall cover the final strip to feature the creative input of Alex Raymond in next week’s wrap-up to our series.
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 will be published in April by 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