“The Radium Mines of Electra” was the sixth installment of Austin Briggs’s daily Flash Gordon comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between April 27 and July 11, 1942, “The Radium Mines of Electra” is the closest the daily strip has yet come to seeming like authentic Flash Gordon. While Briggs has not yet matched his mentor’s illustrative splendor in depicting Mongo, the storyline is one that might have been found in the Sunday strip.
The story kicks off with Flash, Dale, Zarkov, and Rodan thrown into prison by Colonel Banto upon returning King Radiol to the Kingdom of Electra. The King intercedes on his friends’ behalf, informing the Colonel that they are his guests, not his prisoners, and ordering their release. Banto remains suspicious of the foreigners, for they did take the King hostage originally. A nice bit of romantic intrigue develops with the introduction of Princess Jolia, the King’s daughter, who is immediately smitten with Flash. When Dale spies Flash dancing with the Princess at a ball thrown in honor of the King’s homecoming, she retaliates by making out with Rodan on the balcony.
The King takes his guests out on the balcony to view the Electra lights which emanate from the radium mines. Flash realizes the radium mines could power their return to Earth and provide fuel for the weapons needed to combat the Red Sword. There is a nicely provocative scene of the Princess alone in her room admiring herself in a mirror dressed only in bra and panties while she thinks of Flash. Sexuality has always been a key appeal to the strip and it is nice to see Briggs finally taking advantage of that fact with the character of Jolia.
King Radiol commands Colonel Banto to gather a team to escort his friends on a tour of the radium mines. Princess Jolia disguises herself as a soldier and accompanies the team. Somehow no one realizes she looks exactly like the shapely princess in a soldier’s uniform except the reader. Flash, Dale, Zarkov, and Rodan soon learn that the miners are slave labor comprised of prisoners. One of the miners is the traitor Pigor, who attacks Flash with his pick-axe. Jolia shoots him down with her stun-gun, revealing her identity to Flash in the process.
Once they are safely inside the radium manufacturing plant, Zarkov is engrossed with the harvesting of radium while Flash is intrigued with the Princess, and Dale turns to Rodan for comfort. The Princess accompanies Flash outside to inspect the mines the next day, when Pigor attacks her. Flash fights him off, but the traitor escapes. Reaching the pipeline where Zarkov is busily at work with the engineers, Flash spies Pigor having attached an explosive charge to the pipeline in a suicidal desire for revenge. Flash succeeds in detaching the charge and hurling it down the mineshaft. He saves the pipeline from destruction, but is buried beneath the rubble caused by the explosion of the mineshaft.
Zarkov and Jolia dig him out and Flash is soon hospitalized. Learning of Flash’s injury pulls Dale from Rodan until she discovers the Princess at his side. Seeing that Flash is recovering, Dale returns to Rodan for comfort. The team joins Colonel Banto in searching for the renegade Pigor before he causes further damage. Pigor attacks Flash with a radium-tipped spear infecting his blood with radium poisoning. Dale collapses upon learning at the hospital that Flash is doomed. The portrayal of a hysterical Dale being carried away as she screams that she wants to share Flash’s fate is a level of drama we have not seen thus far in the strip.
Zarkov swears to find a cure for Flash’s condition while Flash joins the doomed slaves in the mine pit to at least do something productive with the little time he has left. Colonel Banto gloats at Flash’s fate and an enraged Flash punches him out. Flash finds the miners resistant to accepting him until he beats the crew leader, Kolak, in hand-to-hand combat. Meantime, an embittered Banto learns that Jolia has disguised herself as a soldier and locks her, Dale, and Rodan in a cell. He plans to hold her hostage until her father abdicates.
Flash pushes his fellow workers harder to mine the radium ore, hoping to produce enough for Zarkov to take back to Earth to defeat the oppressor. Meantime, ever-brilliant Zarkov finds a cure for radium-poisoning and tests it successfully on Flash. The storyline rushes to an abrupt conclusion with Zarkov’s cure being given to the miners, while Flash punches out (again) Colonel Banto and frees Dale, Rodan, and the Princess. Together with Zarkov and several cases of radium, they take leave of Electra with the promise of further adventures on Mongo.
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 was published earlier this year by Black Coat Press. Next up is a collection of short stories featuring an Edwardian detective, The Occult Case Book of Shankar Hardwicke and a hardboiled detective novel, Lawhead. To see additional articles by William, visit his blog at SetiSays.blogspot.com