“The Menace of Mysta” was the tenth installment of Austin Briggs’ daily Flash Gordon comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between March 27 and April 25, 1944, “The Menace of Mysta” is a very brief episode that starts off with Flash and Dale and their nameless Elvin guide crossing Lost Lake when they pass through a patch of fog and become embroiled in a spider web. A giant spider rises from the lake to attack them. Flash dispatches the creature easily enough and the trio soon comes ashore on a strange beach where they quickly find themselves among the invisible kingdom of Queen Mysta.
Mysta’s kingdom appears to function magically with visibility and seemingly inter-dimensional passage under the beautiful but mysterious Queen’s control. Dale and their Elvin guide are taken captive. Flash passes through the invisible portal into the kingdom and eventually fights his way into Mysta’s castle. Once Mysta determines that Flash poses no real threat, but is an honorable man fighting for Dale’s freedom, she pulls aside a curtain to unveil the scientific genius that allows her kingdom to operate on what seems to be magical principles. The genius is none other than Dr. Zarkov.
Readers were doubtless as flummoxed as Flash and Dale at this revelation and no sooner are they reunited with their old friend then he is bustling them off into a rocket ship on a secret mission he refuses to tell them anything about, which leads this curious and very brief penultimate adventure into the final storyline of Austin Briggs’ daily strip.
“Home” was the eleventh and final installment of Austin Briggs’ daily Flash Gordon comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between April 26 and June 3, 1944, “Home” would mark the last daily strip for over seven years. Austin Briggs would move over to the Sunday strip as Alex Raymond’s successor, leaving the daily companion series behind until Dan Barry revived it the following decade.
“Home” gets underway with Zarkov explaining that his plans for an electrically powered rocketship were stolen by Emperor Borak, the brutal dictator of the kingdom of Sizan. Zarkov explains they must retrieve the plans and then return to Earth immediately. If readers thought perhaps that the Red Sword storyline was about to reappear and that the original mission back to Mongo would finally come full circle, they were mistaken. Emperor Borak (a Ming clone in every sense) is using Zarkov’s plans for his invasion fleet that is primed to attack Earth the very next day at dawn.
The episode on Sizan is very brief, with the reader enjoying no sense of the kingdom or its flora and fauna. No sooner have our heroes landed than they encounter Borak’s soldiers, steal the prototype of the electrically-powered rocketship, and drop an atom bomb on Sizan, wiping out all life in the kingdom. Zarkov is portrayed as the leader with Flash only along as hired muscle.
Zarkov’s casual dismissal of genocide as taking care of “that rascal Borak” only serves to underscore how deeply the race to split the atom had crept into public consciousness during the Second World War. Briggs’ script also uncharacteristically portrays Flash as dimwitted by having him confused by the slightest mention of scientific talk. Perhaps this was reflective of Briggs’ own reticence about science since the story contains a large number of improbabilities and outright errors on basic principles of space travel that Alex Raymond and Don Moore would never have made in the past.
As they approach Earth, an unseen stowaway aboard the ship viciously stabs Zarkov and sets the ship on a collision course with Saturn. There is an interesting moment just prior to this with Dale longing to return home to her mother, sister, and kid brother in a bit of background never previously revealed in the continuity. Zarkov recovers just in time to avert disaster and they arrive on Earth in the midst of an aerial dogfight between the U.S. and the Nazis. It may be that since the U.S. had now joined the war, the decision was taken to let the Red Sword storyline be forgotten as readers might have found it tasteless at such a late date.
There is a good bit with the U.S. Navy mistakenly believing their rocketship is a Nazi secret weapon. Oddly enough, our heroes are completely oblivious as to who Hitler or the Nazis are, which is highly improbable considering the strip started in 1934 and they had already returned home prior to this date. Only Zarkov’s friendship with Admiral George Winters prevents their being shot out of the sky. Just as they prepare to land in New York City, the stowaway emerges, revealing himself as Borak the Brutal. Flash quickly guns him down and the threat is over and dealt with prematurely.
The storyline and the original daily strip reach a pleasing finish with Flash, Dale, and Zarkov enjoying a ticker tape parade in the heart of the Big Apple. A nice conclusion to the series a decade after the Sunday strip was introduced. While Flash Gordon would eventually return with a second and far more successful daily strip, Austin Briggs would step in to replace the series’ creator at the helm of the celebrated Sunday strip, as we shall see in a future installment.
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