Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon – “The Storm Queen of Valkr” / “The Wizard King of the Fur Men”

Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon – “The Storm Queen of Valkr” / “The Wizard King of the Fur Men”

Flash_Gordon“The Storm Queen of Valkr” was the twenty-sixth installment of the Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between March 24 and September 29, 1946, “The Storm Queen of Valkr” opens with Flash’s rocketship crashing down in the eye of the hurricane. Flash pulls Dale from the wreckage just as the ship explodes. They are rescued by a party of amazons riding giant wolves and discover their leader is Valkir, Queen of the Forbidden Kingdom of Valkr where they have landed.

Once they reach Valkir’s palace, Flash is placed in the Queen’s harem. He soon meets her royal consort, Marko, and her dwarf jester, Roki. At dinner, Flash offends Valkir by stating he is President of Mongo. She challenges him to a fencing match.

When Flash bests her, her oversized house cat pounces upon him. Flash fights off the great cat. Later, Marko confides in him that Kang’s rocketship has likewise crashed down in Valkr and the deposed Emperor is wooing the Queen and setting himself up as a rival to Marko. This marks an interesting departure from the established formula where the reader would expect the Queen to quickly fall for Flash with her consort becoming a jealous rival to our hero.

Flash and Marko go out riding on wolves and discover Valkir trapped by a flash flood while crossing a stream. Flash rescues the Queen who, unaccustomed to being dominated and then rescued by a man, kisses him passionately before recovering her royal bearing.

Flash requests that she turn Kang over to his custody. Instead, he finds the Queen has him thrown into captivity with the despot and his henchman, Gian. Kang was waiting for just such a chance and overcomes Queen Valkir and takes her ray gun. A hasty shootout ensues that ends with their prison in flames.

Flash pursues the two fugitives back to their rocketship. Climbing into the weapons hold, Flash sets one of the atom bombs to explode in an hour’s time. Gian enters the weapons hold, his weight shifts the rocketship off-balance and Flash knocks his head on a missile. Recovering consciousness, he finds himself bound by Kang and Gian.

The two villains are distracted from menacing our hero when Queen Valkir and her party of Amazon warriors surround the ship. Kang begins blasting them with the rocketship’s atomic cannon. The women are forced to retreat. Flash frees himself from his bonds and barely manages to escape the ship before the atom bomb explodes, leveling the valley and filling it with deadly radiation.

At the victory celebration at the royal palace that night, Queen Valkir announces that Flash is to be her new royal consort. Flash refuses the honor. A spurned Valkir condemns him to death by torture.61RAGWV0XSL__SL500_AA300_

Flash is bound to a wall of the arena where a trained ape hurls knives at him for the amusement of the Amazons. When one of the knives severs Flash’s bonds, he retrieves the dagger and slays his anthropoid opponent. The Queen releases two armed gladiators to combat Flash, but he uses his intelligence as well as his athletic ability to overpower both men.

Stripped of his weapons, Flash’s next two opponents are armed with fiery coals. Flash again proves victorious. Next, he is forced to dive into a pool with Valkir’s octo-shark. Freeing himself from its tentacles, Flash forces a boulder into the creature’s jaws and escapes.

Valkir then sentences him to be placed in the sandpit with her giant man-eating crabs. Surprisingly, the crustaceans prove the worst of the challenges Flash has faced and, until Dale pushes the Queen in to share Flash’s fate, he appears doomed. Marko jumps in with her and the two men manage to rescue the Queen before escaping the giant crabs themselves.

A grateful Valkir makes Marko her King at last. Flash and Dale attend the royal wedding before the reformed Queen sets them free and gives them a pair of giant bulls as steeds. The two depart believing that Mongo is free of Kang at last. Modern readers will be struck by the casual sexism of life in Valkr being righted only when men are freed from servile positions and restored to power.

61DTD4Z0G4L__SL500_AA300_“The Wizard King of the Fur Men” was the twenty-seventh installment of the Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between October 6, 1946 and January 26, 1947, “The Wizard King of the Fur Men” gets off to a quick start with Flash and Dale entering an uncharted ice kingdom where they are observed by a primitive tribe of Fur Men.

The reader quickly learns the Fur Men are ruled by a Wizard King, who is actually Kang. Ming’s son escaped the atomic explosion (Gian wasn’t so lucky) and quickly convinced the primitive tribesmen that he is a powerful magician. Kang orders the Fur Men to kill Flash and Dale. What follows is a protracted series of cliffhangers set inside a glacial cave system as Flash eventually wins over the Fur Men with his bravery and integrity. Kang shows his true colors and in a surprising finish, blasts the village of Fur Men with his atomic ray. Kang escapes with Flash and Dale, the only survivors, following his trail.

This brief and rather thinly-plotted interlude was followed by four more strips over the course of 1947 and 1948 that completed Austin Briggs’s run on the title. Until such time as Titan Books reprints these long unavailable adventures, our history of the Austin Briggs era must stop here. While he was never able to equal Alex Raymond, Briggs worked hard at remaining faithful to the spirit of the classic original. When next we look at Alex Raymond’s seminal space hero, it will be the start of Mac Raboy’s celebrated twenty-year run in reshaping the strip for the post-War years. I hope you’ll join us.

 


William Patrick Maynard was authorized to continue Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu thrillers beginning with The Terror of Fu Manchu (2009; Black Coat Press). It was followed by a sequel, The Destiny of Fu Manchu (2012; Black Coat Press). Next up is a collection of short stories featuring an original 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

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