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Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part One

Friday, May 31st, 2013 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

1157a$(KGrHqF,!qsFCyOZfKsuBQ8Ij2JJjw~~60_35While Mac Raboy kept alive the Flash Gordon Sunday strip from 1948 until his death in 1967, Dan Barry emerged on the scene to take the reins of a revived daily strip in November 1951. Barry became the longest running artist ever associated with the character and eventually took over the Sunday strip after Mac Raboy’s untimely demise. He illustrated the strip for nearly forty years before stepping down in 1990.

Interestingly, Barry’s revival of the daily strip marked a radical departure from past continuity and would be seen as a reboot of the property in modern parlance. The strip established Flash Gordon and his girlfriend Dale Arden as seasoned space explorers who have visited Mars on more than one occasion and are currently leading an expedition to Jupiter. This marks Earth’s third Jupiter mission (the first two having ended in disaster). As an amusing aside, the strip places the site of the U.S. space program in Ohio.

“Space Prison” was serialized by King Features Syndicate from November 19, 1951 to February 16, 1952. The story kicks off with the X-3 mission running into immediate problems when one of the booster rockets fails. The ship is forced to make an emergency landing on a space station that also serves as a space prison.

The rest of the X-3’s crew are not really given much of an identity and, truth be told, Flash and Dale are the characters we know in appearance only as this might otherwise be any number of 1950s space patrol strips, but doesn’t bear much resemblance to the stories and worlds created by Alex Raymond. Harvey Kurtzman scripted many early 1950s strips and the scientific knowledge is much more rooted in fact and the story is much more plausible than what fans had come to expect from the series. This initial yarn is little more than a standard 1950s prison break story with a convict turned good who gets to join Flash and his crew as a stand-in of sorts for Dr. Zarkov (who is not included in this iteration).

kurtzman_flash_gordon_cvrFlashGordon1_original“The City of Ice” was serialized from February 18 to June 14, 1952 and picks the pace up a bit with the X-3 passing through an asteroid belt before coming into orbit around Jupiter. Flash makes a daring repair job outside the ship to prevent the X-3 from burning up (the apparent fate of the first two missions). Once this crisis is averted, the ship makes a landing on the moon of Ganymede. That’s where things take a turn in a different, much more familiar direction.

Ganymede is ruled by Queen Marla (a femme fatale very much in the mold of Princess Aura) with a scheming prime minister named Garl eager to usurp her throne. These two Yellow Peril stereotypes rule over Frost Men who have abducted Dr. Carson and his young son, Ray (an annoying reader identification character) from Earth’s moon. Dr. Carson has been sent to a planet near Alpha Centauri on a mission to help the people of Ganymede while young Ray befriends the crew of the X-3 when they arrive.

There are typical Alex Raymond-style battles with dragons and dinosaurs in an arena. The people of Ganymede also worship a mythical dragon that demands human sacrifices. The only trouble is the entire episode plays like a dumbed-down version of the original Flash Gordon adventures. All realism is cast aside and at no point does the reader suspend disbelief to immerse themselves in the fantasy. The fact that this plays as Flash and Dale’s first fantastic encounter with no mention of Mongo in their past further detracts from the enjoyment.

The episode ends with Dale, Ray, and the crew of the X-3 rocketing off Ganymede en route to Alpha Centauri on their quest to find the missing Dr. Carson, leaving Flash and Queen Marla to deal with Garl’s treacherous plot to usurp the throne. The conclusion is a cliffhanger showing Flash and the deposed queen escaping execution via a matter transmitter. The question of the fate of all concerned would not be revealed until the next 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) and 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, The Triumph of Fu Manchu, and a hardboiled detective novel, Lawhead. To see additional articles by William, visit his blog at SetiSays.blogspot.com

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