“The Butterfly Men” was artist Dan Barry and writer Harvey Kurtzman’s follow-up to “The City of Ice” and was published by King Features Syndicate from June 16 to August 9, 1952. The storyline is simple sci-fi hokum, but of a type not previously seen in the series. Flash and Queen Marla materialize on the planet Tanium in the Alpha Centauri system. Of course, it is sheer luck that has brought them to the same planet that Dale and the crew of the X-3 have journeyed to in their quest for the missing Dr. Carson. It is also sheer coincidence that Flash and Marla are met by Ray Carson, the doctor’s young son who broke away from the crew of the X-3 in his eagerness to search for his father. The trio reaches the X-3 only to discover the ship deserted with disturbing telltale signs of a struggle, including Dale’s torn, bloodstained clothing.
Weakened by their hunger and thirst, they scour the barren landscape where they encounter a giant insect. Marla shoots the creature with a heat ray, although Flash is convinced it is harmless. The wounded creature limps off and spins a cocoon around its injured body. The visitors then see the strange sight of giant butterflies with the bodies of men descending upon them from the air. The butterfly men are the dominant life form of Tanium and are the adult form of the strange giant insects following their natural metamorphosis.
Marla is taken away to be executed for her murder of the helpless insect. The cocoon is torn open by the butterfly men to reveal the form of a now dead adolescent butterfly boy. Flash and Ray manage to rescue the deposed queen from the butterfly men thanks to the natural cover provided by a heavy rain storm. The trio escapes, but the fate of Dale, the crew of the X-3, and Dr. Carson remains unsolved.
“Tartarus” was syndicated from August 11 to October 18, 1952. Dan Barry’s artwork showed greater comfort with the characters and his relative daring in depicting an unshaven Flash was surprising for the time. Despite some truly excellent work, the growing role for the adolescent sidekick Ray Carson and the comic relief alien lizard, Mizard (a clear inspiration on Gremlin from the second season of the 1970s Saturday morning cartoon series) drags things down a bit.
The raging storm that allowed Flash and Ray to rescue Queen Marla from the butterfly men washes their raft ashore in the kingdom of Tartarus. Flash suffers from a concussio,n while Marla is abducted by a lustful satyr (depicted as the very figure of Satan) who takes her to his home.
Unfortunately, the king’s spies have noted their arrival and the satyr is promptly killed, while somewhat more human-like satyrs dressed in medieval armor take the deposed queen into custody to present her before the corpulent King Lucifan. We quickly learn that Lucifan has previously captured Dale. The lascivious king welcomes the beautiful Marla to his court.
Flash and Ray are set upon by the king’s soldiers, but rescued by a hooded stranger bearing a heat ray who turns out to be Bill Kent, the convict and scientist who joined the X-3 after their adventure on the space prison. Kent introduces them to his friend, the blacksmith satyr, Meemir, who explains how Lucifan is taxing the people into poverty.
Flash convinces Meemir the time has come for the people to revolt against the tyrant who oppresses them. Meemir refuses to pay his taxes as a matter of principle. When the King’s soldiers come to arrest him, the satyrs of Tartarus, armed with heat rays manufactured by Kent and Meemir, begin their revolution. Eventually, the cowardly Lucifan is deposed and noble Meemir takes the throne of Tartarus. Flash learns that Lucifan’s cousin, the Black Duke, has taken Dale to the Awful Forest and the story ends on yet another cliffhanger as the quest to rescue Dale begins in earnest.
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