“Peril Park” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from August 31 to November 13, 1954. I’ve begun to develop a fondness for Barry’s rather unique take on the character. He is a far cry from Alex Raymond, but his version is not without charm and these early 1950s strips did much to influence the Flash Gordon television series of the fifties.
“Peril Park” opens with a tranquil scene of Flash and Dale enjoying a summer day boating on the lake when Flash discovers a message in a bottle. The twist is that the message was written 600 years in the future by a woman called Elda who claims to be held captive on an island in the very lake where Flash and Dale are relaxing.
Dale is eager to let the matter lie, but Flash cannot and, with Dr. Zarkov’s help, he whisks forward six centuries via the time-space projector in Zarkov’s lab. The time travel scenes are rendered in a highly inventive fashion that suggests an influence on the trippy astral projection art pioneered by Steve Ditko on Marvel’s Doctor Strange a decade later.
Earth of 2554 sees the city fallen to ruins and overrun with vegetation. Sure enough Flash hears a woman’s cry for help from an island in the lake. When he dives in to swim to her rescue, he discovers a great white shark now patrols the lake. Evading the shark, he reaches the island to discover Elda is a descendant of Dale’s who looks like her twin. She is being menaced by an alligator.
Flash fights off the alligator, but has a tougher time fighting off the sexually aggressive Elda. The trouble with this is that since Flash and Dale are engaged and he’s encountering Dale’s descendant six hundred years later, Flash should really be concerned that the alluring woman he keeps kissing is his own descendant as well. Ah well, such dilemmas were far from the minds of kids who read the strip sixty years ago it seems.
Flash and Elda are crossing the lake by log when the alligator returns for a second attack. Happily, the great white shark serves as a distraction and while shark and gator engage in a bloody battle, Flash and Elda make it to shore. True to the cliffhanger origins of the strip, the next dilemma finds them confronted by a bloodthirsty soldier who prepares to execute Flash on the spot. Flash flips the man over his shoulder into the lake where he is devoured by the shark and alligator in a surprisingly violent scene.
Flash and Elda are then hunted by a jet which sprays the area with bullets in an attempt to bring them down. No sooner do they evade death then they stumble across Professor Tawl being brought in by two soldiers. Flash rescues the Professor by knocking one soldier out and taking his gun and shooting the other. Unfortunately, a bullet grazes Flash’s temple in the process.
An injured Flash is carried by Elda and the Professor into the ruins of the city where the soldiers continue to hunt them. Seeking refuge there, the Professor gives Flash a history lesson on how the city fell in the Great Earthquake of 2499. The quake saw a mass prison escape where the criminal genius Moko took control of the city and sealed it off with a force field. Moko and his men took control of the arsenal and declared martial law. The Professor and Elda are among the few citizens who have the courage to form a resistance.
Flash resolves to help liberate the city after half a century of criminal rule. The soldiers discover their hiding place. Flash leads them away from the others in an exciting chase sequence through the beams of a ruined skyscraper.
The Professor takes Flash to the rocketship he has built. Flash decides to fly a suicide mission to break through the force field. He says a passionate farewell to a tearful Elda. There is an excellent sequence where the jet fighter attempts to shoot down the rocketship as it takes off and Flash pilots the rocketship directly into the fighter jet, ripping it in two.
Flash flies up to the force field and launches a bubble hatch at the force field to rip into its fabric. He then turns the plane on its suicide flight directly into the criminal headquarters housed in what appears to be the Empire State Building. Flash jettisons in a bubble hatch just before impact. The cataclysmic explosion inevitably calls to mind 9/11 to the modern reader, but it succeeds in wiping out the criminal government and disabling the force field over the city. The Professor and Elda announce to the cowering citizens that Flash has sacrificed his life for their freedom. Meantime, the force of the explosion sends Flash hurtling back through time to 1954 where he is reunited with Dale and Zarkov.
The parallels between Dale and Dr. Zarkov and Elda and Professor Tawl are well done, but the repetition of another prison break story and Flash’s failure to meet Moko in person rob the storyline of some much needed suspense. This is good old fashioned thrills and spills and Dan Barry delivers nicely. It may not be Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, but Barry was succeeding in staking his own claim on the property.
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). The Triumph of Fu Manchu is scheduled for publication in April 2014.