Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Ten

Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Ten

55_d__0_FlashGordon1950sTVStarringStev20892184892961“The Trail of the Vulke” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from February 7 to April 26, 1955.

This is an interesting tale that sees Barry re-examining two of his favorite themes — myths and religious fanaticism.

The story kicks off with Flash driving up to Dale’s house for a dinner date and finding her home dark. Warily, he enters the house and Barry shows us menacing shadowy figures watching from the window in the front room.

It turns out to be a surprise birthday party for Flash thrown by Dale and the Space Kids. Improbably, they have arranged the rental of a rocketship from the Space Academy to allow Flash and the Space Kids to travel to Zoriana and pay a visit to Cyril and Mr. Pennington. Barry gets some mileage out of portraying Flash as henpecked and having to ask Dale permission to have an adventure. In no time at all, Flash and the boys are off to the stars and arrive on Zoriana in due course.

Arriving at the gates of the city, they find a mass migration in process with an exodus of nomadic people seeking shelter within the walls of the city. The people of Zoriana have returned to their pagan ways and believe their god has punished them with the scourge of an invisible monster known as the Vulke. Pennington turns the people away at the gates as the city is already overpopulated and poverty and disease are spreading rapidly.

08921865129711157aLed by the blind prophet, Oraculo, the nomads storm the city gates and sack the food stores. Flash and the Space Kids see the deplorable living conditions of the homeless of Zoriana. The nomads have abandoned their crops at the urging of Oraculo because of the attacks by the Vulke. Oraculo convinces them the only way to appease their god is to drive the Earthlings out of Zoriana.

Pennington had dispatched a team of hunters to slay the Vulke, but the survivors returned bearing their dead. The Earthlings are driven from the city gates and must fend for themselves in the wilderness at the mercy of the terrible Vulke. Flash sets a trap in the wilderness near where animal carcasses are found, but the Vulke is too clever to fall for a simple snare.

Meantime, the youngest of the Space Kids wanders off into the woods and is lost overnight. The boy builds a campfire hoping to attract Flash’s attention but brings a leopard instead. As the flame dies out, the leopard attacks, crippling the boy with a slash to his legs. Miraculously, he is saved by the arrival of the Vulke, a savage she-wolf who quickly tears out the leopard’s throat.

A flashback shows us how hunters recently slaughtered the she-wolf’s litter to bring it out into the open. As a result, the wolf began terrorizing the encampments leading to the myth of the Vulke as a punishment from their god. Adopting the injured boy as its own, the she-wolf carries him off to her lair and brings him raw meat to live.

Oraculo’s religious fanaticism grows worse and, like Abraham before him, he determines he must sacrifice his own child to appease an angry god. His daughter, Annina stoically accepts her fate. Meantime, Flash finally succeeds in tracking the she-wolf to its snow-covered mountainous lair. He overcomes the wolf in a savage struggle, but spares its life.

The Earthlings return to Zoriana just in time to save Annina from a pointless death. Oraculo is revealed to be a superstitious old man whose religious beliefs are far from harmless. The people of Zoriana see the Vulke revealed to be nothing more than a caged injured wolf. Pennington is welcomed back to rule over the city and the homeless masses return to their encampments outside the city walls to harvest their crops while Flash and the Space Kids prepare to return to Earth. This was another of Dan Barry’s kid-friendly 1950s sci-fi tales with surprisingly mature themes critiquing religion and blind faith. While such stories may not have much connection to Alex Raymond’s original vision for the series, they do make for interesting reading sixty years on.

 


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.

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John Whalen

That’s an impressive story line with quite a bit of content and commentary. Was this a daily only or Daily and Sunday? I’m really enjoying this continuing series of articles.

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