“Tympani” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from April 27 to July 9, 1955. The strip gets underway with Flash returning to Earth and taking Dale out to enjoy a symphony orchestra concert. Dale’s hair has reverted to its classic look, happily. The concert goes awry when the orchestra launches into a piece and the audience is deafened by the cacophonous sound.
Taking to the streets, they discover every car horn in the city is going off causing accidents and traffic jams. The situation spreads over the globe with factory whistles going off, sonar jamming, rockets misfiring, etc. Soon train accidents cripple the food industry and fuel truck accidents leave people without heat in winter. Dr. Zarkov is busy researching sound vibrations to try to get to the root of the problem that has threatened civilization.
Flash is deafened when he stumbles into Zarkov’s laboratory during a sonic experiment. The fact that he must now rely on a hearing aid becomes a critical point to the story. It also makes Flash the perfect pilot for Zarkov’s soundproof rocketship designed to track the source of the sound far off in space. Unfortunately, Dale stows away on board the ship without Flash’s knowledge.
As Flash approaches the orbit of a planetoid, his rocketship is caught in a magnetic field and drawn toward it. Flash ejects himself into space to elude his captors unaware that an unconscious Dale is still in the ship. Dale awakens to find she has landed in the city of Tympani where the drugged citizens dance all day in a blissful stupor.
She is brought before Pan, the ruler of Tympani who is really Egon Blant, an avant-garde composer from Earth who went mad because the critics rejected his compositions. He fled Earth and settled on the planetoid where he set about building Tympani into a world ruled by his harmonics and now he has built a means of sending his sound waves to Earth to exact his revenge on the world that rejected him.
Flash lands on the planetoid and finds himself a hunted fugitive from Pan’s soldiers. He befriends another Earth refugee called Jazzbeau, a hepcat from the Bebop school. Donning the uniform of one of Pan’s soldiers, Flash easily infiltrates Tympani among the drugged troops. Discovering the ruse, Pan subjects Flash to sound torture, but Flash turns down his hearing aid rendering himself deaf and safe from the mind-melting torture.
Flash is subjected to the torture of the bells (why is another matter since Pan knows he’s deaf). Meanwhile, Jazzbeau’s jazz trombone proves to be the antidote that breaks the people of Tympani free from their drugged stupor and leads them to follow him. From a clever commentary on avant-garde jazz and the Bebop drug culture, Dan Barry switches to another Biblical parallel with Jazzbeau becoming a Bebop Joshua blowing down the walls of Jericho. In this instance, Jazzbeau blows down the walls of Tympani and crushes Pan in the rubble.
Surprisingly, it is chubby jive-talking Jazzbeau who is the unlikely hero. He and Dale free Flash from the torture of the bells and learn their vibrations has miraculously repaired his damaged eardrums. With his hearing restored, Flash and Dale return to Earth leaving Jazzbeau behind to restore Tympani to its old harmony free of the narcotic influence of Egon Blant’s avant-garde sounds in this delightful time capsule of 1950s pop culture.
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.