“Starling” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from July 11 to September 3, 1955. “Starling” starts off with Flash visiting Dr. Zarkov one evening to find his old friend depressed, as the U.S. Government has turned down his request for an additional million dollars funding to finish construction of the Super-S Rocket. It is a nice hint of direction for the strip to come, which will take the series closer to its roots. Flash and Zarkov are startled by the discovery of a prowler outside, but the man gets away.
Over the next few days, similar disturbing incidents occur. Flash and Dale are nearly run down by a speeding car while out walking one afternoon on the grounds of Zarkov’s estate. Later, a crate is dropped off the roof of a downtown building when Flash is walking beneath and just misses him. Shortly thereafter, Zarkov receives a telephone call from B. B. Remsen, the billionaire industrialist requesting an interview with Flash.
Upon visiting Remsen’s estate, Flash is outraged to discover Remsen hired his goon, Byron, to test Flash’s reflexes by nearly running him down with a speeding car and dropping a crate off a building. Byron was the prowler at Zarkov’s estate who learned of the need for financing for the Super-S Rocket. Remsen agrees to finance the rocket if Flash will take on a unique assignment. Remsen’s very wild granddaughter, Starling, wants to travel in space and Remsen wants Flash to pilot the rocket that will take her to the stars.
Starling is spoiled, prone to violent temper tantrums, and crazed for thrills even at the risk of safety. This classic 1950s teenage bad girl is depicted as a chain-smoker who wears tight-fitting clothes. While Flash is repulsed by her behavior, his decision to constantly address her as “baby” does little to curb her. Interestingly, Flash will not tell Zarkov or Dale what his mission is, short of stating the necessity of undertaking it to secure financing for Zarkov’s project.
Once the duo have launched into space, Flash has his hands full with Starling refusing to wear a seat belt. Deciding to teach her a lesson, Flash turns off the artificial gravity for several hours. However, Starling is not easily thwarted and once the gravity is restored retaliates with a violent temper tantrum that damages the controls. It takes all of Flash’s piloting skills for the pair to survive a meteor storm. Unfortunately, this only excites Starling, who tries to seduce Flash as a result.
Flash makes a rough landing on an uncharted planetoid where he hopes to be able to repair the controls. Exploring the surface, they discover a disheveled figure later revealed to be Jan Steel, a stranded Earth astronaut. Steel lost a leg when his rocket crashed, but has shown amazing survival skills, particularly against a Gila monster that has been hunting him since his arrival.
Jan’s expertise allows Flash to repair the damaged controls within three weeks. However, the hardship and monotony wear on Starling and her cutting remarks to Jan reach a head when she accuses him of not only having lost his leg in his crash, but also his spine. Furious, Jan storms out of the ship with Flash following after him. A repentant Starling fails to secure the door to the ship and the Gila monster forces its way inside, trapping Starling.
Jan comes to her rescue and the pair both risks their lives to protect one another. Flash returns in the nick of time and kills the Gila monster with a laser shot to the head. A relieved Jan and Starling declare their love for one another. Flash pilots the repaired ship back to Earth, where Jan is greeted with a tickertape parade. B. B. Remsen happily funds Zarkov’s project as he is delighted his granddaughter’s fiancée is the famous Jan Steel.
The story is an entertaining one, although it suffers from a clichéd scene of Jan taking Starling over his knee and forcibly spanking her. Since Shakespeare gave the world The Taming of the Shrew, there has been a tradition for stories where a strong-willed young woman is literally beaten into submission by the older man who loves her. Whether one is watching the John Wayne classic True Grit (1969) or reading this mid-1950s Flash Gordon strip, it is a concept that is a remnant of a time gratefully past.
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 July 2014.