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Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Thirteen

Friday, April 25th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Space Circus tradSpace Circus alt“Space Circus” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from September 5 to October 29, 1955. “Space Circus” is significant for being the first time in the Dan Barry strips where Flash’s past adventures on Mongo are now an integral part of the storyline. One wonders if reader response prompted King Features to request a change of direction from what would today be considered a reboot to a direct sequel to the original storyline of the early 1930s.

“Space Circus” gets underway with Flash abducted by a flying saucer while out driving on a desert road late one night. Abduction by UFO was a relatively new concept in the 1950s, but one that was spreading rapidly as a fear that many shared during the Cold War era. The aliens are from the planet Mesmo and appear as Asian caricatures. While a number of the inhabitants of Mongo were depicted as Asian in appearance, they were portrayed as being exotic and not as demeaning cartoonish representations. While there were certainly many more offensive Yellow Peril figures in comics of the era, the Mesmans are a far cry from the seductive and imposing inhabitants of Mongo as Alex Raymond portrayed them.

Flash soon finds himself sold as a slave in the middle of a metropolitan city on Mesmo. He is purchased by The Great Barno, owner of the Interplanetary Spectacle. Flash finds communication with the telepathic, but seemingly mute, Mesmans impossible. He is brutally punished during his training as a trapeze artist. At night in his cell, Flash befriends his fellow circus performers: Hukko, a captive Hawkman from Mongo; Dr. Manimo, a four-armed Anterran physicist; Groz, a captive from the tree kingdom of Primeva; and Hugar the strong man. The camaraderie between the captives helps make circus life bearable until the fateful night they are involved in an accidental train crash that derails the circus train and sends them hurling from a bridge into the lagoon far below.

Space Circus tieinkurtzman_flash_gordon_cvr11Escaping into the stormy night, the fugitives take refuge in a farmhouse where they discover a wireless set and earphones. Puzzled why a telepathic species should need such a device, Hukko sets to work on solving the mystery.

The militia hunts them down and begins shelling the farmhouse. Hukko drops bombs on them to hold the militia back, allowing the fugitives to take shelter in a cave during a rainstorm. While the militia continues to hunt the fugitives, Flash and Hukko make a startling discovery. The Mesmans communicate via ear-mitted speech using the antennae on their heads to magnify the sound and give the illusion of telepathy. Hukko sets to work trying to master their language while Flash, Hugar, and Dr. Manimo defeat a patrol that stumbles upon their hiding place.

Flash captures a tank singlehandedly, which allows the fugitives to move through Mesman lines undetected. They commandeer a radio station and Hukko transmits a message stating the militia has captured the fugitives and are holding them at the radio station. When the militia commander and his garrison arrive to take charge, they are taken captive.

Hukko demonstrates he has mastered the Mesman language and communicates to them that their circus performers are intelligent creatures to be respected, not exploited. After Flash spares the militia commander’s life in exchange for a flying saucer to send the captives home, he earns the militia commander’s respect, even though his allowing the captives to go free and supporting their cause will result in his dishonorable discharge. The story ends with Flash returning to Earth and reuniting with Dale and Zarkov after his six week ordeal on Mesmo as a fugitive from the Space Circus. This traditional storyline was later adapted in novel form in the 1970s and went through several editions over the course of the next decade. More importantly, the strip also signaled that a return to Mongo was not very far away for Flash and his friends.

 


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.

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