“Mr. Murlin” was artist Dan Barry and writer Harvey Kurtzman’s follow-up to “The Awful Forest” and was published by King Features Syndicate from December 31, 1952 to April 20, 1953. The story would be the last pairing for the team, although Barry would continue on with the strip until 1990.
Their finale marks another departure from the formula. Flash and Ray stumble upon a medieval cottage in a forest clearing and, knocking upon the door, they encounter Mr. Murlin, an alchemist from 14th Century Earth who inexplicably recognizes Flash and Ray. The old man has an adolescent daughter, Marilyn, with whom Ray has his first crush. Murlin explains how he invented a time case through which he traveled far into the future and to another world.
Flash views the future by looking in the time case and sees he is reunited with Dale. Eager to know when the reunion will occur, Flash is startled to see Dale emerge from the back of the cottage. Murlin tells him he found her wandering in a dazed state in the forest and gave her refuge. Dale explains that she looked into the time case and saw that she would be reunited with Flash in the cottage and so has waited for him. This accounts for Murlin’s knowledge of Flash and Ray’s identities.
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“The Awful Forest” was artist Dan Barry and writer Harvey Kurtzman’s follow-up to “Tartarus” and was published by King Features Syndicate from October 20 to December 30, 1952. The story shows a marked step forward in quality in Barry’s artwork. At times, he equals Alex Raymond, barring his love of EC-style comic grotesqueries which likely reflect Kurtzman’s involvement in the creative process.
Flash, Marla, Kent, and Ray arrive on horseback at the edge of the Awful Forest along with a party of satyr porters from Tartarus. The rain is pouring down steadily and the setting is clearly meant to call to mind Germany’s Black Forest.
No sooner do they arrive in the Awful Forest, then they encounter the figure of a gibbering madman who pleads with them to turn back, before rushing off into the woods in abject terror. Their porters recognize this strange figure as the Black Duke, Lucifan’s cousin who abducted Dale from the deposed king’s court. What should be an effective sequence of mounting suspense is let down by the depiction of the mad Duke as a comic loony who would have been at home in an early issue of Mad.
The Black Duke’s pitiable condition is enough to cause their porters to desert them during the night. Flash sets off on a fruitless quest to retrieve them and leaves Kent to care for Marla and Ray. The trio is beset by night terrors in which the strange noises of the forest give way to nightmarish visitations from a crowd of goblins and gremlins.
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“The Butterfly Men” was artist Dan Barry and writer Harvey Kurtzman’s follow-up to “The City of Ice” and was published by King Features Syndicate from June 16 to August 9, 1952. The storyline is simple sci-fi hokum, but of a type not previously seen in the series. Flash and Queen Marla materialize on the planet Tanium in the Alpha Centauri system. Of course, it is sheer luck that has brought them to the same planet that Dale and the crew of the X-3 have journeyed to in their quest for the missing Dr. Carson. It is also sheer coincidence that Flash and Marla are met by Ray Carson, the doctor’s young son who broke away from the crew of the X-3 in his eagerness to search for his father. The trio reaches the X-3 only to discover the ship deserted with disturbing telltale signs of a struggle, including Dale’s torn, bloodstained clothing.
Weakened by their hunger and thirst, they scour the barren landscape where they encounter a giant insect. Marla shoots the creature with a heat ray, although Flash is convinced it is harmless. The wounded creature limps off and spins a cocoon around its injured body. The visitors then see the strange sight of giant butterflies with the bodies of men descending upon them from the air. The butterfly men are the dominant life form of Tanium and are the adult form of the strange giant insects following their natural metamorphosis.
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