Monday, 30 July 2012

Let The Journey Begin...

Flash Gordon is the hero of a science fiction adventure comic strip originally drawn by the American, Alex Raymond. First published Sunday, January 7, 1934, the strip was inspired by and created to compete with the already established Buck Rogers adventure strip. Also inspired by these series were comics such as Dash Dixon (1935 to 1939) by H.T. Elmo and Larry Antoinette and Don Dixon and the Hidden Empire (1935 to 1941) by Carl Pfeufer and Bob Moore. 

In Australia, the character and strip were retitled Speed Gordon to avoid a negative connotation of the word "Flash". At the time, the predominant meaning of "flash" was "showy", connoting dishonesty. In France, his adventures were published in Le Journal de Mickey, under the name "Guy l'Eclair". Dale Arden was named Camille in the French translation. In Mexico and some countries in Latin America, the strip is called Roldán el Temerario.

The first panel of the inaugural strip shows the front page of a newspaper, the headlines blaring, "WORLD COMING TO END—STRANGE NEW PLANET RUSHING TOWARD EARTH—ONLY MIRACLE CAN SAVE US, SAYS SCIENCE." In the succeeding panels, the narration informs us: "In African jungles tom-toms roll and thunder incessantly as the howling blacks await their doom! The Arab in the desert resigned to the inevitable faces Mecca and prays for his salvation! Times Square, New York—A seething mass of humanity watches a bulletin board describing the flight of the comet! The scientist, Dr. Hans Zarkov works day and night perfecting a device with which he hopes to save the world—His great brain is weakening under the strain. Aboard an eastbound transcontinental plane we have Flash Gordon, Yale graduate and world renowned polo player and Dale Arden, a passenger. Suddenly, a flaming meteor torn loose from the approaching comet, roars past the plane shearing off a wing—The plane flounders helplessly and dives! Flash takes the girl in his arms and bails out. His 'chute opens with a crack! They float earthward. Landing near Dr. Zarkov's great observatory, Flash frees himself of his parachute. A dishevelled wild-eyed figure confronts them..."

The dishevelled, wild-eyed figure (with an unfortunate comb-over) is Dr. Zarkov, of course, and he's holding a gun. Fearing that Flash and Dale are spies sent out to thwart his plans, the distraught scientist forces them into his rocketship, determined to blast off in an attempt to deflect the onrushing planet from its course and save the Earth. However, as his rocketship approaches the new planet, Dr. Zarkov has a sudden change of heart. Fearing that they'll all be killed, he tries to swerve his rocket away from the oncoming planet. Flash, realizing that they are Earth's only hope, struggles with the mad scientist and knocks him unconscious. Roaring over a beautiful city on the surface of the new planet, the rocket crashlands on the side of a mountain, the force of the impact apparently being sufficient to jar the planet into a new orbit.

On Mongo, for such is the name of the new planet, Flash Gordon, Dale Arden, and Dr. Zarkov come under the baleful influence of Ming the Merciless, Emperor of the Universe. In the course of their improbable and breathtaking adventures they meet Princess Aura, Ming's daughter, Prince Barin, the rightful ruler of Mongo, Thun, Prince of the Lion Men, Vultan, King of the Hawk Men, Azura, the Witch Queen of the Blue Magic Men, Fria, Queen of the frozen kingdom of Frigia, and countless other friends and enemies—all beautifully illustrated with the lush, sensuous artwork for which Alex Raymond is so justly remembered.

He continued working on the Flash Gordon Sunday strip until entering the Marine Corps in 1944. Austin Briggs, who had ghosted a few of Raymond's Sunday strips and had drawn the Flash Gordon daily strip since its inception in 1940, assumed duties on the Sunday strip with Raymond's departure. With Briggs' transfer to the Sunday strip, the dailies were abandoned and weren't revived until 1951, when Dan Barry began a new series of Flash Gordon dailies in a less romantic style with a radically altered continuity, assisted by writers and artists such as Harvey Kurtzman, Al Williamson (most notable for his excellent work in various Flash Gordon comic books), Frank Frazetta, Fred Kida, Bob Fujitani, and Harry Harrison. In 1948, Briggs abandoned the Sunday strip and it was continued by Mac Raboy until his death in 1967. With Raboy's death, Dan Barry and his various scriptwriters, ghost artists, and assistants assumed duties on the Sunday strip while continuing the dailies. Dan Barry quit the series in 1990, and the dailies and Sunday strips were taken over by Ralph Reese as artist, occasionally assisted by Gray Morrow, with scripts by Bruce Jones. In 1992 the art duties were farmed out to a studio in Buenos Aires, with writing by Kevin Van Hook and Thomas Warkentin. The dailies were dropped from syndication in 1993, and Jim Keefe took over as artist and writer of the Sunday strip in 1996, and continued up to 2003.