Flash Gordon - Pulp Book Hero

Aimed at a juvenile audience, the Flash Gordon pulp story faithfully retained the three main comic strip protagonists, the stalwart, natural leader of men, Flash Gordon, the voluptuous and occasionally petulant Dale Arden, and the brilliant though slightly unstable Dr. Hans Zarkov—but the majority of the action inexplicably takes place on Mars, and the villain, Pwami, Master of Mars, is little more than a country cousin to Ming the Merciless. Nevertheless, The Master of Mars, attributed to the otherwise unknown James Edison Northford, was a rousing pulp adventure, with nearly every chapter ending in a seemingly inescapable cliffhanger—much like Raymond's Sunday pages and Buster Crabbe's serials.
As longtime pulp collectors may know, Flash Gordon Strange Adventure Magazine's chief claim to fame is that it included full page four-colour illustrations done in the comic strip style. Although the colour illustrations that appeared in the pulp were done by an artist named Fred Meagher, the plot had apparently been constructed to parallel events that had taken place in the comic strip. For example, early in the pulp adventure, the evil Pwami has Flash thrown into a pit, where he is menaced by a thirty-foot long Martian Pythocra, which just happens to resemble the Constrictosaurus Flash faced in a similar pit on Mongo in the comic strip published on December 29, 1935.

Likewise, at one point Dale finds herself confined in Pwami's sky gallery of Eros, a predicament remarkably similar to the one she faced in Vultan's tower harem on Mongo. Later, Flash finds himself underwater in one of the canals of Mars, fighting for his life against the Shark Men of Mars, who appear to be closely related to the Shark Men of Mongo. Perhaps the original intention had been to adapt Raymond's comic strip illustrations, similar to the adaptation that had been done for the cover (see box at the bottom of this page). If such is the case, however, the plan was regrettably abandoned, as Meagher's drawing skills weren't in the same league as Raymond's.

Dale Arden
As The Master of Mars progresses, Flash rescues Dale from Pwami's sky gallery, finds himself in the company of Illana, the beautiful Princess of Jupiter, is stranded with her in the magnetic mountains on the planetoid Tyron, rescues Dr. Zarkov from the prison asteroid Ceres, and is caught up in a titanic struggle between the forces of Earth and an invading fleet of Martian spaceships. All solid pulp science fiction adventure—that unfortunately failed to catch on with the reading public.

Dr. Zarkov
It isn't clear as to why Flash Gordon failed to successfully make the transition from comic strips to the pulps, other than to note that no attempts to adapt comic characters to the pulps had ever been successful. Sheena, a popular comic book character published by Fiction House, failed to survive her first pulp issue (other than a brief guest appearance in the final issue of Jungle Stories, also published by Fiction House). In any event, Flash Gordon's second pulp adventure, The Sun Men of Saturn, promised in the back pages of the December 1936 issue of Flash Gordon Strange Adventure Magazine, if it was ever actually written, did not see publication.
Ironically, the Flash Gordon Strange Adventure Magazine is now highly sought after by collectors.

he 1936 novelisation, Flash Gordon in the Caverns of Mongo, published by Grosset & Dunlap, shared a similar fate with the pulp magazine—it had not been successful enough to result in a continuing series. Also aimed at a juvenile audience, the novel was published as being written by Alex Raymond, though there is no reason to think that he was the actual author. The cover illustration, end pages, and frontispiece were done by an illustrator named Robb Beebe, and the actual author of the book didn't really have a feel for Raymond's characters. At one point, the author appears to be unaware that Hawkmen could fly, and with the (premature) fall of Ming, the author has made Vultan the King of Mongo, whereas Raymond's storyline had made Prince Barin of Arboria the rightful heir.

Another good reason to believe that the novel wasn't actually written by Alex Raymond is that soon after beginning the Flash Gordon strip, Raymond turned the script writing duties over to Don Moore, a former pulp editor. Since Raymond was drawing Secret Agent X-9 and Jungle Jim at the same time he was doing the Flash Gordon strips, he didn't have the time to do his own writing. The main reason to doubt Raymond's authorship, however, is that even as a juvenile adventure story the book simply isn't very good.
The book starts out promisingly enough, with Lovecraftian references to "half-man, half-god things that inhabit the underworld" of Mongo, but the story quickly breaks down to a remarkably tedious battle between the forces of the upperworld and the pallid minions of the evil King Gonth of the netherworld. About halfway through the book, Flash is led to believe that Mongo and his friends have been lost, and in despair he flees to the moon Titan, which the author mistakenly believes to be in orbit around the planet Jupiter! On Titan, story "B" takes over as Flash becomes involved with the beautiful Princess Lahn-een (there aren't any plain-looking female royalty in Flash's universe) and her power struggle with the evil High Priest Oghr. After story "B" is more or less resolved, Flash, accompanied by Lahn-een and her forces, returns to Mongo and finishes up the nearly forgotten conflict from story "A" through a rather unique application of genocide. Except for Flash Gordon completists, this novel is best avoided, and it probably isn't something you'd want to read to your children.
ther than Big Little Book, Better Little Book, and similar adaptations of the Flash Gordon comic strips, there would be no further novelisations of Flash's adventures until 1974. In that year, Avon Books published the first of six adult Flash Gordon novelisations, the first four attributed to Con Steffanson and the remaining two attributed to Carson Bingham. In reality, the first three, The Lion Men of Mongo, The Plague of Sound, and The Space Circus, were written by Ron Goulart, and the final three, The Time Trap of Ming XIII, The Witch Queen of Mongo, and The War of the Cybernauts, were written by Carson Bingham, a pseudonym for Bruce Bingham Cassiday, a former pulp editor whose only previous writing experience was a novelisation of the 1961 UK sci-fi movie Gorgo. The books were sold as being adaptations from Alex Raymond's original stories, but only the first novel is even remotely related to Raymond's work. In fact, all of the books in this series appear to be based on story lines from the Flash Gordon daily strips initiated by Dan Barry in 1951 (for example, The Witch Queen of Mongo is based on a Barry story that began on January 2, 1956). Of this series, the first three written by Ron Goulart are quick, enjoyable reads—although the language is a bit dated and the humour is pretty corny. The three by Carson Bingham are tedious time wasters, and may safely be avoided.

The next attempt at a Flash Gordon series was published by Tempo Books beginning in 1980. Although much better written than the final books in the previous series, this series isn't at all faithful to the Flash Gordon comic strip. In the first book, Massacre in the 22nd Century, Flash is introduced as a widower in his late thirties who is an agent with the Federation Central Intelligence Division. Dr. Zarkov, while still a brilliant scientist, is a frail old man who spends most of his time recovering from near-death experiences—and Dale Arden is his niece! This book and the remaining books in the series, War of the Citadels, Crisis on Citadel II, Forces from the Federation, Citadels under Attack, and Citadels on Earth, basically form an extended story arc in which our heroes get caught up in an ancient galactic civilisation that has been at war for over 100,000 years. The earth itself is torn by the struggle between the Federation, the rightful government of the earth's own nascent galactic colonisation efforts, and the Trans Federation, a vast conglomerate that has the power to openly flaunt the Federation's authority. It's all pretty standard SF adventure, but the three main characters could have been given any names—they bear little relation to the characters created by Alex Raymond. The books in this series were published anonymously, but were written by David Hagberg, who has also written under the name Sean Flannery, and who is better known for writing thrillers in the Tom Clancy vein.

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