Celebrating 80 Years of FLASH GORDON

By Jeremy Meltingtallow

Click to enlargeFlash Gordon, the original space adventurer and sci-fi hero, celebrates 80 years of intergalactic thrills today, 7 January 2014. There is no way to cover all of the exciting facts, figures and fantastic lore about this all-American hero in one blog post, so come back for more info in the days to come!

The Wall Street Journal observed that the blockbuster movie, “Star Wars,” owed its “most obvious debt to ‘Flash Gordon.’”

Through the eight decades of high adventure, an international audience has remained steadfastly loyal to Flash. The comic strip FLASH GORDON is syndicated by King Features in print and online and is read by more than 40 million people each day in 11 different countries. Millions have followed Flash’s derring-do through the years, on radio, in comic books, and in other media: From his performance in the critically acclaimed live-action motion picture serials to the animated television series originally produced for Saturday morning, from a television movie internationally syndicated to the 1980 live-action cult classic “Flash Gordon” movie by Dino De Laurentiis, Flash has continued to fascinate audiences. Of course, Flash’s image has also appeared on a wide range of action toys, from rocket ships to ray guns, and he has even had his own United States postal stamp.

Click to enlargeThe saga began with headlines that screamed, “WORLD COMING TO END. STRANGE NEW PLANET RUSHING TOWARD EARTH – ONLY MIRACLE CAN SAVE US, SAYS SCIENCE!” When cartoonist Alex Raymond conceived of a new futuristic superhero who could protect the Earth and liberate alien worlds from merciless villains, he tapped into the success of science fiction adventure comics of the day such as BUCK ROGERS. Raymond created a noble hero, Flash Gordon; a fair maiden, Dale Arden; a crazed scientist, Dr. Hans Zarkov; and an extremely evil villain, Ming the Merciless. He set them down on a planet racing through space and filled with a thousand wondrous science fiction marvels. On this planet Mongo, Flash Gordon, Dale Arden, and Dr. Zarkov came into the malevolent sphere of influence of Ming the Merciless, Emperor of the Universe. During their incredible adventures they met Princess Aura, Ming’s daughter; Prince Barin, the rightful ruler of Mongo; Vultan, King of the Hawk Men; Azura, the Witch Queen of the Blue Magic Men, Fria, Queen of the frozen kingdom of Frigia, and myriad other loyal friends and implacable enemies—all beautifully illustrated with the gorgeous, cinematic artwork for which Alex Raymond is revered in comic art circles to this day.

Click to enlargeMany of the scientific marvels that Flash encountered on planet Mongo became realities in later years – weather satellites, geophysical satellites, lasers, ionic propulsion for rockets and the antiviral drug, Interferon, to name a few.

It was understandable, therefore, when the Russians put their first artificial satellite into orbit in 1957, many American newspapers suggested editorially with tongue firmly in cheek that the Pentagon should “call in Flash Gordon,” who had been depicted doing the same thing a good six years earlier. A FLASH GORDON sequence had shown a space satellite in use as a prison for desperate criminals and as a landing platform for space-traveling rocket ships as early as 1951. Other FLASH GORDON strips accurately anticipated elements of the procedures for moon landings, including retro-rockets and magnet landing shoes.

Alex Raymond continued to draw FLASH GORDON until he joined the Marine Corps in 1944. The 10-year legacy of comic strips he left has continued to fascinate readers all over the world and to inspire artistic adaptations.

For more about FLASH GORDON and his creator, check out the recent blog post by the King Features Archivist at ComicsKingdom.com here.