Thursday, September 20, 2007

Newspaper Reprints: Flash Gordon

I've procrastinated from writing this entry because..well....what is there to say about Flash Gordon and Alex Raymond that hasn't been said before? Nothing. So I'll just be repeating what you've undoubtedly read somewhere else.

Flash makes his first appearance in Series II in issue number 10 and follows up in issue 84. These are the only two issues reprinting the newspaper strips. Flash graduated to a single issue of his own numbered Dell series (numbered as 2) but featured new material as did the later Flash issues in Series II. He also made many appearances in other publishers books. Most of these featured new stories and art although a couple here and there had reprints. There have been many hardbound and softbound book collections of the Newspaper strips.

Alexander Raymond was born on October 2,1909 in New Rochelle, New York. He attended Iona Prep school and upon graduation went to work in a Wall Street Brokerage. Raymond lost his job there after the crash of 1929 and tried his hand in the mortgage business before going to work as an assistant for his neighbor, Russ Westover.

Raymond attended the Grand Central School of Art. He went to work for King Features in their art department and spent time assisting and ghosting on Tim Tyler's Luck. His big break was getting the assignment to draw Secret Agent X-9 with Dashiell Hammett doing the writing.

King looking to counter the success of Buck Rogers was looking for a Space Opera. Raymond and ghostwriter Don Moore borrowed heavily from Philip Wylie's novel "When World's Collide" and produced Flash Gordon. Along with Flash, Raymond delivered a topper, Jungle Jim, intended to compete with Tarzan.

Little can be found on Don Moore. He was involved in pulp magazines as an editor and continued to write the strip after Raymond left.

Flash arrived on January 7, 1934 as a Sunday only. A daily strip, drawn by Austin Briggs began on May 27, 1940. Raymond continued to draw the Sundays until April 1944 when he entered the Marine Corps. Upon his discharge in 1946 Raymond created Rip Kirby which he drew until his death.

On Sept 5, 1956 Raymond and his passenger Stan Drake (creator of the strip The Heart of Juliet Jones) were in an auto accident in Westport Connecticut. Alex Raymond died in the accident. Drake was severely injured but survived.

Flash Gordon continues to this day, now written and drawn by Jim Keefe.

Issue number 10 is a 68 pager, reprinting Sunday strips from 1938, 39 and 40. Unlike any other series the inside covers have a photo feature on Raymond. Whether this is reprinted from a magazine, provided by King Features or put together by either Dell or Western Publishing is unknown at this time. Some Flash scholar out there probably knows and will eventually provide us with the answer.

The inside front cover is at left, with Alex in his reference library, posing a model and model looking at the drawing.

At right is the inside back cover, with Alex and his children at the drawing board, Alex and wife in front of their home and Raymond going through a pile of fan mail.

Sunday pages are printed one to a page in a tabloid format. We open with Flash and Dale lost in a cavern believing that Zarkov and the rest of their party drowned in the underground river. They escape and find the others still alive and reach the forest kingdom of Prince Barin and Aura. Barin and Aura are proud parents of a new son. All is wonderful until they receive a message from Aura's father Ming the Merciless. Ming thinks that Flash is dead and so he is coming to visit. Ming intends to take the child with him but is rebuffed and leaves.

Flash and Barin crash their airship in the forest and Captain Solis leads a rescue party out into the forest to retrieve them. Meanwhile Ronal takes Dale and Aura out in a airship to search as well. Solis is captured by spies left behind by Ming.

Ronal crashes the airship but Flash and Barin hear it and soon all are reunited. They soon meet up with Solis' men and learn he is missing. Meanwhile, Ming has Solis being observed by Major Lingan who is to return to Arboria in disguise as Solis, where he is to kidnap the child and bring him to Ming.

Lingan as Solis makes an attempt to kidnap the child but is thwarted by Flash, he then sets up another officer as a fall guy.

On his next attempt he is captured but again blames the officer. Flash and Barin are unsure and attempt to set a trap to make the real kidnapper reveal himself.

The trap fails and Lingan succeeds in grabbing the child and escapes after setting fire to the castle. Lingan takes to the forest where he meets Solis who has escaped from Ming. Flash and Barin spot the two and realize that one of the Solis' is Ming's spy and Flash puts an arrow into him. The child is saved.

Solis tells Flash that Ming knows that he is alive. Flash wanting to protect his friends leaves with Dale, Zarkov and Ronal to explore the vast Northern regions of Mongo. Once again their ship crashes, this time into the frozen wastes.

They are found by Queen Fria of Frigia and a party of her soldiers who take them prisoner. Saving the Queen from an ice monster Flash and friends are treated now as guests in Fria's palace. Fria finds herself falling in love with Flash.

Count Malo has plans of marrying the Queen and taking power over the kingdom. He becomes jealous of Flash and makes an attempt to assassinate him but fails. Another ice monster is destroyed by Flash to save the Queen and Malo confesses. He is forgiven. A gang of ice giants attack the party and make off with Dale, Malo and Ronal. Flash and Fria pursue the party and find the frozen Malo, staked out as a warning to not venture further.

For you Golden Age Comic Fans this next sequence is the mother-lode of swipes. Looking at the art here you can see where so many Hawkman poses came from. It's hard to pick up a GA comic from the early 40's and not see one of these panels used.

The ice giants return with their captives to the caves where they live. Fiery rivers run through the cave providing heat and light. Flash and Fria trail them to the cave and observe the situation. Dale is to be the slave bride of the leader of the giants. Flash upon hearing her screams can stand it no longer and rushes to the rescue. He is finally overcome and is chained up with Ronal as a prisoner.

Fria enlists the slave girls to drug the giants. All but the leader are overcome. Dale frees Flash and Ronal from their chains. They flee as Brukka the giant pursues them. Ronal, who has long secretly loved Dale drops behind in an attempt to slow Brukkas pursuit but is easily beaten by the giant. Flash and Dale find the unconscious Ronal and soon meet up with Fria who uses steam controls to send a live stream of lava at the giants and they escape.

Back at the Castle, Count Korro has noticed the Queen's interest in Flash and decides he must end the Queen's growing infatuation. Flash is to join him, Ronal and Zarkov on an expedition. Fria insists that she and Dale must accompany them or there will be none, so they are invited along. A giant glacier monster causes an avalanche that disables their ice glider and they are forced to make camp in the frozen wastes. As Zarkov labors to repair their vehicle the monster has located their camp and captures two of the party which it promptly disintegrates. The party is forced to flee into an ice tunnel. The monster has them trapped in a cavern, deep within the icy mountain.

Flash labors with a hand tool to chop through as their air supply is giving out, he succeeds just be he is about to pass out.

They break out onto an underground river. Flash goes exploring the stream looking for an exit. He encounters the monster and is knocked out. The others pull him back to safety when his lifeline goes slack but he is thought to be drowned. Count Korro extracts a pledge from the Queen that she will not make Flash the King of Frigia before he uses his experimental serum and revives Flash. Fria extracts a pledge from Dale in return that she will not marry Flash.

The men turn to building a device by which they may combat the deadly ice creature. Ronal has discovered the traitorous Captain Lupi blasting the airtube of the device in an effort to drown Flash's and the others while they are testing the device. Ronal jumps him and they are swept downstream. Flash rescues him when he spots them floating past. Lupi is seized by the creature before Flash can get to him.

After repairing the airtube, they float Flash inside the device out into the open where he fires a harpoon attached to a wire cable into the creature. Signalling the others, they send a charge into the creature causing it to explode. They repair the glider and return to Frigia.

Flash doesn't understand Dale's new coldness and makes a trip into the frozen wastes to Zarkov's lab. Fria follows him and is saved by Flash when a Avalanche threatens her. Fria declares her love and Flash fearing Dale is lost to him responds positively. They reach Zarkov's lab and reveal their marriage plans. Zarkov is horrified that Flash would betray Dale and demands they return to the palace. Korro reminds Fria of her pledge and she smiles, she only promised not to make Flash King so she will abdicate. Dale is furious and slaps her declaring that she tricked her. Flash asks that he freed from his pledge and Fria orders him imprisoned. Relenting she secretly frees him and urges him to leave. The issue ends as Flash, Dale and Zarkov plan to flee Frigia.

Flash returns in issue 84, a 36 page issue that reprints strips from 1942 and 1943. This issue opens on the inside front cover. Once again we find Flash, Dale, Queen Desira and Zarkov in an underground cavern. This time they are caught in a mysterious suspended gravity and are floating up towards the ceiling. They emerge from the cave into Desira's kingdom. They trek to one of her outposts, where the Queen demands a jungle car to return them to the Capital. Flash, suspicious of the Captain's reaction follows him and discovers him speaking to the Queens traitorous cousin Prince Brazor. It appears the cousin has declared the Queen to be dead and himself King. Flash informs Desira of the situation and she insists on returning and reclaiming her throne.

They imprison the garrison and commandier glyphs to ride for the trip. Brazor in the meantime has arrived at the outpost and frees the soldiers. The Captain informs him that there were 2 men and a woman with the supposed impostor and that they are headed for the capital. Brazor sends out patrols in scout cars to find them.

Sending Zarkov ahead with Dale and Desira, Flash creates a landslide that cuts the trail for the scout cars. Flash catches up with them in the volcanic desert. As they press onward they are attacked by a fire dragon which Flash finally dispatches with a fatal shot. Unfortunately the dragon killed two of the glyphs before they were able to stop it. Flash attempts to catch the last remaining glyph that has run away.

Before he returns with the glyph an eruption has split the desert and lava is flowing freely. Flash manages to return to the others and they devise a rope bridge from clothing to escape the lava flood that has encircled them. The heat however has overcome the last glyph forcing the group to proceed on foot.

As they proceed the lack of food and water begins to take it's toll. As the others stop to rest Flash presses forward to scout for food and water. Flash begins to hallucinate and is found by Zarkov. Meanwhile Gundar, son of the desert, has been leading his band through the wastelands looking for a caravan to plunder. They find the party and take them captive. The outlaws feed them and leave for Gundar's mountain fortress.

Gundar attempts to make a deal with Brazor for the Queen and their party, however Brazor attempts to double cross them. Flash spots the trick and Gundar retreats to his fortress to prepare for Brazor's attack. During the captivity Gundar and Desira have developed feelings for each other. As the issue comes to a close Brazor is attacking the fortress.

Reference: Comics and Their Creators, Martin Sheridan, Hale,Cushman and Flint 1942; 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, Maurice Horn ed., Random House 1996