The Legendary First Christmas Card (1843) Another Flash Gordon in the comic book shops! Zeitgeist from Dynamite Entertainment, written by Eric Trautmann and Art Director Alex Ross, with finished art by Daniel Indro. (L to R) Flash Gordon introduces himself to Dale Arden by saving both their lives bailing out of a beleaguered airplane; Dale and Flash on the cover of Zeitgeist #1 – packin’ heat, with Hitler and Ming in the skies of Manhattan. Look at all those Zeppelins on the cover — Yes, Dr. Freud was still alive in those days! Airships were seriously tested for long-distance transportation after WWI. Roald Admunsen led an expedition over the North Pole in a dirigible. After the enormous Hindenburg burned up while landing in New Jersey at the end of a Trans-Atlantic passenger cruise, these visually-impressive vehicles sat on the sidelines of Aeronautic Technology. Ross’ series is set in an alternative 1930’s, with Adolph Hitler acting as an agent/proxy for Emperor Ming of Planet Mongo . There seems to be Lion Men , Hawk Men , and at least one other form of Mongo -life traipsing around Planet Earth as mad Dr. Zarkov launches his rocket to Mongo , kidnapping college athlete Flash Gordon and bewildered cartographer Dale Arden in the process
Another Flash Gordon in the comic book shops!
Zeitgeist from Dynamite Entertainment, written by Eric Trautmann and Art Director Alex Ross, with finished art by Daniel Indro.
(L to R) Flash Gordon introduces himself to Dale Arden by saving both their lives bailing out of a beleaguered airplane; Dale and Flash on the cover of Zeitgeist #1 – packin’ heat, with Hitler and Ming in the skies of Manhattan.
Look at all those Zeppelins on the cover — Yes, Dr. Freud was still alive in those days! Airships were seriously tested for long-distance transportation after WWI. Roald Admunsen led an expedition over the North Pole in a dirigible. After the enormous Hindenburg burned up while landing in New Jersey at the end of a Trans-Atlantic passenger cruise, these visually-impressive vehicles sat on the sidelines of Aeronautic Technology.
Ross’ series is set in an alternative 1930’s, with Adolph Hitler acting as an agent/proxy for Emperor Ming of Planet Mongo. There seems to be Lion Men, Hawk Men, and at least one other form of Mongo-life traipsing around Planet Earth as mad Dr. Zarkov launches his rocket to Mongo, kidnapping college athlete Flash Gordon and bewildered cartographer Dale Arden in the process. I know one man who believes that Hitler was in league with space aliens anyway, because of German rocket technology, so this idea isn’t a total surprise to me.
Panels and scenes from the very first episodes of “Flash Gordon” — both in the movies (1936) and Sunday comic strips (1934)
Ross pictures Dale Arden as a dark brunette, just like creator Alex Raymond did. Universal Pictures made Jean (Dale Arden) Rogers a platinum blonde — using the same formula with which they dyed Buster (Flash Gordon) Crabbe’s hair. Nobody knows the reason why – perhaps to distinguish Dale’s “good girl” character from “bad girl” Princess Aura, or maybe to echo Jean Harlow’s successful “Blonde Bombshell” look. Your guess is as good as mine.
(L to R) Dr. Zarkov, Princess Aura, Blonde Dale Arden, Emperor Ming and his courtiers in the 1936 serial.
Miss Rogers dyed her hair black in the 1938 Universal serial (Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars), and she was every bit a pretty as she was in 1936, although Hayes Office censorship showed its heavy hand much more when compared to the gleeful barbarity of the first chapter play. There wasn’t much overlap with the comic strip of 1938 either. As a matter of fact, Flash Gordon’s creator Alex Raymond isn’t even mentioned in the credits of the Mars serial!
The “bad girl” in Flash’s Mars adventure was Azura, Queen of Magic – derived from 1935’s Azura, Witch Queen of Mongo in Raymond’s comic pages. Universal had stolen a number of plot points from Azura‘s saga before, but they adapted her name and some vague connections to cave-dwellers for the second go-round. Unlike Raymond’s aggressively passionate Witch-Queen, though, Universal’s Queen of Magic was cold and almost asexual.
The third Universal Pictures’ Flash Gordon serial featured Dale Arden as a brunette again, only she was played by petite Carol Hughes. Princess Aura was a “good girl,” with reddish-brown tresses, based on her counterpart in Raymond’s Sunday feature. (He got credit for his work, too!) The “bad girl” was a treacherous blonde double agent – freely adapted from Raymond’s Lady Sonja.
After WWII, the Flash Gordon franchise went through “them changes” – Alex Raymond quit the strip in 1944. Austin Briggs took over for a little while. King Features hired ace draftsman Mac Raboy to draw the Sunday page, and eventually turned the daily strip over to Dan Barry’s crew of pencilers and inkers.
When the Universal serials became a hit on the new material-hungry medium of TV, King Features planned a series of newly-made episodes to meet the demand. They reportedly changed the name of Universal’s first serial to Space Soldiers in order to free-up the name Flash Gordon for a new show. Unfortunately, somebody contracted the job with Intercontinental Television Films Inc. – the result being a painfully obvious low-budget no-humor self-parody, shot in rubble-strewn West Berlin, that sullied the whole Space Opera genre. (Which is saying something – a lotta laughable dreck was made in the 50’s!)
American actor Steve Holland would sell millions of books in the next decade as James Bama’s model for the Doc Savage series paperbacks, but his Nordic good looks didn’t help him much against those wretched scripts. Actress Irene Champlin deserved much better than that pitiably dowdy Dale Arden.
The Universal serials circulated around local TV stations through the late 1960’s. Mac Raboy died in 1968. Dan Barry & Company took over Flash Gordon on Sunday. Al Williamson tried to resurrect Alex Raymond’s vision of Flash Gordon in King Featues’ comic books, but then successfully revived Raymond’s Secret Agent Corrigan in the newspapers.
A group of active Science Fiction fans spent a few years, and some miraculous money, masterminding an amazing satire of the whole Flash Gordon mythos. Writer/Director Michael Benveniste made a screenplay incorporating two generations of wit from wise-acres talking back to movie screens and TV sets. The movie utilized the behind-the scenes talent of Bjo Trimble, Tom Reamy, Mike Minor, Greg Jein, Rick Baker, Jim and Dave Allen.
Jason (Flesh Gordon) Williams comforts Suzanne (Dale Ardor) Fields after going down in the well-used parachute together (1972)
Flesh Gordon (… not to be confused with the original Flash Gordon) circulated as a Cult Classic throughout the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, especially on the Midnight Movies circuit. It entertained millions of viewers, especially Baby Boomers who loved to watch rowdy send-ups of now-familiar cliches. HOWEVER — there was more to the story.
Bad Girls – (Above) Alex Raymond’s Witch Queen of Mongo. (Below) Flesh Gordon combined Princess Aura and Queen Azura into the character Amora, Queen of Magic, played by Mycle Brandy, who abducted our hero for a romantic ride in a swan – ship through a starry Zodiac rife with visual jokes.
Co-director and producer Howard Ziehm was heavily involved with the sex-film industry in Southern California. I have no idea how Benveniste and other SciFi fans linked up with him, but much of Flesh Gordon’s cast came from the sometimes-illegal field of pornography, like Suzanne Fields, Mycle Brandy, and Candy Samples.
Movie houses loosened their rules concerning nudity and sexual content in those days, and some real hardcore films appeared in places where nobody ever expected them. It didn’t take too long before state and local lawmakers squelched THAT trend, and blacklist-barriers between mainstream filmmaking and XXX movies went up again.
Flesh Gordon was seized by the L.A. Vice Squad – they went through the whole thing frame by frame and returned everything that didn’t exceed their interpretation of the law. (Ziehm’s name must have been written in brown on somebody’s list.) There is still a stigma on this movie, and many restrictions on where it can be shown, even though it barely earned an “R” rating.
Despite writing a lot about films, I’m not a historian, so I can’t verify my feeling that Dino Di Laurentis’ almost-good Flash Gordon (1980) was made because of the remarkable mileage achieved by Flesh Gordon (1972). It was probably a coincidence, and owed something to Star Wars, but there are plenty of wise-guy similarities. Sam Jones sure resembled Jason Williams too!
Al Williamson did a fine graphic novel based on the 1980 movie, but Flash Gordon was known to the public mostly as a VERY flat TV cartoon series for another generation, despite some good graphic novels and newspaper strips by Bob Fujitane, Gray Morrow, and Jim Keefe among others.
A couple of years back, the SyFy Network commissioned an inter-dimensional, rather than inter-planetary, concept of Flash Gordon for cable TV, but I wasn’t at all pleased by the results. They hired a lot of brunette women to play various roles, and a few scattered scenes surprised me, but that’s all the positivity I can muster for that sad misguided case.
No Need to Re-Invent the Wheel
An erotic satire of Space Operas was already doing very well in the 1960’s — although it didn’t happen in America, or with any help from Science Fiction Fandom. Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella was an international hit in European comics. His stuff was too racy for the USA, but that was OUR problem. Frank Springer drew Phoebe Zeit-Geist for the emerging U.S. Underground, but we were unfashionably late.
Roger Vadim released a movie version of Barbarella in 1968, starring his wife Jane Fonda, and Keith Richards’ girlfriend Anita Pallenburg. The ages-old quest of a hero traveling through a strange and dangerous land was redone with a spacefaring heroine. Echoes from Flash Gordon abounded. Vadim made Brigitte Bardot a star a decade earlier, and Forest’s Barbarella was definitely BB’s clone. In retrospect, the movie was visually engrossing, but it would have benefited from a brisker pace – especially with the dialog. Fonda is an excellent actor, even in her early career, and one of her scenes with David Hemmings was hilarious, but the film could have mined some more wit from Forest’s material. I’m sorry it didn’t end as well as it began.
Everything Old Is New Again