Let me tell you what’s new with Flash Gordon.
First off, when I was growing up we had these things called local TV stations. They didn’t have a lot of money to buy children’s programming and, to be frank, there wasn’t much worth buying back then if they did (it was a dark time– the 1970s). So when I came home from school and wanted to veg out in front of the tube, there was Flash Gordon on Chanel 19…in all it’s 1930s glory.
Flash Gordon was an outer space pulp hero played by Buster Crabbe (a former Olympic gold medal winner). To be frank, Buster didn’t have a wide range as an actor. But he looked every bit the hero and spoke his lines clearly and with gusto. From 1936 to 1940 he appeared in weekly installments that played at movie houses across America. With his trusty companions, the beautiful Dale Arden and the brilliant Hans Zarkov, Flash battled the brutal Emperor Ming the Merciless to save the Earth. Each episode ended with a cliffhanger to leave the audience wanting more.
Was it tacky? YES! Were the special effects crap? YOU BET! But a young George Lucas apparently loved the show as a kid too. In fact, when that boy grew up he wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie himself. Get this…since he COULD NOT AFFORD THE RIGHTS he decided to write his own space opera and call it Star Wars. That’s right, there was a time when the name Flash Gordon meant bigger bucks in science fiction than Star Wars!
Seeing the error of their ways, the people behind Flash Gordon made their own major motion picture starring Sam J. Jones (Buster was getting old by then). The 1980 movie was a minor hit and became a cult favorite. The dialog of this movie was deliberately corny, and Brian Blessed’s performance of Vaultan King of The Hawkmen was a master class in overacting done right. The film had its charm but–like it’s black and white movie heritage– its characters lacked depth.
Enter Dynamite Comics’s latest incarnation of Flash. I recently discovered this volume in my local comic book shop…and it’s wonderful. Creators Jeff Parker, Evan Shaner, and Jordie Bellaire understand and respect the source material but aren’t afraid to add something to it.
In Dynamite’s incarnation, Flash is an Olympic athlete (a nod to Buster) with the attention span of a teenager. A true adrenaline junkie, Flash gets bored easily lives for the chance to jump in and do something physical. However, he’s also a generally good human being, and his boyish understanding of right and wrong serves as the moral compass of his group.
For the Dynamite authors, Dale Arden is the brains of the operation. She is a science journalist who gets roped into the interplanetary adventure. Not one to back down from a challenge, she is the cool head that comes up with the plans that Flash follows. Frankly, this Dale is much more than a girlfriend character and she is certainly no damsel in distress.
Hans Zarkov, as always, is the brilliant scientist of the group. However, he is also a braggart, a horn-dog and an alcoholic. Far from the modest background boffin of the 1930s movies, this Doctor Zarkov is a brash egotist who’s boisterous personality must be tempered by Dale and Flash from time to time. But, to be sure, he’s an awful lot of fun at parties.
If you can’t find this excellent comic in stores I recommend Amazon:
It’s a big, bold and brash reincarnation of an old science fiction standby, and is sure to bring out the kid in any old fart who remembers what fun Flash Gordon used to be.