Friday, June 23, 2017


by Alex Raymond & Don Moore

In the climax of the previous story arc, Doctor Zarkov’s scientific acumen saved the city of Hawk Men from plummeting to the surface of Mongo, thus winning Flash and company the eternal gratitude and friendship of King Vultan, ruler of the Hawk Men. As the “Tournaments of Mongo” arc opens, Ming arrives in the floating city to take back his bride, Dale — but Vultan declares Dale under his protection and proposes a contest to determine the freedom of both her and Flash. Ming agrees and begins the “Tournament of Death”.

Though it’s not exactly spelled out in narration, it seems that the tournament is intended for those people of Mongo with nothing to lose in life: convicts, the poor, etc. The rules are simple: any number of contestants enter, and following a series of challenges, there can be only one living victor. The champion may then select a woman of his choice as his bride, and will be awarded one of Mongo’s kingdoms to rule.

In addition to Flash, the rebel Prince Barin also enters the tournament, disguised with a mask. We learn over the course of the challenges that Barin is in love with Ming’s daughter, Princess Aura, and that he is the rightful ruler of Mongo, a position Ming somehow usurped from him. In the end, it’s down to Flash and Barin, and when the prince is unmasked, the people of Mongo cheer for both of them to win the tournament. Backed into a corner by this overwhelmingly popular support, Ming allows both men to live. Flash chooses Dale as his bride, while Barin picks Aura. Ming awards the men their kingdoms, two of the planet’s most untamed: Barin will rule the Forests while Flash will have the Caverns.

And with the “Tournaments of Mongo” at an end, let’s pause for a moment, as promised last week, to talk a bit about Ming. He’s… well, I’m not sure how to put this delicately. He’s, uhh, yellow. Now in and of itself, this wouldn’t be a big deal. He’s an alien, after all; his skin can be whatever color his creator wants. But he’s also very Asian in appearance. He is, in fact, a “Yellow Peril” type of character.

Now, look — I honestly don’t have a huge issue with this sort of thing in a historical context. This is how things were back then, and you can’t change the past. Obviously portraying Asian characters with yellow skin and exaggerated features is racist. That’s why we don’t do it anymore. In the 1930s (and for many years afterward) it happened to be normal and acceptable. And, to be honest, Raymond handles it better here than most. As noted above, Ming and his people are aliens, so at the very least their yellow skin — actually identified as yellow in narration so they really are literally yellow people — has an in-story reason for being illustrated that way. And while Ming is perhaps the embodiment of the Yellow Peril villain, we also have the noble Prince Barin, not to mention Aura, who tends to flip sides at the drop of a hat, to balance him out. And none of these characters uses the sort of “Ah, so” Yellow Peril type of dialogue affectations you often see in material of this vintage, so kudos to Raymond (or, more likely, scripter Don Moore) for that.

So yeah, presenting Ming and his people as literal yellow-skinned Asians is horribly racist, but it’s also in keeping with the style of the times. If Raymond was merely doing what everyone else at the time was doing, then I can accept it and enjoy the stories in spite of it, even as I would shake my head were someone to do the same thing today.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s move along to “The Caverns of Mongo” and “The Witch Queen of Mongo”. They’re billed as separate story arcs in the book’s table of contents, but they’re really just one extended storyline in which Flash travels to the cavern kingdom of Kira to claim his throne. In “Caverns”, a relatively short arc, he easily wins over the primitive cave-dwellers of his new land. But “Witch Queen” presents a much more difficult challenge, as Flash finds himself up against the Witch Queen, Azura, and her “magic men”.

Azura falls for Flash and conspires to make him her king, something I’ve gathered happens often over the ensuing years — Flash travels to a new part of Mongo, a beautiful woman there falls in love with him, Dale fumes in jealousy, then all is wrapped up and our heroes move on. I’ll watch for this as Raymond’s strips continue, but for now at least, this is only the first time it’s happened (if we look past Princess Aura’s infatuation with our hero), so the trope doesn’t stick out yet.

The arrival of Azura also brings to mind something I haven’t yet had a chance to address: Raymond really seems to push the boundaries of sexualization in these stories! Last week we talked a bit about Dale running around in a metal bikini which must have surely inspired George Lucas. In the “Tournaments” arc, Aura shows up to watch the show in some sort of ancient Egyptian get-up where she’s basically topless with a giant collar-thingy hanging down to cover her breasts. Now Azura dresses in this gauzy thing which also barely hides her bosom when she first appears before Flash.

I think we have a tendency to look back on the past as much more puritanical than what we have now. There was no HBO, there was no easily accessible pornography. But, prior to the Hayes Code hitting the motion picture industry and the Comics Code putting its stamp on the comic book industry, it seems that creators had freedom to push the boundaries of sex within reason. Flash remains completely chaste in these stories save for the occasional kiss, but near-nudity is on display all over the place!

Anyway — in the ensuing arc Azura robs Flash of his memory and makes him her king. Zarkov arrives to help and, after Flash is freed, the doctor turns him invisible so he can strike back against Azura and the magic men as a phantom. In the end Flash wins Azura over and takes his seat as the ruler of Kira. But this peace won’t last long…

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