Friday, July 7, 2017

FLASH GORDON PART 4

“FOREST KINGDOM OF MONGO” | “TUSK-MEN OF MONGO” | “BEAST MEN OF MONGO”
by Alex Raymond & Don Moore

One of the things I like about these FLASH GORDON strips — and I’m certain something Alex Raymond probably enjoyed as well — is that the setting of Mongo allows Raymond to send our heroes off into all manner of different locales and environments. We’ve seen Ming’s city, a tribute to the splendor of ancient Rome, while Ming and his people clearly draw inspiration from “the mysterious Orient”. There was the futuristic city of Hawkmen as well, not to mention the caverns of Flash’s short-lived kingdom of Kira. Now we move into King Barin’s forest kingdom, which actually comes across more like a jungle and allows Raymond to cast Flash as a Tarzan stand-in for several weeks.

I suppose some could call this a cheat — Raymond has decided his strip will feature the best of all worlds and so, rather than doing something in the vein of PRINCE VALIANT and being stuck forever in the middle ages, he can venture into that genre for a while, then within a couple weeks dip his toe into science fiction instead. Personally, I just think it’s a canny move on Raymond’s part: by setting his story on a world where all these genres exist side-by-side in a huge mash-up, he’s ensured that he’ll never get bored with his premise since his premise can be literally whatever he wants it to be from story arc to story arc!

So: following their escape from Ming in the previous arc, Flash, Dale, and Zarkov are shot down by the warlord’s air force while en route to Barin’s kingdom. They brave the wilds, but Zarkov is set upon by a group of rabid squirlons and descends into madness even as Ming’s forces firebomb the area where our heroes’ ship crashed. The end result is that Zarkov staggers away, rambling, under the impression that Flash and Dale are dead. Eventually he runs across a group of Barin’s men, out searching for the group, and tells them exactly that.

Meanwhile, Flash and Dale are ambushed by a group of primitive Tusk-Men, who carry them into the next story arc, “Tusk-Men of Mongo”. I’m not sure why these guys are called Tusk-Men, to be honest — they don’t have tusks; they don’t seem to worship or use tusks for any reason. If anything, they should be called “Tail-Men” since they have odd Caucasian tails sticking off of their otherwise blue bodies!

Flash proves his worth to the Tusk-Men and they allow him to go on a hunt with them. When his abilities help them kill two wild tridentauruses, Flash takes advantage of his new clout and challenges the Tusk-Men’s leader, One-Tusk, for mastery of the tribe. Flash wins, but late that night One-Tusk and the Tusk-Men’s elder, Bent-Back, kidnap Flash and Dale with the intent to sell them to local slavers. But Barin’s search party shows up instead, and the arc ends with Flash allowing One-Tusk to go free.


I haven’t mentioned it all up to this point, but I should note that I love the names given to some of the animals in these strips. “Squirlons” are Mongo’s equivalent of flying squirrels. “Tigrons” are tigers. There are “horn horses” (essentially unicorns) and octosaks (octopi), and ursodiles (crocodiles), among others. They’re all just Earth animals with one or two minor cosmetic differences. It’s kind of funny, but it sort of makes sense too, as doing these barely disguised creatures allows Raymond to make Mongo relatable to the readers of Earth even as he keeps it alien and exotic at the same time.

And, that said, there are also some wildly creative beasts to be found on Mongo, all with wonderfully silly names, such as the multi-colored, cave-dwelling “gocko” from the very first arc, the above-mentioned “tridentaurus” from this current arc, or my personal favorite, the “devourosaurus” seen in “The Undersea Kingdom of Mongo”. (And I realize these names could have been coined by scripter Don Moore rather than Raymond, so I should acknowledge that possibility as well.)

At long last, Flash and Dale make it to Barin’s treetop kingdom, and Raymond delves into another genre as Barin and all of his men dress like Robin Hood clones, right down to the feathered hats. Raymond acknowledges that Flash is, technically, still a king of Mongo by having Barin fly his standard during his visit, and Flash is given a tunic bearing that same emblem as well.

Let’s note, by the way, that at this point in publication time, Flash hasn’t been a king in quite some time! I haven’t been listing original strip dates, but for the record, “At War With Ming” ended on April 4th, 1936. “Undersea Kingdom of Mongo” followed from April 5th through October 11th, then came “Forest Kingdom” and “Tusk-Men” which, in total, spanned October 12th of ’36 through April 18th of ’37. By the time Flash meets up with Barin, it’s been over a year — more than fifty-two serialized installments — since the run of strips that featured him as the cavern kingdom’s monarch!

Flash and Dale believe they’ve found safe haven with Barin, but one of the castle servants, Grombo, decides to turn Flash over to Ming for a reward. Grombo is imprisoned for his crime but escapes, leading into the next story arc, “Beast Men of Mongo”. The fugitive teams up with the Beast Men to fight Flash and Barin, but our heroes are victorious. Barin attempts to execute Grombo by burning down the tree-hut in which he’s hidden, but the villain escapes to live another day.


Raymond’s work with Barin’s kingdom is remarkable. This is literally a kingdom in the trees, complete with a castle and winding highways that thread throughout the upper branches of the massive evergreens. Of all the kingdoms of Mongo we’ve visited so far, Barin’s may be, for me, the most visually impressive! I’m almost disappointed to leave it behind, but FLASH GORDON is a serial moving ever forward, bouncing from locale to locale at a near-breakneck pace, and next week we’ll depart Barin’s realm for new (but not greener) pastures.

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