Friday, July 14, 2017

FLASH GORDON PART 5

“OUTLAWS OF MONGO”
by Alex Raymond & Don Moore

When last we left Flash Gordon and friends, the villainous Grombo had escaped from Barin’s forest kingdom despite our heroes’ best efforts. As the “Outlaws of Mongo” story arc opens, Grombo is found in the neighboring desert land by some of Ming’s people — and Alex Raymond continues to play with various pastiches by presented Ming’s desert warriors as, essentially, Foreign Legionnaires.


Grombo brings word that Flash, missing in action since Ming conquered his cave kingdom, is still alive and living in Barin’s castle. When Ming gets wind of this, he demands Barin turn Flash and Dale over to him, but Barin refuses. Flash, realizing Ming won’t rest until he’s captured, leaves Barin’s kingdom under cover of night, and when Ming calls Barin again, the prince declares that he honestly does not know where Flash is.

But Flash’s mistake was in leaving Dale behind. Ming quickly changes gears and demands her instead, planning to use her as bait to capture Flash. When Barin refuses this request as well, Ming declares war on the treetop kingdom. Flash, in the desert, sees Ming’s forces marching on Barin and does his best to stop them, but in the end he’s captured. Ming calls off his invasion of Barin’s realm as Flash is brought before him and sentenced to death.

Meanwhile, Dale schemes to rescue Flash and is joined in her quest by an unlikely ally: Barin’s wife, Aura. Once she lusted for Flash but now she seems to genuinely care for him and even views Dale as a friend. Aura believe she holds sway over Ming, so — joined by Professor Zarkov, at last cured of the jungle madness that claimed him three story arcs ago — they sneak out of Barin’s kingdom and head for Mingo City.

(Let’s take a moment to note the number of times Raymond seems to forget Zarkov exists: initially when our heroes crashed on Mongo, he was presumed dead. Some time later he turned up alive and joined Flash. Following their adventures in the city of Hawkmen, Zarkov remained behind and was pretty much entirely omitted from the subsequent “Tournaments of Mongo” story arc, as well as most of Flash’s time as the king of the cavelands. He returned during “At War With Ming”, stuck around for “Undersea Kingdom of Mongo”, then ran off with squirrel bite induced madness near the outset of “Forest Kingdom of Mongo”, only to turn up alive in Barin’s hospital here, two full story arcs — and nearly a year of publication time — later!)


At this point, Zarkov weirdness aside, both Raymond and scripter Don Moore are firing on all cylinders. I won’t say previous story arcs weren’t good, but suddenly now it’s as if their concept of Mongo has come into sharp focus. The planet’s capitol suddenly has a name — Mingo City. Currency is now referred to as “Mingols”. We begin to meet the people of Mongo and learn that they’re less than satisfied with their emperor. Before, our visits to Mingo City almost presented it as a ghost town. Flash and company rarely bumped into the general populace, and if they did, the people they met were usually blind followers of Ming, just like his soldiers.

It’s also notable that by this point the yellow skin of Ming and his people has entirely vanished. Ming is still a clear Fu Manchu/Yellow Peril archetype, but at least he has a more natural skin tone. On one hand I appreciate the departure from such overt racism, but on the flip side — Ming’s people were actually yellow-skinned aliens when this all started. It’s odd to change that, even though I’m happier overall with this later color scheme.

(However at the same time, Aura has lost a great deal of her charm as Raymond’s style has evolved. She used to dress up in ornate Asian/Middle Eastern-looking outfits with crazy hairdos, but since marrying Barin and moving to his kingdom, she looks like a Caucasian woman now and wears very plain clothing — as does Dale. I kind of miss the days of the metal bikinis that filled so much of Raymond’s early strips.)


But now, as Dale, Aura, and Zarkov arrive at the outskirts of Mingo City, we find peasants eager to support Flash Gordon. They’ve been mistreated and overtaxed by Ming’s government and they see Flash as a symbol of rebellion and freedom. Suddenly, as of this story arc, Mongo feels like a real place and not just an exotic backdrop for Flash’s nonstop adventures. These peasants team up with our heroes and, when Aura’s plea to her father is rebuffed, they help to spring Flash from Ming’s dungeons.

Flash, Dale, and Zarkov soon fall in with an alliance of rebel “freemen” hiding in the tunnels beneath Mingo, who welcome Flash as their leader. Among the rebels is a young woman named Sonja, who aggressively pursues Flash with no regard for Dale, leading to a wedge between the young lovers. As noted in previous installments, this isn’t exactly a new occurrence in the adventures of Flash Gordon — he’s constantly barraged by beautiful women lusting for him wherever he goes — but in this case she’s a common woman and not a princess or a queen, which is at least a welcome change of pace.

I said “all cylinders” above and this includes the artwork as well. Raymond’s work was always very good from the start, but by this point its downright breathtaking. His use of live models is evident, but he never draws them as overly stiff or motionless, as tends to be the case with many more modern comic book artists. It may have something to do with the lush colors, but whatever the case, Raymond’s poses appear dynamic and exciting. Punches and thrown, leaps are made, and even seductions are performed, and they all leap off the page with an energy missing from most model-based artwork. I don’t know if this is Raymond at his peak, but it has to be pretty darn close.

So Ming eventually learns that the rebels are hiding out beneath his very feet and orders the subterranean tunnels flooded. Most of the freemen are killed, but a handful — including, of course, Flash, Dale, and Zarkov — are washed out to the Mingo River, where they come ashore on a mysterious island…

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