Friday, July 21, 2017

FLASH GORDON PART 6

“THE TYRANT OF MONGO” | “ICE KINGDOM OF MONGO”
by Alex Raymond & Don Moore

“The Tyrant of Mongo” is less a single story arc than a bundle of smaller plots joined together by the overarching theme of Ming as Flash’s main antagonist. Though Ming has obviously always been involved in the ongoing saga, and even encountered Flash face-to-face multiple times, and although he has waged war against Flash’s kingdom, of Kira, deposing our hero and sending him into hiding, this may be the first time Ming brings his full hatred to bear on our hero in a nonstop series of conflicts.

Having been expelled from their underground catacombs by Ming’s floodwaters, Flash, Dale, Zarkov, Sonja, and a few of the freemen wander ashore on an island which houses the tombs of Mongo’s nobility. They befriend the cryptkeeper and soon begin waging a guerilla war against Mingo City from their new secret base. Flash leads a raid to sink several of Ming’s “rocket submarines” while they’re sitting in port, but hijacks one such craft for himself after winning its crew over to the cause of the freemen.


Subsequently, Ming makes a trip to the island to inter his uncle (who Ming himself has had executed for plotting against him). The Freemen attack, leading to one of the most iconic scenes in all of FLASH GORDON lore (so iconic that even I, who knew essentially nothing about Flash coming into this series, was aware of it): Flash faces Ming in a saber duel. Ming is ultimately captured and his forces driven off, and Raymond and Moore continue to deepen their characterization of Mongo and its people, as we meet an honorable commander in Ming’s army, Lin-Chu, who parlays with Flash and even considers him a worthy foe.

But Ming escapes captivity with the aid of Sonja, who frees him in exchange for becoming his bride. Ming keeps his word and, upon their return to Mingo, he and Sonja are wed. Immediately after the ceremony, Ming has Sonja executed and continues his plotting against Flash. The island of the Freemen is bombed and Flash and company make another escape, this time into the care of a smuggler named Chong who helps them elude Ming’s forces in an encounter which leads to Ming believing Flash killed.

From there it’s back to good old Arboria, Barin’s kingdom, to hide out once more. I really like that Flash has a “home base”, so to speak, in Arboria. It adds a nice continuity to the ongoing serial which was missing in the earliest arcs. Initially Flash bounded from locale to locale, always on the move, rarely stopping to catch his breath. But now, thanks to Barin, he has a place to rest and recover in between adventures.

We also learn at this point that the strip is proceeding in something akin to real time, as Barin presents Flash and Dale with his son, Alan, a year old at this this point. Last time we saw Aura, in the “Outlaws of Mongo” story arc, she wasn’t even showing — but in the time Flash was away, consorting with the Freemen and waging guerilla war on Ming, she’s given birth to a child who now celebrates his first birthday.

Unfortunately, Alan’s birthday brings Ming to Arboria, with plans to take the child back to Mingo to become his heir. Barin stoutly refuses the request and Ming departs in anger — but he soon sends a spy back to the kingdom, disguised as one of Barin’s top officers, to kidnap the child. This results in a fun departure from the standard Flash formula of nonstop action, as we have a sequence of a few strips featuring intrigue in Barin’s castle instead.

Ultimately Prince Alan is kidnapped and rescued, but Ming learns once more that Flash is still alive, and Flash once more chooses to depart Arboria rather than bring Ming’s wrath down upon Barin. It’s a bit repetitive — Flash has gone this route before, after all — but at the very least I appreciate that Raymond gives Flash something of a plan this time. Previously he left Barin’s kingdom and went wandering aimlessly into the desert. This time, he makes plans to explore the untamed north, and is joined as usual by Dale and Zarkov, as well as Barin’s cousin, Prince Ronal, who harbors a secret love for Dale.


This leads us into the subsequent story arc, “Ice Kingdom of Mongo”, where our heroes crash in the frozen kingdom of Frigia (they crash a lot, don’t they?) and soon meet the land’s ruler, Queen Fria. Unlike most of the other queens of Mongo, Fria seems to have a platonic interest in Flash, at least at first — but her gratitude toward him for saving her life earns flash the ire of one Count Malo, and leads into a nice stretch of royal intrigue — continuing that same change of pace from nonstop action and adventure that had been running in Arboria before our heroes' departure. Here, Flash and friends spend time in Fria’s palace where Malo attempts three times to murder Flash, each time unsuccessfully.

Eventually, while out on a hunt, Flash saves Malo’s life and the count admits his guilt, recanting to become a supporter of Flash — but he’s soon killed by a tribe of primitive ice giants who capture Dale and Ronal. I love that Raymond continues jumping from genre to genre, as the arrival of the ice giants could be seen as a bit of a tribute to the exploits of Thor and the Norse Gods.

Flash and Fria infiltrate the giants’ caverns and rescue their friends, then things calm down for a while as Flash is made a count of Frigia by Fria and spends time in her royal court. Again, I really like the direction Raymond has taken his story. Rather than making the entire FLASH GORDON serial about our hero’s war with Ming, Flash takes numerous side trips, some lasting for very long periods of time, during which Ming is never even heard from. The warlord lurks in the background at all times, but Raymond wisely never overexposes him, instead giving us looks at the numerous and varied people and places of Mongo, and giving Flash some fun leisure times consorting with nobility and entertaining in various courts. Flash may be a hero of the people and a man of action, but he seems quite at home hobnobbing with the upper crust as well.

But, as Don Moore’s narration tells us, men eventually tire of such mundane pursuits and must go adventuring. A hunting expedition is organized, consisting of Flash, Zarkov, Dale, Ronal, Fria, and the famous explorer, Count Korro, plus his assistant, Captain Lupi. Korro, fearsul Fria will fall for Flash, wed him, and make an outlander the king of Frigia, attempts to kill Flash, but his enmity is halted by the appearance of a glacier monster which traps the hunting party in a cave.

Thus begins an extended period of several weeks’ worth of strips as our heroes struggle to survive in the caverns even as Korro and Lupi plot against Flash while Dale and Fria, now finally smitten with the bold hero, compete for his affections. Eventually Lupi is killed and Flash, Korro, and Zarkov work together to kill the glacier monster, allowing our heroes to escape.

I should note that “The Ice Kingdom of Mongo” is the longest story arc to date in the FLASH GORDON canon, coming in at just about thirteen months’ length! Of course this is broken into smaller segments, much as was “The Tyrant of Mongo”, but it’s still pretty impressive and speaks once again to Raymond’s willingness, as mentioned above, to send Flash away from the main story for very long side-trips. This is a style of writing that I really like because it feels more natural. I think I’ve said before that I don’t necessarily mind “filler” in certain situations because it can make the main story feel more important whenever it’s returned to, and that’s perfectly exemplified here. Flash’s excursion to Frigia is filler in the sense that it moves him away from Mongo proper and away from his ongoing feud with Ming — but because of this filler, when Ming finally returns his appearance will feel more special than if he’d been involved nonstop.


And Ming does indeed make his presence known as “Ice Kingdom” reaches its conclusion. When Flash and friends return to Fria’s palace, as soap opera shenanigans crop up between Dale, Fria, and Flash, a member of Ming’s secret service named Garan appears and kidnaps Dale, taking her back to Mingo. Flash and Zarkov give chase but, traveling across the ground, have no hope of catching up. Thus as the longest FLASH GORDON serial thus far reaches its end, Dale is in the clutches of Ming once more, and the warlord declares in a planetwide address his plan to execute her if Flash doesn’t show up within two weeks. Flash and Zarkov set out for Mingo, and the cliffhangers keep on coming…

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