Friday, July 28, 2017

FLASH GORDON PART 7

“POWER MEN OF MONGO” | “FALL OF MING”
by Alex Raymond & Don Moore

Following a year’s worth of strips set in Mongo’s frozen northlands, Alex Raymond returns Flash and Doctor Zarkov to more familiar surroundings as they join up with the surviving members of Flash’s Freemen (a group which hadn’t been seen in well over a year at this point!) and head into Mingo City with plans to rescue Dale.


Interestingly, Frigia was left in sort of a state of flux by these developments. A love triangle had popped up between Flash, Dale, and Queen Fria, but Dale was soon kidnapped and Flash set out immediately to rescue her. Typically when Raymond has moved Flash from one locale to another, he’s wrapped up loose ends before doing so. Running things this way, leaving us uncertain as to whatever happened with Fria following Flash’s departure, is an unusual way to go, but is also probably more realistic than Flash tying everything up with a bow everywhere he stops.

At any rate, Flash has moved on from Frigia’s politics and so will we. Following a botched attempt to rescue Dale, Flash and Zarkov meet up with the “Power Men” who operate Mingo’s electrical systems and who promptly join up with Flash in his rebellion. Operating out of the Power Men’s underground electrical works, Flash and Zarkov succeed at their second attempt to save Dale from Ming, and we even get to see Zarkov join in the action as he rescues Flash and Dale, unconscious, from Ming’s forces at one point.

After some time holed up in Ming’s munitions plant, Flash and company retreat underground once more, and that ever-popular FLASH GORDON trope rears its head again, as Flash meets Rena, the sister of the Power Men’s leader, Ergon, and guess what — she’s got a huge crush on our hero. And what’s more, she has a jealous boyfriend, Bulon, who would like to see Flash dead thanks to a brief misunderstanding in which it appears the Earthman was putting the moves on Rena. “All this has happened before, and will happen again,” as they say.


Look, I have no problem with Flash meeting hot chicks everywhere he goes; in fact I’m quite happy about that. The part where every last one of them throws herself at him immediately upon meeting him is a little much, though. At least Fria waited a while before falling for Flash, but for the most part, every queen, princess, and Freeman’s sister he bumps into falls head over heels for him within the span of a single strip. There’s always a misunderstanding leading to jealousy on Dale’s part, and there’s usually some other male in the picture who won’t abide the budding non-romance and wants Flash dead. As fun as Flash’s adventures are, and as innovative as Raymond’s locales and action sequences may be, the fact that our hero runs through the exact same sub-plot everywhere he goes is kind of annoying.

Eventually Flash makes peace with Bulon, but Dale loses her memory (long story). This leads our hero to go in search of Zarkov, who — completely off-screen — went out to recruit followers to Flash’s cause but got captured and thrown into a concentration camp instead.

Which leads us to the opening scenes of “The Fall of Ming”, the climactic story arc in which Flash infiltrates the camp after surviving yet another assassination attempt by Bulon (he was only faking at being friends), where he rescues both Zarkov and Dale, who was captured (on-screen) after getting her memory back.

World War II was in nearly full swing when this storyline saw publication in 1941, and Raymond draws heavily upon it for influence. Where Ming originally debuted as sort of a Fu Manchu “Yellow Terror” villain, and while he still looks the part, he’s apparently modeled more after Hitler at this point in terms of actions. The concentration camps, of course, are evidence of this. We also learn that he has an elite “death squad” and a secret police not unlike the S.S., the latter of which Flash infiltrates to get into the camp. And the prior storyline featured Flash and the Freemen as a resistance force carrying out guerilla strikes on Ming’s factories, not unlike events in occupied France at the time.


Zarkov and the freed prisoners make their escape, but Flash and Dale remain behind to hold off Ming’s forces and are captured. Choosing death on their own terms rather than a public execution, the duo take suicide pills provided to Flash earlier by Zarkov. This rouses the people of Mongo to open rebellion, as we see once more how Raymond’s vision of the planet has changed since the strip started six years earlier. Back then, Ming was the undisputed ruler of Mongo and his subjects, at least the ones of his own race, barely factored into the story aside from Barin and his people. Later on, we began to see rumblings of rebellion with Flash’s Freemen, and we learned that the people of Mingo City, who appeared loyal to their ruler in the earliest chapters, were actually living in oppressive poverty. Now, Raymond has brought us to the point where Ming’s subjects are openly revolting against him. It’s an interesting progression both from a logical story standpoint and from the perspective that this didn’t seem to be Raymond’s plan for the people of Mongo from the beginning.

Of course Flash and Dale aren’t dead; they’re merely in stasis thanks to the pills provided by Zarkov. He brings them around, and at this point Flash decided that the time has come to depose Ming.

Huh? It’s that simple?

I suppose Raymond’s idea here is that Flash finally has raised enough of a fighting force to succeed where he failed in the past, but that doesn’t really come across in the story. Flash is, as ever, a guerilla fighter accompanied a ragtag group of Freemen. He likely has less of a fighting force here than when he was the ruler of his own country! Yet somehow he’s determined the time is right to easily (too easily) sneak into Ming’s palace, abduct him, drug him, and use him to declare Mongo a free republic. Of course Ming doesn’t make this a walk in the park for our hero and he briefly escapes custody, but it’s still a weirdly perfunctory conclusion to a story that’s been running for over seven years now!

Flash forms a ruling council and Barin is elected Mongo’s president—in a nice touch, we’re reminded that he is the true heir to Mongo’s throne. Besides Barin, Flash, and Dale, the council includes Aura, Fria and Ronal (who is now her husband), Bulok (leader of the Freemen), and Ergon (leader of the Power Men).


Conspicuously absent on the council are representatives from the Lion Men and the Hawk Men. It’s odd; in every adaptation of Flash Gordon’s story that I’ve ever come across, Thun and Vultan are major supporting characters — but in the original comic strip, they pretty much vanish following the earliest story arcs. This speaks once again to the way Raymond has evolved his story over the past several years. Aside from the animals, a lot of the alienness and exoticism has been excised from Mongo. At this point, and for quite some time, it has been a world populated entirely by what are essentially humans — and Ming’s people, originally presented as yellow-skinned “Orientals”, have been all but whitewashed as well. Mind you, the original depiction had issues with its inherent racism, but the fact that Raymond has completely changed the race — aside, perhaps, from Ming himself — into Caucasians is a little weird too. Aura, for example, who in her earliest stories was dark-haired and “exotic”-looking, is now a blonde white woman.

I love Raymond’s artwork at this stage in his career; it’s breathtaking and lush. But I’m less enamored with the changes he’s made to Mongo. It no longer feels like an alien world, but rather it just seems like some alternate version of Earth, and the loss of the Lion Men, Hawk Men, and other varied races which once populated it is an unfortunate side-effect of the direction in which Raymond has taken his epic.

2 comments:

  1. Reading these reviews makes me want to ask, just how much happened to Zharkov off camera? He seems to vanish for months at a time and then return with a new status quo!

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    1. Yeah, there's definitely an untold saga of Zarkov waiting to be revealed to the world. He frequently vanishes, often for long stretches, and seems to be having pretty interesting adventures during those periods.

      Just off the top of my head, Flash and Dale leave him for dead aboard his rocket when they first arrive on Mongo, and he turns up later a prisoner of Prince Barin. Some time after that, he spends a year or so as the chief scientist of the Hawkmen. And then there's the time he spends running around Barin's forest kingdom, suffering from "jungle madness".

      And there are still more instances besides those!

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