Friday, August 4, 2017


by Alex Raymond & Don Moore

At the end of “The Fall of Ming”, Zarkov picked up signals from Earth and learned that the planet was in the throes of a new World War (though it’s not the World War II that was raging when Alex Raymond crafted these stories; rather it’s a fictionalized war against something called the Red Sword). Seeing his homeworld in danger, Flash had Zarkov and the scientists of Mongo build a ship to take him home, and he, Dale, and Zarkov boarded the craft with advanced Mongo weaponry to aid in the good fight.

“Return to Earth” opens as our heroes splash down in the Atlantic Ocean, where they’re picked up by an American ship and brought back to Washington. Though the government has doubts about their stories of Mongo, our heroes are turned over to an old colleague of Doctor Zarkov, named Grubich, for care.

For the first time, a fairly large plot hole emerges in the otherwise mostly cohesive FLASH GORDON narrative. Though there have been minor hiccups here and there, nothing has been as overt as this: when the strip debuted in 1934, Earth was in a panic because the planet Mongo was hurtling toward it. Zarkov was a world-renowned scientist who developed a rocket he believed could move the incoming planet off course. As we know, Zarkov was successful -- but the rocket crash-landed on Mongo instead, marooning Zarkov, Flash, and Dale there for quite some time.

Now, as we return to Earth, it seems the world has forgotten Mongo ever existed. Besides that, the government appears to have no idea who Zarkov is despite his earlier fame. Plus, as we’ll soon learn in the subsequent story arc, Mongo is apparently nowhere near Earth, and it’s quite a long journey to get back there!

I suppose scripter Don Moore can be excused for some of this; after all, it’s been eight years since FLASH GORDON’s debut and the entire setup about Mongo’s collision course and Zarkov’s notoriety was limited to only the first couple strips. This is basically retroactive continuity. Flash and friends still made the journey to Mongo, obviously, but the reason must have been different than originally presented.

Moving along: “Return to Earth” seems as if Alex Raymond genuinely wanted to get Flash and company back to their homeworld after so many years on Mongo, but in relatively short order that premise is dialed back. Doctor Grubich turns out to be a spy for the Red Sword intent on stealing the secrets of Mongo’s technology from Flash and Zarkov. But our heroes outsmart Grubich and his henchman and soon prove themselves to the U.S. government.

After constructing a rocket plane and using it to single-handedly thwart an invasion by the Red Sword, Flash and Zarkov embark on a return mission to Mongo to delve into its radium mines for enough fuel to power all the Mongo-tech the United States can build. Dale stows away and in short order our heroes have returned to Mongo for more adventures there. Earth will not figure into the serial for the remainder of Raymond’s time with Flash.

I can only assume that Raymond decided his storyline was hitting too close to home, as the final installment of “Return to Earth” was published in late December of 1941, mere weeks after the United States’ entry into World War II. Thus the Earthbound war story is swiftly truncated in favor of more adventure on exotic Mongo.

And, with Ming out of the way, Raymond needs a new antagonist for Flash. He has our heroes crash-land in a vast, unexplored region of Mongo called Tropica, where the group soon meets Queen Desira and her treacherous cousin/bodyguard, Brazor. As usual, Desira quickly falls for Flash, which earns him Brazor’s ire, and we’re off and running once more.

“Queen Desira” does something that hasn’t happened much, if at all, in the ongoing FLASH serial thus far: it turns the spotlight over to Dale for a few weeks worth of strips. Flash is injured rescuing Desira from a wild animal and spends some time laid up in the infirmary of Brazor’s castle. Brazor, meanwhile, schemes to force Desira to abdicate her throne so he can rule Tropica. Dale learns of Brazor’s plot, but leverages her silence in exchange for Brazor’s physician taking care of Flash (and Zarkov, who was hurt in the crash-landing). She even bargains for freedom by agreeing to help Brazor with his plot to remove Desira from the throne!

It’s an unusual direction to go, both in terms of focusing on Dale rather than Flash — something practically unheard of at this point — and in portraying Dale in a less than sympathetic light. Of course everything she does is always out of her feelings toward Flash, and the strip has told us many times that Flash can’t make sense of a woman’s emotions, but even so, here her loyalty to him is so strong that she’s willing to betray a woman she barely knows to a man who is quite clearly another Ming in the making.

Eventually, however, Flash comes around, learns of Dale’s machinations, and shuts her down in order to defend Desira against her sinister cousin. This leads to a really cool sequence in which Flash, Dale, Zarkov, and Desira attempt to descend the cliff wall which supports Brazor’s castle with a series of knotted-together sheets. The “castle on a cliff” is a pretty common trope these days, though I wonder how worn it was in Raymond’s day. The visuals remind me of the Eyrie from GAME OF THRONES, and I can’t help wondering if FLASH was an influence on either George R.R. Martin or the producers of the TV series.

Our heroes’ escape attempt is thwarted in so far as they don’t make it all the way to the ground, but they do manage to re-enter the castle further down the cliff and then locate a hidden tunnel which provides an exit both from Brazor’s stronghold and the “Queen Desira” story arc.


  1. Another thought from reading these reviews: did Flash ever properly LAND anywhere? It seems like each adventure started with him plowing an aircraft into the ground.

    Flash, let someone else drive, please.

    1. To be fair, Zarkov usually flies whatever craft they're jetting around in, but either way you're right -- they crash pretty much all the time, either due to natural phenomena or getting shot down. It's kind of funny, now that you mention it.

  2. I now wonder if this is the origin of Marvel's long running joke about how everyone crash lands into the Savage Land.

    Ahh, should've known it was Zarkov flying. Didn't he crash land them onto Mongo in the first place?

    1. Yup, it was Zarkov who started this whole thing off by crashing into Mongo -- though to be fair to him, that was kind of his plan initially, to knock the planet off of its collision course with Earth.