Who is Flash Gordon? A week ago I didn’t know the answer. When my editor gave me this topic to cover, I thought I would just be covering a cult classic ‘80s movie and maybe a short-lived comic serial. What I found was much more interesting. Flash Gordon, not to be confused with The Flash, is one of America’s earliest superheroes. He preceded Batman by five years and Superman by six. He had a widely successful comics run, and numerous adaptations. So how could he have missed my radar for so long. How could he have missed the radar for many of you, I’m sure, as well? Let’s start with the comics.
If you’re looking to read some Flash Gordon comics, the first place you should look isn’t your local comics store, but to older newspapers. Flash Gordon actually started as a comic strip that started in 1934 and ran until 2003. That’s right, Flash Gordon’s been going strong for 70 years. He’s been adventuring for as long as the average human’s been living. It would take you years to read every single strip, despite their short length. After all, for more than half of that time these strips were being released daily.
As a result, the plot is pretty long and goes through a long list of arks. Effectively, the world is being taken over by aliens and Flash Gordon, a polo player, ends up taking a rocket up to space with his girlfriend Dale Arden (you read that right, girlfriend: I guess it was a popular name in the ‘30s) and mad scientist Hans Zarkoff where they land on the planet Mongo and fight the evil ruler Ming the Merciless, who is as much a racist stereotype as you might expect. They also travel around Mongo, fight bad guys, fight Ming again, go to different planets, fight bad guys, go to Earth, fight bad guys, fight Ming again… you get the picture. There were also a variety of love interests, with Dale ultimately being Flash’s one true love.
Flash Gordon was widely successful, being published in a plethora of countries. There was Guy L’Eclair in France. Speed Gordon in Australia (Flash was derogatory at the time) Everyone loved Flash Gordon. It was read by 50 million people. The adaptations poured in quickly.
It started with a radio adaptation in 1935. It was a very close adaptation of the strip, for a while, but eventually they just went ham wild with it and the characters went to Atlantis. This went on for 86 episodes.
There were six television adaptations. The first is mainly notable as it was filmed in West Germany and showed the destruction of the country from World War 2. The second was a Saturday morning cartoon, created by Filmation, a company who’s work I’ve reviewed before (The Adventures of Batman: AKA Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder – Comic Watch (comic-watch.com)). The third featured the titular character as a cool, skateboarding teen, and yes it came out in the ‘90s. The fourth was a Syfy series that was about as good as you’d expect a Syfy series to be.
In 1939 there was an attraction named after it at the New York World’s Fair that was meant to simulate being in a Flash Gordon comic. Speaking of weird adaptations, there was also a musical done about it in 1989. It premiered in Gainesville, Florida, and according to my research never premiered anywhere else. There was also two video game adaptations.
Then, of course, there were the movie adaptations. There was a trilogy in the ‘30s which was pretty unremarkable, and a porn parody in 1972 called Flesh Gordon, where the titular character fought Wang the Perverted instead of Ming the Merciless. Eight years later they made the movie that you may have heard the name from, having the same name as the comics. This became a cult classic due to it’s impressive action sequences, beautiful set and costume design, and overall bizarre nature, plus the soundtrack by Queen. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in Flash Gordon.
And that’s pretty much it as far as Flash Gordon’s concerned. There have been talks of future adaptations but nothing’s come of them. Since the strip ended in 2003 nothing has become of our hero, and he’s become almost entirely irrelevant, except for the 1980 film’s inclusion in the Ted franchise. He did leave a lasting impression, though. Hawkman, Superman, and Batman were all modeled after Flash Gordon. After George Lucas couldn’t direct the 1980 adaptation, he created Star Wars and based it heavily off of the series as well.
Overall, if Gordon were a real person he’d have a Hell of a story to tell. It’s so strange how we could forget something that was as important as he was. Who knows? Maybe he’ll come back into the public eye again. Maybe Flash Gordon will live on forever. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Who is Flash Gordon?
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