Howdy friends and neighbors. How’s it going? Been kinda wrapped up with writing projects to post much here. But also since this is a blog that comments on subjects far and wide, it’s been hard to find something to comment on that wasn’t depressing. The news has been filled with stories of bombings, mass shootings, tornadoes ripping people’s homes apart, government spying on its own citizens, drone attacks. Times are weird.
Yes times are weird and strange. But at least there isn’t a rogue planet about to crash into the earth. At least there isn’t a death ray sucking the nitrogen out of our atmosphere. At least the Purple Death isn’t causing world wide chaos. At least not yet. But if any of those things were happening, if the world was coming apart for one reason or another, I have to believe that once again a hero would arise from the masses to save the universe, just as he did back in 1936 when the planet Mongo was driving its way into Earth’s orbit. And again in 1938 when Ming the Merciless’s Death Ray collected all the nitrogen from the Earths stratosphere. And again in 1940 when Ming’s space ships salted our beloved planet’s atmosphere with the Death Dust that created the Plague of the Purple Death.
Yes, my friends, of course I am referring to that renowned interplanetary traveler, the former champion polo player, son of one of earth’s leading scientists, (bring up the music, let’s hear it! Franz Liszt’s Les Preludes) none other than FLAAAAASH GOOOORRDONNN!
Created for William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper by artist Alex Raymond in 1934, Flash Gordon is the quintessential good guy hero. Not a superhero, not a masked crusader or any of that jazz, just a good guy who rose to the occasion more than once. He even came back reincarnated as a New York Jet quarterback in the 1980s to stop the apparently immortal Ming.
I’ve written about Flash before, and I bring him up now because I just happen to be wandering around in the local Target Store when my eye spotted a new set of Flash Gordon DVDs on the shelf. I have to admit I must have five or six different video versions of all three Flash Gordon serials made by Universal, everything from VHS tape, to laser disc (remember those) to DVD. It’s kind of a sickness really. Like an alcoholic who can’t pass by the wine rack in Safeway without hooking a bottle of Thunderbird. So I really didn’t need to buy yet one more iteration of the sacred serials. But how could I resist. Image Madacy Entertainment lured me in.
They’ve repackaged all three of the serials (Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (1936), Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938), and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940) in a fantastic looking three part fold out with a cool looking cover featuring a collage of images of Flash, Dale Arden, Dr. Zarkov, and Ming. But what made me put my money down was the fact that they included a 24 page booklet with some of Alex Raymond’s original artwork for the Sunday comic strips. There’s also some text about the Golden Age of Comics and how Hearst wanted a strip to compete with Buck Rogers, and some background info on the characters that appear in the comics and in the serials. It’s really not anything new for old time fans. But it is a nice introduction for anyone new to this fabulous space opera.
And maybe there is a new audience for Flash. The kid at the cash register actually knew who Flash Gordon is! He had seen “Ted” the wacky comedy with Mark Wahberg, who plays a grown up guy who owned a talking teddy bear that he grew up with in the 80’s. Their big hero, the guy they idolized as kids, was the reincarnated Flash played by Sam Jones. Flash– Savior of the Universe! I quickly clued the kid in that he wasn’t the real Flash Gordon. The real Flash Gordon was played by Buster Crabbe in these–the sacred serials made by Universal in the thirties. “Compared to these original serials, kid,” I said, “the remake is just greasy kid stuff.” He looked at me strangely for a moment, and handed me my change. “Well,” he said somewhat nervously, “Enjoy them.”
And enjoy them I will. The video and sound quality of the Image Madacy Entertainment DVDs is good. Not great. There’s been no effort to restore the seventy year old film stock, so there are lots of scratches and dust, but for the most part the serials are very watchable. If you have never seen these chapter plays, as they were called back in the day, the fold out set with the Alex Raymond artwork is a great introduction. If you’re an old fan and don’t have the trilogy it’s a good way to get the whole set at a bargain price. You can buy them on the Internet for around 10 or 11 bucks. And if you are one of those poor wretches like me who lurk in the dark corners of the dwindling number of DVD outlets, trying not to let anyone see the monkey on his back, it’s essential.