Sunday, June 01, 2008

Flash Gordon Part 1

William Gibson hit it on the head when he coined the term "The Gernsback Continuum" in his short story of the same name. Briefly put, this Bradbury-esque tale has a traveller catch a glimpse of an alternate version of the world, the future as envisioned by Hugo Gernsback et al. Hence the term "The Gernsback Continuum". And don't worry, I haven't spoiled the story for you, and if you havn't read it I would make the effort to seek it out.
That once again Gibson gets it right comes as no shock or surprise to me, but I then realized that certain fictional constructs share a common continuum. For example (and I can't avoid the pun here), all the Universal horror films from the 1930's and 1940's arguably all take place in the same continuum - everything from the films that connect several film cycles together ("House of Dracula" for example) to the "Mummy" series and "Inner Sanctum" films, as well as stand-alone films like "The Mad Ghoul" or "Werewolf of London". They all take place in the same world. Sort of a "Universal" universe (ouch). Same with Hammer horror films, most take place in the same shared fictional European late 19th Century reality.... Transylvania borders Karnschtien which is right next to Ingolstadt and so on.... I'm actually surpised that no-one mistook Dr. Van Helsing for Baron Frankenstein, as they look so much alike. At it's most inventive, for example, we have Alan Moore's "League of Extrordinary Gentlemen" (the comic, NOT the film).

I should point out that this is not the same as the more modern streamlined cross-over approach as pioneered by Stan Lee with the creation and husbanding of "The Marvel Universe", which could be described as a group of characters existing in the same continuum. When there were less books in the early days, Stan could keep tight coherent continuity across the stories from month to month, so that characters in one book were making reference to concurrent events occurring in other titles that month. If Thor was off in Asgard mucking around with Loki in yet another sibling slugfest then that's how it played out in The Avengers that month. No Thor. I even seem to remember a couple of times where explosions from one storyline would be seen off in the distance by characters in another book (with the obligatory footnote pushing the relevant issue). As a sidebar, the little bit after the end credits of - "Iron Man" (which has to be the best adaption of a Marvel comic book EVER) gave me the same thrill. Nope, no spoiler here either.
Prior to this, it was a more haphazard approach, as typified in the comics by the J.S.A. or the All-Winners Squad (i've always LOVED that name) but more often than not only involved a cameo, and especially in the movies. In the '50's and 60's, however, DC dropped the ball, as both Superman and Batman seemed to suffer from some bizarre form of short-term memory loss, forgetting anything they might have learned at the end of each story.

So, for example, when I think of Buck Rogers, particularily the early Dick Calkins strip of the early '30's, I get this sense of a clanky, clunky "jumpsuit and boiler-plate" continuum shared by others of that era.
Flash Gordon, however, is something else again.

Flash Gordon at it's most typical embodied what I can only call "The Art Deco Space Opera Continuum". This can also be seen on the covers of a LOT of SF pulps, like the covers to those "Thrills Inc." issues. Flash was however, the trendsetter to be sure. It is a streamlined future, it's design implying the promise of forward motion... this is a world, a culture that is going somewhere. Now all the cars all look like electric shavers. Sheesh. But let's not get started on the "Where's my flying car?" thing. We'll get to that soon enough.

There are a number of artists who have explored the look and feel of Flash's world -
Creator Alex Raymond, Austin Briggs, Mac Raboy (ex-Captain Marvel Jnr. artist), and of course Al Williamson. Now can anyone explain to me why the series creator Alex Raymond had most of the inhabitants of Mongo run around in costumes more suited to light opera? Not that I mind, i'm just curious.

Flash also oozed the whole "Art Deco Space Opera" into other media, most notably when carried over into the look of the serials with Larry "Buster" Crabbe, who may or may not have been born to play Flash, but who was certainly identified with the character by the public after his death. Strangely enough this synergy completed itself in an interesting way as Al Williamson continued to draw his version of Flash looking more and more like Crabbe as time went on, most notably the 2 Marvel issues he did in the late '90's.

These issues with art by Williamson are also dynamite ( if you can find 'em)...

Even into the 80's.....

These two King issues feature jaw-droppingly amazing art by Al Williamson, obviously having the time of his life.

Flash Gordon #4

Flash Gordon #5

These Charlton issues feature art on one issue by Reed Crandall (probably left over from the King series) but apart from one story by Jeff Jones, the bulk of the art is by Pat Boyette.

Flash Gordon #12

Flash Gordon #13

Flash Gordon #14

Flash Gordon #15

Flash Gordon #16

Flash Gordon #17

Flash Gordon #18

Plus a WALLY WOOD 4 pager from the first issue of King's Phantom Comics!

Flash Gordon and The Space Pirates

Flash was also merchandized quite a bit for the times... don't these tin-toy pistols look gorgeous.... just don't drool on your keyboard.

This 60's LP is very interesting, featuring as it does "Buster" Crabbe as Flash and a bunch of actors whose voices I recognize from the 60's Superman cartoons, plus a lot of the music cues sound REAL familiar too.
Flash LP - "Fake Attack"
Flash LP - "The Mole"

Believe it or not... more Flash tomorrow!
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