And you are his descendants!
Flash Gordon. Impossible to kill. Inspiration to the multitudes. Wearer of spandex (probably). What can one say about him that the millions don’t already know? Well, I better hope it’s at least an article’s worth, because here it goes.
Crash landing in the comics in January of 1934, it was a few weeks of backstory until he then crash landed on Mongo with his pals Dale and Dr. Zarkov. Most of you know the rest, but I’ll sum it up for those don’t, then cut them off forever. Flash finds Mongo in the grips of well-known d-bag Ming, the people oppressed and the band Queen looking for a hero to write a soundtrack for. He proceeds to kick-ass everywhere he goes, rallying the various fractured people’s who live under Ming’s thumb, and finally overthrows the evil regime and they all live happily ever after. Except who wants to kill a cash cow, and so they kept making up new adventures and Flash appeared in the comic pages for 50 more years. He also appeared in comic books, on lunch boxes, in movies, on television, and was merchandised in any way possible just as Ming would have liked it. Little known fact, they also named the flash drive after him. I can’t back that up.
The Grandfather of all our Jedi
I must now interrupt my narrative to point out this brilliant segue from my last article into this one. Also, I might be out of ideas. Moving on like a comic book…
Alex Raymond was the genius behind Flash Gordon. His story wasn’t wholly original, most stories aren’t, but he did tell a good one. His art, though, his presentation, and his more mature storytelling style were revolutionary to comics and then to science fiction in general. Lauded as one of the greatest artists of all time, his work was influential in many fields. Since this is an article, I will now begin to tell you about them.
If you’ve seen comics from the 30s and before, they drew in a style that can best be described as cartoon-y. Take a look at old Popeye and Mickey Mouse comics and you’ll see what I mean. (Or take a look at some classic strips at FlashGordon.com – Chuck) Lots of lines representing movement and round bodies and faces, puffs of smoke to denote aggravation and the complete ignorance of physics. It was basically Bugs Bunny stuff, which is cool. Alex Raymond, however, changed all that. He drew a comic meant to be played straight, not for laughs nor with a wink. It was a serious action comic and it pretty much blew everyone away. Movement and kinetic effort was expressed without campy squiggles or speed lines. When someone was running he had to show dynamic action in static poses, and this style influenced everyone after him forever to this day. You personally, you reading this, I can tell you two things about you; first, you are not my wife because she never reads my stuff, and second, you LOVE this style. How do I know, because you love comics, and comics are all about this. Think Superman in flight, legs taught, hands balled into fists, one arm out in front pointing forward, eyes raised to the horizon, jaw clenched in strength. He’s flying, dammit! That pose, that representation of motion with static pose, that right there is a hallmark of Alex Raymond.
That kind of depiction, the hero with his chest out while straining against his bonds, the villain charging with legs striding and sword held high over his head, the heroine falling through the sky with her hair whipping about her, all that is so iconic most of us don’t even stop to think it had to start somewhere. We take it for granted that those are natural depictions of people in those situations and so have always been around as long as art has been around. Well, they haven’t. This type of art, the kind we find in all comic books today, is an invention of the 20th century, and the Flash Gordon comic is a major point of dissemination from whence this paradigm spread into the pop culture we consume today.
Hey, Remember I mentioned Superman and told you his flying pose was influenced by the art in Flash? So was his uniform. You know that thing, nowadays we all assume to be spandex, that almost every superhero wears now thanks to Superman? That came from Flash. Not only Flash, but almost every character in the comic wore colorful tights and had their personality fleshed out via their costume. Siegel and Shuster just copied that and then Batman and Hawkman and then it became a thing and now it’s permanent. It’s a really great way to utilize the visual aspect of the medium to help define your character. It also bled into other mediums, as it was ported over to the very popular Flash movie serials from the 30s and soon it became a thing in movies too. Pretty much any visual medium that we consume today, especially anything scifi, superhero, or comic related has been influenced by Raymond. That’s a pretty big swath.
And just like I referred to above, that includes the Jedi. As has been reported way too many times because we get it, Lucas was looking to make a Flash Gordon film but couldn’t get the rights, so he made Star Wars. That’s right, Star Wars, that most beloved of IPs, that maker of billions of dollars, that saga that will live in pop culture until the heat death of the universe, is just a re-skinning of Flash Gordon. Luke? Flash. Han Solo? Barin, who marries the Princess, Aura (Leia). Chewy? Thun the lion man. The Emperor Palpatine? The (unfortunately racist Asian caricature) Emperor Ming. Obi Wan? Dr. Zarkov. Leia? Dale Arden. Carrie Fisher was so luminous that she was the distilled womanhood of two female characters. R2D2 and C3P0? That annoying shit is all original Lucas. Umm, except stolen from Kurosawa. Aaaand here comes the hate mail. It’s ok that I hate things you don’t! Cute robots suck!
Savior of the Universe!
There is a large portion of my audience tonight that has been waiting for this and so now I will make them happy. The rights holder to Flash Gordon, Dino DeLaurentis, once he saw the butt-load of money Lucas made, decided to make his own Flash Gordon movie. FLASH!! AHAAA!! SAVIOR OF THE UNIVERSE!! You can lie, but I know that this song has been playing in your head the whole time you have been reading this, so now I’ve said it out loud and you can feel the relief. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.
Anyway, this version of Flash is as well-loved as a campy and terrible movie can be. It didn’t do well enough to spawn a sequel or merchandising, but it is truly a classic film that many, many people adore and rightfully so. It is one of the best terrible movies ever made. I take that back, it is THE BEST terrible movie ever made. It is so good, so well put together, so exciting and so memorable that I’m sure people will be buried with a copy. It’s one of the best movies you’ll ever see, and its campy style captures just the right tone for the story it wants to tell. I don’t know who decided it should be campy (it was DeLaurentis), but he was right. That movie was perfect and I’m not sure it would have held up to the juggernaut of Star Wars if it had been played straight. In the end, it didn’t hold up entirely, and has been completely overshadowed by it’s little brother, but it still achieved cult status and has seen homages in movies and tv shows decades later.
It’s a bad movie, with an absolute killer soundtrack from Queen, and a fantastic visual style (thanks Alex Raymond!) that transforms it into a great movie. Quotable, enjoyable, earwormy-y, it is an absolutely memorable experience and if you haven’t seen it then I’m not your friend anymore until you do.
Why all of the sudden Flash love?
Well, beyond the fact that a Flash movie has been in the works for about a decade and might get made soon, there is the big news in the RPG world that Pinnacle Entertainment, makers of the game Savage Worlds, are, as of this writing, running a Kickstarter for a Flash Gordon supplement to their popular RRPG. For RPG fans, comic fans, and fans of Flash, this is big news and I’ll tell you why because that is why we write articles, to tell.
Among the exciting aspects of this is the adoption of the Flash IP by the RPG that is best suited to run a Flash game. Flash was, at its heart, a pulp comic. It was filled with narrow escapes, cliffhangers, death-defying stunts, and larger-than-life characters. Savage Worlds is an RPG that runs in the same vein. It’s tag line is ‘Fast, Furious, Fun’ and the game plays that way. It’s the pulpiest of all RPGs and aligns closely with this mentality. You’ll find yourself having a fantastic evening of explosions, chases, and Ming-punching when you play this game, just like you all want to.
On top of that, the design of the components is, keeping true to Raymond’s influence, highly appealing and of the best quality. This is a hallmark of Pinnacle’s products and thankfully so because I have backed all of their Kickstarters and they haven’t ripped me off yet. Browse over to the Kickstarter page and see how beautiful and colorful the books and doodads are. I mean, they really got the aesthetics right.
To bring the game even more in line with the Flash ethos, this supplement introduces new mechanics into the game that allow the players to up the drama and the action. New rules such as Cliffhanger and Conviction Points can kick your story up a notch right in the middle of the fight, taking a crescendo and then finding a new note even higher. I won’t spoil the exact details, but safe to say that just when your players thought their gooses were cooked, they can turn things around, only to find that their new strength has just been met with an equally dramatic twist! All of this fits seamlessly into the established Savage Worlds ruleset and is very well designed and implemented.
For those fans of comic art, the book is filled with clips from the old comic, spread out throughout the pages. Pinnacle was able to get the license or whatever the heck it is you do to use official things and they managed to really up the ante by including plenty of the original comic strips, drawn by Raymond himself. It’s a nice touch.
Just to add to the goodness, Pinnacle has also got the license, or however it is you hire someone, to Sam J Jones, Flash himself! Yes, the actor who portrayed Flash in the DeLaurentis movie is writing the forward and will share some of his feelings for the IP and this will just bring this project a little closer to Flash nirvana.
There are not many days left to the Kickstarter, so hurry up and give it a once-over, if only to see how beautiful this product is. I would mention here that I am in no way affiliated with Pinnacle and I’m not a paid shill but really, you’ve read this article, who the hell is gonna pay me to write anything for them? If anything, they’ll probably ask me to never write about them again.
And do yourself a favor and check out some of the old Flash Gordon comics. You’ll find a lot that’s familiar there. You may even find you’ve gotten a new favorite to add to your pull list. Your pull list in 1934. Because they don’t make it anymore. And his name is FLASH!!