For much of the early Twentieth Century the greatest threat to humanity was perceived to come from the so-called Germ-Men. No sooner had the world fumigated the hive of Kaiser Wilhelm, than a new Queen took his place and began to breed another army to spread its poison across the continent.
In the late 1930s, as Europe prepared to stand-up to the tyranny of Adolf Hitler, America chafed at its reputation as Johnny-come-lately glory hunters, aware that its troops were required at home. Even as Poland was dismembered America spiked the guns of the mighty Mexican war-machine and faced down Canadian aggression. What the public on both sides of the Atlantic could not know was that the greatest threat to our freedom came not from Chaplain-impersonators, Mariachi bands or Beaver Scouts, but from the very heavens.
It is a little known fact that as the Wehrmacht goose-stepped into Paris and the Marine Corps stood guard upon the forty-ninth parallel, Emperor Ming the Merciless had spied Earth in his Space-O-Scope from his home beyond the Oort cloud. That humanity did not become his slaves is a story of heroism untold until now.
The Threat to Earth
With an infinite supply of zombie-like stooges and a fleet of inter-planetary craft at his disposal, Ming might easily have overwhelmed Earth's meagre defences, but his evil cunning had devised a plan staggering in its ambition. Even as the Space-O-Scope screen faded to a small, white dot he had begun to implement a novel strategy to destroy our planet. The vast slave army at his disposal toiled for months within the foetid bowels of Mongo, hollowing out mines both for the precious Mongonite fuel they concealed and to house the eight gigantic thrusters his scientists and engineers were constructing at breakneck speed.
Soon, despite the deaths of thousands of workers, Mongo's propulsion system was ready and Ming The Merciless settled down at the controls of an entire world. With a joyless smile he pulled the knob to Full Ahead Thrust and the planet Mongo lurched Earthwards. What could Ming hope to achieve by this desperate effort that would surely have devastating consequences for Mongo and Earth alike?
Even within the astronomy community, few saw Mongo's approach and fewer still realised the threat it represented. Only one man grasped the true meaning of this new "star" in the firmament. Only Doctor Hans Zarkov knew the terrible truth for only he had the technology to intercept Ming's broadcasts to his subject via Space-O-Scope. Why then would no one listen?
Five years before Zarkov had been forced to flee Russia following the infamous 1934 purge of astro-physicists with shapelier legs than Stalin. Persecuted at home for his flamboyant shorts and the unmanly gait they produced, Zarkov found himself a lone voice in America, ignored and despised as a refugee. He had been the first to spot the threat from Mongo but his warnings were ignored by the very organisation created to protect us from cosmic threats, American Space Science, due to his supposed communist sympathy and execrable facial hair. Now he knew the dreadful truth - Ming had set Mongo on collision course with Earth, hoping to canon our planet into Venus, devastating humanity and wiping out the rebel forces on the western hemisphere of Mongo in one fell swoop. Could anything stop him? Could anyone?
The world's ears were deaf to Zarkov's warnings and the army unwilling to yield to his demands for men. Somehow he cobbled together Earth's first space-craft and determined to face the danger himself. But with only room for three brave souls, who would accompany Zarkov on this most perilous journey into the cosmos? Zarkov's choices at first seemed bizarre.
On his escape from Russia, Zarkov had been forced into destitution and only the charity of a football hero, Flash Gordon, had saved him from starvation. Gordon lived a well-publicised high life, admired by all who saw him bouncing from player to player, his ball-handling skills second to none. But few knew of his secret life, trawling the back-streets of New York, offering a warm bed for the night to homeless men otherwise without hope. What better person to personify a true Christian knight, to demonstrate to the people of Mongo not just athleticism but stout heart? And who better to accompany him than his fiancée, It-girl, Dale Arden? Surely her modest purity couldn't fail to inspire Ming to alter his wicked intentions towards us.
Arrival and Capture
Zarkov's ship hurried through the emptiness of space but, even with Dale urging the two men to shovel more plutonium into the boilers, the journey still took minutes. At last however, they breached the atmosphere of Mongo only to be forced down almost immediately by Ming's melt-rays. As expected the atmosphere was tolerable to humans and the natives, however fierce, spoke flawless English, rendering Zarkov's universal translator redundant.
Flash and his crew escaped the wreckage of Zarkov's spacecraft only to be instantly attacked by a prehistoric Mongosaur. Their brave journey would surely have come to a premature end had not Dale Arden's ultrasonic screaming kept the Mongosaur at bay. Even so, they were soon outflanked and outnumbered by Ming's forces, cunningly armed with both the latest ray-guns and bronze spears in case their portable atom-packs should run low on charge far from base. Soon the three Earthlings were being marched through the gleaming city of Mongo to face "justice" at the hands of the solar-system's most notorious despot.
With all seemingly lost, Flash, Dale and Zarkov prepared themselves for death. Trumpets blared and lackeys stood to attention as Ming the Merciless entered the courtroom, his carnival-like costume, careful manicure and expertly plucked eyebrows marking him out as a man with a taste for the bizarre. Unworried by Earth's response to his attack, Ming determined to marry Dale and kill Flash. But his daughter, Princess Aura, pleaded for the Earthman's life and eventually Ming agreed to incarcerate Flash in his own private dungeon, where the Emperor could exact twisted pleasure from slowly torturing him, delighting in his every writhing motion and agonised scream for mercy.
Clapped in irons, Zarkov was put to work in the Imperial research laboratories, among the Lava-lamps, Wimshurt machines and Van der Graafs. Here Ming could control his mind through use of his Psych-field. The Emperor planned to make use of Zarkov, putting his head together with the scientist to develop ever more evil weapons to subdue the population. Meanwhile Dale gave in to hopelessness as she was led away by Ming's private female guard, the Amazoomas. She struggled in vain for freedom, her dyslexia having convinced her that the written judgement of the court had condemned her to "get better acquainted with Minge". But there was no hope for escape; Dale was surrounded by the muscular bodies of Ming's elite bodyguards and carried off to her new quarters, held tightly in the powerful grip of their leader, Sapphire .
Ignored among the throng of flunkies, Princess Aura wept. Her upbringing at the Imperial court had been luxurious but cold. Aura had never known the tender love of a father and she despaired at Flash's fate. Hours later, when the palace was calm, Aura sneaked into the Imperial Lab to unplug the Psych-field. With Zarkov's mind again free of Ming's thrall, she quickly had the Doctor reconfigure her laser-pistol and the unlikely pair used its power to cut through the bars of Flash's cell. Soon she had helped the men escape the city and hidden them in the catacombs below.
Return and Escape (again)
In the catacombs Flash encountered another escapee, Prince Thun of the Lion-men. Despite the shared danger, a fight ensued in which neither man nor beast could get the better of each other. Thun and Flash wrestled each other in the darkness of the catacombs, rolling over and over in the sands while Zarkov looked on gripped by the drama, anxious to discharge a shot but worried about hitting friend rather than foe. Eventually, tired but elated by the exercise, the King of the Lion-Men admitted that Flash had him licked. Flash helped Thun up from his knees and the two men embraced, their bodies drained. Flash quickly explained their presence on Mongo and Thun, impressed by the Earthman's spunk, volunteered to return to the city with him to rescue Dale.
Within minutes they had broken into the women's quarters, though not before Zarkov had disabled many of Ming's security systems. Flash dispatched the Amazoomas without pity, uninterested in their status as the weaker sex. He and Thun were forced to drag away Dale, who appeared to have been brain-washed as she was strangely reluctant to be parted from Ming's elite female warriors. The three Earthlings and Thun escaped back into the catacombs and, following Aura's instructions, took the deepest, darkest passage to a lower level. Here, Aura claimed, they would find a path to lead them to freedom though not before passing perilously close to the underwater city of King Kala, one of Ming's most loyal henchmen.
Relieved to have avoided forced marriage to Ming, Dale was nevertheless devastated by the cruel fate of her guards. Her sobs alerted the attention of the Shark-men. Soon the tiny band of fugitives were once again overpowered, this time by a mixed band of Great Whites and Hammerheads. Flash attempted to break free of his guards and attack King Kala but was almost instantly re-captured and forced to fight a gigantic Octasak. He would surely have died quickly had the swift thinking Zarkov not tipped a bait-bucket into the water, sending the Shark-men into a feeding frenzy in which they consumed the Octasak and perhaps two thirds of their own number.
Princess Aura, however, realised that her passion for Flash could never be reciprocated. As she could not have him for herself, she decided that no one else would. Using her ultra-powered laser hand-gun she destroyed the sluice-gates that guarded the underwater city. A raging torrent of icy, black water flushed through the catacombs, washing our heroes into the River Mong where they would surely have died amidst the Cataracts of Doom had it not been for the timely intervention of Prince Vultan. Vultan had been leading a foraging party of Hawkmen in pursuit of the annual Mongo-lemming migration, the noise of the flood alerted him and he and his men swept down from the clouds to pluck the Earth party from very jaws of death.
The Rebel Alliance
Prince Vultan, a man's Hawkman, took Dale and Flash back to his Sky-city to feed to his young. Desperate to avoid this grisly fate Flash pleaded with the Prince to join a crusade and overthrow Ming. Meanwhile, on the otherside of Mongo, Dr Zarkov befriended Prince Barin of Arboria, a hearty, tights-wearing forest dweller.
Fortunately for Flash, Vultan arrived back at Sky-city just as another hunting party returned fully-laden with food. Vultan considered marrying Dale, Ming's runaway bride, as he had been impressed by her evident interest in his chicks but ultimately dismissed the idea, disappointed by her plumage, which he considered inadequate for incubating eggs. Nevertheless he began to scheme Ming's downfall, outlining a sneak aerial attack on Mongo-city very loudly and with each syllable carefully ennuciated, since the speech-centre in Vultan's parietal lobes were oxygen-deprived due to a particularly tight helmet.
Soon Prince Barin and Zarkov mounted an assault on Sky-city to save Flash, little knowing that Flash was in no danger. The attack misfired badly when Barin discovered that bow and arrow were no match for laser weaponry, and the Arboreans were swiftly defeated and captured. Initially, Vultan planned to execute Barin, as the Hawkmen had a long-standing objection to Arborean use of their flight-feathers in arrow manufacture. However, an explosion in Sky-city's Atom-furnace threatened to send the Hawkmen's home plunging through the clouds and only Zarkov could plug the molecular-flux filter. Zarkov extracted a promise of safe passage for his Arborean friends as his reward and soon the rival rebel groups came together in the fight against their common foe, Ming.
Within days a twin-assault of Mongo-city was underway, with the Hawkmen probing Ming's defences from above while the Arboreans attempted to force their way into his stronghold from below. But the attack started badly as Flash's ship was grounded by massed melt-rays and he was once more attacked by Mongosaurs. Only the intervention of Ming's troops saved Flash from slow reptilian digestion but it was a case of out of the frying pan into the skillet. Outraged by the attempt to penetrate his private domain, Ming had Flash thrown into the Pit of Doom to battle the fearsome Orangupoid.
Valiant as Flash was, he could be no match for the vicious simian and it seemed that our hero's fate was sealed once again. Princess Aura looked on in horror as the Orangupoid pinned Flash to the ground and bared his fangs. She threw her crown into the pit, unable to bear to witness Flash's demise. With the Orangupoid was distracted by the glittering bauble, Flash took the opportunity to kill the beast, throwing its ears to the audience and making ash-trays from its hands. However, he was far from safe and soon found himself under guard once more in Ming's private dungeon, strapped securely into the electric harness that the fiendish Emperor had forced Zarkov to build.
As the assault outside foundered and began to turn into a rout, Princess Aura revealed that Zarkov had cleverly built an invisibility ray into the electric harness. Soon Flash was free once more. Together with Aura, he released Zarkov, Dale and Barin - hiding them in the catacombs while he sought out Ming for a final, cataclysmic showdown. But, far from the source of invisibility rays, Zarkov's cloaking device ran out of power just as Flash reached the throne room. The guards pressed in as Flash reached Ming and once more it seemed that his time was up.
But then, as Flash's hands closed on Ming's neck and the guards pricked Flash with their weapons, everything changed. The war was over as suddenly as it had begun, Mongo's thrusters were reversed, Earth was saved and the civil war was over.
There are no statues of Gordon, Arden and Zarkov; their names are not recited in History classes across a grateful planet. Was the world really so fixated by World War that it merely ignored their feats?
Perhaps. But, difficult as it is to believe in these days when it is compulsary, in 1930s America homosexuality was still punishable by electric-chair and the United States was not yet ready to accept the truth. For, in many ways this was a tale not only of extraordinary bravery, but also the perfect love story; a beautiful naif and the tender but more experienced lover, entranced but willing to let go when youth tired of experience. For years Flash Gordon and Doctor Hans Zarkov had been forced to conceal their passion - for theirs was a love that dared not lisp its name. Like so many athletes before and since, football hero Flash hid behind a cover-girlfriend while trying not to stare in the locker-room. Equally model/actress, Dale Arden, happily posed as Flash's girl to protect herself from the casting couch while coming to terms with being a worshipper at the furry-temple herself.
But, as Ming felt Flash's electric touch on his skin for the first time, the universe really did become a different place. Flash and the Emperor retired to Ming's private dungeon to investigate its erotic possibilities, leaving Zarkov to find comfort in Prince Barin, and Dale and Aura to divide up the remaining Amazoomas. Love triumphed over violence and maybe now, in the twentyfirst century, the world can at last accept that our lives depended on the bravery and willing sacrifice of two heroic confirmed batchelors and a lipstick lesbian.