The Atompunk hero began in the great depression. Tales of outer space, wild futures, and ray guns, always ray guns became immensely popular, thanks to the invention of the daily comic strip Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
Due to the success of Buck Rogers the syndicate Kings Feature was looking for a strip to compete with it (read: jump on the bandwagon) and young writer/artists Alex Raymond, who worked for them on another strip, Tim Tyler’s Luck, begged to have a crack. In 1934 he created a character Flash Gordon, who would soon eclipse Buck Rogers and for the 30s and 40s dominate the science fiction landscape of american youth.
The strip became a huge hit and soon outshined Buck Rogers. For one thing, young Alex worked hard to improve, and improve he did, his style becoming adored.
The story was fun, interstellar, fantastic and imaginative. Earthman Flash Gordon, female interest Dale Arden, and scientist Dr. Zarkov leave earth to face impending threat which turns out to be interplanetary emperor Ming The Mercifless. Highjinks ensue. “In the course of their improbable and breathtaking adventures they meet Princess Aura, Ming’s daughter, Prince Barin, the rightful ruler of Mongo, Thun, Prince of the Lion Men, Vultan, King of the Hawk Men, Azura, the Witch Queen of the Blue Magic Men, Fria, Queen of the frozen kingdom of Frigia, and countless other friends and enemies—all beautifully illustrated with the lush, sensuous artwork for which Alex Raymond is so justly remembered.” (Clark Holloway)
Alex worked on the series for 10 years, until 1944 when he enlisted in the US Marine Corp to go and kill some nazi bitches. Bravo, sir.
But of course, as with most popular characters from the pulp era that are still remembered today, the thing that cemented Flash Gordon’s fortune was his treatment in other medias.
He was featured in 2 radio serials, the first of which followed the comic strip closely. Except of course for the last 2 episodes of its run, where all of a sudden Flash and Dale go back to Earth, meet Jungle Jim and get married in said jungle. They run off and next week begins the exciting adventures of Jungle Jim.
But the thing that cemented his legend, which led to that atrocious 80s movie and numerous other horrid attempts to reinvigorate the characters (although some will argue the 80s movie is so bad it’s good, and the soundtrack by Queen kicks over the top ass)…
the thing that made Flash Gordon the adored memory for a generation of imaginative youth, is the epic, classic film serial.
Shown before the feature movie presentation, serials were HUGE back in the day. Every character who you can think of that existed in the 30s and 40s had one, but by far one of the most remembered and revered is the Flash Gordon serial. Beloved by both Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas, it starred Buster Crabbe and Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless. It’s popularity was through the roof. kids lined up every week to breathlessly catch the next installment.
By today’s standards it’s… well look you can’t compare the two. But the PBS station where i grew up would play the entire serial on some holiday every year and it worked.
Interesting note from imdb: “Despite its large budget, this serial utilized many sets from other Universal films, such as the laboratory and crypt set from Bride of Frankenstein, the castle interiors from Dracula’s Daughter, the idol from The Mummy and the opera house interiors from The Phantom of the Opera. In addition, the outer walls of Ming’s castle were actually the cathedral walls from The Hunchback of Notre Dame .”
My mom would bring home the collected Flash Gordon comic strips from the library and i adored those even more. Even in this late age, Flash Gordon was a significant part of my childhood and colored my view of science fiction adventures just as it did for so many kids in the early days of fantastical, science fiction adventure.