Flash Gordon Zeitgeist

Earlier this year, at Wild Wild West Con, I had the opportunity to meet Sam J. Jones who played the title character in the campy 1980 film Flash Gordon. At the time, I bought a beautiful poster based on the movie illustrated by comic book legend Alex Ross. The poster was quite nice and made me curious what other Flash Gordon illustrations Alex Ross had done. That led me to discover the comic Flash Gordon Zeitgeist, which was published in 2013 by Dynamite Entertainment. Alex Ross served as art director and illustrated many of the covers. The series was written by Eric Trautmann and the interior art was by Daniel Indro.

This version of the Flash Gordon story endeavors to combine the best parts of the 1980 movie and the 1979 animated film Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All. This version is set in 1934 as World War II is getting off the ground. The Earth is being subjected to natural disasters and Dr. Zarkov believes he’s found the source. Yale-educated Polo player Flash Gordon is on a mission to find the good doctor. A plane accident strands him and cartographer Dale Arden on Zarkov’s doorstep. From there the story proceeds in a familiar direction. Zarkov, Gordon, and Arden climb aboard his rocket ship and blast off to the planet Mongo to face all manner of strange creatures along with Ming the Merciless.

In this version, as with the 1979 cartoon version, Ming is using Hitler as a puppet to aid his conquest of the Earth. A new element is that a faction from Mongo has traveled to Earth and is working to stop Hitler.

There are several elements I quite like in this version of Flash Gordon. I liked the historical setting and the whole connection to World War II. In this version, Mongo is in a different universe and Ming’s plans are being executed using beams that allow him to connect his universe to ours. There’s a nice sequence where Flash goes through some of his early gladiatorial contests on Mongo and reflects back on his athletic and academic career, seeing this as a next step in his life. Flash has never been a particularly deep character, but this little extra piece of character building was a nice touch. We get some good background on Dr. Zarkov. The machinations of General Klytus and Princess Aura were fun to watch as they worked to unseat Ming from the throne and gain it for themselves.

I did feel this version suffered from some uneven pacing. That said, I’ve always imagined that pacing comic books must be a real challenge because of the protracted release schedule. Even so, some plot lines seemed to resolve very quickly, while others were given time to breathe and develop. As happens too often in versions of Flash Gordon, Dale Arden doesn’t get much to do. Making her a cartographer was a great and interesting choice. She also has an awesome ending to her story arc in this version, but in between, she mostly serves as the eyes for Dr. Zarkov. Dale Arden deserved better, but at this point, I think the best written version of Dale is in the 1980 movie where she actually gets to do (a little) more than fawn over Flash.

Comparing all these different versions of Flash Gordon has actually been a rather interesting exercise. Alex Raymond’s original comic strip was arguably one of the earliest, popular space operas and studying what works and doesn’t work in different versions helps me think about my updated Space Pirate’s Legacy series which I hope to start working on later this year. That series was always intended to have a certain “retro-future” appeal, heroes who were larger than life, and both men and women with more than a little sex appeal.

If you want to check out Flash Gordon Zeitgeist while waiting for the updated Space Pirate’s Legacy series, a graphic novel edition is available in print. Ebook editions are available through Amazon and Comixology. Unfortunately, the 1979 animated Flash Gordon was never released on video, but I found it on YouTube, just search for “Flash Gordon Filmation” and you should find it.

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Revenge of the Wild Wild West

I apologize for my absence from the blogsphere the last couple of weeks. I sailed into a perfect storm of writing deadlines and astronomy job responsibilities that kept me off line for much of the last couple weeks. Now that I’m on the other side, I can report that my latest wild west steampunk adventure, Lightning Wolves, is now turned in to the publisher and I’m awaiting edits. Also, we were able to test out a new high resolution camera on the Kitt Peak 2.1-meter telescope. The results of those tests look like they’ll result in a new scientific publication. So, although I’ve been absent, I’ve hardly been idle!

Wild Wild West Season 1 Fortunately, the last few days have not been all work and no play. I was able to take some time to enjoy a couple of good books and a couple of a good videos. As I searched through my video collection, I came across my set of the television series The Wild Wild West. There’s no question that the show had a strong influence on my flavor of wild west steampunk storytelling. The problem with The Wild Wild West is that while it started strong, later incarnations never really lived up to the promise of the original series. In fact, the series itself was strongest in its first, black-and-white, season. As the show went on, network censors demanded that the violence be toned down and it was played more for laughs than for action. Still, the original series did pretty well throughout its four-year run. The real problem came with the sequels.

When I speak of sequels, the first thing most people will think of is the 1999 movie with Will Smith and Kevin Kline. Thing is, I’m one of a handful of people I know who actually kind of like the film. Of course, the operative words there are “kind of”. The humor in the movie falls flat more often than not, but I enjoyed the visuals and thought when they played it for action more than laughs, it showed real promise.

The movie wasn’t the only attempt at resurrecting the series. There are two sequels that many people don’t know about. These are the TV movies The Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West that starred Robert Conrad, Ross Martin, and a host of guest stars, many of whom appeared in the original series. These films, which were broadcast in 1979 and 1980 respectively, should have been great, but like the 1999 film were played more for laughs than action and those laughs often didn’t work out as well as expected. The thing I love most about these films is that they were shot at Old Tucson Studios near the observatory where I work. The scenery is gorgeous.

Fortunately, the Wild Wild West saga isn’t limited to film. I recently discovered a limited comic book series that was published in 1990 by Millennium Comics. 1990 was the year I got married. I was in graduate school and starting a new job. I wasn’t exactly following comics closely during that time, so it’s perhaps not surprising I missed it! I recently came across it and picked up a copy of the series and I’m glad I did.

Wild Wild West Comics

I found that the comic series did a great job of capturing the spirit of the first season of the series. Not only is Dr. Loveless here as the villain, but he’s accompanied by Antoinette and Voltaire, his assistants from the first season. One of the things I wish they had done even in the original series was to have folded in a little more real history. This comic series brings in several historical figures who conspire in an elaborate plot to assassinate President Grant. The artwork was a little disappointing at times, but the story more than compensated for it. This was nicely done and I wish Millennium had produced more of these.

What’s more, the weird western and steampunk worlds have brought us some worthy successors to The Wild Wild West. I’m currently reading Cherie Priest’s Ganymede which is set in Seattle and New Orleans. Although one might not think of New Orleans as the west, it was certainly featured in The Wild Wild West. Of course, I’ve also enjoyed the Miles O’Malley stories of David B. Riley, which are now collected in an omnibus edition entitled The Devil Draws Two.

I hope Lightning Wolves also proves to be a worthy successor. I’m still in that afterglow of finishing the novel where it all seems wonderful and I fear it’s all terrible. Fortunately, it’s now in the hands of a great batch of editors and beta readers, who will help me whip it into shape while I start thinking about the directions the next book will take.

Phoenix Comicon Schedule

On Memorial Day Weekend, I’m honored to be one of the participating authors at Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, Arizona. Billed as “the signature pop-culture event in the Southwest” Phoenix Comicon features such guests as William Shatner, LeVar Burton, Brent Spiner, Peter S. Beagle and many, many more. I’m just scratching the surface with this list. Be sure to follow the link above to learn all about the convention.

Unfortunately, my schedule at the observatory only allows me to attend Saturday and Sunday of Comicon, but I still look forward to seeing what I can while I’m there.

In the meantime, here’s where you can find me at the event:

  • Steampunk Fiction
    Saturday 3:00pm – 4:00pm.
    Also on the panel: Michael Spradlin
  • In Space, No One Can Hear You Say Arrrr!
    Sunday 10:30am – 11:30am.
    Also on the panel: Gini Koch
  • The Micro Publishing Option
    Sunday 1:30pm – 2:30pm.
    Also on the panel: Bob Nelson
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry
    Sunday 3:00pm – 4:00pm.
    Also on the panel: Marsheila Rockwell and Larry Hammer

If you’re in Phoenix for Memorial Day Weekend, I hope to see you there!