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Flash Gordon is a classic science fiction comic written and drawn by Alex Raymond in the year 1934 and published by King Features. It tells the story of Flash Gordon, an athlete who travels with reporter Dale Arden and Dr Hans Zarkov in a rocket Zarkov built to the planet Mongo, ruled by Ming the Merciless (Fu Manchu IN SPACE). Flash sets to incite revolution. But wait! Dale is in love with him, and so is Princess Aura! They are aided by Prince Barin of Arboria, Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen and Queen Desira of Tropica. Later stories featured Flash and company traveling to other planets, but the Mongo story arc is by far the most famous.
Although originally a comic strip, there have been several adaptations of the story: first was the 1936 serial starring Buster Crabbe as Flash, which was widely acclaimed and one of the more popular serials of its time. There were several animated series, a 1950s live-action series, and a 2007 live-action series by the Sci-Fi Channel, which is basically Smallville hampered by the fact that Flash Gordon is no Superman. (And let's face it: you know you're in trouble when people say you're not as good as Smallville.) The series arguably improved after a mid-season Retool and concluded its first season in January 2008. Sci-Fi ultimately declined to renew it, however, effectively ending the series on an unresolved cliffhanger.
None of these are nearly as well known or as fun as the 1980 live-action movie adaptation, aptly titled Flash Gordon. Starring Sam J Jones as Flash, Max von Sydow as Ming the Merciless, Topol as Dr Zarkov, Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin, Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan, and, if you look carefully, you'll spot Richard O'Brien (aka Riff Raff) as one of Barin's men. Widely considered a Cult Classic and enormously popular in Great Britain, the movie is pretty much exactly what would have happened if King Features had ten times the budget, big-name actors and better special effects, and the exact same script, down to Asian stereotyping and completely insane dialogue.
And then you have the animated adaptations... including one in advance of the 1980 movie by Filmation, the people who did Star Trek the Animated Series. Perhaps best described as a children's version of a sketchy rock album cover come to life, with lion-men instead of ligers.
An enormous influence on Star Wars: indeed, George Lucas wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie until Dino De Laurentiis, who held the rights, said no. Considering the massive flop the movie was, Dino might have done better if he'd taken George up on the offer.
The classic comic strip provides examples of:
- Art Evolution: Alex Raymond's method of drawing notably evolved and improved as the series progressed. For a time he used a dry-brush drawing style with lots of hatching, as was common in Pulp Magazine black-and-white interior illustrations. Later, he switched to a clearer line style, used in conjunction with Prince Valiant-esque still images that mimicked paintings.
- When the strip began, the people on planet Mongo all had yellow skin (most of the time, anyway). Plus, Princess Aura was a redhead, and Prince Barin was bald. A few years in, the yellow skin-tone was dropped and the humanoid denizens of Mongo started being drawn as white. At the same time, Aura became a blonde and Barin suddenly sprouted a full head of black hair (which the strip lampshaded as him defying Ming's decrees on proper court fashion).
- And Now You Must Marry Me
- Badass Normal
- Bald of Awesome: Barin (until he defies Ming's fashion decrees by growing his hair out)
- Bald of Evil: Ming
- Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me
- Bare Your Midriff
- Beard of Evil
- Beast Man: Several races of Mongo, including Lion Men, Hawk Men, Fang Men, Ape Man (red and not), Blue Dragon men, Panther Men and so on.
- Beneath Mongo: The Cavern World of Syk.
- Big Damn Heroes
- Big Fun: Vultan's got a belly on him.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Vultan
- Damsel in Distress: Dale
- Dark Action Girl: Aura
- Egopolis: Mingo City
- The Emperor: Ming the Merciless.
- The Empire: Mongo.
- Everything's Better with Princesses: Aura, among others
- Evil Laugh
- Femme Fatale: Aura, though she does a Heel Face Turn.
- Five-Man Band: In the first volumes at least, there's the following scheme:
- Good Hair, Evil Hair
- Green-Skinned Space Babe: Yellow-skinned, here. For the first several years at least.
- Heroes Prefer Swords: Really, now.
- Heel Face Turn: Vultan, Aura, Azura... actually, a lot of Flash's allies started out as antagonists.
- I Gave My Word
- It's Up to You: Only a wayward athlete can save the earth.
- Ivy League: Flash is a Yale man.
- Kaiju: Mongo just wouldn't be Mongo without giant monsters everywhere.
- In one istance, Gordon gets randomly attacked by a giant snake while walking around with Azura.
- Lizard Folk: The Lizard Men. They try to capture and cook Gordon, but are quickly dispatched by the Hawkmen.
- Love Dodecahedron: Flash loves Dale, Dale loves Flash, Aura loves Flash, Barin loves Aura, Ming lusts after Dale. (Aura eventually switches to Barin, though)
- Mad Scientist: He's a nice guy, but Zarkov's got more than a touch of this, at least in the beginning.
- Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Not so much Mad Scientist as Emperor, but still a major influence.
- Mirror Morality Machine: Azura brainwashes Flash for a while.
- Mix-and-Match Critters
- Ms. Fanservice: Aura
- Multicultural Alien Planet: Because the comic is set entirely on Mongo and doesn't do any standard planet hopping (at least, not until the strip's later years), Mongo is an incredibly diverse planet.
- My Breasts Are Down Here: Princess Aura's at the beginning used to wear this kind of garments.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Ming the Merciless.
- Petting Zoo People: Lion Men, among others.
- Planet of Hats
- Planetary Romance: For one thing, Aura and the various moons of Mongo.
- Power Trio: Flash, Dale and Zarkov
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: Lots of them, but Thun's probably the most notable.
- Puny Earthlings: Who can save you now?
- Raygun Gothic: The entire concept of Flash Gordon embodies the trope.
- Retro Rockets: Your classic cigar-shaped rockets with tail fins. In the film serials, they actually puff smoke!
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves
- Robin Hood: The obvious visual inspiration for Barin and the Arborians.
- Schizo-Tech: So much! But totally justified by Rule of Cool.
- Shock and Awe: Part of the arc in the Snow Kingdom is dedicated to hunting down a colossal monster that blows people up with his electrified tentacles.
- Something They Would Never Say
- Space Opera: Trope Codifier.
- Twenty Minutes Into the Future: Until the 1980 movie, Flash was always from the future. In the comics, prior to WWII, there was no date given. Following WWII, they were set "ten years into the future".
- The Filmation 1970s animated movie (on which the '70s animated TV series was based) has Flash, Dale, and Zarkov leave Earth in the 1940s--which explains the period hairdos on the three Earthlings in the '70s series.
- The 1950s TV show was set over a thousand years in the future.
- Underwater City: Corallia
- Weird Science
- White Anglo Saxon Protestant: Flash Gordon is a Yale man and champion polo player.
- Winged Humanoid: The Hawkmen, although not the delicate beings you'd expect...
- Yellow Peril: Ming, Ming, Ming! Oddly enough, the theme song to the movie became incredibly popular in Japan. It helps a lot that Ming looks Chinese rather Japanese; that the two were at war at the time; and Max Von Sydow basically plays himself in oriental drag (in the 1980 film).
Adaptations with their own trope pages include:
- Flash Gordon Serial (1930s film serials)
- Flash Gordon 1954 (1950s live-action series)
- Flash Gordon (1979 animated series)
- Flash Gordon (1980 movie)
- Flash Gordon 1996 (1996 animated series)
- Flash Gordon (2007 live-action series)
Other adaptations provide examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: The tragically little-known 1988 DC Comics adaptation.
- Aliens Speaking English
- "Hey You!" Haymaker: Used by the title character in one live-action TV Remake when he taps a Mook on the shoulder and slugs him when he turns around.
- Sensible Heroes, Skimpy Villains