Posts Tagged ‘Flash Gordon’

This is the first of a new series I am planning about the movies, comics, toys, etc of the 1980s. In this entry I will briefly cover four genre films of 1980, Mad Max, Empire Strikes Back, Superman II, and Flash Gordon.

American science fiction started off bleak in the new decade with the release of the dystopian film Mad Max. Origionally released in Australia in 1979, Mad Max first played in American theaters on February 15th of the following year.

Written and directed by George Miller, a young Mel Gibson plays “Mad” Max Rockatansky, who drives a supercharged V8 powered Black Pursuit special through a dystopian Australia. He is a highway patrol cop who comes into conflict with a motorcycle gang (played by real bikers) led by a character named Nightrider.

Miller was inspired by his time working as a Dr. in Sydney where he saw many patients from car accidents, as well as witnessing car wrecks as a child. (1) The film was also inspired by the 1973 oil crisis which effected car owners both in Australia and around the world. His film would inspire (to date) three sequels, and made over $100 million world wide.

The dark trend would continue with what would be the highest grossing film of the year, The Empire Strikes Back. Released on May 17th. Empire was the sequel to the 1977 surprise smash hit Star Wars, which launched the first modern multi-media franchise that inspired everything in it’s wake.

Based on a story by Star Wars creator George Lucas, Empire was directed by Irvin Kershner with a screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Set three years after Star Wars, this film has the heroic rebels on the run from the evil Empire. Famous for ending with the villains on top, Han Solo gets captured, and in one of the great twists in film history, Darth Vader reveals that he is Luke Skywalker’s father. (When filming that famous scene, actor David Prowse, who played Vader, read the fake line “Obi-Wan killed your father.”)

As first film, Empire had an extensive action figure line that ran until 1982 (In 1983 the toyline shifted to that year’s Return of the Jedi film.) It is noteworthy that toy company Kenner also tried a new minature die cast toy line in 1982 called the Micro collection, which included vehicles and playsets. While the traditional action figures were succesful, Kenner lost money on the Micro collection.

Initially having mixed reviews, Empire is now considered the best Star Wars film. During it’s initial run it grossed $547 million worldwide.

Another film that was a part II would be released just about a month later in Superman II. Based on the DC comcis character, its predecessor was released in two years prior, but the studio actually filmed both movies back to back. Richard Donner directed the first film, and was fired from II with around 75% of the film completed. Richard Lester would finish it, his work included a new beginning set in Paris and a new ending.

Banished to the Phantom Zone in the beginning of the first film by Superman’s father Jor-El, Superman II has General Zod, Ursa, and Non accidentally freed to wreak havoc on Earth. Unlike the first film, where he fought Lex Luthor, Superman now faces villains his physical equal, all the while wishing to become an ordinary man and settle down with Lois Lane.

Lex Luthor appears in this film as well, assisting the Kryptonian villains in their conquet of the planet, on the condition that Luthor would rule Australia.

Superman II premiered in America on June 19th, though it was previously released overseas. It would make $190 million at the box office.

Also of note is that over 25 years later, in 2006, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on DVD. This version has a new beginning which cuts the Paris scene, a different ending where Superman reverses time again (as he did in the first film) and footage of Marlon Brando returning as Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El.

The last science fiction film of 1980 was an old character that inspired a lot of science fiction, but their own film was not nearly as succesful. Flash Gordon was origionally a character created for newspaper comic strips and debuted on January 7th, 1934. Drawn by Alex Raymond, it was created partly to compete with the already popular Buck Rogers strip. Buck Rogers, coincidentally, was in its second season of his own three year run on American television in 1980.

Flash Gordon features the titular character, a quarterback for the New York Jets, unwittingly sent into outspace along with travel agent Dale Arden and scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov. In space they encounter Ming the Merciless, played by Max Von Sydow, who plans to destroy Earth, apparantly out of bordeom.

Interstingly enough, George Lucas himself attempted to do a Flash Gordon movie in the late 70s, but was unable to acquire the rights. Failing this, Lucas would go on to create Star Wars. Flash is one of the myriad influences Lucas had in making his franchise, specifically regarding Empire, an ice planet and a floating city.

Mike Hodges would go on to direct Flash, which was co-written by Michael Allin and Lorenzo Semple Jr. Semple helped develop the 1966 Batman TV show, which was known for its campy style, a similar style would be used for this movie.

Flash made $27 million in its North American release. While it is now a cult classic and fondly remembered for its soundtrack by Queen, it is the only movie of the four sci-fi movies of 1980 to not get a sequel. Flash would go onto appear in a handful of cartoons and TV shows, but this film would be the last high profile moment of this science fiction icon.

1: Scott Murray and Peter Beilby, “George Miller: Director”, Cinema Papers, May-June 1979 p369-371


Prophecy is a comic book crossover featuring characters that Dynamite has the license too, Vampirella, Ash/Evil Dead, Red Sonja, and Pantha, along with public domain characters Sherlock Holmes, Alan Quatermain, Dorian Grey, and Dracula.

The tale starts in 1890 London. Inspector Lestrade and Sherlock Holmes investigate the murder of a man who was shot in a museum. Apparently, he was shot over an ancient Mayan artifact that is now missing.

Cut to the Yucatan Peninsula in 632 AD. At the height of the Mayan Empire, a sacrifice is to be made. The girl being sacrificed turns out to be Red Sonja, who, through magical means, is pursuing an arch foe of hers across time. The villain escapes again, and travels to the (at time of print) present day of 2012. There’s a collage of images as the characters go through time, which provides a few Easter eggs for readers. One image is of Project Superpowers, the universe Dynamite created for public domain super heroes. We also see the Lone Ranger, the 3 Musketeers, Robin Hood, Evil Dead, the Phantom, Zorro, and even what looks to be a vague image of Indiana Jones.

The second issue opens at Miskatonic Asylum, where Herbert West, the Re-Animator is committed. (We also see the creators of this series, Ron Marz, and Geovani Walter locked up here) The Re-Animator was a short story by H.P. Lovecraft of Cthulu fame. Miskatonic University was also a creation of Lovecraft that was referenced in several of his stories, appearing first in The Re-Animator. The infamous Necronomicon is also a creation of Lovecraft which is referenced often and is even a part of the Evil Dead mythos. Dynamite has previously made Re-Animator comics, though set in the modern day.

Anyway West escapes his captors and travels to South America. He is in possession of the Necronomicon, which he later says he got in exchange for a certain experiment on a certain client. I don’t know what this is a reference too but in the stories West has a formula that can resurrect the dead.

In South America Herbert West runs into Red Sonja, who has just appeared from the past. Vampirella also appears and the two women briefly fight. Vampirella is also accompanied by Dracula, and Pantha. Later we get Eva, who claims to be Dracula’s daughter.

Sonja somehow is able to speak English, and communicates that her arch foe has come here to cause the end of the world (Basically the Mayan 2012 prophecy). The heroes fight the villain in the temple, where they Greek Goddess Athena shows up to help. At this point several supernatural creatures are summoned and spread across the globe to wreak havoc. The rest of the story has the team splitting up to fight them, then converging back in South America for the final battle.

One of the creatures attacks Las Vegas, and Ash comes into the story at this point. Ash also knows West from previous encounters. Periodically we get flashbacks to Victorian England, where Holmes encounters Alan Quatermain and Dorian Grey. These parts were entertaining but I think I missed how they connect to the main story.

We get a big final battle at the end, during which Vampirella steals a line from the Army of Darkness movie (Which is the 3rd Evil Dead movie.). One interesting turn of events is that a certain character gets turned into a vampire, and is still a vampire at the end of the story. I’m curious to see how that was resolved in later comics. I liked that touch which added a real consequence to this series so it wasn’t just another crossover.

Overall Prophecy is a pretty effective crossover that unites a set of characters you might otherwise not think of seeing together.

King’s Watch is a new comic book from Dynamite crossing the action heroes from King’s Features; Flash Gordon, the Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and Lothar.

The series opens with Earth in mass hysteria as people all over the world have nightmares about monsters and other horrific imagery. Meanwhile some strange atmospheric phenomenon is occurring  and reporter Dale Arden is investigating. Mandrake the Magician has an ominous moment in his home, and there’s a few mystic characters in Africa but I’m not sure who they were.

Elsewhere in Africa, Lothar and the Phantom fight a giant monster in West Tanzania in a pretty cool action sequence. Flash Gordon here is the son of a CEO who is setting up private space exploration. Flash has met Dr. Zarkoff the issue ends with them flying off into space investigating the phenomenon.

While the source of the phenomenon appears to be from Flash Gordon mythology, it does not appear to be Ming the Merciless. So far it seems like a good concept and I’m curious to read more.

Popeye Meets the Man who Hated Laughter.

           Popeye meets the Man who Hated Laughter was a 1 hour cartoon special that aired on ABC in 1972 as part of The ABC Saturday Superstar Series. It is notable for crossing over various characters that were owned by King Features Syndicate. It’s also notable for being able to cross action adventure characters like The Phantom and Flash Gordon with humor based characters like Beetle Bailey and Blondie.

           What brings them together is the villain, Morbid Grimsbee. Apparently he’s won the meanie award 6 times, and wants to be the first 7 time winner. His assistant is Brutus from Popeye. His plan is to trick everyone to board a ship, the S.S. Hilarious. So the comedic characters board the ship thinking they’re going on a pleasure cruise and get some interaction with each other. Soon the ship self-destructs, and the characters are imprisoned on an island with Morbid Grimsbee. As the ship goes down Olive Oil makes Popeye save her clothes and not his spinach, hence Popeye is not able to save the day.

           Soon the President of the United States realizes that the Sunday morning cartoon characters have been captured. Since this is a national emergency he summons the Phantom, Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, Steve Canyon, and Lothar to the White House. These men form a rescue team and head to the island, but soon they are captured themselves. We get a few action sequences out of this with Flash and the Phantom. At one point the Phantom wrestles some kind of large cat, it might have been a jaguar. ALso Mandrake summons Prince Valiant from the past to assist them.

           However it is the comedic characters who end up saving the day, as they use their talents to make Grimsbee laugh, leading to a change of heart. The danger is not over as a volcano on the island erupts, forcing everyone to flee on Grimsbee’s Yellow Submarine. (King Features co-produced the Beatles cartoon Yellow Submarine). While under the sea they find Popeye’s spinach, allowing him to save the day from one last obstacle.

           In terms of crossovers Popeye Meets the Man who Hated Laughter is notable for bringing straight action adventure characters together with comedic characters. It’s also notable for the first animated appearance of Flash Gordon, Steve Canyon, Tim  Tyler, and the Phantom. In a way foreshadows the Defenders of the Earth cartoon of the 1980s, which had Flash, the Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician team up to fight Flash Gordon’s enemy Ming the Merciless.

Characters from the following strips appear in the show.

Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, Blondie, Beetle Bailey, Bringing Up Father, Flash Gordon, Henry, Hi and Lois, The Katzenjammer Kids, Little Iodine, The Little King, Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom, Popeye. Prince Valiant, Quincy, Steve Canyon, Tiger, Tim Tyler’s Luck