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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 their Queen, Kaiser Wilhelm, than another sprang up 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 fortynineth 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 tiny, technologically inferior 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 sent the entire planet Mongo Earthwards, hoping to canon our planet into Venus, devastating humanity and wiping out the rebel forces on the western hemisphere of Mongo in one felll swoop. Could anything stop him? Could anyone?
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 but the world's ears were deaf to his warnings and the army unwilling to provide men to counter the danger. It was a left to a small group of three brave souls to save the future of their species. But just who were these unheralded heroes? And why have we heard so little about them?
In many ways theirs was a tale not only of extraordinary bravery, but the perfect love story; a beautiful naif in the full flush of youth and the more experienced but still sensitive lover. But in 1930s America homosexuality was still punishable by electric-chair and so Flash Gordon and Doctor Hans Zarkov were 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 concealed his true nature with a cover-girlfriend while trying not to stare in the locker-room. Model/actress, Dale Arden, happily posed as Flash's girl to protect herself from the casting couch while still coming to terms with being a worshipper at the furry-temple herself.
Five years before Ming's despicable plan was hatched Zarkov had been forced to flee Russia following Stalin's infamous 1934 purge of gay astro-physicists. He had been the first to spot the threat from Mongo but his warnings were ignored by American Space Science (ASS) due to his supposed communist sympathy and execrable taste in shorts. Somehow he cobbled together Earth's first space-craft and, along with Flash and Dale, set off into the cosmos to confront the danger.
This is the story of surely the most unlikely army to ever defend our planet.
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. Almost incredibly the atmosphere was tolerable to humans and the natives, however fierce, spoke flawless English.
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, peculiarly armed with both ray-guns and spears. 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.
It has been suggested that Mongo's legal system lacked clarity and impartiality but recent re-examination of the evidence suggests the reverse, all offenders were equally punished as the sentence for all crimes against Ming was death and an astonishing 100% conviction rate suggests that Mongo's detective force have much to teach us.
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 flamboyant carnival costume, manicure and carefully plucked eyebrows doing little to disguise his own sexuality. In an unexpected turn-around, Ming determined to marry Dale for artificial-insemination purposes while condemning Flash to his own pleasure dungeon. Clapped in irons, Zarkov was forced to work in the Imperial research laboratories, among the Lava-lamps and Van der Graafs' where Ming could find him should his tastes for tender flesh give way to some old-fashioned bear-fancying.
Ignored among the throng of flunkies Princess Aura, the result of Ming's early attempts to disguise his true nature, wept. An upbringing at the Imperial court had seen Aura become an ardent fag-hag and she despaired at Flash's fate. A plan was hatched and within hours she had rescued Flash from the dungeon and helped him to escape the city into the catacombs below. Meanwhile Dale gave in to hopelessness as she realised that only her dyslexia had convinced her that the written judgement had condemned her to "get better aquainted with Minge".
Return and Escape (again)
In the catacombs Flash met another escapee, Prince Thun of the Lion-men, who was impressed by Flash's whip-handling skills and his ability to swallow meat. Unable to face life without Zarkov, Flash soon persuaded Thun to return to the city with him. Quickly they broke into the Research lab. and freed the scientist, though not before Zarkov had disabled many of Ming's security systems. On the way out of the city Flash took time to rescue Dale, who appeared to have been brain-washed and was strangely reluctant to be parted from Ming's elite female warriors, the Amazoomas.
Relieved to have avoided forced marriage to Ming, Dale was nevertheless devastated to be separated from her guards and her sobs alerted the attention of the Shark-men's King Kala, one of Ming's most loyal henchmen. 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 tha Octasak and at least 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 should. Using her ultra-powered laser hand-gun she destroyed the sluice-gates that guarded the underwater city and only the timely intervention of Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen rescued the Earth party from certain drowning.
The Rebel Alliance
Overtly heterosexual despite his choice of clothes, Prince Vultan, took Dale and Flash back to his Sky-city to feed to his young. Along the way they discussed the possibility of overthrowing Ming while, on the otherside of Mongo, Dr Zarkov befriended Prince Barin of Arboria who shared an interest in tights and funny hats. Vultan was impressed by Dale's interest in chicks but ultimately 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 Avians often have underdeveloped parietal lobes and Vultan's Brodmann's area may well have oxygen-deprived due to a particularly tight helmet.
Meanwhile Prince Barin and Zarkov mounted an unnecessary assault on Sky-city to save Flash. The attack misfired badly when Barin discovered that bow and arrow were no match for laser weaponry. Initially, Vultan planned to execute Barin as the Hawkmen had a long-standing objection to Arborean use of the flight-feathers in arrow manufacture. However, when an explosion in Sky-city's Atom-furnace threatened to send their home plunging through the clouds only Zarkov could fix the problem and soon the rival rebel groups came together in the fight against their common foe.
Within days a twin-assault of Mongo-city was underway with the Hawkmen probing Ming's air-defences and the Arboreans rushing the walls. But the attack started badly as Flash's ship was grounded by massed melt-rays and they were once more attacked by Mongosaurs. Only the intervention of Ming's troops saved Flash from slow reptilian digestion but he was not yet safe. Outraged by the attack 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 (again) when, perhaps overcome by the sight of Flash's manly chest glistening with sweat, the Emperor began to throw bananas into the pit. When the Orangupoid was distracted Flash took the opportunity to kill it, 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 pleasure dungeon, strapped securely into the electric nipple-clamp 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 nipple-clamp. Soon Flash was free once more and, 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. Once more it seemed that his time was up.
Even as the guards closed in around our helpless hero Ming crumbled. The two men declared their devotion to each other while below the city Zarkov and Barin, and Aura and Dale did likewise. Mongo's civil war was over and the threat to Earth deflected by love and the compatability of Ming's sadism with Flash's enthusiastic masochism.
There are no statues of Gordon, Arden and Zarkov; their names are not recited in History classes across a grateful planet. But why is so little known of this heroic trio? Surely no three people to have done more for humanity. Can the world really have been so fixated by World War as to ignore their feats? Or is it merely that these exciting events happened at such distance from us as to be meaningless beside the suffering of millions around the world?
Perhaps. Or perhaps, difficult as it is to believe in these days when homosexuality is compulsary in America, the United States was not yet ready to accept that their lives depended on the bravery and willing sacrfice of two confirmed batchelors and a lipstick lesbian.