Tag: Flash Gordon

Flash Fiction: The End?

Courtesy fuckyeahspaceship.tumblr.com

Behold, the last 1000 words of a non-existent novel.

He surveyed the damage from the Tower. It, and he, rose high above the palace, and he could see the Lightning Field, now back online, reflecting off of the shattered glass and twisted structural damage of his throne room below. Crews were already hard at work cleaning up the mess. They knew what it meant to disappoint Ming the Merciless.

His arms were behind his back, and he felt an errant twitch in his left hand. That was to be expected. The Consciousness Transmitter hidden in his signet ring always took a toll on him when it was activated. If he were a superstitious ruler, he would be thanking some amorphous, imaginary being like those worshiped by his duller subjects that the rebels had not discovered the Vats, and the cloned bodies Klytus had hidden within. But no god had intervened to restore Ming to life. Like all things within Mongo, life and death were the purview of Ming himself.

Even if Gordon was too stupid to realize that.

Gordon. Ming’s fists tightened. The Earthling’s defiance was a problem. When he and his companions had first appeared, their crude flying machine caught in one of the storms Ming had transmitted from Tropica to the insignificant planet Earth, Ming had welcomed the distraction. Mongo’s princes were dull, predictable guttersnipes, all too easy to manipulate. The Earthlings were quite similar to most of his subjects in form and function, and even as Ming continued to rain destruction on Earth, he had wondered what the princes would make of the newcomers.

Now he knew. Gordon’s fragile but effective alliance with the Hawkmen and the insufferable Prince Barin proved that the Earthling was both a warrior to be respected and a leader to be watched. In the wake of his raid on the palace, Klytus was dead, Baylin missing, and Ming’s prize, Dale Arden, stolen. Apparently, Dale was ‘married’ to the Earthling Zarkov, whatever that meant, and Gordon’s selfless act of throwing himself into the teeth of both Ming’s guard and the Lightning Field to rescue a female not his own was capturing hearts and minds throughout Mongo.

Ming toyed with the idea of summoning some concubines. Two? No, three at the very least. His rage at Gordon coupled with the thrill of facing so worthy an opponent and brushing against the sweet, ever-present and waiting embrace of oblivion would make his passion powerful. He’d likely kill one. But he was willing to wait. He had plans to make, first.

“What commands for your loyal subjects, O Emperor of Mongo, O ruler of my heart?”

He smiled, turning to face his daughter. Aura knelt before him, demure and obedient, eyes shining in the semi-darkness of the Mongo evening, the Lightning Field catching in the gold filigree worked into her hair. His seething anger gave way to pride. His daughter was fearful of reprisal for her failure. Her attempt to play Gordon and Barin against one another had failed, unfortunately, and being spurred by both of them could not be easy for her. She, like Ming, was used to getting what she wanted. Gordon was to be her plaything, and Barin the means to ensure tighter control over Mongo. Ming knew she toyed with the idea of usurping him, and it amused him to watch her try. He reached down and touched her hair.

“Do you mean to rule in my stead, dear daughter?”

“Only until you are well enough to return in full, my lord.”

“And you will step aside willingly on that day? It may come too soon for your liking.”

She took his hand in both of hers, kissing his palm and wrist. “Now more than ever, we need your power and brilliance. Mongo will fall into chaos without your fist clutching its lands and people.”

His lips slowly curled into a smile. “Did you say something similar to Barin?”

Her eyes looked up, seeking his. “It doesn’t matter what I said to him, Father. Or to Flash Gordon. Seeing your body dead by their swords… I did not expect to be so upset by it.”

“Especially if you mean to take my throne by force one day,” Ming said. “I did not come to my place of power by being Ming the Merciful. You must harden yourself against death, my daughter. You will see it just as often as you cause it.”

“Yes, Father. I do not expect you to forgive my indiscretions. I await your punishment.”

He stroked his beard, and fought down the errant twitch in the hand doing it. It would take time for those things to subside. And he did not want Gordon or Barin or Vultan to know he was alive while any potential weakness existed.

“Your punishment is to deal with these sniveling upstarts. Double the guard patrols, step up the execution schedule, and cancel all state holidays until further notice. Mongo is ours to rule, and as long as we rule it, it shall do well to remember what it means to cross Ming and Aura.”

The Princess rose, her stunning smile a mask for the malice in her eyes. “They will never forget me. They may think they’ve won, that I will be weeping in my chambers for their lost hearts, but when I show them their hearts, still beating, they will regret choosing ‘freedom’ and ‘friendship’ over Aura.”

“Now those are the words worth of Ming’s blood.” He took her hand and kissed it. “Go, and show no mercy.”

She sauntered away, and Ming turned back to the window. Somewhere out there, in Arboria or perhaps the Sky City, Flash Gordon was likely celebrating a victory. Ming hoped the Earthling enjoyed it. Soon, pain and misery would be all he knew, and the so-called ‘Saviour of the Universe’ would beg Ming for mercy before the end, mercy that would never come, and honestly, Gordon should know better than to ask.

Ming activated the intercom to the wing of his palace containing his concubines.

“Send up three… no, four to the Tower immediately. The night is young, and it shall not be wasted.”

Spectacles with Smarts

There was a time when I could buy the argument of a fictional work being fun for its own sake. Specatcle that aims to be nothing but spectacle has its place, usually in the skies above parking lots as fireworks explode in the darkness. But in the arenas of storytelling, be it printed or in motion, characters that feel human and storylines that lead to a satisfactory end in paths audiences can follow will slay works based entirely on spectacle every time.

To illustrate my point, let’s compare the films Flash Gordon and Scott Pilgrim Versus The World.

Both are based on printed comic adventures. Both feature arguably normal human beings thrown into abnormal situations. Both films have bright, splashy color pallettes and kickass soundtracks. And both are largely considered cult classics having not performed well at the box office. Of the two of them, I would say that Scott Pilgrim is the superior work by a large margin.

Courtesy DEG

I’ve reviewed both movies, and looking back on my take on Flash Gordon, I can see why I was so favorably disposed towards it. It’s unashamedly fun. Camp for camp’s sake was pretty big in the 80s, as evidenced by this and Rocky Horror Picture Show among others. Rocky Horror survives due to its cult camp appeal and the fact that large groups see it together. Flash Gordon is also better viewed with a group, if only so there are others with whom you can laugh at the production.

Comics and their heroes tend to be silly in one way or another, but embracing that silliness can be a delicate operation. Making the premise of a man wearing the flag of his country or a woman doing acrobatic assaults in impractical outfits work as a plausible, relatable story takes effort and thought. Opting for total abandonment of coherence for the sake of spectacle is much easier. Flash Gordon does the latter. I still think Max vod Sydow’s Ming the Merciless is a delightfully callous villain, the Queen soundtrack can be enjoyed outside of the context of the film, and Brian Blessed turned loose on his fellow actors is fun to watch, but there are major problems a production based on campy set pieces cannot overcome. Characters have no arcs, no growth. The plot shambles aimlessly, forgotten for the sake of the visuals which have not all aged well. It’s a relic of a different age, and the wrinkles do unfortunately show. I still think it’s possible to have fun just sitting back and watching Flash Gordon, but your brain is not engaged while doing so.

Courtesy Universal Pictures

By comparison, Scott Pilgrim balances its sillier elements with good character growth and interaction and a plot that can be followed without difficulty. Scott’s struggle to overcome his own insecurities is enhanced by his battles with Ramona’s evil exes, rather than overwhelmed by those battles. His relationship with Ramona also has some weight to it, despite its supernatural trappings, and there are even realistic relationship with Knives and Kim, to say nothing of the advice and support of Wallace. Rather than laughing at Scott Pilgrim, we laugh with it. While the far-flung moons of Mongo feel distant and alien, and not in a good way, Toronto and the young people in it are relatable and realistic, high-octane psychic kung-fu battles notwithstanding.

Could a better story be made of Flash Gordon? Certainly. If Flash had flaws to overcome, doubts to face, the freedom to learn more about the other characters outside of broad and ill-defined characterstics, he’d be a better hero for us to get behind. Let his relationships with Dale, Zarkov, the princess, the Hawkmen, even Ming develop naturally. I say keep the garish colors and the operatic rock soundtrack, but make this plot and these characters mean something other than a vehicle for the set pieces. It’s the 21st century, after all; there’s no reason we can’t have unique spectacles that also engage us on the basic levels of storytelling.

Courtesy Marvel Studios

Dumb fun will arguably always have its place, be it in mindless shooting games like Painkiller, Space Marine, or Serious Sam, or films that are great fodder for parties with friends, like Flash Gordon, most of the Star Wars films, the Grindhouse movies, or most flicks starring Arnold or Sly. But to ask for something substantial in the story department or some decent characters we can get behind is not a tall order. The Avengers would simply not have worked as well as it does if the admittedly silly superheroes who star in it didn’t have realized characters with complex relationships and understandable motivations. Oh, it would have been fun, certainly… but as it stands, it’s both fun AND engaging. It’s a spectacle that’s also smart.

Don’t ever underestimate your audience. Keep your writing broad and simple at your own peril. The more you engage the reader’s brain, the more you make them think about and relate to your characters, the more they’ll want. It’s not unreasonable for today’s audiences to expect, nay, demand their entertainment be smart as well as entertaining. And we, as entertainers, should be all too happy to oblige.

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