Dr. Hans Zarkov, obsessed by a need to rescue his sagging reputation and a desire to demonstrate that intelligent life exists on other planets, forced Flash Gordon and Dale Arden to climb with him into a small space probe.
The unlikely trio took off from artist-writer Dan Jurgens' drawing table, and crashed on Mongo, a grim, gray planet ruled by the merciless Lord Ming, who immediately developed a passion for Dale and a hatred for Flash.It happened in the first issue of the new "Flash Gordon," published last month by D.C. Comics.
In fact, it's pretty much the way it happened on Jan. 7, 1934, when Flash Gordon, the quintessential adventure comic of the 1930s and 1940s, appeared for the first time.
Jurgens has made some changes to suit the times, but the duel between the vile Ming and Flash Gordon and friends remains a battle between the forces of evil and crusaders for truth, justice and the American Way.
Ming uses his thugs and the killer creatures of his planet to try to destroy Flash and capture Dale; Flash enlists the help of Mongo's repressed tribes to try to overthrow the maniacal dictator.
"Some of those things are classic," Jurgens, of Edina, Minn., said recently. "You don't want to fool with them."
Flash Gordon, written and drawn by Alex Raymond, was for many years one of the country's most popular comics series. It appeared in hundreds of newspapers, and kids lined up at their local newsstands each month when the new comic book was delivered.
But Raymond, now revered as one of the all-time masters of the comics medium, gave up the strip to join the U.S. Marines during World War II, and never went back to it. (He died in an auto accident in 1956.)
A succession of other artists continued Flash Gordon, but comic book circulation and the number of newspapers buying the daily and Sunday strips dwindled. The newspaper strip still is produced for King Features Syndicate, and appears in a handful of papers nationwide, but publication of the comic books ceased in 1969.
Flash Gordon was revived in a comic book featuring other old heroes in 1986, but the concept much violence in the GI Joe mode and stories geared to TV cartoon-watching children was a flop.
It seemed that a great American hero had gone forever into obscurity, until D.C. Comics, one of the country's two major comic book publishers, decided early last year that the only thing wrong with Flash Gordon and crew was that they were dated.
D.C. negotiated with King Features for rights to publish comic books, and then asked Jurgens to become the writer and lead artist.
Jurgens, 28, has worked for D.C. as a free-lancer since he was 23. For the past few years, he has been under exclusive contract to the big New York publisher.
He was a success, if not quite a star, in the comic book firmament. Last spring, when the Flash Gordon offer came, he was just wrapping up the last of a series of comic books on Booster Gold, a uniformed superhero of his own creation.
The thought of trying to redo the work of Alex Raymond was intimidating, Jurgens said.
"It's regarded as classic material, and it's part of American lore and legend."
Besides, he said, he had a bit of an attitude problem: "I can't see the remaking of classic movies, so I had to look at why we should redo Flash Gordon. When the original still exists, what's the point of doing it again? So I had to see why we should redo this."
He decided that the point of recreating Flash Gordon was "to add something fresh, yet keep it entertaining and do justice to the original."
The first Flash Gordon book produced by Jurgens sticks fairly closely to the first series of strips Raymond produced. Jurgens made some technical changes Mongo is no longer hurtling toward Earth, for example because even young readers know more about science now. But the main changes involve the characters.