Review: Flash Gordon Strange Adventure Magazine: So bad it’s good

Most of the time, I review pulps that I like after having read them. Not so with Flash Gordon Strange Adventure Magazine (FGSAM). Reading it was like watching a badly-made B-movie, and since Mystery Science Theatre 3000 showed that an audience exists that appreciates such a thing, here’s my attempt to grab a slice of that pizza.

FGSAM was brought out by Harold Hersey to try and capitalize on the growing comics craze. In format, it’s a hybrid of pulp magazine and comic. It has full color illustrations like a comic, but they’re supplemental to the text. It was supposed to appeal to both comic and magazine readers.

Flash Gordon Strange Adventure Magazine, Dec 1936

The cover: Flash Gordon is in the arms of Dale Arden, looking like he’s been puking his guts out after a night on the town that’s left him dressed in yellow speedo, underwear and boots. There are a couple of brownish yellow blobs near his feet that corroborate this theory. Dale is wearing a red dress and looking suitably concerned. Zarkov is groping Flash with one hand and pointing a child’s toy revolver at the sky with the other hand. In the background is Martian Baghdad, or is it Moscow? The artist wisely prefers anonymity, leaving the image unsigned. there is an prominent protrusion in the background which might be a clue to the artist’s name. Dick, is it?

Inside, there are 15 pages of ads, the cover illustration takes up one page and full color full page illustrations account for another eight pages, saving us the agony of more short stories. Thank you, mr. anonymous artist. You did your best.

Even the adman tried to warn us.

Ad for Probak blades

But will we listen? Hell, no!

The lead story, titled The Master of Mars, is an obvious pastiche of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars. Mars is governed by a dictatorial warlord, Pwami (a very low budget Ming the Merciless), who has wet dreams of becoming Emperor of the Universe. Flash’s buddy, Zarkov has discovered how to harness atomic energy from rudium. A very impolite element, which is why no one wanted to use it earlier.

Zarkov too has wet dreams, dreams of ending Martian drought. Just how is not clear. Pwami, much more sensibly, wants to use atomic death rays to conquer the Universe. Flash, Zarkov and Dale have been leading a rebellion against Pwami, who in turn has been spying on them to discover Zarkov’s secret.

Zarkov, the genius, decides the best thing to do is to ride up to Pwami’s fortress, unarmed. His plan is to convince Pwami to voluntarily step down in the hope that the Martians will vote for him because he resigned.

When they reach the fortress, Pwami hears Zarkov explain this mastermind 3d vulcan chess move and has them imprisoned. Can you blame him?

Zarkov is given the choice of revealing the secret or watching Flash die. Zarkov must be pissed off at Flash; he declines Pwami’s generous offer and Flash is thrown into a pit with a Martian pythocra, a species of constrictor that also exhales poisonous gas to stun its victim. Flash, unwilling to face a poison gas attack, hides behind it and strangles it, then snaps its neck after a brief struggle. Thwarted, snarling, Pwami orders the pit to be filled with acid. But, having let his subscription to Evil Overlords Monthly lapse, he missed the crucial article on how to deal with heroes that he’s captured (“Kill them immediately. No talking”). He lets Flash live but hides the fact from Zarkov and Dale.

Flash is imprisoned, again. Chained to the wall with electrified chains, Flash will die if he touches the metal door. Presumably the floors, walls and ceiling are padded with rubber, resembling the room in which the author lived. Resistance is shockingly impossible.

Fortunately, he has a cellmate, George, who he beats senseless. Then he calls the guard, Hanko, and jumps him. Flash grounds and kills the guard, wears his dress as a disguise and climbs out of the dungeon. Only to learn that Pwami plans to marry Dale. Why exactly Pwami felt the need to enter into holy matrimony with a woman he already has on a chain is not clear.

Flash climbs into the fortress’ tallest tower to save Dale. Rescuing Dale (who is captioned Jane in an illustration), he knocks out Pwami and escapes in a conveniently placed rocket with Dale and Zarkov. The rocket is shot down by a ray gun and they fall into the one canal on Mars that is the home of the shark men. The shark men attack and Flash and Dale are dragged down to the layer of the shark men and chained to a wall to await their doom (Does everyone on Mars have a bondage fetish?).

As they’re released from the shackles to be led to the sacrificial altar, Flash attacks the shark men and escapes with Dale. They climb a airshaft and reach the surface near another convenient space craft. This too, has the keys left in the ignition. The local insurance company needs to make some educational videos.

Flash and Dale enter the craft and then Flash is knocked out by a blow on the head. When he becomes conscious, he discovers he’s heading for Jupiter in the company of Illana (anagram of Allian aka alien), the daughter of Grotta, the King of Jupiter. Illana has traded Dale for Flash and is taking him to a fate worse than death. The author is an equal-opportunity sadist.

En route, a convenient crash on a planetoid with a magnetic mountain upsets her plans and sets Flash free. The planetoid is twenty miles in diameter, and can have no atmosphere, yet it’s covered in tropical forest and inhabited by gorilla men who kidnap Illana and tie her and Flash to stakes, pending their ultimate disposal.

What happened to eating your food fresh?. The generous gorilla men give them plenty of time to chat. Flash makes Illana realize her cruelty, she reforms and informs Flash that Zarkov is a prisoner on Ceres and Pwami has obtained Zarkov’s secret.

Roused by this news, Flash rubs his ropes and burns through them by friction. Releasing Illana, he makes his way back to the space ship. The gorilla people never will think to look for them there. Flash locks Illana inside the ship and goes out to assemble a radio. Which he does, and hails a passing Martian ship. Which takes them both to Ceres, where Flash coaxes Captain Hoxor of the prison guard into giving them a tour of the prison using sheer force of personality and yet another stolen uniform (Do they all wear sweat-shirts and pajamas? How does Flash always manage to fit into everything despite taking a size XXL?).

Flash finds Zarkov and tries to lead him out, only Zarkov needs a stimulant, trapholyn. Which can be obtained from the infirmary near Hoxor’s office. As Flash raids the infirmary, Hoxor detects him and has to be subdued. Zarkov revives and they leave for Earth, which Pwami intends to conquer and use as a stage for his wedding to Dale. The attraction of marrying on a pile of rubble is not clear.

The obvious course of action would be to head to Earth right away in the Martian ship and wait for Pwami and Dale to land. Instead they go back t o the planetoid with the crashed ship, repair it, and then ride into the middle of the Martian fleet that’s heading to Earth. They pretend to crash and ask for help.

Pwami, a cunning criminal, arms his doors with a stupefying device. When Flash jumps into Pwami’s ship, he’s knocked out. Pwami, sneering, lords it over them and calls them to witness the destruction of the Earth fleet. Not knowing when to stop, he even offers Flash a chance to use the gun. Flash fires it, apparently relishing the experience. Then he offers to join Pwami.

Pwami, twirling his moustache, joins in a toast to his success and glory. With wine provided by Flash. Which is drugged. Pwami, fearing treachery, refuses to drink but the rest of his crew does. And falls unconscious. Pwami and Flash fight; Flash wins and the dictatorship is no more. The story ends here. For which I personally went down on my knees and thanked my maker.

Next comes The Saga of the Smokepot. Which should have been called The Saga of the Crackpot. A doomed ship is rescued from an alien creature called Starnuts by an insane crew member who snaps back into sanity just in time for the author to bring the story to a happy ending. The author, however, remains insane as far as we know.

The Last War is an Adam and Eve story set in an apocalyptic future where humans have wiped themselves out, leaving two people, Rai Ymra (an anagram of Air Army), and Tula. At which point the story ends, leading us to the terrors of…

The Man without a Brain, where two medical professional listen to the account of a vivisectionist who has taken out a human being’s brain, part by part, presumably to create the target audience of this magazine.

And with that, we come to the ads, the most readable part of the magazine. Mostly uninteresting, offering education and training for climbing the corporate ladder. Except for the last page, which has ads for rockets ships, bombs, tap dancing (featuring a one-legged man in a tuxedo) and an electric eye.

I’m sending my quarter to them for the tap dancing lessons. If they can teach a one-legged man to dance, they might be able to help me.

Admit it, you thought I was exaggerating about the ads, didn’t you.

An announcement for the next issue of this magazine threatens further horrors, but thankfully for us, they remained unpublished.

Feeling brave? Read it yourself:

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