Fifty years ago, a single-engine plane crashed into a Iowa field, instantly killing three men and officially opening rock ‘n’ roll heaven.
The years haven’t dimmed the fascination with the night of February 3, 1959, when 22-year-old Buddy Holly, 28-year-old J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and 17-year-old Ritchie Valens performed in Clear Lake the night before and then boarded the plane for a planned 300-mile flight to their next gig. Their deaths would be immortalized in the Don McLean song "American Pie" as The Day The Music Died.
Full disclosure: I had edited a [[[Flash Gordon]]] comics series at one point in my life. It was the third greatest nightmare in my professional life. Not the part about working with the talented and understanding Dan Jurgens; Dan’s a class act and a fine storyteller. No, working with King Features Syndicate was akin to Sisyphus’s task, except the big rock was a huge boulder of shit and pushing it up that mountain happened in the dead of the hottest summer in the innermost circle of hell. And I’ve lightened up on this over the years, too. And so, on with the show.
There may be no greater icon in comic strip history than Flash Gordon. Sorry, [[[Buck Rogers]]]. You came first but Flash had better art and story, and a much, much better villain. Creator/artist Alex Raymond is generally regarded as the greatest craftsman in the field; so great, in fact, that after Dave Sim recovered from producing 300 consecutive issues of [[[Cerebus]]], he started up on a series called [[[Glamourpuss]]] that, oddly, is all about Raymond’s work.
Flash was the subject of what is also generally regarding as the three greatest movie serials ever made due, in no small part, to the performance of actor Charles Middleton as Ming The Merciless. And he had all the other media tie-ins: a radio series starring Gale Gordon (yep; Lucille Ball’s foil), a teevee series staring future Doc Savage model Steve Holland and a teevee series on Sci-Fi last year that was completely unwatchable, various animated series, a movie feature and another one in pre-production and numerous comic books by people including Archie Goodwin, Al Williamson, Reed Crandall, and Wally Wood, and licensed items. When Raymond went off to war, he was replaced by a series of artists nearly equal to him in talent: Austin Briggs, Mac Raboy (my favorite), and Dan Barry.
There’s a reason why Flash Gordon attracted such top-rank talent. Sadly, that’s also the same reason why Flash Gordon is an icon and no longer active in our contemporary entertainment: nostalgia. Flash Gordon was a product of his times, a wondrous visionary made irrelevant by real-life heroes such as Laika the dog, the first living being to orbit the Earth, and Yuri Gagaran, the first human being to orbit the Earth. Only Yuri returned alive, but I digress.
Science fiction was rocked to its core. It took talent like Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock, and Gene Roddenberry to re-purpose the genre, to focus more on the social aspects of the genre and extend those concepts out into the future. If you’re going to make Flash Gordon work in the 21st century – or the last four decades of the 20th, for that matter, you’ve got to distill the concept down to its essence and rebuild according to the mentality of our time.
After the August issue of DC Comics’ MAD Magazine featured a spoof on consumer electronics retailer Circuit City titled "Sucker City," the retailer’s corporate office had the publication banned from stores, according to a recent report from Associated Press. The ban was lifted a short time later, however, and the store issued an apology to customers and MAD Magazine.
"We apologize for the knee-jerk reaction, and have issued a retraction order; the affected stores are being directed to put the magazines back on sale," spokesman Jim Babb said in an e-mail response. "The parody of our newspaper ad in the August MAD was very clever. Most of us at Circuit City share a rich sense of humor and irony … but there are occasional temporary lapses."
The spoof features advertisements for items like HDTVs and video games, including the Nintendo Wii "Guaranteed In Stock … if you’re friends with an employee who hid it in the back for you. Otherwise, ooh, sorry, all sold out."
What made this story especially interesting to me, though, was the sense of humor the retailer showed in its response:
"As a gesture of our apology and deep respect for the folks at MAD Magazine, we are creating a cross-departmental task force to study the importance of humor in the corporate workplace and expect the resulting Powerpoint presentation to top out at least 300 pages, chock full of charts, graphs and company action plans."
At least, I think that was a joke. It had to be a joke, right?
Check out the AP story for more on the Circuit City/MAD Magazine hub-bub, including the customary, humorous response from the MAD crew.
Len Wein went to a preview of the movie based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300, and has a very positive review of it up on his blog. "The story is one of history’s great tales of heroism and sacrifice and this film definitely does it justice… One word of caution, though: this film is as graphically violent as any I’ve seen."
Graphic violence, from a Frank Miller graphic novel? How unexpected!