Monday, January 23, 2012
YEAR 1935: THE FLAME
1935 isn't nearly as rich in femmes formidables as 1934, and my choice for this entry-- "the Flame"-- feels derivative of 1934's Dragon Lady. Artist Will Gould initiates his strip RED BARRY with the introduction of a mysterious female crime-boss in Chinatown-- which not only duplicates the initial antagonist seen in Milton Caniff's TERRY AND THE PIRATES, but also the setup of a white hero struggling against Asian opponents. However, in terms of attitude the main hero, a roughneck U.S. undercover agent, is less reminiscent of any Caniff hero than of the Dick Tracy of Chester (no relation to Will) Gould.
I suspect Will Gould wasn't all that invested in the character of the Flame, who may also borrow an element from Sax Rohmer's Fah Lo Suee. Unlike the Dragon Lady, the Flame is tagged as "Eurasian," and is presumably half-Russian (as is Fu Manchu's daughter) since the lady crime-boss also goes by the name "Tanya." Of the four stories reprinted in the illo above, only two concern the Flame. She doesn't do all that much in the first narrative, but does assume a more dominant role in the second tale, though as expected she's still womanly enough to fall for the straight-shooting hero. I don't know how often Gould used her in the remainder of the strip's run, but evidently she didn't impress the producers of the 1938 RED BARRY serial, as she was not adapted to film. The Flame lacks the intelligence and resourcefulness of the Dragon Lady, and seems most interesting as a pale reflection of a superior character.