Tuesday, July 30, 2013


I must admit that it's been a while since I rescreened the serial in which Queen Azura made her first live-action appearance.  Thus I don't remember many specifics about her backstory in the film, except that she makes common cause with Ming in his plot to conquer the Earth with a vital new element.

Although the still above shows the two villains looking quite Satanic, FLASH GORDON'S TRIP TO MARS generally has a much brighter look to it than the original 1936 FLASH GORDON serial, which is also the case with the third and final serial, FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE.  The first serial followed the comic strip closely in terms of emphasizing violence and sexuality, but the next two avoided those visceral elements for the most part.  The 1936 film shows sultry Princess Aura constantly trying to lure noble Flash to her bed, even as Ming and other rulers put the squeeze on Dale Arden.  In the strip Azura ensorcels Flash and perhaps manages to bed him as well, but the Azura of TRIP TO MARS is usually far too breezy to put across much sex appeal.  I've sometimes thought that if the George Lucas of 1976 had secured the rights to remake "Flash Gordon." it would've looked more like the second two serials than like the first, much less the comic strip.

As in the strip this version of Azura is called a "witch queen," but it was unclear to me as to whether her magic was explicable through science, as in the Alex Raymond continuity.  In the one scene that sticks in my memory, Flash and his friends corner Azura, and she simply disappears in a puff of smoke.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


This is easily one of the most recognizable Walt Disney villains, the nameless queen-- currently called "the Evil Queen" in company publicity, according to a Disney wiki.

In keeping with the fairy tale source story, one never knows much about the Queen's background, and little is said about the circumstances by which she becomes Snow White's stepmother.  Once Snow's natural mother and father are both dead, the princess is relegated to the status of scullery maid.  As with most "princess stories," Snow's burgeoning beauty is the thing that saves her from drudgery, though it also puts her in danger of being killed by the envious queen.  One might say that the Queen suffers from a "Cassiopeia complex," in that her envy for a younger woman's beauty leads her to put the younger woman in peril.

Given that the Queen ends up sacrificing her own beauty to strike at Snow White-- since there's no mention of her being able to transform herself back from "Hag" to "Queen"-- this would appear to be the very definition of cutting off one's nose to spite the face.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


I don't have a collection of the early FLASH GORDON strips handy, but I have the general impression that Queen Azura, aka "the Witch Queen," was the first of many insidious but lustful queens who attempted to seduce Flash away from Dale Arden.  Admittedly, in the first sequence Aura, daughter of Flash's principal foe Ming the Merciless, also seeks to warm the form of the hero, but Aura didn't command her own kingdom.

I did notice from one reference that just before Flash, Dale and their retinue encounter Azura, the queen of the "Blue Magic Men," Dale is fussing at Flash about their impending nuptials, which he's conveniently put off, due to the greater importance of the rebellion against Ming.  Perhaps not coincidentally, after Azura's forces take the Gordon group prisoner, Azura uses a drug to make Flash forget his past, including Dale.  Dale, forced to become a serving-wench, tearfully looks on as Flash allows Azura to make love to him.  Since it was a family newspaper, readers could only use their imaginations to speculate as to how far the lovemaking went. Though eventually Flash got clear of Azura, somehow that wedding never did go through.  But Flash kept meeting dozens of horny lady rulers, and all Dale ever got was nasty old Ming.

In the initial episode as I recall it, all of Azura's "sorcery" is of scientific origins, though I can't say the same for all of her later incarnations.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


I confess that I've only read the 1969 Avon paperback publication of THE BLACK FLAME, which is actually two Stanley G. Weinbaum stories-- "Dawn of Flame" and "The Black Flame"-- which featured the same character: "Black Margot," a sultry immortal female who is sometimes called by the name "Black Flame."  The Avon publication drew upon a heavily edited version of the stories, omitting some 18,000 words from the original manuscript. 

That said, I'm skeptical that this chronicle of Black Margot's history would have been substantially improved by the additional wordage.  In both stories the plotlines owe much to Rider Haggard's SHE.  Both stories take place in post-apocalyptic America, though they're separated by a substantial span of time. 

In "Dawn of Flame," the POV character is a hunky hick named Hull Tarvish, who leaves the hills to make his fortune in the big city. He meets a cute young thing with whom he falls in love, but becomes fascinated by Black Margot, one of a small coterie of immortals who are trying to rebuild the shattered nation.  Some characters think that the immortals' efforts are basically constructive, but Hull ends up joining a rebel group that deems them tyrants.  As a result of trying to fight the immortals, Hull is temporarily enslaved by Black Margot, who is, interestingly enough, of Spanish descent and is described as having "olive" skin.  In addition to appreciating her beauty, Hull finds her courageous-- she risks her life to draw the fire of rebel conspirators-- and in most ways his intellectual superior.  However, he's put off by her history of having had many "husbands" during her immortal life.  Though some sparks flare between Hull and Margot, he ends up going back to the "nice girl" and Margot goes back to being an unhappy immortal, which partly mirrors the conclusion of Rider Haggard's "She" storyline.

"The Black Flame," however, endeavors to give Margot's story a happy ending.  This time Thomas Connor, a 20th-century man, is given the Rip Van Winkle treatment (the Van Winkle story is even directly referenced, albeit briefly).  Upon awakening and becoming acclimated to the post-apocalyptic future-- evidently several years after Hull Tarvish's time-- Connor meets Margot and her warlord brother.  Though again Margot has competition from a mortal rival, this time the rival gets less attention and author Weinbaum makes Margot more appealing, though a bit less dynamic.  Perhaps the unedited manuscript would show more vigor in her characterization, but I can't resist the hypothesis that in trying to "reform" Margot, Weinbaum divested her of some of her goddess-like aspects.  By story's end she's found a way to reverse her immortality so that she and Connor can marry and breed naturally, an ending which may please the sentiments but doesn't do much for Black Margot's reputation as a "femme formidable."


Published in the November 1935 issue of ASTOUNDING MAGAZINE, "The Adaptive Ultimate" had the honor of being more frequently adapted than the majority of pulp SF short stories: once on radio, twice on television, and once in a 1957 film entitled SHE-DEVIL.  However, it may be theorized that the main reason for the relative popularity of this Stanley Weinbaum tale is that it's a fairly talky variation on the Frankenstein theme, and didn't require much in the way of expensive sets or FX.

The idea of scientists experimenting on female subjects had been touched on elsewhere, as in Hans Heinz Ewers' 1911 novel ALRAUNE.  In this story, researcher Daniel Scott attempts to transfer the adaptive capacities of fruit flies to human beings, on the theory that they'll be able to heal diseases or fatal wounds through the power of "adaptation."  I don't think that even in 1935 any biologists would've bought into Scott's heavily hormonal theory of adaptation, but as is often the case, bad science can make a good story.

A colleague gives Scott the go-ahead to experiment on a drab, impoverished woman named Kyra Zelas, because she's in the final stage of tuberculosis.  For what it's worth, Scott does at least ask Kyra's permission before injecting her with his wonder drug.  The serum works too well: not only does Kyra recover from her disease, she loses all moral compass as a side-effect.  Almost immediately after recovering, she commits the crime of bludgeoning an old man to death for his money.  When called to trial, she simply changes her appearance to that of a dazzling beauty so that the witnesses to the crime cannot swear that she was the perpetrator.

Scott and his colleague plot to kill their pet monster, but when their first attempt fails, Kyra escapes.  Rather improbably, she comes back, apparently because she's become fascinated with her "creator."  Eventually the scientists come up with a way to kill their adaptative adversary, but in a minor ironic touch, Scott has fallen in love with her.  Even though in death she reverts to her original body, he still sees her as a gorgeous siren. One may see Kyra Zelas as the modern-day descendant of myth-figures like the Loathly Lady of the famous Gawain story.