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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Back in 1980, around the time of the Dino DeLaurentis/Mike Hodges Flash Gordon feature film and the Filmation Flash Gordon animated series, Tempo Books published a six-volume series of original Flash Gordon novels, written by aviation/military thriller author David Hagberg.

Massacre in The 22nd Century
War of The Citadels
Crisis on Citadel II
Forces from The Federation
These books are not, specifically, tie-ins with movie or cartoon, nor do they adapt any stories from the long-running newspaper comic strip. They are large-scale, futuristic space operas that involve Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov in an intergalactic conflict between ancient civilizations called the Citadels. The titles of the six volumes are: Massacre in The 22nd Century, War of The Citadels, Crisis on Citadel II, Forces from The Federation, Citadels Under Attack and Citadels on Earth. I didn't buy the books when they originally came out - although I had seen them in the bookstore, and very much wanted to. I actually only started collecting them in the last year or so, thanks to some of you Space: 1970 readers, who gave me the name of the uncredited author and helped me track down copies online.

They're okay space opera, and enjoyable enough, even though Hagberg has tweaked the characters considerably (Dale is now Zarkov's niece, for instance), and completely ignores the comic strip backstory. There's no Mongo or Ming, and the stories are set in a cold, culturally sterile, highly-automated 22nd century, with our heroes - initially - operating as special agents for the Earth government. Oddly, the characters and set-up (though not the scope of the story) most resembles the 1950s TV incarnation of the property, which starred model/actor Steve Holland as Flash, who was portrayed as an agent of the Intergalactic Bureau of Investigation along with Zarkov and Dale.

Like I said, they're entertaining novels and fairly well-written. But the best thing about them are the cover paintings, the first four of which were the work of acclaimed fantasy artist Boris Vallejo. The covers have a great, classic pulp sci-fi flavor, and, interestingly, costume Flash in tank tops reminiscent of those given to Sam J. Jones to wear in the DeLaurentis film. I also find it notable that Vallejo's Flash resembles the aforementioned Steve Holland from the 50s show. Holland was a popular artist's model and posed for many, many paperback cover artists throughout the years, well into the 90s. I wonder if Vallejo employed him for these covers? According to the artist's book, Fantasy Art Techniques, he usually hired bodybuilders to model for him - or used himself for a model - so I suppose it's a possiblity.

Anyway, I have four of the six paperbacks now, and will order the last two soon. Then, I'll start working on completing my collection of the Buck Rogers paperback novel series plotted by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (but actually written by a handful of other writers) for Ace Books around the same time....


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