His name emblazoned in the everlasting appeal of the American ideal of heroism, Flash Gordon’s legacy has lived onward and outward. Starting out as a clean-cut astronaut crusader, the personality of Flash adapted with the times in which he was re-introduced. Arguably his most famous incarnation came in this form: if Star Trek and Star Wars embraced a 1980’s NFL superstar archetype, Flash Gordon would be the dude you’d clink space beers with after he’d make sense of some senseless sci-fi drama he’d been written into. In a long-standing pop culture landscape, he has always stood as the "real man’s superhero," but always responded to what America thought a real man was in each era.
At first, Flash Gordon was a Sunday strip born out of the mid 30’s. His name and conscientious ideal were out there for American readers to consume, and consume the American readers did. After becoming Mr. Popular in the weekly papers, his character was invited into three serial movies as pure popcorn fare before feature films were set to roll. This played out until the year 1940. With the advent of the television set, Gordon flashed (I said it) his pearly whites across American screens in a mid 50’s, live action TV series where he was still the clean-cut man of yesteryear, but hardened just a touch. Flash-forward (I’ll say it again) to 1980 and American audiences were re-acquainted with a new, new Flash Gordon. Possibly the goofiest, goof, goofer version of the character to date, this Flash was backed by arena rock and an ostentatious silver-lining budget with a Playboy model to boot.
What happened just a year before the zany, feature film re-invention of the space cadet was an honest offering of Flash Gordon that referenced earlier incarnations of him in the form of an animated television cartoon series. It was proposed as a made-for-television feature film, but presented more commercial potential as a series; studio Filmation complied and delivered. Like previous products of the man’s name, the animated Flash Gordon tallied up enough success to justify his re-branding again. Yet, the made-for-TV film cut laid away in the banks of Filmation only to wait in the shadows. That specific cut brings us to the point of this history in review. Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All was released in 1982 to remind audiences what Flash Gordon was truly all about and why the cultish, all-star athlete the world had come to know him by was a cultural and historical misstep.
While its still cool to think that Flash is just one of the guys, many forget that he’s actually a bit of a yuppie agent, pretty boy who started out as a coincidental hitchhiker. Even moreso, he was merely a pawn who was escaped a sci-fi apocalypse masqueraded in national, post-World War II anxieties about the world beyond American borders. For those unfamiliar, its also to be noted that Flash’s main enemy was a pretty-darn-obvious representation of America’s ambivalence to the Far East’s creeping influence on Western culture. Also Hitler had something to do with all this. Either way, let it be known that Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All, a series lauded for its classic approach, was the character’s most faithful, moving picture adaptation to the original comic strip series. He’s still blonde, he’s still a stud, but he ain’t the drunken football star who can tackle his way out of a sticky situation!