Saturday, April 02, 2011

Falling in love with Flash…


Ah yes, Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, the mad scientist, Captain Marvel's archenemy. Yesterday's reprised post brings back to mind the superheroes of my youth -- the 1940s -- and their nemeses.

Oh, it was a time of true archvillains. Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini. Their caricatured images were everywhere. And they had their secret weapons -- kamikazes, V-2s, buzz bombs. But strangely enough it was not the real-life villains that subtly shaped our view of the world, it was the Sivanas of the comics.

And the prototype for those of us who were born in the thirties was Flash Gordon, who rocketed about the universe encountering beautiful scantily-clad women, most notably Princess Aura, daughter of Ming the Merciless, emperor of the planet Mongo.

Nature or nurture? Aura initially seemed to possess her father's cruel designs. But then she fell in love with Flash, blonde Flash, with his rippling pecs and skimpy loincloth. And love conquers all. Even to the point of defying her father.

Meanwhile, Ming has his eye on Flash's lovely companion, Dale Arden. But first he must put her in the "dehumanizing machine". "Dale Arden, as you know, we on this planet have progressed far beyond you Earthlings. The reason for our success is that we possess none of the human traits of kindness, mercy or pity! We are coldly scientific and ruthless! You'll be one of us!" snarls Ming.

Not to worry. Dale's love for Flash thwarts Ming's lust. And his mad science.

Dr. Sivana has a daughter too, the beautiful Beautia. She too follows in her father's evil footsteps -- until she falls head-over-heels for Captain Marvel. She too is redeemed by love.

What did we learn from all of this? That, yes, there is evil afoot in the world, and that when evil has access to scientific knowledge we can expect the worse. And so we had A-bomb drills, cowering under our desks at school, waiting for Joe the Merciless to unleash the ultimate dehumanizing machines.

But beauty too. And love. The love of a beautiful -- and, perhaps, occasionally, scantily-clad -- woman could set everything right, make life worth living, foil the villain's most diabolic plan. It was not exactly great moral philosophy, but it served me well.