First created in 1934 as a character in the funny papers, Flash Gordon is one of the most important and enduring American space heroes. However, unlike his cohort Buck Rogers, little has been written about Flash or the numerous toys and collectibles he has spawned. Now that defecit has been partially remedied by a wonderful website, The Mongo Museum. Created by Adam Gross, The Mongo Museum is a homage to Flash Gordon and the world of Flash collectibles. Presenting the latest on the intrepid space hero, as well as links to other Flalsh sites, the Mongo Musuem features images and information about virtually all Flash Gordon toys and memorabilia ranging from ray guns to rocket ships to space costumes. The following article, written by Adam Gross, focuses on the history of ray guns associated with Flash Gordon. For many more pictures of these guns, as well as other toys and collectibles, visit Adam's website.

Flash Gordon Rockets Through the Ages

by Adam Gross

"Let us take you back now to those thrilling days of yesteryear." OK, maybe that wasn't the introduction that I was looking for. I didn't want send visions of two fearless lawmen tearing across the open prairie. How about: "prepare to rocket through the cosmos, space cadets!" Now that we've gotten the corny introduction out of the way, welcome to my Flash Gordon article. I've noticed a distressing lack of Flash on the web, so this article and my website, the Mongo Museum, are my contributions to keeping the name of everybody's favorite space hero alive.

Whether you know him from the old serials, Saturday-morning cartoons, the Funnies, comic books, or the campy 1980 cult-favorite, everybody has a special place in their hearts for Flash. We all know George Lucas followed his adventures on Mongo - he originally planned to film Flash before he did "Star Wars". When millions of awestruck viewers watched Neil Armstrong first plant his feet on the moon, how many of them were reminded of Flash jumping out of his silvery rocketship? There's something about Flash combatting the countless dangers of Mongo with his trusty raygun and sword that's turned this character into an endearing American icon.

Flash was created by the great Alex Raymond and first appeared in the Funny Pages in 1934. Flash couldn't have arrived at a better time - kids needed an uplifting diversion during the days of the Great Depression, and they certainly couldn't get enough of Flash's weekly cliffhangers. Toy company executives must have noticed the swarms of kids playing in the alleys with homemade rayguns, and decided to offer the "real thing".

Well, those Madison Avenue fatcats did us a great service by launching Marx's space-age masterpiece, the Radio Repeater. Toy makers certainly were imaginative in those days, just consider 1948's Steel Siren Gun: too late for kids to participate in air raids, but they probably annoyed the hell out of their parents all the same. The Air-Ray Blaster let out a blast of air, good for blowing away those little aliens that came in plastic bubbles that you could get out of those red machines next to the candy dispensers (well, that's what I would use it for). In the perennial favorite Rocket Racer, we see Flash pointing a little raygun out of its canopy, while on the box for the Click Ray Pistol, it looks like Flash is hunting lawn gnomes.

In 1952, Esquire Novelty Company let kids suit up for Ming-bashing action with their kid-size costume, equipped with boot chaps, wrist gauntlets, and a cute little beanie hat. Esquire also completed the costume with a separate Space-Outfit set, complete with space-goggles, wrist compass, and rocketship belt. Good old Collegeville (the same beloved company that sold you your Spidey costume) would also let kids do trick-or-treating the Mongo way.

In Robert Lesser's ode to old-time comic strip nostalgia, "A Celebration of Comic Art and Memorabilia" (Hawthorn Books, 1975), he described an amazing variety of Buck Rogers merchandise, but regretted the relative lack of Flash Gordon items available during the strip's heyday. But Lesser was writing this in 1975, just as a veritable avalanche (or at least a nice size pile) of Flash items was about to hit the marketplace.

Nasta would lead the way in 1975 with a Sparking Ray Gun, reminiscent of the classic "clicker" ray guns. They followed up in the following year with Space Water Pistols (with and without holster) and a Battery-Powered Space Gun that shot beams in three colors: white for laser, red for atomic, and blue for stun, just in time for the Bicentennial. 1977 saw Vanity Fair's Electronic Ray Gun, which also shot beams in three colors (but they didn't say what each color beam did; very unpatriotic of them).

Larami stepped into the ring with their Rocket Rings; you know the kind: the weird little guns that launched colorful spinning wheels (kind of ugly graphics, but a nice try from a company that would give us hours of fun with toy Uzi water guns in the Eighties). M. Shimmel Sons also cashed in on this generic oddbal phenomenon with their own Saucer Shooter (not very orignial, but they included a nifty little wing medallion with it.) At the tail end of the decade, Tommy Z put out the massive (at least by kids' standards) Stun Gun Rifle. Whew! Kids had no trouble battling Ming's forces in the disco days with that arsenal, but that's only a list of rayguns, people.

The Seventies would see Flash Gordon Silly Putty, sunglasses, wrist radios, puzzles, wallets, Colorforms, coloring books, bagatelle games, and rocketships of all kinds. Speaking of rocketships, toy manufacturers took a lot of liberty with Flash's vehicle of choice. While LJN gave us a blue "flying fish" ship directly out of the strips, and Nasta gave us two versions of the Battle Rocket, M. Shimmel Sons (yes, the saucer shooter guys) tried to pass off a frisbee as a "Space Station", and Larami would send miniature frisbees called "Space Discs" after Flash. Yup, if I was Flash, I would certainly soil myself if I saw them coming at me.

Tootise Toy, the company that equipped Buck Rogers in the 30s, returned with a die-cast, free-rolling rocketship in four different colors. They also packaged the rocketships in a gift set with little figurines of Flash, Ming, and Dale, along with what looks like leftover parts from a construction vehicle set. Pretty resourceful for a toy company that sounds like it was named after a candy bar.

And now for the really fun stuff: the action figures! In 1976, the Mego Corporation, who had released action figure lines based on super-heroes and TV/movie licenses of all kinds, graced us with 9-inch clothed and articulated figures of Flash, Ming, Zarkov, and Dale that faithfully captured the spirit of Raymond's original strip. Along with these little works of wonder came a playset that featured Ming's throne room on one side and Zarkov's laboratory on the other. (Check out the Mego Museum for pics of these masterpieces.) In 1979, Mattel put out a very nice line based on the Filmation Saturday morning cartoon that also included a shuttle for Ming and a huge inflatable rocketship for Flash. It's a darn shame that they never put out figures of those cool sentry robots, but they did have our feathery friend, Vultan, king of the Hawkmen.

As we move ahead to the Eighties, we notice a near abscence of products inspried by deLaurentis's camp masterpiece. Perhaps it was because of the film's poor box office showing or the license being tied up by Filmation. Whatever the reason, it was a darn shame. Can you imagine the possibilities? How about a magna-powered ultra-blaster that blew away Klytus and those funky skull-faced guards while playing a digital version of the Queen theme? Across the ocean in merry old England, however, Lone Star released their Space Cap Gun packaged with graphics from the movie. (Not as nifty as my imaginary blaster, but damn, I could have really used one of those as a kid. Lucky Brits...)

Back on American soil, meanwhile, Ja-Ru offered an impressive array of items. We have the Sparkle Gun (red and blue), Rocket Gun, Extension Gun, Pistol Lite (blue and orange), Space Set, Rocket Range, Soft Target Set, and the Pocket Air Gun. 1985's Defenders of the Earth line gave Flash a nifty Swordship to tool around in, and Ming even had his pet dragon Mongor to pal around with. Ja-Ru would keep Flash's name alive by putting out a line based on the 1996 animated "teen Flash" series, including the Blaster, Wrist Shot, Phaser Shot, and the perennial favorite, the Saucer Shooter.

What will the future hold for Flash? Perhaps if the long-rumored live-action movie ever gets made, we might see some new goodies from Ja-Ru in the grocery store toy aisle. But hopefully no more saucer shooters.