Turkish Flash Gordon
Women want him, wolf men fear him, and puppets want to eat him. He’s Flash Gordon: the first Turk in space!
Özçınar, Meral. “A Cornerstone of Turkish Fantastic Films: From Flash Gordon to Baytekin.” Comics as a Nexus of Cultures: Essays on the Interplay of Media, Disciplines and International Perspectives. Ed. Mark Berninger, Jochen Ecke, and Gideon Haberkorn. Jefferson: McFarland, 2010. 164-174. Print.
“Uzay’daki Sahte Gordon!” Müsekkin. 18 Sept. 2012. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.
Before he was for every one of us, stood for every one of us — before Sam Jones, Max von Sydow and that incredibly sweet Queen soundtrack, there was the campy black and white version with the plywood sets, cheesy costumes and… uh… man-eating muppets?
Aha. It’s the Turkish version.
Get ready for an out-of-this-world case of Deja View!
“Baytekin Fezada Çarpışanlar” — “Flash Gordon’s Battle in Space.” Average Earth-man Baytekin gets a shock — literally — when he’s kidnapped by aliens from another galaxy. Driven off course and thrust into the middle of an intergalactic war, he soon finds himself the only obstacle standing between the evil Emperor Ming and his conquest of the Earth.
Now before we cry “rip-off,” it should be mentioned that Flash Gordon was originally a bit of a rip-off himself. Alex Raymond’s “Flash Gordon” comic strip was created specifically to cash in on the success of rival “Buck Rogers” in 1934.
Becoming a huge hit in its own right, the “Flash Gordon” strip found a Turkish publisher the very next year. But there was more to the translation process than just the language. The Turkish government was not particularly fond of comics or foreign imports in the ‘30s, so an effort had to made to “domesticate” them. Therefore Flash Gordon became “Baytekin.” He got off easy. Many blond characters would also be given darker hair so they’d even look more Turkish. Nevertheless, fair-haired Flash was adopted as a national hero. By the 1970s he had been dubbed the “pilot of the future” — a moniker possibly borrowed from British comic “Dan Dare” — and his pages were adorned with propaganda slogans like “Help strengthen the Turkish Air Forces.”
How could this guy not have a movie?
Comics were already common fodder for the film studios of Yeşilçam, Turkey’s bygone Hollywood. Superman, Batman, The Phantom, Spy Smasher, and many more punched and karate-chopped onto Turkey’s silver screens. But these were rarely adaptations of the original comics. They were inspired instead by the movie serial versions of the 1930s and ‘40s. So it’s no surprise that “Baytekin Fezada Çarpışanlar” owes much of its visual style to the old “Flash Gordon” cliffhangers.
Many other elements remain recognizable despite their long trip across the ocean. Baytekin for example joins forces with rebel Prince Ather, true heir to the planet’s throne and stand-in for Prince Barin. Ever the cosmic playboy, Baytekin is coveted by all the ladies and seduced by the substitute Princess Aura, Queen Nola.
Baytekin: “You didn’t know that we earthlings are better than you at kissing”
And of course, Ming is still merciless.
But this isn’t just your grandfather’s Flash Gordon. Baytekin’s rocketships have been upgraded to the modern saucer variety. Flash’s new main squeeze is the prince’s sister rather than a companion from Earth. And brilliant inventor Dr. Zarkov is nowhere to be found. Well, almost nowhere. Among Prince Ather’s men is a certain scientist with decidedly, er, un-Turkish facial hair.
Sure, there’s still plenty of meaty monster punching and Baytekin’s sand men might look suspiciously like Flash’s rock men. But the original and bizarre Yeşilçam imagination shines through with perhaps the most outrageous monster ever committed to film: the carnivorous muppet!
Of course taking liberties with the source material was nothing new. In 1954 a TV series made in West Germany had already reimagined Flash and friends as galactic police in the vein of “Rocky Jones” and “Captain Video.”
Over the years Flash has been dull and exciting, original and derivative, a rebel leader and a law-enforcing space ranger. So if one time he fought puppets and changed the flow of gravity while wearing radio dials on his nipples… well, that’s just Tuesday on planet Mongo.
“Flash Gordon” comics were so popular in Turkey that they even spawned counterfeits. “Süper Gordon” magazine would supplement original “Flash Gordon” adventures with swipes from other books. Stories like “Uranium Thieves” and “Escape 455” were in fact transplants of “Brick Bradford” and other adventure strips with the heroes’ faces redrawn as Flash.
We might have a whole new genre here: sly-fi.
Thanks so much for watching, and we’ll see you next time.