Ming the Merciless

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For other uses, see Ming (disambiguation).
Ming the Merciless
Ming as portrayed by Charles Middleton in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, seen with Princess Aura
Publication information
Publisher King Features Syndicate
Created by Alex Raymond
In-story information
Abilities Genius-level intellect
Command of magic
Access to advanced technology

Ming the Merciless is a character who first appeared in the Flash Gordon comic strip in 1934. He has since been the main villain of the strip and its related movie serials, television series and film adaptation. Ming is depicted as a ruthless tyrant who rules the planet Mongo.

Comic strip[edit]

In the comic strip, when the heroic Flash Gordon and his friends land on the fictional planet Mongo, they find it ruled by an evil Emperor, a despot who quickly becomes their enemy.[1] He is not named at first, only being known as "the Emperor" until several issues later when his name is revealed to be Ming.

The capital of his empire is named Mingo City in his honour. In addition to his army, Ming has access to a wide variety of science fiction gadgets, ranging from rocket ships to death rays to robots. Though evil, he has his weaknesses, which include a desire to marry Flash's beautiful companion, Dale Arden. Ming's daughter Princess Aura is as evil as he is when the series begins, but is eventually reformed by her love for Flash, and later for Prince Barin of Arboria.

Flash Gordon (serials)[edit]

In the Flash Gordon serials of the late 1930s-era, Ming was portrayed by actor Charles B. Middleton. In the first serial, he is apparently killed in a crematorium, in a possible suicide. He returns later in league with a Martian Queen, and using a Nitron Lamp to cause disasters on Earth. In Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, he is once again ruler of Mongo, but is killed when he is locked inside his tower and Flash crashes a ship into it.

The New Adventures of Flash Gordon (1979)[edit]

In this 1979 animated version of Flash Gordon, Ming's voice was provided by Alan Oppenheimer, who would later go on to voice Skeletor. In this version, Ming's Panoply is vividly displayed in the form of his vast fleet of battleships, drone rockets, armored trains, and his army of robots. He also employs Mongo's race of Lizard-Women as his enforcers in the mines of Mongo, as well as guards in his harem, and the primitive Beast-Men of Mongo not only serve him, but revere him as a god.

Flash Gordon film (1980)[edit]

In the 1980 theatrical film, Ming (Max von Sydow), complaining of boredom, discovers Earth and unleashes various attacks on the planet. The film gives Ming a second-in-command, General Klytus, who is masked at all times and has an attraction towards Ming's daughter, Princess Aura. As in most versions, Ming is infatuated with Dale, whom he plans to marry. Ming's cruelty extends to his own daughter: in an effort to find Flash, he allows Klytus to continue torturing her, since she knows of his whereabouts. When Klytus is killed in the Hawkman city, Ming orders it to be destroyed. He offers Flash a chance to join him, rule a kingdom, and save Earth. Flash declines when he learns the Earth will be enslaved. Ming leaves him there to die, but Flash escapes on a rocket cycle.

At the climax of the film, Ming is impaled by his own war rocket, Ajax, of which Flash had taken control. After a vain attempt to stop Flash attacking him, he ultimately points his ring at himself and he vanishes. However, just before the credits begin, his ring is retrieved by an unknown individual, and the words "The End?" appear, as his evil laughter plays in the background, hinting he is not dead.

Queen's soundtrack album includes "Ming's Theme".

Defenders of the Earth animated series (1986–1987)[edit]

Ming served as the principal adversary in the 1980s Marvel animated series Defenders of the Earth, fighting against other King Features characters such as The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, Lothar, and of course Flash Gordon. In the opening episode, Ming successfully captures Dale Arden Gordon and her son Rick, and tears Dale's mind from her body, prompting a vengeful Flash to pursue him back to Earth to avenge her and prevent Ming from enslaving his world. Ming's base on Earth is in the depths of The Arctic and is called Ice Station Earth; his allies in this series are Garax, leader of the "Men of Frost", Ming's army of Ice Men, and Octon, a large tentacled battle computer.

This version of Ming also includes a son rather than a daughter at his side, Prince Kro-Tan; unlike Aura, he holds no love for any of the Defenders and considers both them and his father hindrances to his enslavement of the galaxy. Kro-Tan comes the closest to defeating his father in a five-part story where he successfully entraps Ming and takes over his forces, before Ming is released by the Defenders and takes his vengeance. Ming has two carrier spacecraft in this series, one of which is his "Throne Room", his main vessel, which could launch itself from the Arctic Ocean. Ming is also portrayed as having green skin and pointed ears.

Flash Gordon animated series (1996)[edit]

In the 1996 animated series, Ming looks even more reptilian: he is a green, pointy-eared, sharp-toothed scaly alien, which cause the heroes to call him a "lizard". (Meanwhile, Aura has green skin, but is otherwise perfectly human.) In this version, Ming is more humane and even comical at times.

Flash Gordon television series (2007–2008)[edit]

In the 2007 Sci Fi Channel television series, Ming is portrayed by John Ralston as a clean shaven blond Caucasian. Executive producer David Hume has said that this interpretation of the character is "a Saddam Hussein kind of tyrant".[2]

This version of Ming the Merciless is a media-savvy tyrant, who controls the planet through a monopoly on the production of clean water. He uses this control to extort wealth and obedience from the populace. He dresses in a quasi-military garb and seems to have some sort of militaristic position in addition to his role as a Water Baron and emperor.

Although as evil as ever, Ming is known as and addressed as "Benevolent Father". However, his people call him Ming the Merciless, because of his harsh and often brutal leadership. Ming was also known as Ming the Merciless during his military career and rise to power. He justifies everything he does as maintaining order and preventing a return to the chaos that occurred before he took power. Ming is depicted as having a son, Terek, whom he ordered killed at birth for being a Deviate. Later, it is revealed that Terek is not only alive, but that Terek's mother comes from a pure bloodline; this means that Ming is the source of Terek's deviation.

After Flash frees the planet's water reserves, the people of Mongo revolt against Ming when they discover that he has poisoned the planet's drinking water. Ming forms an alliance with Azura and her warriors in exchange for making her his queen, her army would battle against the rebels. She gives him an amulet. Ming is captured after a battle with Flash Gordon and Aura. Terek orders his execution. When Aura coldly tells her father 'good-bye', Ming finally admits he is proud of his daughter. Ming is placed inside a gas chamber. As the chamber filled with gas, Ming vanishes, having been teleported to safety by Azura's amulet.

Yellow peril[edit]

Ming has often been connected to the Yellow Peril imagery of the era, in which tyrannous East Asian villains such as Fu Manchu were common.[3][4] His East Asian appearance, his name, referencing the Ming dynasty of China, and the name of his planet Mongo, "a contraction of Mongol",[5] contribute to his oriental identity. Jonathan C. Friedman say that Ming and Fu Manchu were "the incarnations of the yellow peril in the Oriental crusade to conquer the world".[4] Peter Feng calls him a "futuristic Yellow Peril", quoting a reviewer who referred to him as a "slanty eyed, shiny domed, pointy nailed, arching eyebrowed, exotically dressed Oriental".[6] According to Jim Harmon and Donald Glut, while Ming is modeled on Fu Manchu in the first Gordon serial, his appearance copies imagery of the devil in the second serial, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

Many parodies of Ming the Merciless have appeared in popular culture, including:

Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies was nicknamed Ming the Merciless in part due to his preference for the traditional Scottish pronunciation of his surname. Scottish politician Menzies Campbell[9] /ˈmɪŋɪs/ is sometimes nicknamed (with significant irony) "Ming the Merciless". Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, the Irish politician and cannabis legalisation campaigner, takes his name from his resemblance to the fictional Ming the Merciless.

In the Father Ted episode "Are You Right There Father Ted?", Ming is in one of Ted's slides to show he's not anti-Chinese as a joke because Ming is often criticised as a negative Chinese stereotype.

George Lucas has cited Ming the Merciless as a basis for Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader from the Star Wars series.[10]

Gene Wolfe's 1976 short story about the aftermath of a psychological experiment is called "When I Was Ming the Merciless".[11][12]

In 2007, Ming the Merciless was ranked number 2 on the Forbes Fictional 15.[13] The Chicago Sun-Times called him "the ultimate sci-fi tyrant",[14] and The Irish Times wrote that he is "simply the best – the tyrant's tyrant".[15]


  1. ^ "Superheroes: The power list". The Independent (London). June 21, 2006. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  2. ^ Executive Producer Says Ming The Merciless Is Saddam
  3. ^ Jun Xing, Asian America Through the Lens: History, Representations, and Identity, Rowman Altamira, 1998, p.57.
  4. ^ a b Jonathan C. Friedman, Performing Difference: Representations of 'The Other' in Film and Theatre, University Press of America, 2008, p.116.
  5. ^ Brian Locke, Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen: The Orientalist Buddy Film, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, p.76-7.
  6. ^ Peter X. Feng, Screening Asian Americans, Rutgers University Press, 2002, p.59.
  7. ^ Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). "2. "We Come from 'Earth', Don't You Understand?"". The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury, Routledge, p. 39.
  8. ^ Columns by Gorzo the Mighty at The Onion's website
  9. ^ Assinder, Nick (January 9, 2006). "What to call Ming's backers?". BBC News. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  10. ^ Dale Pollock, Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas (New York: Da Capo Press, 1999), p. 142, ISBN 0-306-80904-4.
  11. ^ SCIENCE FICTION, by Gerald Jonas, in the New York Times, published July 2, 1989; retrieved July 27, 2014
  12. ^ Gene Wolfe: The Man and His Work, by Michael Andre-Driussi, at the SF Site; published April 2007; retrieved July 27, 2014
  13. ^ Forbes Fictional 15 2007
  14. ^ Voedisch, Lynn (March 5, 1991). "`Flash Gordon' tapes are blast from the past". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 18, 2015 – via Highbeam Research. (subscription required (help)). 
  15. ^ Dixon, Stephen (September 14, 2002). "Ming the Merciless". The Irish Times. Retrieved January 18, 2015 – via Highbeam Research. (subscription required (help)).