FLASH GORDON -- At the Embassy Circle, K-B Bethesda, K-B Cerberus, K-B Cinema 7, NTI Landover Mall, Roth's Parkway, Roth's Tysons Corner, Showcase Beltway Plaza, Showcase Fairfax Circle, Showcase Oxon Hill, Springfield Mall and Wheaton Plaza.; POPEYE -- Opens December 12 at the K-B MacArthur.

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a trend!

Encouraged by the success of their comic-strip colleague Superman, Flash Gordon and, soon, Popeye have decided to pay us a holiday visit.

Well, actually, Flash and Dale and, of course, Doctor Zarkov don't pay us a visit so much as they drag us along on a mission to Mongo, to save Earth from the machinations of Ming the Merciless. There are ambushes, and clashes and, obviously, mortal danger: to Flash's Dale's virtue, Zarkov's brain. There are dungeons of ice, swamp monsters and rocket cycles. There are love, and treachery, and loyalty.And action. And suspense. And the kind of ending we've come to expect from Flash Gordon. In other words, it's kind of like a comic book.

That's this weekend. Next weekend, it'll be Popeye's turn: The movie, about the Popeye-Olive Oyl romance and Popeye's search for his father, was described by director Robert Altman as a morality play, with its theme summed up in Popeye's song "I yam what I yam (and that's all I yam)."

The setting is a village in Malta -- built, like the twenty-foot Oxblood Oxheart whom Popeye must fight -- but in truth the movie never leaves the world of Wimpy and Swee'pea and Bluto: the world, that is, of E.D. Segar, who created Popeye and his pals half a century ago. The intention, according to all concerned, was to affirm the value of the individual in a way that would entertain children as well as adults.

Which ought to be just fine, because at this time of year, we all seem to be a little bit of both.