May 21, 2017

Showcase 4 The Flash - Super-Team Family (1975) #15

Showcase 4 The Flash is a column featuring the adventures of Barry Allen.

"Gulliver Effect!"
Cover Date: March / April 1978 / Cover Price: $0.60 / Cover Artist: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez / Writer: Gerry Conway / Penciller: Arvell M. Jones / Inker: Romeo Tanghal / Colorist: Carl Gafford / Letterers: Milt Snappin & Shelly Leferman / Editor: Paul Levitz

Super-Team Family was an anthology series that DC published from 1975 to 1978 sometimes comprised of reprints, sometimes original stories before it was cancelled and replaced with DC Comics Presents. In the last issue of Super-Team Family, the Barry Allen Flash meets Jack Kirby’s New Gods for the first time.
However, when the issue begins, it seems like he already knows at least a few of them. The Flash and Lightray are in outer space rushing toward the body of Orion who has gone up a few shoe sizes and is getting even bigger. Metron, he of the Mobius Chair, explains to Flash that Orion’s Mother Box is keeping him alive and that this living technology is also the reason that Barry can breath in space.

Metron surmises that maybe the Mother Box might explain why Orion has gone all Gulliver, so Flash finds the rhythm the device is putting out and dives in somewhere near the New God’s shoulder. (It seems the Mother Box has grown along with its owner). Even though the Mother Box
has none of the usual components of Earth electronics - wires, circuitry -- Flash hopes to follow its processes in the same way that he has, apparently, done with terrestrial devices.

It doesn’t go well. The Box spits out Barry. “Fires of Apokolips,” exclaims Jezebelle, who was just a moment earlier complaining that a human was present. Oh, right, I forgot to mention: Jezebelle is there too. Unlike the other New Gods, she’s not a Kirby creation, instead springing from the minds of our writer Gerry Conway and artist Don Newton. Now that I’ve explained that, feel free to forget about her again. She’s not that important.

Metron thinks that since the Box is protecting Orion, Orion is under attack. He opens a boom tube into Orion’s brain (just go with it) and returns moments later proclaiming that the mind he entered was focused on two images: Darkseid on Apokolips and the Promethean galaxy. Lightray isn’t too pleased to hear the latter and this causes his mind to drift back to what brought us to these circumstances in the first place.
Two days earlier, Orion was attacked by a water demon that sprung out of a fountain. The elemental beast is not much of a match for the New God, but after he has bested it he feels odd. He shrugs it off and he and the other Gods boom tube it to Earth where they are doing something or other (Conway leaves it to his concurrent Return of the New Gods series to explain… hey, at least there’s an editor’s note to let you know). Orion collapses in the Arizona desert and begins to grow and grow and grow and… Eventually, his fellow New Gods push him into space so that he doesn’t crush everyone on Earth. Metron appears to Barry Allen in his forensic lab and that’s that: we’re caught up.
Metron will hear nothing of Lightray’s reluctance to visit the Promethean galaxy. After all, if Orion doesn’t stop growing he could “CRUSH THE SUN!”
Of course, Orion’s troubles are, much like everything else bad that has ever happened to the guy, the fault of his father Darkseid. Daddy would indeed like his S-O-N to crush the S-U-N or at least upset life on that planet Earth that Orion seems to like so much and that’s why he sent the water demon which was infected with growth plasma. But he didn’t count on The Flash being recruited. Darkseid won’t stand for a human breaching the final barrier in the Promethean galaxy and discovering The Source so he sends off Hagdar the Mad, who is almost as interesting as Jezebelle, to wreck some havoc.
Said human, traveling through hyperspace with Lightray and Metron, already has some trouble to deal with: “legendary ice weirds.” I guess they’re legendary on New Genesis because their renown doesn’t seem to have spread elsewhere. They won’t gather any notoriety for this endeavor either as Barry and his buddies make quick work of them. Metron, however, wonders why they attacked since they normally only do so when provoked. It turns out Hagdar instigated them to pad out the issue test the trio’s abilities.
Ice weirds dispatched, the three reach the Promethean galaxy which is full of massive beings forever suffering for having dared to seek knowledge of The Source. Barry doesn’t have much time to take in the awesome sights before some asteroids crack open and spit out green troll-like creatures that call themselves, collectively, The Guardian. But the human is set onward since, while no god may breach the barrier, whoever constructed the barrier neglected to exclude lesser beings. Unfortunately, Hagdar follows… (so I guess he isn't a god).
Further on, The Flash finds himself holding a Mother Box and assumes Metron teleported it there. The device leads him onward until suddenly time begins to flow backwards (I originally typed those last five words in reverse to be clever, but decided against it; you’re welcome). As The Flash, Barry is uniquely fit to face this challenge, spinning against the tide of time and thus escaping the anomaly… only to be attacked by Hagdar.
During their battle, Hagdar is surprised to discover that his axe (which also allows him to travel through space… he must shop at the same axe shop as the Persuader) passes right through his foe. The Flash, of course, is doing his usual vibrating molecules bit (“Like a straw passing through an oak tree in a hurricane,” adds editor Levitz unnecessarily).

Their confrontation ends when, facing down Hagdar’s axe again, Barry does a bunch of Flash stuff with vibrations and space molecules and [insert more comic book "science" here]. The important thing is that the axe is reflected back at its owner and the impact sends Hagdar into a nearby time-stasis cloud wherein he lets out an “eternal shriek of agony.” Basically, The Flash accidentally killed him.
Hagdar gone, The Flash ping-pongs about asteroids until he seems to reach his destination. 

Although he doesn’t remember much when he returns to Lightray and Metron who are wrapping up the last of The Guardian (Guardians?) (must have been a lot of him/them). He has a gun but doesn’t remember how he got it -- in fact he doesn’t remember anything that happened after he passed the final barrier -- but it does the trick: Orion gets shrunk.

In the end: Darkseid is pissed at The Flash, Barry is late for dinner and the shrink gun disintegrates before Metron can discover its secrets.

Gerry Conway contributed The Punisher, Firestorm and many other memorable characters to comics, but his additions to Kirby’s New Gods saga don’t really light any fireworks. I suppose this would be why Kirby was invited to produce a conclusion -- The Hunger Dogs graphic novel -- in the mid-80s even though Conway and Newton had already ended the story less than a decade earlier. So Jezebelle, Magdar, The Guardian, the ice weirds… they just don’t quite have that Kirby magic. Compared to Orion’s new costume, though, these additions look rather inspired (Kid Flash called, he wants his look back).

It’s not an enviable position, really, though: picking up after the “king of comics” and trying to steer the Super-Cycle home, so I should cut Conway some slack. Plus, this is just a side story of sorts, a tale to take up the pages of the final issue of an anthology series that never found its purpose and was about to replaced. And it’s pretty fun. I can’t get too mad at a tale in which Orion’s expanding body threatens to “CRUSH THE SUN!”

It helps that Arvell Jones showed up ready to supply the visuals for a yarn that crosses galaxies. While his style is more conservative than Kirby’s, he manages to evoke The King nonetheless, especially in the Promethean galaxy, and finds interesting ways to depict tough-to-visualize concepts like being stuck in and then escaping (or not in Hagdar’s case) a time-stasis bubble. That said, the characters and creatures that Conway dreamt up for this issue are not made any more interesting by Jones’s designs.

Like Super-Team Family itself, this issue amounts mostly to a curiosity. It's unlikely to be collected, not available digitally and only worth tracking down if you’re interested in an interlude in a story later rewritten or if you're like me and can never get enough stories featuring The Flash, the New Gods or, even better, both.

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