Saturday, December 31, 2016

RETRO-REVIEW: Super-Team Family, No. 15 (1978)

SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, No. 15, cover by Jose Luis
Garcia-Lopez. © DC Comics. Book cover-dated
April 1978, on-sale Dec. 27, 1977.

So, here's the thing: I've been reading comic books for as long as I can remember, and as far back as I can remember is around 1975, when I would have been 7 years old. But it was not until 1977 or so when I can vividly recall perusing newsstands on purpose to pick out my own comics with my own money (albeit an allowance).

Now, keep in mind newsstand distribution was kind of spotty in those days, especially in Central Maine. So, SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, No. 15, the last issue of that series, was my first experience with The New Gods.

The first issue of Jack Kirby's most indelible contribution to DC Comics hit stands on Dec. 22, 1970, and was cancelled with No. 11, out on Aug. 17, 1972. All before my time. The series would start up again, cover-titled RETURN OF THE NEW GODS, with No. 12, released April 21, 1977 and last one year to No. 19, released April 13, 1978. However, I don't recall ever seeing any of those comics on newsstands in my area back in the day. Not at Joe's Smoke Shop, where I bought my comics in Winslow, or at the Pik-Qwik, after we moved to Skowhegan. It's possible, of course, that The New Gods did appear on stands at both places, but that I simply passed over them in favor of other fare and no longer recall seeing them in the real-live four-color print of the day.

1st ISSUE SPECIAL, No. 13, cover by 
Dick Giordano. © DC Comics. Book 
cover-datedApril 1976, on-sale Jan. 
20, 1976.
That second New Gods series was preceded by one other comic. On Jan. 20, 1976, the characters got a one-shot outing in the final issue, No. 13, of 1ST ISSUE SPECIAL. I do remember some issues of that series. The debut of the Dingbats of Danger Street, from No. 6, remains to this day one of my very favorite comic books of all time. But No. 13 is something I don't recall seeing when it first came out, and it would be 30 years before I would finally buy it as a back issue. Then, in the midst of the second New Gods series, on Dec. 27, 1977, came the last issue of SUPER-TEAM FAMILY. And that was where I first met Orion and crew. After their second cancellation, the New Gods would move into the newly dollar-sized ADVENTURE COMICS, starting with No. 459, released on June 13, 1978. I read that at the time, but that series only lasted one issue, to No. 460, out on Aug. 10, 1978. The infamous DC Implosion saw Adventure shift from six features to five (albeit at the same page count) and, as I suspect, the New Gods were only there to use up inventory from their cancelled book, anyway. Thus they failed to make the cut and virtually disappeared from the DCU for a couple of years, finally re-emerging for a team-up with the JLA and JSA in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, Nos. 183-185, in 1980.

So, again, Super-Team is where I met the New Gods.

Now, I'll grant you, SUPER-TEAM FAMILY was a pretty goofy name for a comic book. But DC also had BATMAN FAMILY, SUPERMAN FAMILY, and even TARZAN FAMILY out at the time, so, it was a thing. Early in its run, Super-Team either was or was not a reprint comic, depending who was editor at the time.

As noted already, you didn't always get the same comics at the same stand month-in-and-month-out back in the 1970s. Or, if you did, some snot-nosed little rug rat (or, that is to say, some OTHER snot-nosed little rug-rat) was as liable as not to get to the stands before you and snipe the one copy of any given issue before you got there. At the time, I remember buying Super-Team, No. 3 (which featured a new Flash/Hawkman team up), No. 9 (the second in a three-issue run of new Challengers of the Unknown stories), and No. 12 (the second in a four issue run teaming The Atom with various DC heroes). I then spotted first No. 14 (the last of the Atom team ups, this outing with Wonder Woman, which caught my eye because the cover featured the Secret Society of Super-Villians — a real favorite of the time), and No. 15, the last issue as it would turn out. Of course, my reaction to this issue was, "The Flash and WHO now??" which all but guaranteed it getting into my grubby little hands and handing over my hard-earned at the cash register.

Those Super-Teams would only remain a part of my collection for a couple of years. I had a stockpile of maybe 1,5000 issues when, in late August of 1980, we had a house fire (a mobile home fire, actually) and we lost everything. It was not until this past week that I replaced No. 15, scoring a FN– condition copy (listed as VF) for $1.49 on eBay.

And that's why we're reviewing this particular comic today.

Memory plays tricks on us, and I always remember Super-Team as a victim of the DC Implosion. But that happened in July and August of 1978. The abrupt cancellation of about 40 percent of the DC line, just as it was advertising an intended increase to the line, is often blamed on blizzards during the winter of 1977/1978 that supposedly disrupted distribution. I've always wondered if that was a direct cause, or a convenient excuse for corporate bean counters. I mean, no other comics company instituted such a draconian cutback, and they all must have been impacted by the same storms.

At any rate, Super-Team No. 15 hits stands in Dec. 1977. It might have had high returns due to the first of those blizzards, but this also assumes the distributors simply sent the back. I'd have thought, with money of their own on the table, the distributors would have got the book out, even if a day or two, or even a whole week, late. There is some apparent scarcity to the issue, however. It lists at $18 in NM on ComicBookRealm.com. That's more than any other issue of the series, apart from No. 1, which lists at $20. The rest are said to go for between $15 and $16.

One thing is for certain, nobody involved in the production of Super-Team knew No. 15 was going to be the last issue. On the letters page, entitled "Team Talk," editor Paul Levitz answers a fan missive congratulating DC on canning reprints, and the Challs, and turning the title into all-original team-ups of random characters (as opposed to BRAVE AND THE BOLD, which always featured Batman) in the mix. Levitz wrote, ". . . we hope to keeping [sic] in this format for years to come . . . " and announced the next issue would feature a pairing of Supergirl and the new Doom Patrol, which had only recently made its debut in SHOWCASE, Nos. 94-96, on-sale May 31 to Sept. 22, 1977 — meaning the team-up was almost certainly in production both before the cancellation came, and before sales numbers from the SHOWCASE try-out were on hand. That story would eventually see publication in SUPERMAN FAMILY, No. 191-193, on-sale June 20 to Oct. 12, 1978.

Anyway, we're several hundred words in and that's the background. You're probably wondering if I'm ever going to get to the actual review, right? Okay, here we go:



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SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, No. 15, 
Page 1, art by Arvell Jones. 
© DC Comics. 
The 35-page story in Super-Team No. 15, entitled "The Gulliver Effect" is written by Gerry Conway (much maligned today for some reason, but a go-to fav. of mine in this era), with art by Arvell Jones and Romeo Tanghal and colors by Carl Gafford (as he was known at the time).

The story opens with Lightray flying and The Flash running to a spot between the Earth and the Moon, where Orion floats in space, already said to be half the size of the Earth. Somehow, that's not big enough to disrupt the orbits of either celestial body. Also, yes, you heard that right, Flash is seen running across open space. What exactly he gains traction on is passed over without comment (at least for now). But he's on scene and that's what counts.

Interestingly, on the first page, Conway tells us via the omniscient narrator that we can only listen in on Flash and Lightway's thoughts, because there's no air in space to carry conversation. But immediately upon Metron showing up on Page 4, it's explained Motherbox (a device Flash has only heard of through Superman, at this point in his career) is providing the air Flash breaths, while facilitating telepathic conversation. So, air enough to breath, but not enough to talk. Rather stingy, don't ya think? Maybe Metron's is a mother-in-law-box?

Flash attunes his vibrations to Orion's motherbox to trace where on his body it's being kept. Why the New Gods needed Flash's help to find it isn't explained (yet). But once he does locate it, Flash vibrates inside the now-giant mobile computer to find mother box is, "a complete electronic system -- without wires, circuitry, crystals --  -- incredible!" Apparently also without semiconductors and microchips, but thats' 1977 for ya. Remember, the Radio Shack TRS-80, hawked in promo comics by Superman, was the height of personal computing at this time.

Detail from SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, No. 15, Page 5, as The
Flash penetrates inside a Mother Box, giving readers the
first depiction of its inner workings. ©DC Comics
Flash gets booted by a defensive motherbox, leading Metron to conclude Orion is under attack. Like, DUH!, right?  So, he boom tubes into Orion's continent-sized brain, floating around between synapses. Why he could not, or would not, have done that prior to Flash's arrival also goes unexplained. Upon his return, Metron tells the others — Flash, Lightray, and Jezebelle — that he could see only two images in Orion's brain: Darkseid on Apokolips and "the Promethean Galaxy."

ASIDE: Again, recall, this issue was my introduction to the New Gods. It's why, to this day, I pronounce it DARK-seed, not DARK-side, as I'm supposed to. End aside.

The mention of the Promethean Galaxy prompts in Lightray a memory from "two Earth days ago," on New Genesis, because, of course, a New God would think to himself in terms of Earth Days. At that time, the New Gods were on New Genesis lounging around, taking a break from adventures in their then concurrent series, when a water-demon leaps out of a fountain and attacks Orion. How it got there is never explained, nor is the fact that, small as the fountain is depicted, none of the New Gods happen to see a fin-headed serpent man lurking there in wait. Lightray begs Highfather to intervene — rather than doing so himself, for some reason — but Highfather goes all alpha-pop and declares Orion must fight and win his own battles. Of course, given his possession of the astro-force, Highfather soon says, the outcome was never in doubt, and so the the New Gods return to Earth to their various home bases.

Detail from SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, No. 15, Page 27, which
depicts The Flash running across space, because, why not?
©DC Comics
Now, as mentioned, I never saw, much less bought the RETURN OF THE NEW GODS series. I have since purchased all but one of the back issues. Once I get No. 19, I'll sit down and read them as a set, but what I gather from the summary in this issue is that the set-up for the series had Orion, Lightray and newly-introduced Jezebelle living on Earth in various locals across American, for whatever reason somebody at DC thought would make a good set-up for a series. New Gods had to live on Earth, per editorial mandate of the day, much like all solo-series for Legion of Super-Heroes members had to take place in the 20th century.

Anyway, in a part of Lightray's recollection he can't possibly be remembering, because he wasn't there, Orion never makes it to his Arizona home base because of an infection he picked up in battle with the water-demon. Instead, he crash-lands in the desert where, unconscious, he soon begins going full Colossal Boy. The U.S. Army tries to attack him to no avail and soon Lightray and Metron show up to hurl him into orbit "to save mankind from death by suffocation," as a result of being smothered beneath the Newly Gargantuan God.

Afterward, Metron goes to fetch The Flash — why him in particular of every super-hero on Earth is still not made clear. Nor is it revealed how Lightray also remembers this scene he was not present for. But, "it's only through a physical effort that he now yanks himself back from his reverie to hear:" Metron declare the New Gods and Flash must visit the Promethean Galaxy before Orion grows so big "he might even  — crush the sun!"

Detail from SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, No. 15, Page 13, and
artist Arvell Jones' depiction of Darkseid.  ©DC Comics
In Chapter Two, titled "Death Quest," we open on Darkseid brooding over his plan. "The plan goes well," he says, "and yet . . . I am disturbed." Darkseid does a fair bit of expositing to the reader, by way of seemingly talking to himself, which seems like just the sort of thing the God of all evil would do, right? Of course, keep in mind, we are still a few years away from The Great Darkness Saga, and Darkseid is still a relatively minor villain in the DC canon. He's a big deal, naturally, but not yet THE big bad he would become. Anyway, in his soliloquy, Darseid reveals he sent the water-demon to attack Orion, and that the expectation is for Orion's mass to interfere with the orbits of the Earth and the moon (as I said it should be doing already!) "causing gravity to run wild [and] sending the moon hurtling into the Earth's Pacific Ocean." That's a pretty specific result. Clearly, Darky's worked out the maths.

One thing that confused the hell out of me as a kid was just who this Izaya was, to whom Darkseid kept  referring. Remember, this issue was my introduction to the New Gods. What I could not know, because Conway seems to have assumed I would already, is that Izaya and Highfather are one and the same.

Well, apparently the Promethean Galaxy lies "beyond the final barrier" through which "no God may pass," because "there lies the secret of the source, a mystery which has never been unriddled." Hmmmm, maybe the gods should've super-teamed with good ol' Eddie Nigma, instead.

However, for some reason, a mortal Earth man should be able to pass through the barrier and observe the source just fine, and so Darkseid surmises this is why Highfather must have dispatched Metron to involve The Flash. But no matter, Darkseid has agents of his own, and sends Hagdar the Mad — so mad, apparently, he can't fathom how to hold a battle ax correctly — to intercept our heroes.

Detail from SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, No. 15,
Page 15, featuring the first and to date only
appearance of Hagdar the Mad ©DC Comics
Meanwhile, Flash, Metron and Lightray are en route to the Promethean Galaxy. Jezebelle has been left behind, we presume because Metron has decided, in the infamous words of Brainiac 5, "This mission is too dangerous for a girl!" On the way, Flash, who is again depicted as running across space, wonders how he'll explain being late for supper. Keep in mind, at this point in his career, Flash is still keeping his heroic identity a secret from Iris, even though the two have long since been married. I don't know how Barry did it all those years. My wife knows if I step out of line one inch. I don't know how she knows, exactly, but she does! Invariably, when I get home she'll be at the door awaiting an explanation for whatever it is I've done that I was not supposed to. Call it wifedar. And yet, Barry manages to keep Iris in the dark about all his super-heroeing. Some reporter she must have been!

Anyway, our heroes are attached by "legendary ice weirds," which are big ol' space snowmen made up of "frozen methane present in asteroids." As Lightray gets popsicled, Metron wonders why the normally passive ice weirds have launched an attack. Flash gives Lightray a super-speed massage to thaw out his frozen legs — a rub down that, to judge by the art, must have come with a "happy ending" — and then has lightray propel him at light speed via a beam of light, sending him careening into the ice monsters Bouncing Boy-style and knocking them all into a Boom Tube created by Metron. After the all clear is given, we see Hagdar skulking behind a nearby asteroid, where he reveals, thanks to good old-fashioned thought ballooning, that he telepathically forced the docile ice beings to attack. Meanwhile, Highfather consults the source through his staff, "the only connection in the universe between our reality — and beyond," confirming once again that any God who seeks the source shall die. And yet, Highfather broods (he's like Darkseid that way) that's just here he's sent Flash and the two New Gods.

But there's danger back home as well. Alarmed by the "monolithic giant" orbiting over Russia "designed to strike fear into the hearts of our peaceful people," a pair of cosmonauts arrive intent on blowing it up — because in 1977 the Soviet Union could get a Soyez capsule into space just that fast. However, the missile launched at Orion blows up, hit by "beams of fire" that erupt from Orion's left nipple. (no, seriously!) and the cosmonauts flee in terror as, "not even the science of the Soviet republic can match this!" We quickly learn it was "Jezebelle of the Fiery Eyes" who, apparently unseen standing on Orion due to her relative size, destroyed the missile.

Double-Page spead from SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, No. 15,
depicting the old gods entombed on the Source Wall.
©DC Comics
Chapter Three, titled "A Hell of Giants," begins at the source wall, first seen in NEW GODS, No. 5. However, the depiction here is a bit different from all other versions. Usually, as noted on this fun review of the same comic we're reviewing here, the wall is depicted with the gargantuan old gods chained to it for all eternity, where "their heartbeats span a billion years," for having had the temerity to penetrate its secrets. In depicting via flashback the discovery of the Source Wall by the New Gods, Conway finally gets around to telling us Izaya and Highfather are the same person. So, that was one Fourth World mystery solved for this young reader at the time.

Just as Metron reiterates that "no god may know the source," else they end up like the gods of old, our heroic trio is attacked by parademon-looking creatures, all sharing one mind and lacking any sense of pain. Acting quickly, Metron uses "a photon burst from his Mobius chair," to break Flash free from the battle and send him hurtling toward the Source Wall. This, he decides, is why Highfather ordered him to recruit The Flash, for while no god may penetrate the wall, Barry Allen is a mere mortal. "Where gods have failed -- man may triumph!" he declares.

Things get a little wonky for The Flash as he penetrates
the Source Wall in this detail from SUPER-TEAM
FAMILY, No. 15, Page 27. ©DC Comics
As Flash approaches the wall at a speed he says he's "never travelled that fast in my life!" he is surprised to find a Mother Box in his hand. Strangely, as he penetrates the barrier, Flash starts talking backwards, like Zatanna. It's just a throwaway panel, still, it might be interesting if some enterprising writer were to use this scene as an explanation for the origin of Zatanna's magic. I mean, I know we got an explanation why have when Zee joined the Justice League, but this could explain the explanation, ya know?

Beyond the Source Wall, time is said to flow backwards, and Conway's omniscient narrator assures us that, because of his powers and experience with time travel, Flash is able to comprehend what is happened, where "a normal man or god might become lost in a labyrinth of unrealized and fading possibilities," of the reverse-time flow. Flash then uses his powers "in direct counterpoint to the time vibration around him -- canceling the larger effects with his own: In a word, he comes a living anomoly [sic], repellant to the time storm."

But before he can do anything, Flash finds that Hagdar has followed him. During the attack, mad Hagdar kindly provides his origin, telling us he is from a war-like race that won every war it fought for "ten times ten thousand years" — which, I'll grant you, sounds like a LOT longer than 100,000 years — until it encountered Darkseid. Hagdar get the jump on Flash, who hovers helplessly in space. Despite being depicted in earlier scenes scurrying across the open void, here Flash laments the lack of an "asteroid . . . to get my footing on." As Hagdar hurls his ax, which Mj√∂lnir-like doubles for him as a mode of transport, Flash attempts "something I've never done before," or, to my knowledge, since. Somehow, in a way that's not fully explained, he breaks "the vibrational barriers of the universe -- driving away the loose molecules of space . . . creating a shield of absolute vacuum!"

Somehow, this vacuum shield rebounds Hagdar's ax back at him, with the force of the impact driving him into a nearby "time-stasis cloud" Conway had kind enough to reveal was there a page or two perviously. With Hagdar done for, Flash continues his journey. And here's where the Source Wall differs from all other depictions, as we are shown a second "final barrier" beyond the infinite tomb of the old gods. Flash passes beyond this zip-a-tone wall, described as "a billion miles wide, a million miles high," and we return to Metron and Lightray, busy mopping up the last of the defeated space trolls.

The Flash penetrates the final barrier
beyond the Source Wall to another
universe into a place no human or New
God had gone before, on Page 33 of
SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, No. 15.
 ©DC Comics
We're told 20 minutes have passed since Flash disappeared beyond the Source Wall, when, suddenly he reappears with no memory of where he went, or what he did. "The experience is just too much for a mortal mind to retain," he explains. However, Flash comes back with a machine in hand that they use to return Orion to normal size. Naturally, that raises more questions than it answers — Where did Flash get the machine? Who built it? How was it made? How did Flash know what it would do? How do our heroes figure out how to operate it?

But no time for that, as we're on the last page. So, fixing Orion wraps up the tale quickly and neatly, but for a trio of single-panel epilogues.

First Darkseid "vows vengeance" on the Flash, a promise of revenge we are told "will have future complications." However, Darkseid never went after the Flash in particular, from that day to this. So, talk about missed opportunity there!

Second, "despite the paradoxes of instantaneous interstellar travel," Flash ends up getting home late for dinner. We're told this, too, "will have complications, but of a more personal nature." That story springboard also goes unrealized. However, that may be because it was shortly after this tale (14 months actually) when Iris Allen would die, in THE FLASH, No. 275 (on-sale April 12, 1979).

Finally, after restoring Orion to health, Metron attempts to examine the Source machine, only to have it crumble to dust in his hands. And that, is the "end." Although, you'd think even dust from the other side of the Source Wall would be closely studied by Metron, and that its properties, whatever they may be, could be put to some use, for good or ill. Frankly, I'm shocked that Darkseid, as obsessed as he is with the Source, and the anti-life equation has not dispatched minions to gather up ever last mote of that dust pile. But maybe he did. Maybe that's how one builds an Anti-Monitor.


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As noted above, SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, No. 15 books at $18 in NM, but can generally be found on ebay in mid-grade for a couple of bucks. You might even get lucky and score one from the dollar bin. But the question remains, is it worth adding to your collection?

To my mind, yes, the entire Super-Team series is worth having. The Challengers of the Unknown stories in Issue Nos. 8-10 feature fantastic art by James Sherman, while the Atom series from Issue Nos. 11-14 is a run unlike few things that came before it. For what it's worth, all four issues were condensed into a pair of 80-page specials published in December 2007 as COUNTDOWN SPECIAL: THE ATOM, Nos. 1-2. However, with those books having sold a mere 9,398 and 9,000 copies, respectively, to retailers — while Super-Team probably moved at least 100,000 copies per issue, based on average monthly circulation for Superman of 235,530 in 1977 — you'll probably have an easier job tracking down the originals on the back issue market.

As an aside, it seems to me the four Atom issues are worth publishing again as a single trade paperback, maybe with other '70s Atom team-ups taken from ACTION COMICS, THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, DC COMICS PRESENTS, DETECTIVE COMICS, and WORLD'S FINEST COMICS, in order to round things up to a 300-page +/– package. Meanwhile, DC could issue worthy trades featuring the Challengers stories from Super-Team, along with their '70s series in their own title and ADVENTURE COMICS, and the New Gods, collecting the late '70s "Return of" iteration of their title, rounded out with Super Team, No. 15, 1st ISSUE SPECIAL, No. 13, and DC SPECIAL SERIES, No. 10. End aside.

Detail from SUPER-TAEAM FAMILY, No. 15, Page 18,
featuring the "legendary ice weirds," who live near the Source
Wall, who, legendary or not, made their only appearance
ever in this issue. ©DC Comics
The story in this issue is kind of meh, frankly, but it does have the only appearance of Hagdar the Mad, the asteroid ice weirds, the hive-mind space trolls, and (I think) the water demons, as well as the only depiction of anything beyond the Source Wall, and the first look inside a Mother Box. Plus, if any enterprising writer should someday choose to craft a story around the Flash's experiences beyond the Source Wall, as the only man or New God to venture there — an experience that could even further explain his return from the dead, or provide the lynchpin to a new inter-company Crisis crossover — this book would certainly skyrocket in value overnight. Thus, you may want to corner the market on extant issues now!

While I love me some Arvell Jones, this
issue was early in his career, and while
the artwork in most of this book is great,
this "squatty potty" panel, where Orion
sits on a New Genesis fountain, just prior
to a water demon attack, has always
cracked me up. Detail from SUPER-TEAM
FAMILY, No. 15, Page 8. ©DC Comics
Of course, market value is not the reason to possess an issue to any real comic book collector. And this issue has other things to recommend it. It has early art from Arvell Jones which, the squatty-potty panel aside, is quite good considering this early point in his career. Jones, of course, would go on to a long run on ALL-STAR SQUADRON and on the Milestone Comics line. Plus, there's a nifty over by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. With only a few exceptions — say, Curt Swan on Superman, or Jim Aparo on Batman — it is Garcia-Lopez' style that I see in my mind's-eye when imagining almost any DC character. Really, this issue is worth having, IMHO, just to frame and hang on your wall.

But on the inside, if you're a fan like me, you'll groove on seeing the old ads as much as the story. Here we have such gems as a Batman-themed Hostess Cupcake page; Crossman BB guns (find a gun ad in comics today!); real live Sea Monkeys; and the classic 100pc toy solider set; plus house ads for the "new look" of SHAZAM, No. 34; STEEL, THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN, No. 1; and the Saturn Girl/Lightning Lad wedding special, known to Legion of Super-Heroes fans as "that damn tabloid."

You will want to try and obtain a copy with decent page whiteness, however. On the one I managed to get, the pages have yellowed, and the inks have bled some, making certain bold-faced words hard to read.

Now, one final word on SUPER-TEAM FAMILY, in general. The title lives on in spirit in the form of photoshopped mash-ups on the blog, SUPER-TEAM FAMILY: THE LOST ISSUES. If anyone among TPTB at DC Comics happens to read this, they should know, there is almost no issue depicted there that I would not buy. Check it out!





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