I bought this comic in a non-regular venue for me while on a shopping trip with my family to a supermarket some distance from our home. I bought it both because I was reading SUPER-TEAM FAMILY regularly and because the Flash, still my favorite super hero, was headlining in it. This would be my first real encounter with the mythos of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World–I had run into some of it a while earlier in SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS, but none of the headliner characters or conflicts.

It’s somewhat hard to believe that there was a time when the wealth of characters and concepts that Jack Kirby had gifted to the DC mythos were undervalued and largely ignored, but that’s really how it was for most of the latter 1970s. Gerry Conway, who came over to DC from Marvel, clearly saw the value in what Kirby had created, and he constantly tried to make use of the various New Gods characters. But Gerry’s take was a bit pedestrian (not dissimilar to the problem with his tenure on THOR) and tried to reframe Kirby’s epic conflicts into something resembling typical Marvel super hero battles. Orion, for example, was given a generic super hero costume, which we see here. It never quite worked–and it wasn’t until Paul Levitz (who edited this issue of STF) and Keith Giffen did The Great Darkness Saga in LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES that people started thinking about this stuff as a relevant mythos that could be used to great effect.

So what’s going on here? We open with Lightray having retrieved the Flash from Earth at the command of Highfather so that the scarlet speedster can give his aid to the problem the New Gods are facing: for unknown reasons, Orion’s comatose body has begun to expand in size, and he’s currently enormous. If his expansion isn’t stopped in time, he could inadvertently destroy entire planets, including the Earth. The Flash is sent to probe Orion’s Mother Box, since he can vibrate into intangibility and enter it without damage. But Mother Box expells the Flash without him having learned anything about the cause of Orion’s growth condition.

At this point, Metron attempts to use his Mobius Chair to probe Orion’s mind. This also gives us the lead-in to an extended flashback showing how events got to this point: Orion was attacked on New Genesis by one of Darkseid’s assassins, and muffled the explosion of the would-be killer with his own body. Returning to Earth, he fell into a coma and began to grow–and his fellow New Gods were forced to shoot him off into space in order to prevent destruction to the area. Metron also emerges from Orion’s mind with a clue: his peril is connected not only to Darkseid but also to the Promethean Giants who hang along the Source Wall, having failed to penetrate it.

So Lightray, Flash and Metron head out for thePromethean Galaxy, where only the swiftest beings can survive. But their progress is monitored by Darkseid himself, who did not anticipate the Flash being recruited by his New God enemies. He dispatches Hagdar the Mad to make sure that their quest does not succeed. But tat may be overkill, as the trio is attacked upon entering the Promethean Galaxy by a mob of gigantic Ice Weirds who seek to halt their progress. Combining their skills, the Flash sets up a billiards shot which propels all of the Weirds in a singular direction, and allows Metron to reach his Mobius Chair and summon up a Boom Tube which sucks the Weirds into it, depositing them far away.

The issue pauses at this point for a DC reader survey. Every so often, DC would include one of these in one of their books, and judging by the questions, it looks as though they were trying to accumulate data about their audience that they could use to attract potential advertisers. But it does give a good sense as to how DC viewed its audience in 1977 and who they thought were buying their comics, and why.

Back at the adventure, our trio of heroes are in the final approach to the Source Wall despite being besieged time and again. We take a brief time out to check back in with Orion, whose colossal body is being guarded over by the forgotten and forgettable Conway New God Jezebelle. Of greater concern is the prophesy that no God can probe the Source Wall and survive. But Metron reasons that, since the Flash is not a God, he may be able to do so and live–that must be why Highfather had him recruited to their cause. With Lightray and Metron holding the line, Barry Allen ventures deeper into the Source Wall, all the while pursued by Hagdar

.Hagdar jumps the Flash as he’s on final approach, and the two waged a pitched battle, on in which the crimson comet is hopelessly outmatched. But he’s able to turn things around by vibrating into intangibility, causing Hagdar’s war axe to pass harmlessly through him and strike the would-be killer down upon its return. From there, Flash enters the Source Wall, returning with a device which can restore Orion–and absolutely no recollection of what it is or where he got it. Te gizmo does the job perfectly, but then immediately disintegrates before the New Gods can study it. And Darkseid, of course, is rather upset by the outcome. This was definitely a story that tried to have some scale to it, even if penciler Arvell Jones couldn’t quite pull off the Kirby grandeur of it all. And it helped me to understand who the New Gods were a bit more, and even to like them a little bit–tough it wouldn’t be until I eventually read the original Kirby stories that they’d truly click for me.

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