Welcome to the latest installment in our series of annotations of classic DC Comics stories starring the Flash!
We’re taking a break from The Trial of the Flash to look at Super-Team Family #15 (December 1977), written by Gerry Conway and featuring a team-up between Flash and The New Gods! This book contains major unheralded moments in the history of both franchises, as well as foundations for future stories that would go untold. Links to artwork and research are included throughout this post. For previous annotations, including Part One and Two of this issue, click here! Now, on to Chapter Three: “A Hell of Giants!”
PG 22 & 23: An amazing piece of artwork here by penciller Arvell Jones, portraying the imprisoned Promethean Giants. The Giants were Gods of the Third World who had attempted to discover the secrets of the Source. Their fate, eternal imprisonment in the Promethean Galaxy, was depicted as entombment in the actual Source Wall in recent stories, such as Thy Kingdom Come. According to Ellen Igor, our Fourth World fact-checker, the imprisoned Giants first appeared in issue #5 of the original New Gods series.
This two-page portrayal of the imprisoned Prometheans is not an image of the Source Wall. There is an additional reference here to the “…Final Barrier, that cosmic fence which protects the awesome secret of The Source..”, which appears to have been folded into the idea of the imprisoned Giants when the Source Wall was created. In this issue, you will see the two portrayed as separate entities. Click on the image for a larger version.
Comic book legend Walter Simonson clarified the origins of the Source Wall, which he says first appeared in Marvel and DC Present #1 (1982). That book was a team up between the X-Men and the New Teen Titans, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Simonson. Here is the whole story, from a forum post by Simonson over at Comic Book Resources:
The Source Wall as it is currently understood visually in the DCU first appeared in the X/Titans crossover. Wikipedia notwithstanding, the Wall as such did not appear in Kirby’s New Gods.
What did appear was a four page introductory sequence in New Gods #5 in which Metron, using his Mobius Chair, explores the ‘Final Barrier’. “And somewhere beyond—lies the Source: the greatest of mysteries.” An additional description suggests that this is the Promethian Galaxy—a place of giants—where “all roads to the Source come to an end—”. Visually, there’s a double page shot of a giant strapped to an enormous piece of Kirby debris. There’s another panel with a large head of a female who tried to achieve “the maximum state”. And failed. And, in the text, Metron notes that ‘beyond all the knowledge and sweeping concept at our command, the mystery of the Source lies—serene—-omnipotent—all-wise.’
There is, however, no shot of a ‘Source Wall’ as such. No final visual barrier beyond which an entity may not venture. No wall full of entities who tried to breach the final barrier and failed and became subsumed within the Wall.
Chris and I invented that notion—and its visualization—for the X/Titans book, clearly extrapolating from what Jack had done.
The neatest part of the invention is that apparently, the notion of the Wall and its execution were such a perfect fit for the existing New Gods mythology that folks don’t really remember exactly where it came from.
More on this later. To close out the analysis of this spread, here is a great interview (also at CBR) with Arvell Jones.
PG 24 & 25: Flash gets the run-down on the history of the Source from Metron and Lightray. The trio is ambushed by “The Guardian”, a group of trolls with a hive-mind who refer to themselves as “…he who protects the Barrier!” Aware of their inability to feel pain, Flash vibrates his fist through one of the creatures in an unsuccessful attempt to subdue him. Like the “ice weirds” and Hagdar the Mad, The Guardian make their first and only appearance in this issue.
PG 26: Metron frees Flash and sends him rocketing towards the Final Barrier. The former has discovered Highfather’s reasoning for Flash’s presence on the journey: while a God cannot pass through the Final Barrier, “—a man may triumph!” Hagdar appears, in pursuit.
PG 27 & 28: A Mother Box materializes in Flash’s hand and begins leading him towards the Barrier. Flash’s thoughts turn to Iris, but he is suddenly enveloped by a time-distortion “fog”. From the narration: “A normal man or god might become list in a labyrinth of unrealized and fading possibilities—but Barry Allen, changed through a freak accident into the Flash, is no ordinary man—”. The nature of Flash’s powers, a human with “…peculiar time-traveling abilities…”, is a major focus of the issue and his role in the mission to the Source. Flash uses his vibratory abilities to essentially time-travel out of the distortion, where he is confronted by Hagdar.
PG 29 & 30: Darkseid’s minion gets some back-story here: he is from a world of warriors, conquered by Darkseid. He even gets his own surprised exclamation: “Dagon’s Sword!“ Distracted by another time-distortion cloud, Flash is injured by Hagdar.
PG 31 & 32: Staring down Hagdar’s flying axe, Flash creates a “shield of absolute vacuum!” by “breaking the vibrational barriers of the universe” to gain control of loose molecules in space. Hagdar is struck by his own weapon and is doomed by a rebound into the time-distortion, “…with its heart an exploding star!”
PG 33: Here is the first appearance of the Final Barrier in Fourth World comics, including both those Kirby-penned and not. Though it is not the version of the Source Wall envisioned in the X-Men/Titans team-up mentioned above, it is a complete, alternate portrayal, showing the Source Wall in its entirety as a shimmering barrier in space.
PG 34 & 35: Flash is shown in the act of breaking the barrier, Mother Box in hand, but the action cuts without showing Flash interacting with the Source. Flash emerges twenty minutes later, carrying a machine. He has no memory of the origins or nature of the machine, or anything else that happened beyond the Final Barrier. The machine succeeds in returning Orion to his normal size.
The story includes “several footnotes,” including Darkseid vowing vengeance specifically on Flash. The narration states, “This will have future complications,” but this promise would not come to fruition. Flash was not part of the JLA/New Gods crossover from Justice League of America #183 - 185 (also written by Conway, collected in Crisis on Multiple Earths Vol. 5). Both Flash and Darkseid appeared throughout Crisis on Infinite Earths, but they did not interact directly in the events leading up to Flash’s death in Crisis #8. When Barry Allen returned in Final Crisis, I thought this story would have been a perfect way to explain his “resurrection” being tied to the New Gods/Fourth World mythology, but it went unused.
Finally, Barry returns home, late for dinner. Upon the restoration of Orion, the mysterious machine from the Source crumbles to ash before it can be examined.
NEXT: Check this space as we jump back into The Trial of the Flash…see you next time!