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General Zod and Faora, brought to glorious Phantom Zone life by Carmine Infantino – DC Comics Presents #73

May 30, 2013

dccomicspresents73

This is a highly treasured book for me. I was lucky enough to come of comics reading age in the mid-1980s, and one of my favorite titles at the time was The Flash. Though we didn’t know it at the time, that series was winding down towards its conclusion in issue #350, and the titular hero’s subsequent fatal, universe-saving sacrifice in Crisis on Infinite Earths. And Carmine Infantino, the creator of the Silver Age Flash (a fact unknown to me at the time), was back pulling the artistic oars as the final overarching storyline stretched its way towards its bittersweet terminus. Who else should it have been?

This was one of the shining lights of these last days (for a long while) of Barry Allen: that it became a long-form soap opera in the best sense of that genre, and with a man present at the creation bringing it all home. If you recall, the Flash had (apparently) killed his longtime nemesis, the Reverse-Flash, who had (apparently) killed Barry Allen’s beloved wife Iris. He became a fugitive from justice, had his membership in the Justice League questioned, and wound up convicted for his crime after a trial worthy of Perry Mason. It all played out month by month over the course of years. It was magnificent.  

Why was it so great? The storyline was long and drawn out, but it felt like life. It made it all feel so very real. It was glorious. For a child using it as an entrée into a medium, it was defining, not just for the character, but for superhero comics in general and all the things that they could — and should — be. And the comic before us today further solidified the Infantino iteration as the definitive Flash because of his distinctive presence. It was like Carmine was the house artist for the character — which in a sense he was. His Flash was instantly recognizable, even to wide young eyes, even when inked by the dominant brushes of Klaus Janson, as they were in the above cover. (And, concerning that image, Flash should just be thankful that Superman didn’t punch a hole in him, like he did to a certain power-suited villain on another Janson cover.) And this short story was, as we’ll see, tangentially tied ins spirit to the manslaughter rap that anchored the last days of the Silver Age’s Fastest Man Alive. It all made connections for a young mind, weaving a web of interwoven, sparkling fiction.

What makes this book doubly relevant for 2013 is the presence inside of the two villains in the upcoming Man of Steel, a summer blockbuster that looks more mouth-watering with every trailer and every commercial you see. General Zod, who’s had more presence on screens big and small than ever in the comics, and Faora, the man-hating Kryptonian ice-queen, are heading Earth’s way in this film, giving the filmmakers a chance to reenact the Superman vs. Kryptonians Superman II battle without wires and with advanced computer-generated effects. Though we’re all tired of Zod at this point (Can we get Brainiac? Darkseid? Metallo even?), it looks like it might work out okay. That he’s being played by Michael Shannon, who rivets every time he shows up on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, is a significant plus.

Here, their Phantom Zone presence is about as unsatisfying as it can be, though it’s more than rescued by the stellar art (inked by Dave Hunt) and a typically fine 1980s story from Cary Bates. A recent DC Comics Presents profiled here had Superman warped to He-Man’s Eternia by a convenient wormhole. Same plot device here — though no one can quite do “getting sucked into another dimension” quite like Infantino, especially when it’s melded with his usual super-speed effect:

dccomicspresents73a

Superman travels through the same portal when he investigates his co-hero’s disappearance. He finds the Flash on a rampage (hence the “Rampage in Scarlet” story title), destroying a technologically advanced city in a way only a high-speed nutjob can. This cues a crisis of conscience for Superman, already guilt-ridden by the Flash’s travails and his hand in the JLA membership vote (though, in fairness, he was the one who cast the deciding vote to keep Flash in the group). Has Barry finally snapped? Is Superman finally going to have to take down his old friend? Is this the sad end of a great career? Cue a Super-cat and mouse game. Superman is just as fast as the Flash, and that being equal, what makes the latter think that he has a chance?:

dccomicspresents73b

Still, Flash’s super-vibrational abilities — always a convenient ripcord to get him out of any situation — help him escape our hero’s grasp, and we’re soon introduced to the characters behind his berserker rage. Enter General Zod and Faora, as well as Jax-Ur and the improbably named Kal-El cousin, Kru-El, all drawn in a most cloudy Infantino manner:

dccomicspresents73c

Our Phantom Zone menagerie has returned thanks to a cosmic storm (also helpful in creating the portal transport), and have concocted an elaborate scheme worthy of villains grown squirrelly in their spectral prison: control the minds of the planet’s aliens and the Flash, lure Superman in, then have the aliens zap Superman with a Phantom Zone gun that will imprison him with them. Got that? Good. Problems arise when the aliens, moved by the selfless heroism of Superman, balk at dooming him, and the villains concentrate all their psychic energies on breaking this resistance. The Flash is in turn freed from his bonds, and can do his best Secret Service act:

dccomicspresents73d

The Flash is sent briefly to the Phantom Zone, but, since the blast was only coded for a Kryptonian, the exile doesn’t take. It think. Or something. Maybe he vibrated again to get out. Whatever the case, Zod, Faora et al. are left cursing fate and each other like crooks just unmasked by Scooby-Doo and the gang. We would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for you, Flash….

Everyone is happy, goodbyes are bidden, and the Flash returns to Earth in the most undignified way imaginable:

dccomicspresents73e

Is it less manly to ride on Superman’s back or be carried in his arms? Is this just a sign that the Flash is secure in his own masculinity? You decide.

This is as fine an example of straight-forward, episodic mid-80s storytelling as you’ll find, and Superman’s final thoughts go a long way to sealing the deal for the plot. The Flash, a hero, was a man with a heavy burden, the fastest man alive pursued by “the manslaughter charge that there’s no running away from.” We readers were left entertained, but with a lingering sadness and curiosity about the Scarlet Speedster’s fate. Books and tags like these did much to flesh out the broader (multi)universe, which would, for better or worse, be turned on its head during the Crisis.

And Infantino’s Flash? He was spectacular, even while riding bitch on Superman’s back. He was everywhere, inescapable — as if you’d ever want to get away.

This story will be in the back of my head when Zod and Faora are on the big screen in a couple of weeks. I’m grateful for that. If you like it, I hope it will be in yours, too.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. m.l. post permalink
    May 31, 2013 12:36 am

    A nice reminder of a great period in D.C. comics.

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