Infinity and Beyond

Thirty years ago at Xmas, I read issue one of Thomas, Ordway and Machlan’s spin-off from the wartime All-star Squadron of the 80s. How does Infinity Inc. stand up in the 21st Century?

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The hardback volume one -and-only  of “The Generations Saga” opens with the legacy team’s intro from the summer of 1983. Despite the gorgeous nostalgic art and its Art Deco flourishes, be warned that ASS and its sequel are driven by Thomas’s obsessive need to weave a vast tapestry with every 40s comic he had read. Be warned also that this is a loooong post…

The Infinity Syndrome: a play perhaps on the title of a Star Trek episode, this story opens with the wartime JSA- an unfamiliar line-up with Kirby’s Sandman and Starman. They’re about to go on a mission as the Justice Batallion against the Japanese Black Dragon Society. Meanwhile, in the midst of a battle with Amazing Man (an Afro-American version of Marvel’s Absorbing Man).

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The various members of the All-Star Squadron – Tarantula, Liberty Belle, Johnny Quick, Steel, Atom  (AND guest-stars Batman, Robin, Kirby’s Guardian, Green Lantern and Phantom Lady ) have various conflicts with six members of Infinity Inc. THEN Brainwave Jr., introduced in the previous issue, gets involved too. 

Talons across Time: Not only do Flash and Wildcat make an appearance and  an injured Johnny Quick retruns to the fray, the Earth-2 members of the Secret Society of Super-Villains turn up. As does 70s JSA foe: Vulcan, Son of Fire, a Gerry Conway/Wally Wood creation. Brainwave Jr’s internal monologue reveals that the Infintors are the “sons, daughters…more or less adopted wards of the JSA”- in case anyone still hadn’t guessed.

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The Ultra War: the second All-Star Squadron Annual is a giant “donnybrook” featuring twenty-three superheroes AND cameos from Dr. Fate, the Spectre and six other JSAers. In the heat of battle, the Mighty Mite will gain the “atomic punch” he demonstrated in the late 40s. I’ve neglected to mention that the villains are the slinky female version of the Ultra-Humanite; “her” troglodyte Sub-Men; the sadistic Deathbolt and the tormented Cyclotron. For about half a dozen issues, Superman, Robotman and the female Firebrand have been their hostages.

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 These early stories feature a red-haired Fury and a more informal Nightwind. The Ultra War reminds me of Thomas’ Kang/Grandmaster plot from the 1969-1970 Avengers on a massive scale. There’s lots of conflict and period detail but the characters are two-dimensional.

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Generations! It’s the first Baxter paper issue of Infinity and the events which set the time paradox in motion are revealed. The core four Infinitors crash a JSA meeting but are rejected as prospective members. They reveal their origins in conversation; the details of their student lives are realistic if a little humdrum. The smock-clad Brain Wave Sr. makes a dramatic exit. The Machlan/Ordway team create a more modern milieu here and in the next issue. 

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Generations- A Gauntlet Hurled: The rejected quartet, joined by Jade and Obsidian, sulk in a McDonald’s- an amusing contrast to the classy JSA brownstone but one that bristles with menacing and rather racist black cariactures. 2nd-generation JSA-ers Power Girl and Huntress tag along ( although the greying adult Robin does not- introduced in the 60s Camp Craze, he’s from a different generation and not as sympathetic to the college kids). Forties exile Star-Spangled Kid proposes the formation of a corporate-style super hero team, perhaps along the lines of Heroes For Hire.  The simian Ultra-Humanite abducts the newly-formed group but fortunately Brainwave ( who was impersonating his own dad last issue) is on hand to follow them back in time.

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If you think Bendis invented talking-head comics with New Avengers, think again. The bulk of this issue and the next is conversation- and  frequently about things readers of this collection already know. Compared to the shallow combat of the Ultra War, these issues are action-free, really. 

Solomon Grundy Goes Hollywood: Junior retells the story of the Ultra War for new readers. After checking in with Hawkwoman and learning that some JSAers are missing, Infinity decamps to Stellar Studios- scene of the 40s Evil Star tale.  There they have a battle with Solomon Grundy and the Kid learns that Junior is the son of Merry the Gimmick Girl ( his adoptive sister). 

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A subplot sees Golden age Superman luring the parents of the Infinitors into a trap- a submerged river that will affect their personalities ( harking back to the “Five Drowned Men” JSA-tale of the 40s)

Origins and Outcasts: Jade and Obsidian tell their origin stories, then we visit Northwind’s homeland via a1946 Hawkman reprint. Joe Kubert and Gardner Fox produce a riff on Lost Horizon with “The Land of the Bird People”. The yellow-hued Feitherans are as bizarre as any of Burroughs’ Barsoomians and somewhat ridiculous. The story ends with the discovery of the drowned JSAers and Fury ( a blonde in the monthly book) swears vengeance. Thomas’ early plans included seeing Fury go bad but this angle, like his proposed gay male Harlequin ( possibly an LA stand-up comedian) never materialised.

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The next volume was cancelled so we never saw the conclusion to the Generations Saga reprinted: the climax of the Stream of Ruthlessness plot included the final conflict between the Ultra Humanite and the Brain Wave. Future comics superstar Todd McFarlane would take over from Ordway and introduce three more Infinitors: luckless female incarnations of Dr. MidNIGHT and Wildcat and a new Hourman who became the focus of the book for many months. He also introduced  Helix,Thomas’s antagonistic, yuppie parody of the X-Men and a modern, corporate Injustice Society- Injustice Unlimited .

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After the series sputtered to a halt in the late 80s with the senseless death of Skyman ( a revamped Star-Spangled Kid) the other Infinitors continued to pop up elsewhere. Jade, Obsidan and Nuklon were all members of different incarnations of the JLA- and the latter pair served with the 90-Noughties JSA.  Hector Hall became Dr. Fate in that same revival of the JSA while Brainwave and Northwind became minor super-villains.

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Bad Boys Inc: Norda, Albert and Henry King

Re-reading it so many years later, the book’s flaws are apparent. During a glut of DC team books, infinity Inc. had neither the fervent emotions of New Teen Titans nor the absurdity of Outsiders or the futuristic cosmos of the Legion The WWII milieu of the All-Star Squadron makes the team feel old-fashioned. No scene more underlines the feeling of decrepitude than the bizarre revelation of Green Lantern’s toupee in the first Infinity Inc annual.

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 Compared to the elemental machismo of the Invaders, the swanky Justice SOCIETY is staid and moneyed- Cole Porter characters with super-powers. Furthermore, the Infinitors are a transplanted Avengers- a giant; youthful twins, one of whom is a spectral figure; an armoured member and one who draws on mythology. Their youthful emotions are rather repressed compared to the torrid Titans ( despite unfunny Wolfman’s tendency for schmaltz). Crucially, they’re often not the stars of their own aventures- mostly, the comic is  about the more interesting but historical lives of their parents and guardians.  In the end, this isn’t so much an elegy for the Forties but for Thomas’ personal Golden Age as a writer at Marvel.

 Coming soon: Please Save Me From the Monsters

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

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