THOMAS and ORDWAY: How INFINITY, INC. Was Built From the Ground Up

An INSIDE LOOK at the development of the Bronze Age JSA’s next generation…

Infinity, Inc. was something of a star-crossed title in the 1980s: an intriguing concept saddled with unfortunate timing. The book — an All-Star Squadron spinoff created by Roy Thomas, Mike Machlan and Jerry Ordway — featured a new generation of Earth-Two heroes largely descended from the aging Justice Society of America.

Thing is, not long after the team’s late-1983 debut, DC introduced Crisis on Infinite Earths, which dispensed with the Multiverse and forced creators to retrofit characters into the new one-Earth model. Infinity, Inc. continued on into 1988 but many of the characters ultimately became footnotes in DC history.

Nevertheless, the team’s arrival was heralded with much excitement and ballyhoo, enabling the creators to reconceptualize Earth-Two for the current generation. The cult-fave book’s central theme was legacy — which not at all coincidentally is the focus of TwoMorrows’ Back Issue #126, out March 31.

The issue, which looks at legacy characters and concepts from across the comics spectrum, features an excellent history of Infinity, Inc., much of which is not common knowledge. It’s part of a superb story line-up:

Anyway, in this EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT, writer John Schwirian details — character by character — how Infinity, Inc. was built by Thomas, Machlan and Ordway.

We pick up right after the series was approved:

By JOHN SCHWIRIAN

With the series green-lighted, artists Mike Machlan and Jerry Ordway were brought in to develop visuals. The first step was to make sketches of the characters listed in the proposal, but alternate ideas were explored as well.

According to Ordway, “Mike did most of the drawings because he was originally supposed to pencil the book and I wound up just basically art-directing it with him. The design of the characters, I’d say, was 70 percent Mike and 30 percent me. We would get together on Fridays, go to the comic store, and then afterwards we would go to a local bar and sit and sketch out ideas on napkins. Then I would later do the color designs.”

Roy Thomas had final say on the costumes and looks for the characters, which sometimes resulted in some strong discussions.

“There were battles with costume colors because I thought of the characters as a group,” Ordway explains. “If you have seven characters, you don’t want everyone to be red and yellow based or red and blue based.”

Nuklon (Albert Rothstein) is a perfect example of Machlan’s ideas.

“I don’t think I would have been bold enough to do a Mohawk,” Ordway chuckles, “even though it made sense as a play on the Atom’s costume when he had a fin on his helmet.” Thomas also toyed with calling him Nuklar or Stonewall.

Green Lantern’s twins underwent several changes. Conceptually, Jade (Jennie-Lynn Hayden) took shape rather quickly, as her powers were based on her father’s, but her brother developed more slowly.

Harlequin was the first thought for the brother—a possibly gay, carefree, fun-loving guy with a bag full of tricks. However, Roy Thomas never warmed to him.

“One of the things probably that turned me against Harlequin,” Thomas recalls, “is that I wanted the heroes to have real superpowers. Having someone who is mainly a trickster didn’t appeal to me.”

Another strike against Harlequin was the identity of his mother. “I know Mike drew a sketch of a male Harlequin that I think predated Obsidian,” Ordway adds, “and maybe he would have been Jade’s brother, but that was too much of an early tell as Roy wanted to make their mother’s identity a mystery.”

Obsidian (Todd Rice), as Jade’s brother, grew out of the idea of contrasting light and darkness. Machlan took a design for a possible Sandman and reworked it several times for Obsidian before hitting on the right look. Likewise, many names were considered, including Blackout, Umbra, Penumbra, Shadow Man, and Ebon, before settling on Obsidian. When not enshrouded in darkness, Todd Rice’s appearance is modeled after Tom Cruise and Jade after Rebecca DeMornay in Risky Business. Both characters are named after friends of Roy Thomas.

Jade’s design presented the biggest conflict of interests between writer and artists. “Jade was a kind of a fight because Roy wanted her to have long hair,” Ordway adds. “One of my and Mike’s things about Jade was that she was going to be green, so we did not want her to look like [Marvel’s] She-Hulk. So Mike and I agreed that Jade would be slim, with more of a dancer’s body, more lanky. She-Hulk was big and had long, flowing hair. We wanted Jade to have short hair, more of a pageboy cut. That was a fight with Roy because he wanted more long, flowing hair, saying at one point that short hair wasn’t sexy. To appease Roy, when she first appears, her hair is short over the ears but long in the back and, as my ten issues of Infinity, Inc. progressed, I made her hair shorter and shorter.”

Fury (Lyta Trevor) initially was supposed to betray her teammates. “After all,” Thomas chuckles, “the old, original Furies of myth were pretty fierce creatures.”

At one point there was a discussion where it was suggested that maybe she suffered from living in her mother’s shadow and, like Dr. Doom, had a slight scar or imperfection that drove her mad.

Thomas wanted Hawkman represented on the team, but he wanted the character to have real wings, not strap-ons. Thus Northwind (Norda Cantrell) would be Hawkman’s godson, a child of the bird people of Feithera originally seen in Flash Comics #71 (May 1946).

Bobcat, Wildcat’s daughter, dressed in orange, not blue, almost made the final cut. Also called Lynx and La Garra (the Claw), she was included in a promotional pinup printed in All-Star Squadron #28.

However, the team was too large, so she was dropped to make more room for Power Girl and Huntress. She would return as Wildcat (Yolanda Montez), goddaughter of the original Wildcat, later in the series.

Promo pin-up from All-Star Squadron #28

Blue Dolphin seems to have been included mainly to provide unique underwater powers. She was the daughter or granddaughter of the deceased Aquaman (not the child of Neptune Perkins and Tsunami), but as the Earth-Two Aquaman had no connection to the JSA, this passing notion was quickly abandoned. Shockwave, heir of Johnny Thunder, may have been in the original proposal, but no sketches or notes on powers seem to exist. Silver Streak, a speedster, was another quickly forgotten possibility. While listed as a possible turncoat or the one destined to die, Silver Streak pulled a fast fadeout.

“At one time, I toyed with the idea of a son of the Flash,” elaborates Thomas, “but there had been so much said about the Earth-Two Flash and his wife—they didn’t seem to have any kids. And as every group seemed to have a speed character, I decided we didn’t really need one.”

Other possibilities included African-American wards for Hourman and Spectre (Kronus and Black Spectre) and a character named either Sandman or Nightmare with a blue costume based on Timely Comics’ 1940s Vision. Mr. Bones was created at this time, but, as he did not fit into the initial dynamic, had to wait over a year to pop up as a villain.

Brainwave, Jr. (Henry King, Jr.) was inspired by the idea of the child of a villain trying to repay society for the damage caused by the criminal parent. His family connection to the JSA was through his mother, Merry Pemberton, the adopted sister of the Star Spangled Kid. Visually, he was a tweaked version of the mental projection the villain Brain Wave used in the 1970s.

Thinking back, Thomas says, “I always hated that costume and new persona that Gerry Conway and the artist gave him when they revived All-Star Comics in 1976. Suddenly, they’d come up with a whole new Brain Wave that didn’t look or act anything like the original. Well, I thought that could still be a good costume and general look for the son of Brain Wave.”

Star Spangled Kid, Robin and Sandy the Golden Boy were listed on the promotional pinup in All-Star Squadron, but only the Star Spangled Kid made the final cut.

“Sandy had no superpowers, so I wasn’t interested in him,” Thomas explains, “unless I gave him some superpowers, and, of course, there was a Sandman over at Marvel, so it didn’t make much sense to use him. Besides, he would have been so much older than the other Infinitors. I didn’t want to have five to ten years difference in the ages of the characters.”

The last character created for the team was the Silver Scarab (Hector Hall). He was, in fact, a last-minute addition, and had to be added to the original cover drawing for All-Star Squadron #26.

“Silver Scarab never worked out as that great of a character,” Thomas says. “I wanted Hawkman’s son to be there, but somehow Silver Scarab was also supposed to be like the Blue Beetle and characters like that. Again, he was just a guy in a suit.”

Hector suffered from an attitude problem, partly stemming from his jealousy over Northwind’s relationship with his parents. He would eventually be “slain” by his father’s ancient foe Hastor, only to miraculously return several issues later in the role of the 1970s Jack Kirby Sandman, hero of the dream realm.

“Hector came back as the new Sandman,” Thomas clarifies, “because I felt the old Silver Scarab identity hadn’t been a particularly strong one.”

Schwirian’s full piece explores much more about Infinity, Inc., so I highly recommend picking up Back Issue #126, due March 31. It will be available thru comics shops and magazine sellers but you can also get it directly from TwoMorrows. Click here.

MORE

— Behold JERRY ORDWAY’s Spectacular Golden Age BATMAN. Click here.

— ROY THOMAS Details DAVE COCKRUM’s Role in Revamping the X-MEN. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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6 Comments

  1. Never much of a fan. At the time, I wanted more JSA. I wanted stories that didn’t revolve around their ages. All-Star Squadron was pretty close. I guess I held that against this title. In the end, didn’t matter as Crisis killed it all for me anyway. That said, maybe I’ll go revisit these characters and see if time has improved my appreciation for them.

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  2. I loved the revived “All Star Comics” and “All Star Squadron” but never warmed up to Infinity Inc. At the time, the only characters that appealed to me were Power Girl & The Huntress and I would have much preferred to see them in their own comics. Plus, Crisis really did a number on this series. I’ve thought about giving them another chance – back issues are super cheap.

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    • Aside from my continuing fascination with Earth-2, Power Girl & The Huntress were the main reasons I followed into Infinity Inc. Most of the other characters grew on me.

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  3. I want all of All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc. to be collected. Just the few pieces out there is not enough.

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  4. Actually, I know that Roy hasn’t been happy with a lot of what was done with them after he left DC and I respect that; but for mostly new characters, they’ve had pretty good runs. Fury, Silver Scarab and Northwind have had the least done with them, but Hank and Lyta made it into Gaiman’s Sandman and all three had appearances or runs in the Geoff Johns JSA. Even Mr. Bones has stuck around.

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  5. In a box somewhere. I enjoyed them at the time a lot more than All Star Squadron. Anyone know why Ordway and Machland swapped art roles?

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