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From here to Infinity, Inc.

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Infinite Crisis has got me all nostalgic. After digging through my basement I’d found the first dozen or so issues of Infinity, Inc. It was my favorite series when I was thirteen, rivaling Teen Titans and X-Men. Infinity, Inc. was the name of the team featuring the sons, daughters and extended family of some of DC’s most popular characters: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom.

Wait... it’s been twenty years since this made sense. When did Wonder Woman and Batman have kids? How could there be a second generation of superheroes? The answer is easy, though typically fantastic. Alternate versions of Wonder Woman and Batman (who’d been killed in the 1970s) had children on an alternate planet called Earth-2. In the twenty years since Crisis on Infinite Earths, there have been millions of readers who’ve enjoyed Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, the Justice League of America and even the Justice Society of America without any awareness that there used to be a place called Earth-2. Where Superman and Batman first appeared during the depression, where superheroes fought in World War II.

Here’s how it happened: in the 1960s, when editor Julius Schwarz chose to create a new book called The Flash for DC (then called National), he called for a complete redesign of the character, written by Robert Kanigher & John Broome and drawn by Carmine Infantino & Joe Kubert. The book sold better than expected. Thus Barry Allen was born. Soon he’d meet up with some of the most popular characters and form the Justice League of America. It would take another five years before Schwarz would reintroduce the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, in the classic story “Flash of Two Worlds.” Writer Gardner Fox introduced the concept of multiple Earths. Earth-1 was the planet where most of the DC comics stories took place and Earth-2 was a parallel world where alternate versions of all the popular superheroes and other characters, like Doctor Fate, the Sandman and Black Canary, fought during WWII as the Justice Society of America. The notion was incredibly popular, spawning an annual Crisis event where members of the Justice League and the modern Justice Society would team up some inter-universal threat. Over the next twenty years, an infinite number of parallel Earths were introduced, so the variety was unlimited.

Flash forward 20 years. Roy Thomas created All-Star Squadron (taken from the previous title All-Star Comics), a book that took place on Earth-2 during the Second World War. The members of the Squadron were mostly characters who weren’t already being spotlighted. The members of the team were initially Hawkman, The Atom, Doctor Midnight, Liberty Belle, Johnny Quick, the Goldan Age Robotman and Plastic Man. The team fought action-packed battles against the obvious: villainous Nazis like the time-travelling Per Degaton, or vicious monsters like Solomon Grundy. With issue 25 there appeared a mysterious group called Infinity Inc., apparently time-travellers from the far flung 1980s. The Infinitors went on to their own book, and it was a smash hit.

With the first issue, the Infinitors burst in on a meeting of the stodgy old Justice Society of America, demanding team membership. Readers had barely seen Silver Scarab, Fury, Nuklon, Northwind, Jade, Obsidian and Brainwave Jr the previous year in All-Star Squadron. Having their own series with a first issue made for an incredible re-introduction to the Earth-2 mythos. Readers old and new alike made it one of DC’s most popular titles.

What was so appealing about Infinity, Inc. was that it took some of the most static characters in the DC comics canon and took a look at their lives as though time had actually passed since their debuts. Wonder Woman has a remarkable tinge of grey in her hair. Robin is pushing fifty. On the first page of the first issue of the book, it’s announced that Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman, had recently had a stroke. The Justice Society had finally grown old. It seemed like the perfect reason to introduce a brand new bunch of characters, yet these characters are steeped in the history of the classic Golden Age stories.

The junior members of the JSA, Powergirl (Superman’s cousin) and The Huntress (the late Batman’s daughter) joined with the time-lost Star-Spangled Kid and the rest of the kids in founding Infinity, Inc. Each member of the team had a clear relationship to the legacy of the Golden Age. Silver Scarab (Hector Hall) was clearly jealous of Northwind (Norda) for Hawkman’s (Carter Hall, Hector’s father and Norda’s godfather) clear affection. Fury was intent on taking over the mantle of Wonder Woman. Jade and Obsidian were orphaned twins in search of the truth of their parentage. The adventures of the team were grounded in some emotional connection to the classic comics stories.

As the series progressed we learned a lot about the next generation of superheroes. They test their mettle against some of the greatest foes of the original Justice Society: Ultra-Humanite, the original Brainwave, Solomon Grundy, and later find themselves in pitched battle with their progenitors. It was a rousing introduction for a great bunch of characters that finally, sharply brought Earth-2 into the modern era.

When the concept of Earth-2 and the Infinite Earths was trashed in 1986 the book could hardly recover. How could these characters be explained? Infinity, Inc. and All-Star Squadron both soon faded. Infinity Inc. continued for at least another two years, but perhaps never recovered from the editorial decisions made in the wake of the decade’s biggest cross-over.  In the twenty years since Crisis on Infinite Earths, the characters have been retrofitted into DC’s continuity, for instance in Geoff Johns’ JSA series.

Infinity Inc. should be remembered as perhaps the last great Earth-2 book. There weren’t really many precedents. The original incarnation Infinity, Inc. was a loving portrait of the DC comics characters and an heartfelt exploration of their legacy.

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