Tuesday, July 14, 2015

It's a Roy Thomas comic; so there's a ton of references this post...

A Death in the Family was a Pulitzer-winning novel, but among comics fans it's better known as "the one where Robin bites it." But per the GCD, that title has been used in over a hundred comics. (Although reprints account for a chunk of those, and the search function seems to get iffy way down the list; but variations like "death of the family" add a ton more.) At a glance, the earliest instance appeared to be an issue of Dark Shadows from 1974; and while Marvel books like Killraven, Moon Knight, and Fantastic Four have used it, the title seems far more prevalent at DC. Today, we check out a book predating Batman's "A Death in the Family," but only by months! From 1988, Infinity, Inc. #51, "A Death in the Family" Written by Roy Thomas, pencils by Michael Bair and Lou Manna, inks by Bob Downs.

For those of you not familiar with Infinity, Inc....ok, me either. I want to say it was direct sales only, not newstand, for most if not all of its run, so I may have been aware of it but didn't read it at the time. The premise starts out fairly simply: some of the children of the original Justice Society of America create their own superhero identities and try to join the team, but are shot down. The Star-Spangled Kid, a relatively recent JSA member, who was far younger than the rest of the team due to being lost in time for several decades, decides to go with the new kids and create their own team, Infinity, Inc. Power Girl and Huntress join as well. Pretty straightforward so far, but then Crisis on Infinite Earths merges Earths 1 and 2 (and others) and not only do a few continuity patches have to be applied (like losing Huntress outright) I think a bit of focus might've been stolen, since now Infinity, Inc. was another superteam alongside the Outsiders or the Teen Titans.

This issue starts with the wedding of Lyta "Fury" Trevor and Hector "Sandman" Hall...which would actually come into play in Neil Gaiman's Sandman, if you can believe it. The team is thrilled, but Skyman--the former Star-Spangled Kid--first has a moment where he has to lie (by omission) to the old Harlequin about her illusion-casting spectacles being destroyed, then has to leave his girlfriend mid-dance for a message delivered by the skull-faced Mr. Bones.

Bones actually had skin, but it was both transparent, and infused with cyanide, giving him a deadly touch; which might be why his costume, which was based in part on the Black Terror, covers so much skin. He also spoke in rhyme, which might make him more off-putting than his face. Bones tells Skyman that Jade needs his help with Solomon Grundy, the swamp-zombie and long-time foe of the Golden Age Green Lantern. Grundy was fixated on Jade, though, and obeyed her...and as such, he obeys Jade's orders to kill Skyman!

Bones had tagged along, and tries to stop Grundy with his cyanide touch, but can't kill the undead creature. Jade then commands Grundy to use Bones to kill Skyman, and although he resists, he does; the poison burning a horrible scar into the hero as it kills him. Bones is knocked out, badly beaten, but knows it looks bad for the former villain; as "Jade" heads out to a sleazy nightclub, revealing herself to be the new Harlequin! She joins up with the Dummy (who reminds me of the Ventriloquist, except he appears to be a little person who used a robot as his "ventriloquist" while playing dummy) and with Grundy they take charge of the young villains of Injustice, Unlimited!

After getting patched up by the new Dr. Mid-Nite (who reveals a minor secret: obscured by his transparent skin, Mr. Bones was a black man) Bones takes off, convinced no one would believe his innocence. He does make a slightly over-dramatic exit, through a window, naked...Shocked, the rest of Infinity, Inc briefly squabbles over who should be their new leader, before being set straight by Skyman's old partner, Stripesy. There were only a few issues left for this series; #53 was the final issue, and shows the heroes apparently defeated by Injustice, Unlimited.

Of course, bits and pieces of this series would go on to further prominence in the DC universe, like Fury: Mr. Bones would go on to be a supporting character in Chase and Manhunter, as a director for the superhero monitoring government agency the DEO. Obsidian and Nuklon would turn up in both Justice League and Justice Society books: Nuklon would later take the name Atom-Smasher, and Obsidian would be revealed to be gay--although he describes Starfire as "the stuff that dreams are made of" and wishes Raven was there. Jade would appear in Green Lantern, after a brief phoned-in moment in Starman #10 that would in turn lead to Solomon Grundy becoming a supporting character there for years to come. None of them probably show up as often as that title, but even so. (Oh, and the Star-Spangled Kid's costume and Stripsey would go on, with Stargirl and S.T.R.I.P.E.S.!)

Even though I just got this issue, it's actually had a special relevance to me for years: the Star-Spangled Kid appeared in All-Star Comics #65, one of the first super-hero comics I strongly remember having. (Here's the cover, which mentions in the synopsis that the heroes have to face Vandal Savage "under the influence of an alien planet containing 2 green kryptonite suns," which is somehow a thing. The first link there is an old post here that mostly mentions that issue to bag on Hawkman; but that post also mentions another character who like Mr. Bones was a black man whose powers obscured his appearance. It all comes around, huh?) Years later, even though I had read maybe one issue with the character since, I was shocked to see the Kid's death referenced in Mr. Bones's Who's Who entry! I won't lie: it was like seeing the obituary of someone you used to know, a friend or acquaintance you'd fallen out of touch with. Sadly, for a comic book character, outside of a few flashback or time-travel appearances, the Star-Spangled Kid/Skyman has somehow remained dead. Possibly because that costume does look better on Stargirl, admittedly. (And she's a legacy character, now in the New 52 continuity seemingly without said legacy, but that's neither here nor there.)

1 comment:

Dale Bagwell said...

I honestly did not know Mr Bones ws black....and that he talked in rythme.....like the Demon. Thank God we dodged that crossover huh?;)

But yeah, Mr. Bones was black. I didn't remember really wondering what race he was honestly. I was too transfixed by the walking skeleton look.
I know he was he DEO head, but did he still talk in rythme there too?

Sadly no love for the Star-Spangled Kid outside of a few creators with soft spot for that era in comics.