In 2021 I wrote an article that briefly talked about DC Comics’ first Pride-themed comic anthology. I listed over a dozen of DC’s earliest queer characters who received no mention or reference in DC Pride, such as Coagula, Wanda, Masquerade, and Shvaughn Erin. I regret there was at least one other character whom even I didn’t think to include, that has also been forgotten by DC for nearly two decades.
This character is very difficult to talk about. The handling of their gender identity is practically on the same level of wrongness as Shvaughn Erin’s was in Legion of Super-Heroes. I want to identify her as a transgender woman, despite the narrative linking her gender identity with mental illness. On one hand, I can understand why DC Comics hasn’t talked about her in nearly 20 years. On the other hand, someone needs to talk about her and how DC completely screwed up.
I will be looking at the brief, unfortunate history of Erika Storn, one of DC’s handful of trans superheroines and how she’s languished in comic limbo after an undignified death.
Before I talk about Erika Storn, I need to first talk about the super team Infinity Inc.
Infinity Incorporated originated on Earth-Two as the children of the Justice Society of America. They were to the JSA what the Teen Titans on Earth-One were to the Justice League of America. This is especially fitting, as the individual members of Infinity Inc. went on to be tortured, turned evil, or brutally murdered years before it became such an editorially mandated and unfunny running gag for the Titans.
The original line-up for Infinity Inc. included Jennie Hayden and Todd Rice (Jade and Obsidian, the children of the Golden Age Green Lantern and his enemy the Thorn), Lyta Trevor (Fury, the daughter of Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor), Sylvester Pemberton (the first Star-Spangled Kid, who later became Skyman), Al Rothstein (Nuklon, godson of the Golden Age Atom), Hector Hall (Silver Scarab, the son of Hawkman and Hawkgirl), Henry King Jr. (Brainwave Jr., the heroic son of the villain Brainwave), and Norda (Northwind, the ward of Hawkman and Hawkgirl).
Later additions to the team included Helena Wayne (Huntress, daughter of Batman and Catwoman), Kara Zor-L/Karen Starr (Power Girl, Superman’s cousin), Rick Tyler (Hourman II, son of the original), Beth Chapel (Doctor Mid-Nite II, unrelated to the original doctor), Yolanda Montez (Wildcat II, goddaughter of the original), and Mr. Bones (reformed villain from the group Helix).
Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinity Inc. and the Justice Society were folded into a new universe and timeline where they lived together with the Justice League. Two members suffered from a heavy amount of retconning to make them fit into the fabric of the Post-Crisis DCU, while another was outright erased.
Huntress discovered she didn’t exist in this new universe because its Batman and Catwoman were young, unmarried, and had no children. She was abruptly killed off at the end of the Crisis, replaced sometime later by Helena Bertinelli as the new Huntress.
Power Girl spent years trying to figure out where she came from until her Earth-Two origin was fully reestablished.
Poor Fury had her backstory retroactively altered so she was now the daughter of the brand new “original” Fury, a Greek heroine who originated during World War II. To say she was put through the wringer when Neil Gaiman used her in The Sandman would be an understatement.
By the end of the series her husband (Silver Scarab) was gone, she’d been manipulated by Dream of the Endless to become an avatar for the Kindly Ones so they would kill him, and her son Daniel was taken from her and turned into a new aspect of Dream.
Most if not all the Infinitors went on to suffer greatly following the dismal ending of their series. Some were killed off for shock value, others were turned evil. The concept of Infinity Inc. remained irrelevant for most of the 90s and the early 2000s. By Infinite Crisis, Lyta, Hector, Beth, Yolanda, Sylvester, and Jennie were all dead.
Following Infinite Crisis, DC released the maxiseries 52. It ran weekly for a year to reveal what happened during the One Year Gap between the end of Infinite Crisis and DC’s “One Year Later” rebranding. One of its several subplots featured Lex Luthor starting “The Everyman Project,” an initiative where people could pay to have their metagene unlocked and become superheroes.
Luthor created his own team of in-house superheroes to act as the spokespeople for the Everyman Project. Initially, Luthor’s heroes were largely uninspired in design. They had no real codenames and nothing to distinguish themselves except their individual powers. Luthor decided to steal-I MEAN, acquire a preexisting team concept, and molded it to fit his means. Which is how Infinity Inc. became the face for the Everyman Project.
Sylvester Pemberton previously owned the trademarks. Following his death, the rights passed on to his cousin Jacqueline (the C-List convention hero called Gimmix). Unbeknownst to the world, Gimmix was killed during Seven Soldiers. Because of her disappearance, the Pemberton estate and Infinity Inc. were up for grabs. Why the estate hadn’t passed on to Sylvester’s other relative, Merry Pemberton (Merry the Girl of 1000 Gimmicks) or why Sylvester didn’t make his former sidekick and friend Pat Duggan (Stripesy, a.k.a. S.T.R.I.P.E.) his beneficiary isn’t exactly clear.
Luthor’s new Infinity Inc. had no connection with the original besides several repurposed codenames and powers. The line-up started with:
- Jacob Colby as Skyman (strength and flight)
- Gerome McKenna as Nuklon (strength)
- Erik Storn as Fury (clawed hands)
- Natasha Irons as Starlight (light blasts, flight, strength)
- Hannibal Bates as Everyman (shapeshifter)
- Eliza Harmon as Trajectory (superspeed)
Natasha Irons was the only member of the team with any hero credibility. Known as the second Steel and niece to the original (John Henry Irons), Natasha joined the Everyman Project thanks to a falling out with her uncle John.
During Infinity Inc.’s debut against a new version of Blockbuster (controlled by Luthor of course), Luthor covertly had Trajectory killed off in battle for promotion (and petty revenge for her disrespect towards him). Two later additions to the team were:
- Sierra, a redheaded woman calling herself Matrix (flight, invisibility, strength)
- Nicki Jones, the new Jade (plant abilities, green energy blasts)
(As a sidenote, Matrix’s design as a redheaded woman with flight, super strength, invisibility, an obnoxious personality, and connection to Lex Luthor, seemed to be a subtle jab by Keith Giffen against the Mae Kent version of Supergirl. Giffen’s historically known for his hatred of every non-Kara Zor-El version of Supergirl, which was especially apparent in Reign In Hell and Convergence: Supergirl – Matrix, both written by Giffen).
While Infinity Inc. was initially beloved by the public as media darlings, they and the so-called heroes of the Everyman Project were hated by the cape community. Luthor’s superheroes were incompetent, amoral grandstanders who were more likely to get themselves killed due to their inexperience. Eliza Harmon’s death was half Luthor’s manipulation and half her desperation to prove herself to the Teen Titans as a potential Kid Flash. Lexcorp spent a lot of money keeping the public unaware of the huge number of arrests and lawsuits made against its empowered customers for their recklessness.
The Justice Society and the surviving Infinitors loathed the bastardized Infinity Inc.. Obsidian outright attacked them during the Thanksgiving Day parade when the new Jade debuted (with it barely being a year since his sister – the original Jade – had been dead). While his father Green Lantern talked Obsidian down before anyone was really hurt, the Golden Age hero made his contempt against the new Infinity Inc. known.
For their part, most of Infinity Inc. were self-obsessed and apathetic towards the likes of the JSA and other legacy heroes. They heavily disliked “blood brats” such as Zachary Zatara, who either inherited superpowers or identities and supposedly didn’t have to work for them. Gerome McKenna, the new Nuklon, openly bragged about how his generation of heroes wouldn’t make the mistakes of the old. McKenna announced he’d be the one to lead these new heroes on the frontline when the next crisis shook the world. They thought they had nothing to learn from the older generations.
It was clear most of Luthor’s Infinity Inc. was supposed to be disliked by the readers. Natasha Irons was meant to be the most sympathetic as she gradually realized her uncle was right to be distrustful of Lex Luthor. Jacob Colby and later Nicki Jones were the only other members shown to have any semblance of a conscience. Natasha and Jacob were dating, and Jacob took Natasha’s concerns seriously. Nicki Jones was genuinely shaken by her encounter with Obsidian and Green Lantern and began to feel uncomfortable using Jade’s name.
Meanwhile, Gerome McKenna, Erik Storn, and Sierra were just assholes. Hannibal Bates was genuinely evil. Bates’ shapeshifting powers relied on consuming pieces of the animals he turned into. As a reference to his first name, Bates took up cannibalism and murdered Jacob Colby, keeping his body hidden and feeding off it so he could mimic Colby’s appearance. Natasha had no idea Bates murdered Jacob until he’d been impersonating her boyfriend for several weeks.
At the very least, none of the team (save perhaps Bates), were truly aware of Lex Luthor’s scheming. On New Year’s Eve, Luthor deliberately shut off the powers of everyone in the Everyman Project (except for Infinity Inc.) and watched them plummet to their deaths in Metropolis. This was part of a convoluted attempt to draw Superman (who’d spent the year depowered) out of hiding. Luthor would later try to give himself superpowers but was taken down by the combined might of Steel and the Teen Titans. Strangely, the Justice Society was nowhere to be found despite Luthor stealing the names of their children.
Natasha later went back to calling herself Steel, while Bates was jailed after Luthor’s crimes were exposed. The remnants of Infinity Inc (Gerome, Nicki, Sierra, and Erik) later showed up when Black Adam went on a rampage. The Justice Society reminded Gerome of his previous boasting, but the phony Infinitors were too scared of Black Adam and ran. Although Nicki Jones grew a spine and went back to actively help the hero community stop Black Adam, her teammates did nothing.
Rather disturbingly, the new Infinity Inc. seemed to be an unintentional prediction of the sort of corporately mandated and executed “legacy characters” that would start becoming prominent in the 2010s and 2020s. Bland, interchangeable, inoffensive, and supposedly different enough to not alienate people, while also being willfully ignorant of past generations and with no actual connection to the names they’ve taken on. And it’s telling the creators of 52 made it abundantly clear Luthor’s Infinity Inc. was not supposed to be liked.
Following the end of 52, Infinity Inc. received its own ongoing series… which was cancelled after 12 issues. Written by Peter Milligan and featuring art from Max Fiumara, Travel Foreman, Matt Camp, and Pete Woods, Infinity Inc. focused on the surviving members of Luthor’s team. Well, most of them. The series featured Natasha, Gerome, and Erik, but Nicki Jones and Sierra were mysteriously absent and never mentioned.
Milligan’s Infinity Inc. could be interpreted as a poorly executed stealth sequel to his X-Statix work with Mike Allred. If X-Statix focused on fame hungry superheroes and their ongoing pursuit to stay famous, Infinity Inc. focused on what happened after they lost their fame – with all the ensuing mental anguish and trauma you could imagine.
Natasha, Gerome, and Erik were all shown suffering thanks to their time in Infinity Inc. None of them had their Everyman powers, but the mental scarring from their ordeal resulted in the manifestation of new powers. Natasha was able to take on a gaseous form (with absolutely no mention to her using the Steel name again), Gerome could create an identical duplicate with a will of its own, and Erik…
Erik became Erika.
As Fury in 52, Erik Storn was angry and resentful. In Infinity Inc., Erik was a troubled individual with a distinct stutter and issues concerning feminine clothing. Erik had some altercation with his mother after Erik was found wearing her dresses, which made it difficult for him to stay at home.
Natasha, Gerome, and Erik unintentionally reformed Infinity Inc. to deal with Dale Smith, another victim of the Everyman Project now calling himself “Kid Empty.” Dale was an “id vampire” draining mental energy from people but was especially fond of draining other Everyman subjects. While fighting with Dale’s ally/girlfriend/lackey Kitty, Erik’s body physically shifted until his masculine traits became feminine. In Erik’s place was Erika, who was brash, headstrong, and completely confident in herself and her abilities. Erika was everything Erik was not.
When Infinity Inc. officially reformed with new names and costumes, Erika took on the name “Amazing Woman.”
The newly minted Infinity Inc. lasted barely four issues when Gerome was killed, and Natasha, Erika, and newbie Lucia were abducted by the Dark Side Club. The captured Infinitors resurfaced in the Terror Titans miniseries by Sean McKeever and Joe Bennett (who worked on the Infinity Inc. subplot in 52). Natasha, Erika, and Lucia were brainwashed by Clock King and made part of his “Martyr Militia,” until they were freed thanks to Miss Martian of the Teen Titans.
As another sidenote, Sean McKeever revealed on Twitter that he never planned to have Infinity Inc. tie in with Terror Titans. McKeever only found out when the final issue of Infinity Inc. announced the story would continue in the Terror Titans miniseries. Which meant Erika immediately became an editorial footnote before the last issue was barely released.
Erika’s last and final appearance was during the “New Krypton” era of the various Superman titles. Jimmy Olsen discovered Erika had been tortured and left for dead by Codename: Assassin. Erika and Natasha had been doing undercover work to help expose Project 7734, a government conspiracy led by General Sam Lane.
The handling of Erika Storn’s gender identity was, without hyperbole, a complete, goddamn mess in every sense of the word. From the Infinity Inc. series by Peter Milligan to Erika’s death in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen by James Robinson, it’s clear no one stopped to ask themselves if this might be a bad idea. Editing was so lax no one bothered to remember if Erika’s last name was “Storn” or “Strom.”
Milligan portrayed Erika’s body biologically shifting as some sort of split personality type of occurrence. “Erik” and “Erika” were treated as two different people. “Erik” was frequently mocked by Gerome McKenna while “Erika” was objectified. McKenna taunted “Erik” by asking “him” to bring Erika back out. There were comments about how mentally screwed up “Erik” was. It reached a point that “Erik” jumped out a window and tried to commit suicide in the beginning of the sixth issue, only to shift to Erika and get back inside the building.
Any implication of transgenderism was seen as a byproduct of the Everyman Project and “Erik” was considered insane. The clawed Fury form was interpreted as a subconscious desire to commit self-castration. There was never any attempt to legitimately discuss Erika’s gender dysphoria, or even daring to approach the subject of the character being gender fluid. I can’t help but think about the situation involving Glenn and Glenda from the Child’s Playfranchise, who were also a gender fluid character suffering from different personalities.
What’s especially frustrating about the case of Erika Storn is how the Fury codename is historically linked with the Wonder Woman mythos. Here we have a character you could argue as being a transgender woman, with connections to an aspect of Wonder Woman’s history, and it’s this cauldron of screwed up transphobic writing. Hell, half of this article isn’t even really about Erika.
Surprisingly, against all odds, there’s been a subtle attempt to try and rectify the Fury situation in a different format. The Young Justice animated series introduced a version of Infinity Inc. largely taking inspiration from Lex Luthor’s bastard copy. Among the line-up is a new version of Fury.
While Fury’s blonde hair and yellow/gold color scheme is reminiscent of Lyta Trevor and Helena Kosmatos, she appears to be a new character due to her dark skin coloring and her civilian name being “Rosa.” However, YJ’s version of Fury has been established as a transgender woman, clearly referencing Erika Storn.
I bought Peter Milligan’s Infinity Inc. series when it was first released, but I barely remembered reading it. After pulling the set out all these years later, I was legitimately surprised by how bad this book was. The portrayals of mental health and self harm are bad enough, but Erika’s situation is an entirely different level of cringe. If anything, this wouldn’t feel too out of place among the many titles which fizzled out during DC’s New 52 era.
I regret that I’d completely forgotten about Erika Storn, a.k.a. Amazing Woman. If I remembered her, I would’ve suggested her inclusion in DC Pride 2022 in a way that wasn’t so utterly transphobic and poorly thought out. While I dig Young Justice’s attempt to properly create a trans woman version of the Fury concept, Erika Storn still deserves a chance to shine with a creative team who cares about her.