Monday, November 15, 2010

Four-Color Fiend: DC's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS (a waste and an insult)

(WARNING & SPOILER ALERT: Much of the information in this piece is from memory so I may have some dates and names wrong. I hope that you'll forgive me and put it off as me ranting freely. I also give away the entire plot of the first issue of the DC book, in hopes that none of you will pay money for it.)

The cover you see reprinted was the 'alternate' cover of the first issue of DC's revival of the classic T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS. The original characters drawn and co-created by Wally Wood for the Tower Comic group. I loved the original series and having lost two earlier collections of the books, went and re-collected them along with the solo titles of DYNAMO & NO-MAN. I also have copies of the related U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A AGENT, and even the short-lived (as they all were) war title, FIGHT THE ENEMY. I totally loved the company when they were in existence and can still enjoy those books today.

Over the past several decades a number of companies attempted to bring these characters back, partially as it became widely believed that the characters were in the 'public domain'. I recall an issue of the old COMICS READER "summer preview" that listed well over a dozen TAgent books (as part of a running gag). When the dust settled (and I found myself with about a dozen T.A. issues both authorized and apparently not), the characters went into comics limbo with only occasional rumors about their return. Things actually seemed close when DC appeared to finally have the license, but that joy quickly faded and nothing appear to come of it.

The original agents of THUNDER (I refuse to keep typing those periods) were heroes. They were men & women who dedicated themselves to the idea that the world was a good place and could be better. They worked for the United Nations, when many people still believed in the promise of that organization and the concept of a world working together for common good. It was either a more innocent time or many of us were just too stupid to look at the reality of the world to come. The stories in the books were simple and action packed. Most were 12-pages or less and there was an attempt at continuity but the writers were not slaves to it. Plus, unlike most of the super-heroes of the time, some of these brave heroes died. They would sacrifice themselves to protect thier friends or innocents. Apparently it was only the deaths that registered with the current folks writing and editing the current DC incarnation of the characters.

I can't remember exactly how many agents die in the first issue since I stopped caring after the third or fourth. Did these characters even have names? They appeared in uniforms that were based on those of the original TAgents, but we didn't know who was wearing them. Frankly, that seemed to be the point. We didn't have to care, since all the 'heroes' that died (and we saw on the cover) were (if I understood the dialogue correctly)losers that nobody would miss anyway. That seemed to be the recruiting program. "Your life sucks, so why not let us give you powers that will end your useless life even sooner. Oh, we're too important to put them on ourselves. Why do you ask?"

In the original series, a drawback in the costume that empowered the super-speed character Lightning, caused the character to age rapidly. Each time the agent put on the suit and went into action he shortened his lifespan by months or even years. Now it seems that all the costumes/equipment has this same flaw. Now if we are supposed to be introduced in future issues to characters we are supposed to care about, than writer Nick Spencer has wasted his efforts. I don't care enough to buy future issues and can't see why anyone else would.

The book opens with two unidentified woman having lunch, which we soon discover is taking place in a building undersiege. Then we see some recognizable heroes (because of their uniforms) fighthing some armored thugs with spider logos. Old time T.A. fans will know who these are and newer fans will soon learn they don't care either. SPIDER is a group that, along with several others including aliens, fought the agents of THUNDER throughout their run. The only reason this organization existed was because super-spies always have arch-foes to battle (i.e. James Bond vs. SMERSH; CONTROL vs CHAOS). The current incarnation of this group is apparently so large and disorganized that they are not only fighting THUNDER but other divisions within their own organization. Do the Marvel lawyers know about this? Aren't ATLAS & HYDRA over at that universe doing pretty much the same thing. Guess Spencer has been reading "Secret Warriors" the last few months. We get a dozen pages of characters talking about how the people in the uniforms are doomed and they don't seem to care, so why should we.

I'm an aging fan boy who is not the market for this book. Frankly, I don't know who it is aimed at. Old T.Agent fans like me are not going to embrace it and I don't know why younger fans, who have no clue about these characters would either. The only half-way decent thing in the book is the art by CAFU (really???). S/he makes the characters identifiable, but since you don't care who they are it seems a waste of his/her/their talent.

Did I get around to mentioning that the book S*U*C*K*E*D? Pardon me while I dig out my yellowed copies of the REAL T.Agents and have some fun.
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