Monday, December 2, 2013

Wednesday is Seconds of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents For All Anyone Cares #180

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (1966)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Vol.2 #2 (1984)
Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (1985)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (2011)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (2013)

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (Tower, 1966, 25¢)
As much as I enjoyed the debut issue, the game steps up here. With all the exposition dispensed with, Dynamo visibly leaps into action from the first page. A romantic subplot is introduced, and Len Brown gets dressed down in a way unheard of in period comics. The Warlord is revised by Wally Wood into a darker, more mysterious foe. Wood also takes back his crown as master of beautiful women with the smart and capable Alice Robbins. The physical threat is presented by Dynavac, his garb alluding to medieval torturers/executioners, marking his as a creepy, intimidating presence. He also strongly recalls the initial appearance of Doomsday to such a degree that I'd be surprised if DC hadn't taken a cue from Tower in his design. An exciting story with a twist ending uncommon even today.

NoMan continues to be my favorite strip, thanks to the wildly inventive application of the hero's powers and vulnerabilities. It's also tough to go wrong with an army of "zombie" soldiers for NoMan to toss about like he was channeling Kirby Captain America. My only complaint is that the art by Ayers, Orlando and Wood removed the shadowy dread of Crandall's initial strip.

There's no writing credit on Menthor, but I wouldn't be surprised if Mike Sekowsy was learning his craft on the script himself. There are a lot of amateur mistakes and crazy logic leaps, but the overall feel is reminiscent of his later DC work on Wonder Woman and "Manhunter 2070." It's still fast moving and fun, just with an element of Axe Cop insanity.

Dynamo triumphs in the second half of his story, with striking imagery and a major reveal that thankfully wasn't drawn out, though the resolution was a tad pat. Then there's a text story, "Junior Thunder Agents," which offers a flimsy manual for kids to form their own local fan club and immediately begin having irresponsibly violent adventures involving teen gangs running protection rackets. The big book wraps with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad taking on a straw Cuba and cavalierly losing a member who surprisingly wasn't one of the two brunette males who happened to be rendered nigh-indistinguishable in the story by gas masks. That would haunt them later, not least for it spawning decades of morbid self-pitying monologues from Guy Gilbert. My favorite part was the random inclusion of a nuke-spawned gillman. Well, that and Kitten in yoga pants. She also had the. best. hair.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Vol.2 #2 (JC Comics, 1984, $1.00)
The second and final issue of this incarnation picks up and more briskly advances the story from the debut. Dynamo battles a big purple monster type thing that never gets explained, then teams up with Iron Maiden in the most predictable fashion, given the "couple's" history. Wally Wood's Agents meet Wally Wood's Mars Attacks giant insects, plus some weird celestial overlord works from the shadows, recalling Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. Ronald Reagan worshipers may want to check out his notable cameo. The female Menthor continues to be teased, and would be the worst copyright infringing element once Deluxe and Solson Publications tried their bootlegs. Vulcan was properly introduced instead, as a sonic blaster slowly growing deaf, and a second whiny bitchboy love interest for Kitten Kane, the poor dear. Most of the Agents have a spotlight of some sort, but I got the biggest kick out of the grizzled Squad, with Weed getting the best comic relief moment. To be continued eight months later in an Archie Adventure Series anthology...

Charlie Boatner's dialogue doesn't improve much on Chris Adames', but the overall tone lightens to make the mayhem more of a romp in the vein of Woody. Lou Manna and Paul Bonanno split pencil duties, but the art star is Willie Blyberg, who keeps the look consistent and enriched by lavish inks. Murphy Anderson supplies a nifty centerfold "poster," there's a fun gag image by "Maurizio," but my favorite was the unsigned back cover featuring Iron Maiden.

Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (Deluxe, 1985, $2.00)
David M. Singer offers even more editorial text this month, with both candor and pomposity. The personality sure set the line apart, though.

Dann Thomas' Raven script was better this time, as it toned down the purple prose and focused on providing the origins of the hero's relationship with the nefarious Phoenicia. It was difficult to read for a new reason-- production errors rendering some of John Workman's lettering nigh indecipherable. I like Craig Lawson's design more than Raven's, as he recalls Adrian Chase. The art was more consistent, with Bill Wray doing a decent job over Perez's layouts, but their styles weren't the most compatible.

Tom & Mary Bierbaum made their writing debut on the Lightning story, and for a character history summation with transparent foreshadowing, it was okay. Since there's virtually no action and a lot of repeating panels, Rick Bryant has an easier time with Keith Giffen's pencils. The interaction between the two featured characters is inorganic, but the story does begin to pay off a long in waiting subplot.

There's an ad for "The Deluxe Comics Line of Designer Posters" that you could send away for, but in an example of slitting one's own throat, the Perez Menthor one is a pin-up in this issue, and George's Iron Maiden is used as a centerfold. I'm sure the full sized posters were nicer, but these would do in a pinch, right?

Finally,the team story by Steve Englehart and Dave Cockrum, which remains the weakest link. It's improved by focusing on Lightning, though it covers much of the same ground as the Giffen story. There's no line of dialogue spoken when it could be shouted hysterically at other characters. The story has tonal issues, since it seems to be taking Lightning's deterioration seriously, but then drops in a moment of broad comedy in the midst of the heavily whipped pathos. The result is neither sad nor funny, just kind of dumb, and the grandstanding on display wore out any enthusiasm I had going in.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
Wildstorm in their heyday produced the Vertigo of super-hero comics. This is what that was. Nick Spencer does a great job of painting a portrait of the new Lightning, CAFU is better at being John Cassaday than the real one's been in years, and I especially liked Chriscross' work on the flashback sequences. It was an exceptionally good story for the dollar I paid to read its thirty pages. However, had I paid cover price, I'd be less congratulatory. There are two spreads of a guy running fast with minimal background. There are numerous virtually silent pages. Most pages consist of 3-4 panels with a caption box or a dialogue balloon each. It's an eight page back-up spread across an extra-length issue. Quit writing for the trade, motherfuckers.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2 (IDW, 2013, $3.99)
This multi-incarnation review project got pushed back by this issue shipping late, so I'll try not to hold that against it. The second outing of the latest iteration digs deeper into Wally Wood's toy box, but then reconfigures the components differently. Guy Gilbert and Lightning are more properly introduced, as the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad starts to fill in. I didn't mind Kat Kane's being excluded from that line-up by being promoted up at first, but a major alteration to her backstory bends my nose out of shape. The tone strikes a weird balance between snark (which to be fair was part of the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. formula) and nostalgia (this reads like what you would expect from a Bronze Age issue of Marvel G.I. Joe if it had more period-appropriate art.) Part of what I liked about the Tower and Deluxe Comics series was that it was on the bleeding edge of the four color forum for its time, where IDW is more like JC Comics in recalling an earlier time and properties only contemporaneous to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. In short, it's a competent, mildly amusing book I'm buying more for the property's past glory than any present one, exactly the sort of thing that would have kept me reading DC Comics pre-New 52, but the opposite of what my better inclinations should support.

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