Monday, January 13, 2014

Wednesday is a Third of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. For All Anyone Cares #182

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (1966)
Blue Ribbon Comics #12 (1984)
Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (1985)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (2011)
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (2013)

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (Tower, 1966, 25¢)
"Dynamo battles the Subterraneans" opens with a boss splash and a page that uses Len's boss to explain why working folk should hold Brown dear to their hearts. Dynamo is no James Bond-- just a capable regular guy put through the wringer by his employers for suffering the exact same whims of fate as most super-heroes. I also adore the "of its time" aspects, like references to '50s sci-fi/military programs or something as simple as Len's blazer. The story is too brief for the stakes, but it leaves you wanting more. Dan Adkins' pencils look enough like Wally Wood after embellishment that I couldn't tell any difference.

The handicapped villain in the NoMan segment would be more novel if you weren't distracted by the off-color joke possibilities of Vibraman. Maybe that's why it was reprinted in the last issue of the Tower series, which I picked up years before the DC Archive Edition was available to me. There's some nice bits, including a new wrinkle to NoMan's abilities. John Giunta's pencils are clearly more staid, but Woody and Coleman ink him back to model.

"Dynamo and the Menace of the Red Dragon" had the same creative team as the first tale and was also reprinted in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #20. It was in fact the last story Tower printed in the series, so it has a ringing finality in my mind that isn't reflected by its true chronology. Until I reach the true end of the series through these reviews, I guess "my" Agents ends with Len going out on a date. My sad little anecdote aside, I can't decide if it was topical or in poor taste that Dynamo goes to "Vietnesia" to save the superstitious soldiers from manipulation by the Commies. I wish the Red Dragon had been built up more, because I liked seeing an Agent battle a costumed foe on an even keel without somebody looking ridiculous. One thing this series was great at was multi-panel sequences that build up a moment, so that you don't forget the sense of wonder that comes with the Agents' powers.

Throughout the issue, there are pin-ups of the individual Agents that list basic details like physical features and abilities, a forerunner to Who's Who and OHOTMU. Each is sweet, though it's curious that Professor Dunn had a bust in his as a reminder of what he used to look like, but Menthor isn't shown without his mask. The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad had a group picture, then head shots with a short paragraph about each member. A page is also spent exploring the Thunderbelt.

"Invaders from the Deep" definitively moves me toward "poor taste" with regard to the handling of Asians here. They don't quite speak Pidgin English, but it's clipped in ways that come close. While the Dynamo story had reasonable facial features and skin tones, this one has Guy Gilbert volunteer his team to appear in black yellow grayface with Conan wigs and island skirts to foil a Nazi working with the Red Chinese. It's gross.

I was looking forward to "Dynamo vs. Menthor" going in and getting the full Marvel treatment, but felt robbed coming out. The "twist" was heavy handed up front, and Dynamo went down quickly, so it was more like "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. vs. Damage Control," hold the NoMan. Wally Wood being finished by other artists isn't as satisfying as Woody finishing them, and there was some wheel spinning. I did like the one panel where all of the current T.H.U.N.D.E.R. heroes are called before a council, though.

Blue Ribbon Comics #12 (Archie, 1984, $0.75)
Inker Willie Blyberg proved himself yet again with a swell cover all his own (and I couldn't help noticing parallels to Dave Sims' variant cover on the second IDW issue.) The interiors as penciled by Paul Bonanno are not as strong, but there are some solid money shots. On that note, the new Menthor's costume not only leaves her ass cheeks hanging out, but she's first pictured from behind and only wraps the exploitative poses once she's forced into an armored variant. The giant insects problem is solved much too easily, and then the real enemies show up with old continuity to prove they're 2Legit2Quit. Then they quit, because there's only 18 pages to clear out what would have been the JC Comics ongoing series in a special guest spot in what was normally Archie's solo Mighty Crusaders anthology. The opening premise had its meta-merits, but the new designs were leftover disco era casualties, and the whole affair was as underwhelming as the rest of the Archie Adventure Series the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents were retroactively connected to.

After what I think was a fan letter from comics manly man Beau Smith, there's a ten page NoMan solo story drawn by Steve Ditko that should not have been written by Charlie Boatner, who only has nine non-JC credits to his entire comics career. Actually, it's a solid Dr. Moreau riff. I'm just pissed for all the name writers that would have loved to have worked with Ditko and never had Boatner's chance. Blyberg makes it one of the best looking post-prime examples of Ditko, with Bubastis in a pre-Watchmen cameo.

Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (Deluxe, 1985, $2.00)
David M. Singer's editorial covered the legal dispute over the property rights from his colored but colorful perspective, which was brave for ongoing litigation that was affecting the publication status of the book. Deluxe was getting a lot of negative press, but Singer does his best Stan Lee to minimize the damage and hype his product. It gets a bit too fannish once micro-reviews of Misfits of Science and Maxie pad out the back end, though I'll always congratulate a recommendation for The Comic Book Heroes.

After my backhanded comments about Dave Cockrum in previous issues, he showed up here to remind me that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was always at its best when driven by artists. Cockrum took over the scripting chores, resulting in a read that no longer feels like a chore. There's an anachronistic abundance of purple prose captions and gratuitous dialogue for 1985, but Cockrum embraces the right kind indulgence, with lots of cute character asides and intriguing foreshadowing adding value to the feature. Everybody expects artists to cut down on the verbiage, but they often seem to have so much pent up to say, it explodes. Cockrum throws a whole bunch of ideas out, setting up new characters and situations while enlivening those previously established. Most importantly, he's having fun, which translates to reader enjoyment.

John Workman provides a Phoenicia pin-up, recalling recent discussion of his rare moonlighting from lettering on WHO’S WHO: The Definitive Podcast of the DC Universe. I think it's swell, but a little weird to do a sexy drawing of George Pérez's wife, fictionalized or not.

I usually love Keith Giffen artwork from his Muñoz period (note to self: why haven't you read Muñoz yet?) but the Lightning strip features some of the worst of it. For instance, there's an ugly heroic splash on page two with a Liefeldesque disregard for lower extremities not remotely helped by a blood red border. Women are violently (and vilely) murdered across facing pages, but the storytelling and transition are so oblique that it took me a minute to figure out that there were two separate victims in two distant locations. Another splash, illustrating an explosion in a nondescript space involving only silhouettes of debris and an over-sized sound effect, fills a page while shabby exposition is left to explain its effects. The final page involves four small panels swimming in ugly purple negative space. There's a few amusing moments on one page that are in the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. spirit, but mostly Giffen and the Bierbaums succumb to the worst, most mean-spirited instincts of the day. It's kind of amazing they let him near Justice League after this, or perhaps, sadly not.

L.E.T.T.E.R.S. was kinda nuts, as four pages of bricked text communications unbroken by illustration gets heavy. Kim Thompson and Tony Isabella offer short missives, but it's mostly fanboys going on and on about the promise of the characters, the quality of the creators, and... paper stock/content-to-editorial-to-advertising ratios? Singer also has T.M.I. issues, with responses running as long as letters that involve cross-promotion and spoilers (Lightning to exit/die in #8; new Menthor to hit in #9, etc.) That could have deflated the book's momentum if it had survived past #5, but as it stands, I guess it was nice to know where they would have gone.

Finally, Steve Ditko returned for another NoMan story at a different publisher. Greg Theakston faithfully inked Ditko, probably with too much fidelity, since it's stiff and so light on detail that it looks like a licensed adaptation of an animated series for Star Comics. It's not bad, just simplistic. The story by Stephen Perry is alright, but there's not enough to justify it as a two-parter, and the Chief speaks to "Tony" in an overly familiar fashion. I do like the contrast to the treatment Len Brown received, though. I could also have an easier time seeing the play on the legend of the cyclops as clever if it hadn't been rendered through "Cyrano de Klopps." Ugh.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
NoMan is my favorite Agent, because he had the coolest look, neatest power set, and most inventive stories. This has been my least favorite of the Spencer issues so far, because he's writing Dr. Manhattan, the dullest of the Watchmen. The whole issue is dour and secretive to the point of being obtuse. It's too bad, because Cafu's art is especially nice this month, and the flashback material by Howard Chaykin looks like it was more fun to draw than to read. Also worth pointing out: three issues in, and half the characters on the cover haven't been properly introduced.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 (IDW, 2013, $3.99)
I'm still put off by how old school conventional this series is, compared to the bolstering of the Agents' innovative esteem that the DC book managed. It's a late '70s Marvel team book played at half speed, but creatives Phil Hester and Andrea Di Vito are too agreeable to gripe over. I like most of the appropriated and tweaked character designs, though Iron Maiden's streamlining smooths out the edges just when she needed them most (plus her re-history stinks up the joint.) I do like the steady, appealing reintroductions of the cast though, and there's a great bit involving NoMan toward then end that would have fit right in at Tower.

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