HERO HISTORY: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Menthor

by

Or – “Fresh And Full Of Life!”

In the grand scheme of things, there are only a limited number of really good ideas in the universe.  The old cliche of movie producers explaining something as “X Meets Y” is a cliche for a reason, after all.  (Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull = Han Solo + Lizzie McGuire / Nostagia.)  So, when defining today’s Hero History entrant, you find yourself explaining that he kind of looks like the Silver Age Atom, but has the abilities of Professor X, with a touch of Ilya Kiriakin for seasoning.  But even that explanation doesn’t do him justice, as the character quickly became both more and less than the sum of his parts, and has taken a special place in comic book history in the doing.  One of the first characters to really embody the reality of the intelligence field, his story is probably the most known of all the agents of T.H.U.N.D.E.R.  This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of John Janus of The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves…  T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent MENTHOR!

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Much as with Dynamo, the story of Menthor begins with the moment that first led to the development of the United Nations superhuman defensive force, with a daring raid on the laboratory of one Professor Emil Jennings. Heroic T.H.U.N.D.E.R. peacekeepers storm in, hoping to take the Professor away to a safehouse where his life will no longer be endangered by terrorists wanting to steal away his work€¦

 

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The small chance of the Prof’s survival has been made even smaller by the firefight, and by the evil agents who tried to steal his life’s work. T.H.U.N.D.E.R.’s finest men assess the laboratory and find wrecked machinery and a fresh corpse left behind…

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Being a SUPER-GEEEENIUS in the Wile E. Coyote vein, the late Dr. Jennings did manage to protect his greatest inventions, a mysterious belt, cloak and helmet which represent the pinnacle of technology, allowing for (respectively) nigh-invulnerability, invisibilty, and the mysterious power of the miiiiind…

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We saw what happened when an average joe accountant was given the “Thunderbelt,” but the screening process was no less stringent for the Menthor helmet… Whomever would be chosen to be the second superhuman field agent would have to be strong of limb, nimble of mind and clear of head. Enter: John Janus…

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Of course, there is such a thing as being a bit TOO perfect. Janus may be fit, smart, and handsome, but he’s also a double-agent. His initiation into the ranks of The Higher United Nations something-something whatsis is all a plot by the evil Warlord to undermine the peace-loving spy agency and take possession of the super-weapons, with a secondary eye on razing their homes, salting their land and hearing the lamentations of their women…

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Janus’ eagerness to please in the name of getting in good is actually a stroke of luck for the forces of good. Can you imagine the havoc he could create in possession of the Thunderbelt? In either case, the helmet’s abilities are pretty much unknown, and a strong man is needed lest his brain be, y’know, scrambled or poached or something. (That reminds me. I forgot to have breakfast.) John’s first interactions with the helmet are a little bit alarming…

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FEAR THE COMPUTOR! IT KILLED LUORNU No, wait, that was Computo. Either way, those poor background technos are about to be smushed into paste if somebody can’t stop that thing. Dynamo is off being captured by Iron Maiden during the events of this story, so who does that leave?

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Telekinesis is the first of Menthor’s powers shown, but a secondary effect of the helmet also becomes clear. Though John Janus is a double agent, he is compelled to do good when in full costume. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from perfidious actions OUT of costume, as he demonstrates the next day when he sabotages T.H.U.N.D.E.R.’s security systems…

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With their defenses down, the various non-powered agents of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. are quickly overrun by Warlord’s elite Cobra squad (as well as the sea-green giant monkey that Warlord was chortling about above) and John Janus leaps into action, intending to turn on his teammates and take out T.H.U.N.D.E.R. once and for all. Professor Jenkins’ equipment has OTHER ideas…

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Menthor discovers more powers of the helmet, including telepathy, mind control, and the ability to drain energy from others and empower himself, giving him THEIR strength to augment his own. This helps him to overcome the Cobra squad, but Menthor is forced to use all of his stored energies in battle against the creature, which still manages to maintain the upper hand, even though it looks remarkably like Sigmund The Sea Monster…

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Betrayed by his former boss, Menthor gives up his allegiance to the Warlord and vows to use his abilities for good. Recalling that they have his former Cobra troop pals in custody, Menthor decides to use them to his advantage…

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Fully immersing himself in his new role, Janus sets out to find the Warlord’s hidden base, but ends up stepping into a trap designed to capture him and only him. (Which proves the old adage about trusting anything you read in the mind of someone who calls himself a Cobra trooper.)

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Contacting T.H.U.N.D.E.R. telepathically, Menthor manages to hold back the ceiling just long enough for his pals to save him, but the Warlord isn’t through with his rogue agent yet. A mysterious call arrives at T.H.U.N.D.E.R. HQ, meant for John Janus’ ears…

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It’s not long before Menthor returns to base, but things aren’t precisely what they seem…

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Dynamo starts busting up the place like Robot Richard Nixon, and the chaos he creates is fully enjoyed by a watching Menthor. The telepathic agent even adds to the situation himself, as the powers that be strip Dynamo of his power-belt. Menthor bides his time, and once again tries to take control of Dynamo and make him break open the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. weapons vault, and even his bulletproof partner wonders if Menthor has switched sides again.

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Conrad Janus (who, I believe played Mindy’s father on “Mork & Mindy”) expires, but the question remains. Where is brother John? Flashback to the moment after he arrived at the warehouse…

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Menthor fights valiantly, but his helmet is stolen, and he takes a serious blow to the head. Left for dead by the Warlord’s minions, John is found by a mysterious man (who, coincidentally, witnessed the fight and the powers of the Menthor helmet firsthand.)

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Having been changed from amoral to heroic, John Janus is a bit stunned to find that the helmet has been rewiring his brain to allow him to perform its stunts even WITHOUT his helm. His friend (a two-bit stage phony named Hypno, not to be confused with the Pokemon of the same name) mesmerizes Janus into returning to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and stealing the helmet back from his bosses (evem without his memory, the helmet and Janus share a telepathic connection, you see.)

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John slowly regains his sense of self and his memory, as Hypno slowly amasses a fortune in stolen goods. Taking things into his own hands, Menthor faces down against the man who stole his power helmet. Menthor’s own telepathy protects him from the effects of Hypno, while the helmet protects his foe. John Janus, however, is MORE than just a pretty… uh, mind.

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 Now fully outfitted and re-empowered, Menthor is sent to take down another telepath, this one called the entrancer, who proves to be his equal in the mental arts…

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But his Menthor helmet and natural abilities prove formidably enough to take down even his evil counterpart with relative ease. Jamis even finds that his own mental powers are increasing exponentially, with AND without the helmet…

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After another villain attempts to steal the helmet, John Janus is relieved to find that the science guys finally have an answer to his headgear issues, in the form of a locking mechanism and a little boobytrap to boot…

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Who’s the green-skinned guy, you ask? Why, that’s none other than The Warlord, revealed to be a member of an ancient underground offshoot race, determined to destroy humanity. Using his gewgaws to render the helmet powerless, the Warlord and his minions invade T.H.U.N.D.E.R. headquarters. Their mission: destroy the traitor John Janus. Overwhelmed and outnumbered, Menthor is shot in the back as the Warlord falls prey to the psionic trap in his helmet. All heck breaks loose as the alarms ring throughout T.H.U.N.D.E.R.

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Bullets riddle his body as he heroically tries to warn his partners, but Menthor will not stop, only falling when his nervous system is overloaded by alien weaponry. Menthor’s body gives out, but he has succesfully warned the other T.H.U.N.D.E.R. agents of the invaders in their midst…

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The loss of their comrade galvanizes the rest of the superhuman task force into action, and they bring their full power to bear against the invading subterraneans, striking with such force that the remaining aliens actually commit suicide rather than face them in battle. But there is not joy in Mudville this day, as mighty Menthor is no more.

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The Agents do make good on their vow, as the Warlord and his minions are routed, and unlike many of his peers across the various universes, John Janus does not return from the grave. At least, his BODY doesn’t… But it should be noted that no one found the Menthor helmet on that fateful day, and it’s whereabouts become important some months down the road, when the threat of alien invasion brings all the T.H.U.N.D.E.R field agents together against a common foe.

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The mysterious woman makes her decision, and it isn’t long before we find Dynamo and his nemesis the Iron Maiden in an underground cavern, source of the mysterious mutant insect plague that threatens to devour humanity… But fates have cast to remind Dynamo of his role as “unluckiest schlub alive.”

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Whos is this mysterious masked figure? Oh, come on, you guys ought to know how this works by NOW…

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It seems that while the helmet was rewiring the mind of John Janus, it was also rewiring itself, and at the point of death his mind (or a copy thereof, it’s never really explicitly clear) became trapped in the Menthor helmet. When Connie discovered it and put it on, she found herself able to do things she’d never even considered (assisted, of course, by the echoes of Mr. Janus.)

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This new Menthor quickly shows herself useful in battle, and the chaos doesn’t leave the Agents room to argue with her. As the final battle comes to fruition (and, trust me, it’s a story which I’ll get to soon enough, promise) the new bearer of the helmet makes her stand and earns the name that comes with the helm.

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But even with her peers approval, the new Menthor’s road wasn’t an easy one. After all, most of us only have to listen to OUR OWN voices in our head, much less the voice of a sarcastic, telepathic, dead man.

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Worse than the endless nattering though, comes the realization that John Janus is more than just a rider in her mind. No, Janus is an active participant in the hybrid mind of the being now calling herself Menthor… An active participant who is more than capable of taking the starring role.

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Janus and Connie find their new lifestyle appealing, as she finds a new sense of adventure and purpose, and he finds a way to express himself after an unknown amount of time trapped as a disembodied consciousness in a funny hat. After their encounter with petty thug Eddie, Connie has plans to try and finally turn his life around…

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Using their combined powers, Menthor is able to change Eddie’s mind the same way John Janus was changed, bringing the positive elements of his personality to the fore. Interestingly, though he admits to his change of heart against the Warlord, John Janus himself isn’t sure how much of the change was him and how much was the helmet. In addition to the existing powers, Connie discovers that the helmet allows her to teleport in addition to the regular powers. She also proves much more adept with mind control than even her predecessor…

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Here’s where things might get a little muddy. Due to factors outside anyone’s control, somehow Consuela/Connie lost possession of the Menthor helmet. Where and how this took place is never shown, but some time later, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. task force gains a new leader in the form of Colonel James Denmark, a decorated war hero hand-picked to lead the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. squad…

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Denmark is an anomaly among the team, the first time they’ve officially welcomed a replacement member to their ranks, and to have him double as their new commander is even more difficult. Still, as with his predecessors, the new Menthor is ready and able to get the job done…

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The heroes of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. have many enemies, unfortunately, and it comes to pass that Menthor’s first mission with the team leads to them facing a coterie of their worst enemies at once, a secret cabal that has only their worst interests at heart…

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John Janus has one of the more fascinating stories among superheroes, starting as a traitor from the get-go (something shared by only Terra Markov, to my memory) but realizing his error and changing sides when the chips were down. Even with the influence of the helmet, it is John’s strength of will and personality that empowers himself and his successor to the role of Menthor. As his mind evolved thanks to Professor Jennings device, Menthor found himself becoming more and more dedicated to protecting the innocent, to fighting corruption, to opposing evil in all it’s forms. His death remains one of the most shocking moments in superhero history, coming at a time when nearly no one had died before, and few of those had been permanent to begin with. No matter who wears the helmet of the telepathic T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent, the message is the same: There are certain absolutes in the world, and no matter which side you may think you’re on, your true nature can shine through with a little bit of encouragement. Though his costume owed more than a bit to Ray Palmer and his codename may sound like a breath-mint, Menthor proved that heroism is categorical, even in a world where little else is black and white.

**If you’ve enjoyed this Hero History, you might want to ‘Read All About It’ at your Local Major Spoilers! You can just click “Hero History” in the “What We Are Writing About” section on the main page, or click the handy link below for more T.H.U.N.D.E.R. goodness.

Dossier: T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agent Dynamo

The adventures of Menthor can be found at your friendly local comic book store (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents has been published by Tower Publications, by JC Comics, by Blue Ribbon Comics as well as other one-shot companies) and the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents original appearances have been reprinted in a hardcover archive series as well. They come highly recommended with the Matthew seal of approval.

Next up: There’s a price to pay for justice, but what happens when the price becomes too high? Join the Major Spoilers crew as we try not to blink or we’ll miss the history of the fleetest superspy of them all… T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent LIGHTNING!