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

by

Or – “Who Is This Allen Person, Again?”

Professor Emil Jennings was a man ahead of his time, finding technological ways to capture the powers that took Gamma bombs, alien rockets, special serums and more in the hands of others. From Dynamo’s Thunderbelt, with it’s ability to make you nigh-invulnerable, to Menthor’s helmet and it’s full-spectrum psionic abilities to the mysterious cloak that accompanies them (a long story that I’ll be getting to soon enough) Jennings was pretty much a full-service superpower clearing house. But, it should be noted that not ALL the scientific accomplishments used by T.H.U.N.D.E.R.’s eponymous agents were his doing, as this week’s entrant will tell you. Originally a non-powered support agent, he was able to move to powered agent status with the help of an accelerator rifle a reinforced speed-suit, though his power comes with a very high price… His service proves that sometimes, the needs of the many will far outway the needs of the one, as his abilities shorten his life with each and every use. This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Guy Gilbert of the Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves… T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Lightning!

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If you’ve read our previous T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Hero Histories, then you remember the daring daylight raid by our heroic forces to save the super-genius Professor Jennings from falling into the insidious clutches of the Warlord. Though they were unsuccessful in saving the life of the man himself, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. was able to save a few of his mysterious devices, each designed to give a person an approximation of super-powers.

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But, long before Jennings’ work, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. was an active anti-terrorist organization, fighting to save the world from Cobra T.H.R.U.S.H. SPECTRE all manner of threats. Field agents of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. train in many disciplines, and each tries to make their way to the very top, to get a coveted position in the elite grouping known as THE THUNDER SQUAD!

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These men and women represent the pinnacle of achievement for an agent of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. (or, at least they did until the advent of the powered agents) and each has their own specialty: “Weed” Wylie, locksmith, escape artist, safecracker. “Dynamite” John Adkins, explosives expert and weapons master. James “Egghead” Andor, strategist and tactician extraordiaire. Kathryn “Kitten” Kane, electronics and technological specialist. And their leader, the best of the best of the best: Guy Gilbert, bass player, bartender, casual hero. (I may have made the first two up.) In the field, even these seasoned agents count on Guy to set the pace…

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AMERICAAA! #*&$ YEAH! Guy and his squad are assigned by T.H.U.N.D.E.R. to insert themselves into hotspots around the world, overthrowing dictators, freeing oppressed peoples, spreading democracy and just being kind of fabulous. Like James Bond x 5, the Squad fills even the most seasoned tinpot in the tiniest banana republic with pants-wetting terror…

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But, after the advent of Jennings’ technology, the superhuman arms race escalates all conflict to include People of Mass Destruction, madmen like Demo, Red Dragon, and other leotarded wackjobs threaten to make even the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad obsolete. When a madman named Baron Kampf creates a special dust which interrupts both machine and man, it seems like the Squad has finally met the menace it cannot stop. Enter the Research and Development team!

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A shot from the accelerator gun allows the agents to overcome the effects of the dust for a time, but their advantage is short-lived, as their inexperience with super-speed causes most of the Squad to be taken down and captured by the Dust Bandits. Mistakenly left for dead, it is left to Guy Gilbert to step up to the plate and save his partners from certain death.

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If you read that closely, you caught an important caveat in the origin of the light-speed T-Agent: Use of the suit shortens the lifespan of the wearer, which is why Agent Lightning wasn’t part of the initial force of super-agents. The selfless leader of the Squad is willing to endanger himself to ensure the safety of his team, and Lightning races into action for the first time!

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More than just a speedster, Lightning quickly learns a number of super-speed tricks that that West kid never mastered, including using his momentum to overcome gravity. (Guy prefers to call them the SUGGESTIONS of physics…)

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As that demonstration ably showed, there’s truly more to super-speed than running really fast. Speed is kinetic energy, and kinetic energy is power waiting to be harnessed. Not content to merely engage in silly knees-bent running around like an English kuh-nig-get, Lightning quickly translates his speed (and, not coincidentally, the toughness of a suit designed to protect it’s wearer against friction and impact) into a variety of useful tricks…

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But, superhumanity marches ever onward, and more and more loons come out of the woodwork with abilities beyound mortal men. When a teleporting villain begins knocking over banks, someone wonders if the heists aren’t being perpetrated at super-speed, leading the press to wonder if Lightning has gone bad?

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For all his bravery (and, to be fair, bravado) Lightning takes the affront to his reputation personally, and the situation gets worse and worse as the teleporter, using the nom de guerre “Warp Wizard,” repeatedly thwarts Lightning’s efforts to bring him to justice. But, as the legendary Jim Ross used to say about Rob Van Damme, Lightning ‘ain’t just quick, he’s SUDDEN.’ Given a moment when the Wzard is within arms’ reach, Lightning adds a bit of two-fisted know-how…

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With the Wizard down, Squad-mate “Weed” Wylie steps up to congratulate his leader on a fine victory, when something ominous happens to the man called Lightning…

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Guy WAS injured in the blast, but the situation is worse than just a few bruises… Unbeknownst to Weed, he is looking at the first tangible effects of the accelerated aging process on his friend and comrade. Still, Lightning continues his activies, fighting evil aliens from beyond our own atmosphere…

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…stood fast against superhumanly strong mutants from within the Earth’s core…

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…and continuing his attacks on airships large and small. I suspect that, after years in the infantry, Lightning is just expressing the frustrations of every man in the foxholes, taking out a lifetime of rage on any and every airplane he sees.

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But for every moment where he takes down a MIG, or beats up a vaguely middle-European guy with a bad haircut, his devil-may-care grin hides a dark side. More and more, Lightning’s first thoughts in combat aren’t about saving the innocent, fighting evil, or beating up F-14′s… It becomes clear that Guy Gilbert is feeling the negative effects of his speed, even if he won’t admit it.

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If we read between the lines, it’s easy to understand the changes in his point of view. If every second lasts a day, you would start piling up the years faster and faster. Is it any wonder that he breaks one of his oldest rules and goes a courtin’ (K-K-K-KREMBOOOLE!) on the lovely ‘Kitten’ Kane?

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Duty, as ever, calls, and the advent of a living tornado-man (But what of Babyman and Cuckoo Man?) causes Guy’s sense of responsibility to kick in. The swiftest T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent leaps into action with his usual joie de vivre…

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No matter how dark it may get, Lightning is still a hero, and heroes don’t let anyone fall to their inevitable death… At least, not in the late 60′s. Unlike many of his fleetfooted counterparts, though, Guy doesn’t count on being the fastest man alive to get the job done. The evil organization known as S.P.I.D.E.R. empower a man code-named Speed Demon, whose swiftness dwarfs Lightning’s speed. How will he prevail?

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Well, I’ll tell ya, Faithful Spoilerites… This ain’t his first turn at the rodeo. Guy as a field agent and super-spy long before he became a human bullet train, and he knows what Terry Silver taught is true: If your opponent can’t breathe? He can’t fight. COBRA KAI!

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Speed Demon’s superior powers cause his body to burn out even more quickly than Lightning’s, leaving our hero a bittersweet victory at best. Lightning’s continual use of the speed-suit continues it’s cumulative negative effects on the health of the Agent, and eventually the toll it takes is visible to everyone…

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Under direct orders to cease the use of his super-powers, Gilbert returns to his old gig with the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad. But, as a wise man once said, you cannot unring a bell, so when a situation arrives that requires super-dupery, and the other agents are nowhere to be found, what do you THINK Guy Gilbert is going to do?

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The needs of the many truly do outweigh the neurological disorders of the few, especially when the few can do zero to sixty in two seconds flat. Unfortunately, Lightning manages to take down the mechanical menace, but his body finally collapses from the strain of continual use of super-speed. The tech boys at T.H.U.N.D.E.R. quickly come up with a makeshift solution to prolong Lightning’s life…

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…also known as ‘Han Solo meets Napoleon Solo,” I believe. Once the immediate danger is over, Lightning is thawed out, but it seems that his mind has been affected by his high-speed antics and his time in the deep freeze. The once-stalwart agent sees his pals Dynamo and NoMan as blue aliens, come to eat his brains. But, even the fast hands of Greedo won’t be able to shoot first while Lightning is around, even if he is wacky in the wicky-woo.

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It becomes clear that Lightning’s mental instability isn’t a side-effect of his powers (thankfully), but an evil plot by the Warlords of S.P.I.D.E.R. to destabilize the super-agents. Dynamo (he of the steel-hard skin) and NoMan (who is, as one might expect, an island) are forced to bet that Guy Gilbert’s mind is stronger than any mesmeric forces, and set their partner free to face his demons.

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Well played, NoMan! The thought of the woman he loves in danger catalyzes Lightning into action, grabbing his speed suit and facing down his old enemy Tornado…

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Lightning returns to duty, but it is clear that the effects of repeated acceleration is wreaking havoc with his body and his mind, even making him doubt whether or not he’s accidentally killed a fellow hero in combat…

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In Lightning’s defense, the hero in question is Demon of the extradimensional Justice Machine, whose claim to hero is as thin as Stephen’s hair, and he is still awake enough to dodge a volley of bullets from Demon’s partner Challenger… But it’s clear that the physical and emotional effects of his powers are taking a heavy toll, pushing Guy into the kind of angsty moments previously excusive to residents of the Xavier Academy in Westchester.

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Even a man’s man like Guy Gilbert has a breaking point, and the emotional fallout is devastating, not only on his professional career, but on the relationship that once pulled him back from the brink of madness…

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Lightning’s instability causes him to behave in odd ways, dissing his old friends while saving their lives…

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…and becoming incredibly sensitive about even the most innocent comments, such as when his old friend NoMan (who, you may not realize, has the mind of an eighty-year-old man.)

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As things look their darkest, Guy Gilbert does what many of us do when we face our own mortality: He goes home. Lightning finds himself trying to explain everything that has happened to his mother, hoping to make sense of everything that has happened to him. Naturally, Mama Gilbert has trouble wrapping her mind around Thunderbelts, Warp Wizards, and punching out fighter jets, and asks what the big deal is.

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After year upon year of accelerated living, the man called Lightning has seen a lot, has done a lot, has fought the good fight, and has given his all for the world and his fellow agents of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Like a reverse Dorian Gray, every good deed that Guy Gilbert has ever done, every life that he has ever saved, every monster, robot, or killer mutant punched out can be seen in his face…

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When mom proves to be little comfort, Lightning steels himself for a return to duty, taking the John Wayne tack (“Take ‘em both, doc, I’ll grow gills and breathe like a fish!”) and showing his true grit. Things are made even worse when a lost compatriot, the long-thought-dead Egghead, returns as a super-villain called Psychosis to call Lightning out by name.

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Psychosis (former three-time Cruiseweight Champion of the World) has a bone to pick with his former leader, and has captured fellow T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Raven and Dynamo to bring out the man he blames for his disfigurement. A barely functional Lightning arrives, only to end up faced with his own worst fears of mortality…

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Still, forced to face that fact that he’s probably only a few months from inevitable death, Lightning realizes that there’s nothing left to lose, which was probably a miscalculation on Egghead’s part. Freeing his partners, Lightning confronts his old tactician with blood in his eye…

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The realization that he still has a few good missions in him helps Lightning to rededicate himself to his service as a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent, albeit at lower speeds than usual. But when Dynamo and Undersea Agent are captured by the misguided Iron Maiden, the second Menthor uses her telepathy to bring Lightning racing to the rescue… As it turns out, she pushes him to run a bit too fast.

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The cardiac episode turns out not to be fatal, but it serves to finally remove Guy Gilbert from active duty once and (sort of) for all. When a menace from beyond the stars causes the Agents to head for the moon to fight aliens, Dynamo, NoMan, Raven and company are without the services of their local speedster.

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The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents disappear from the public eye for several years after this mission, the end of which remains as yet undocumented. When we revisit the team, there have been many changes, including a more suave James-Bondish Dynamo; a new Undersea Agent, daughter of the original; and a return to action for Lightning, who looks somewhat healthier than when we saw him last.

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Guy Gilbert is back in heroic form in this adventure, but his mind is, as always, hyper-aware of the negative effects of his acceration suit and vigilant of his own health. Guy’s unique abilities give him an unusual world-view, and make him one of the most dangerous agents of them all…

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Lightning’s relationship with Undersea Agent is clearly established when we see the team again, but when a coalition of their old foes attacks, both his new and old girlfriends are endangered by what seem to be zombie-cyborg-werewolves. In a telling moment, Lightning has to save one or the other and he chooses…

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…the woman who rescued him from insanity, lo those many years ago. That probably doesn’t sit so well with his aquatic current ladyfriend. Unfortunately for Guy Gilbert, the limitations of his Lightning suit are also known to the evil Janissaries who want to destroy T.H.U.N.D.E.R. for good, and their plan for him is a simple one…

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All the agents of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. have logical limitations to their powers, the effects of their technological origins. But a malfunctioning T-Belt or a helmet whose powers are somewhat unpredictable can’t hold a candle to Lightning’s problems. It is said that a hero gives a little of his or herself to fight for what they believe is right, but Guy Gilbert burned his candle to the wick, literally taking years off his life with every superhuman deed. Unlike his super-speed counterparts, there were very real consequences any time Lightning used his speed, and yet he was still willing to repeatedly step in harm’s way in the name of justice. Though fatigue and high-velocity cellular decay occasionally got the best of his good nature, Lightning still managed to show the truest face of heroism. More than any T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent, indeed more than most any other superhero, Lightning knew the value of life and liberty, and was willing to give his OWN life in return for a better world…

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**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
Dossier: T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agent Menthor

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 several 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: Every team needs is daredevil, it’s high flier, it’s devil-may-care wildman. Join us for a look into the life of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent who floats through the air with the greatest of ease… Get the birds-eye-lowdown (whatever that means) on the man called RAVEN!