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

by

Or – “James Bond With Wings…”

These days, it seems every super-team has a little bit of formula to its makeup.  A leader, a tech guy, an airhead, a quipster, a loner, and fill in with your favorite other guys.  Back in the day, though, there weren’t any such things  as “the loner character” (mostly because there wasn’t a whole lot of character to be found in many superteams.)  The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents set a number of precedents with their team, foreshadowing the modern tendency for heroes with feet of clay, the fascination with spycraft and intelligence work, and even the use of gadgetry rather than exotic radiation (The Marvel method), alien intervention (The DC method), or magic (The “We Had An Idea” method.) to empower their heroes.  Today’s entrant is unique, even among his peers, as having been a top-notch secret agent BEFORE he became a super-agent.  Sure, Guy Gilbert spent his time in the field, but he wasn’t knee-deep in lasers and all that.  Len Brown was an accountant, John Janus was a two-fisted manly man, and even Professor Anthony Dunn (a story we’ll get to sooner or later) was a thinking man first.  Our subject today lives in a world of fog and shadows, where shades of grey are the norm and honor is hard to find.  With the help of another tricksy gadget, though, he gets to do what most of us only dream of…  But can you fly away from a life lived in ambiguity?  This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Craig Lawson of The Higher United Nations Defense Enlistment Reserves…  T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Raven!

Regular Hero History readers may remember the lab of Professor Emil Jennings, supermind to the friendly nations of the world, and his various discoveries, all devices recovered from his lab after an assassination attempt by unfriendly folks.  Each item was designed to simulate superhuman powers in non-superhuman agents, and all were brilliant.

 

But as our last entrant showed us, Jennings isn’t the only super-genius extant, even if T.H.U.N.D.E.R. could never secure the services of one W.E. Coyote…  In one of his earliest outings as a super-agent, speedster Lightning came up against what appeared to be an alien, using superior extraterrestrial technology to overcome the most basic force of nature: gravity.

Lightning discovers that their foe isn’t an alien after all, but a Warlord (an underground green-skinned cave-dweller) in the service of the Agent’s old foe the Overlord.  After discovering theat their enemies had overcome gravity, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. went into arms-race mode, developing whatever devices they could to give their agents the power of flight.  (Good thing the Warlords didn’t ever come up with the power to kill a yak from 200 yards away… WITH MIND-BULLETS!)  To that end, the science whizzes at T.H.U.N.D.E.R. developed the anti-gravity cape, and tapped Thunder Squad Mainstay William “Weed” Wiley to test it…

 

Weed proves that the device works, but finds that air-sickness and dizziness are a factor, and is forced to deploy his reserve parachute. But T.H.U.N.D.E.R. didn’t get to be protectors of the free world by letting a little tummy trouble rob them of a valuable weapon…

A mercenary as an agent of T.H.U.N.D.E.R.? Say it ain’t so, Samm! Still, if Menthor proved anything, it was that a good agent isn’t always the one who seems most qualified, and Zaphod Beeblebrox is proof that some people can transcend even their own nature (and also that anyone who really wants to be president shouldn’t be allowed to be president.) After the acrobat and aerialist is contacted, he agrees to help T.H.U.N.D.E.R. test the device…

 

…and immediately figures out a way to make a little money on the whole thing by selling it to the Warlords. Where’s your moxie, pal? This isn’t like dealing with Morocco or maybe Canada for a little cash on the side. These are green cannibals from within the Earth’s crust, man! Craig learns his lesson the hard way, as the Warlords attack him while he and the other T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents are out flying, testing his cape and their rocket packs… The Raven sees his chance to get in good with the brass at T.H.U.N.D.E.R., but quickly finds his assumptions about the Warlords to be a bit incorrect.

Quick action by a fellow agent (indeed, a fellow NEW agent) saves Craiggers from a fate worse than splat, and he realizes just exactly what it is he’s gotten into, and reassesses his situation.

The new agent quickly marks himself as somewhat of a Lone Wolf, working alone in the darkness while his partners preferred the daylight. While his teammates focused on the efforts of the Warlords and S.P.I.D.E.R., Raven takes on a madwoman named Mayven who threatened the world with explosive robot children and bad poetry…

 

Raven’s status as, essentially,  T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Batman gives him a unique place among the agents, and he finds himself enjoying his new role. Combining his athleticism with the wing-cape allows Raven to do what none of his compatriots can, and he finds his costumed life to be oddly invigorating…

 

He even discovers (the hard way) that his flight cape is bulletproof, and learns to wrap them around himself like a cocoon, allowing him to be as bulletproof as Dynamo, and nearly as speedy as Lightning. I normally don’t do these kind of asides in the Hero Histories, (preferring to write them in an “in-universe” style) but I have to mention the incredibly dynamic and borderline wackadoodle art of Manny Stallman.  His Raven segments are years ahead of their time, and give the character a larger-than-life aspect that most of the Agents never quite get.

Unlike Dynamo and company, whose looks have never changed, Craig made numerous ongoing changes to his Raven costume, tweaking and adjusting it with nearly every outing. When next he goes into action, it is because a psycho known as The Prophet, whose predictions of impending doom keep coming true…

The Prophet has a real premonition upon meeting The Raven, seeing his own death, a situation Prophet unknowingly causes by his own actions. Seldom working in tandem with his other super-counterparts, Raven even gets involved in street-level crime in ways that NoMan or Lightning never would (or, indeed, could) have.

Taking his new super-job as seriously as the others that came before it, Raven upgrades his arsenal as often as his costume, as well, adding additional weapons to better fight crime and corruption.

When actual aliens attack Washington DC, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent scramble into action to fight off a horde of giant mutated insects. With his usual aplomb and style, Raven swoops in to save the life of someone quite important…

Some of you young folks don’t remember, so I’ll help you out. (Cue Rodrigo singing ‘A Flock of Seagulls.’) Before all those guys named Bush, there was a President known for his hair dye, his hatred of all things Commie, and his former starring roles with a chimpanzee. His name was Reagan, and showed up in comics as much as Mr. Obama does these days. Still, even saving Ronbo doesn’t stop the fact that there are people out there, bad people with unclean intentions… When an international criminal known only as Phoenicia starts messing with international oil prices, Raven somehow ends up in the midst of a dogfight with fighter planes!

Still, even when on the trail of criminal masterminds, Raven never forgets to have a little bit of fun with his new role…

More than any of his comrades, Craig Lawson knows what it’s like to be a man of mystery, a spy in the field, dealing with questions of who knows what, and who to trust. It’s a role he relishes, and one he fills well…

For all his bravado, though, Craig does have a bit of a dark side. Like certain other guys with animal names and claws, he finds his status of loner by design, though perhaps not always by choice, and his teammates don’t always agree with his methods, his attitude, or his candor.

Of all the Agents of T.H.U.N.D.E.R., Raven is the one who seems to rely the least on his special device, getting by as much on derring-do and sheer guts as anything. Even when his costume is stolen by a villain and used against him, Raven doesn’t flinch…

Years of high-wire and intelligence work have given Craig Lawson a core of steel, allowing him to to step up and take down a villain using his own hardware against him, defeating him with his wits and his bravery, and doing it all in his underwear.

Let’s see Bruce Wayne pull THAT off. Speaking of whom, as Raven’s activities with the Agents continue, he begins to develop an attitude that resembles a certain caped crusader, and a decidedly poetic bent…

Craig Lawson is a man of extremes, super-spy and superman, acrobat and avenger of the night, a man whose changes informed and defined his heroic activites and identity. Raven joined T.H.U.N.D.E.R. with the intent of gaining a buck, but found a role he could finally be proud ot.  The high-flying agent, like Menthor before him, is a story about redemption, but more than that, Craig’s story is a story about a (more or less) average guy finding the not-so-average hero within.  It takes a certain type of person to try and better themselves, to reinvent their persona into something better than just an average guy. With or without his flying apparatus, Craig Lawson’s life is about defying gravity, about thumbing your nose at the things that tie other, lesser men down.  Agent Raven’s lesson is a simple one:  Even a loner needs a place to belong.

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

The adventures of Raven 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 and 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: There are days, I swear, I would rather have the proportionate strength of a praying mantis than be the last lost noble prince of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis. Now, imagine that you’re not a prince, but a sort of underwater superspy-slash-adventurer. That’s what it’s like to be next week’s entrant, the lesser-known but still interesting UNDERSEA AGENT!