REVIEW: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1

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Or – “Whether To Burn Out Or Fade Away?  I’ll Take Cake, Please!”

I’m super-psyched to FINALLY see the relaunched T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents after so many years on the MIA list.  Forty years ago, the legendary Wally Wood and a cast of comics legends launched the team as a combination of the then-red-hot superspy concept (think James Bond, Napoleon Solo, Derek Flint) with the post-Batman-boom superhero industry, combining two great tastes that ended up tasting great together.  After half a dozen failed revamps through the last 20 years, DC promised to give us a new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. team around 2000, but it failed to materialize till now.  Will it live up to the hype in my brain?  Let’s find out, shall we?

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1
Written by NICK SPENCER
Art by CAFU & BIT
Cover by FRANK QUITELY
1:10 Variant cover by DARWYN COOKE
Colors by SANTIAGO ARCAS
Letters by SWANDS
Published by DC COMICS

Previously, on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: Years ago, the threat of international terror cartels like SPIDER and the mysterious Overlords caused the United Nations to take an unheard of step:  to manufacture their own superhumans to defend liberty.  The experiments of Professor Jennings led to the use of the Thunderbelt, power-source for the unstoppable strength of Dynamo; the Menthor helmet, which gives telekinetic and telepathic powers to its’ wearer; the Cloak of Invisibility that allowed NoMan to be the unstoppable invisible agent; and led to the flying suit of Raven and Lightning’s speed-enhancer uniform.  The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. team successfully fought through the Cold War years, but what has happened to the world’s most powerful superspies  in the ensuing decades?

We begin with a young man giving a sales pitch, making someone an offer that they can’t refuse.  As he finishes up, a sincere smile on his face, we pull out to see a good-looking redhead watching him with bemusement.  “Do you think we can actually leave the women’s restroom and try saying it to the prospect now?”  Cut forward a year, as we see the same woman (Colleen is her name) sitting on a terrace during what seems to be a mass uprising of the people.  She quietly eats her food, as a woman tries to interview her about the events of the last year, starting with the abduction of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Raven.  We see the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents in action, taking down a SPIDER cell as one of the non-powered operatives infiltrates the stronghold to pull Raven out (seconds before he would have been tortured to death for the knowledge in his feathery head.)  Agent Lyle takes out the torturers, blows open the wall, and leaps out, triggering Raven’s wings to save them both as they glide across the jungle.  The art is really impressive in this sequence, making me think of Dale Eaglesham’s work on JSA a couple of years ago, with Raven barely awake as he flies for freedom.  (On a related note, I don’t know for sure, but there is a slight chance that this is the original Raven, as Lyle calls him “old man” and there is much talk about the valuable knowledge in his brain.)

Back at T.H.U.N.D.E.R. HQ, though, Colleen realizes that something is VERY wrong, as the SPIDER agents are playing their game very stupidly, and rushes to her commander to try and figure out what’s going on.  As that occurs, though, Agent Lyle sends a strange message back to T.H.U.N.D.E.R., revealing that he is a spy.  Lightning falls to the SPIDER troops, then Dynamo, as Raven is dragged away by Double Agent Lyle.  We cut forward a bit, as the commander in charge gets a “salesman” to help them recruit new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and we find out the awesome twist.  Agent Lyle was sent in to dupe a SPIDER agent, but the agent whom he was sent to replace is actually Agent Lyle’s REAL IDENTITY.  I think…  Either way, it’s a pretty entertaining twist, and the salesman and Colleen set out to recruit a new team of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents with one caveat:  One of the agents chosen seems to be former T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent NoMan, who may or may not have just spent decades wallowing in misery after a great defeat…   “We sent them in to rescue Raven and defeat SPIDER,” says Colleen as we return to the relative present, “And then we killed them.  ALL of them.”

Hmm…  It’s an interesting choice for this issue to not actually feature much in the way of superhero action, focusing mostly on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. itself and the people who actually call the shots, but I’m not entirely sure that it’s a hook that’s going to sell this book to the general populace.  The unanswered questions about Len Brown, Craig Lawson, Guy Gilbert and the rest are bringing ME to the table, but for those who don’t know who the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents are (or haven’t read our Hero Histories) are being thrown into yet another team book with only vague notions of where it is going or from whence it has come.  Cafu’s art is pretty, but the real star here is the coloring and production of the book, elevating the art to a whole new level.  (The cover is particularly well handled in terms of color…)  Nick Spencer has raised a lot of questions with this story, and I’m looking forward to more T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents action in months to come.  It’s unclear if this is set in the DCU or not, but either way, I recommend it to all who are disillusioned by the direction of their favorite franchises in recent months (Vampire X-Men and Batman, Inc. expatriates, I’m talkin’ to you!)  T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 is a good solid launch, earning a well-done 4 out of 5 stars overall, losing points only for a slight lack of the title characters and some occasional lapses of talky-talky.  This one deserves your attention, folks.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: What’s your favorite lost comic universe?  (And how long do you think it’ll be before Marvel or DC snatches it up?)