REVIEW: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #8

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Or – “This N’ That With Rusty!”

Ever since the relaunch news hit, I (like many other fans) have been wondering about the status of fave-rave titles that haven’t been announced as part of the relaunch.  While not as irritated as fans of Donna Troy, Cassandra Cain or the JSA, I was a bit trepidatious to see no news of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents in the new world.  Thankfully, since the book isn’t part of the relaunch, it’s just going to skip big relaunch month and continue afterwards (which makes sense, as it doesn’t seem to be part of the DCU, as far as I can tell.)  What all this means is, we get an answer to a question 45 years in the making:  Whatever happened to The Iron Maiden?

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #8
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Dan Panosian/Mike Grell/Nick Dragotta
Cover Artist: Fiona Staples
Colorist(s): Brad Anderson/Val Staples/Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Patrick Brosseau
Editor: Wil Moss
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously, on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: Back in the 1960′s, The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves was the first, last, and only line of defense against enemy agents, aliens, underground raiders, various and sundry spy-types and even the occasional costumed villain.  Since that time, many versions of the core agents (Dynamo, Lightning, Menthor and Raven) have come and gone, while the immortal NoMan has gone through a number of changes of his own.  In the present day, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. continues it’s good works, and field agent Colleen Franklin is at the forefront.  Last time, though, Colleen went rogue, setting off on what seems to be a personal mission:  Find her mother at all costs.  Things got even more complicated when it became clear that Colleen’s mommy was once the steel-corseted corsair known as the Iron Maiden!

A Tale Of Three Timeframes…

As with last issue, our story is unfolding in two different decades:  The 1980′s, where Iron Maiden and Dynamo have just been captured by T.H.U.N.D.E.R. after going on the run to make a life togther, and the present, where Agent Franklin follows the trail to her wayward Mater.  (Not like Lightning McQueen’s Mater, though.)  In a brilliant pastiche of the James-Bond-type spy tales, she finds her first lead in a hotel room, in the form of a super-hot femme fatale in lingerie.  Things take a turn for the shocking, though, when Colleen gets the intel she needs, then turns and shoots her stool pigeon in cold blood.  “You look just like her,” gurgles the dying woman before taking another bullet, and we see the woman who has been our main character since issue #1 in a WHOLE new light.  Back in the 80′s, Colleen’s mother gets interrogated by T.H.U.N.D.E.R.’s best, revealing that the Maiden’s confirmed kill count is four THOUSAND, eight hundred and nineteen, a number so large that it ceases to be terrifying.  As Eddie Izzard would say, you almost think ‘Well done!’  The flashbacks are drawn by 80′s mainstay Mike Grell, and colored in a way that makes them look like slightly browned pages of old comic books, a lovely effect that makes them work on multiple levels for me.

Next Month, Nick Spencer Will Write ALL The Books!

Spencer writes one hell of a tale, whether he’s giving us the ‘Lost’ treatment over in Morning Glories or doing a full-on ‘Bourne Identity’ schtick here, as Colleen uses every trick in the book (including a few more killings) to get to Iron Maiden.  We see Dynamo’s own flashback, and find out a bit more about the ultimate fate of Len Brown, as we find out that even a retired Dynamo was still enough of a hero to avoid prosecution or imprisonment for helping an enemy of the state escape.  Sadly, though, Iron Maiden would not get the same treatment.  Oddly, though, when we do see ‘Rusty’ for the first time, she seems to be just as young as her daughter…  The main story fades to black, but we’re given a rousing retro tale of the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents in the 60′s, explaining how Iron Maiden was crucial in helping Dynamo, Raven, NoMan and Lightning (drawn in 60′s style) to fight off an invasion by the Subterraneans and put the bug-eyed Warlord in his place once and for all.  Spencer crafts a compelling tale, giving the reader just enough to tantalize and bring us back next issue…

The Verdict:  Glad It’s Sticking Around…

This book has been an interesting case from day one, as the creative team has made the story about T.H.U.N.D.E.R. itself as much as the agents, creating a sense of mystery around the new bearers of Professor Jennings’ weaponry as well as about the fates of the original agents.  I really want to know what Colleen’s story is, as well as how and why her mom seems not to have aged in 40-odd years.  Most interestingly, I don’t even think you need to have any previous knowledge of who or what the Iron Maiden is to enjoy the issue, as Spencer shows enough to make it clear what you need to know for this particular story without removing all the mystery from the character.  I’m very glad that this title is sticking around after the Pants-And-Rebootinator strike hits this fall, as each issue improves on the previous.  T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #8 hits the spot, earning a very impressive 4.5 out of 5 stars overall…  I recommend this title to anyone who wants a book unencumbered by crossover madness and editorially mandated blah blah blah.

Rating: ★★★★½

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Would this book be better served in or out of the standard DCU continuity?