Review: “T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Vol. 1” (DC Series)

2010 saw DC pick up a series that had bounced around three other publishers since the 1960’s.  That series was, of course, T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents.  Admittedly, when this happened I had never heard about the original series and though it sounded interesting, abstained from reading it due to a dry spell in disposable income.  But when I saw that one of my favorite artists, Mike Grell, was doing backup art I got the issue and retroactively collected the previous issues.  After that, I became addicted to the series and sought out anything about it, past or present.

The concept of the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents series was a perfect combination of the popular genres of the day.  It featured an element of espionage involving a multinational organization with a cool acronym like the then popular TV series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, as well as superheroes like those in other mainstream comics, and sci-fi creatures and technology that were reminiscent of the cult classic films of the 50’s and 60’s.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents also featured one of the most unique premises, that even to this day is rather novel.  T.H.U.N.D.E.R is an acronym for The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserve, and as such The Higher United Nations employs agents to wield enhancing devices devised by by the brilliant scientist, Dr. Emil Jennings.  These devices include a power belt worn by agents codenamed “Dynamo”, a speed suit worn by agents codenamed “Lighnting”, a mind control helmet worn by agents codenamed “Menthor”, and a set of steel wings worn by agents codenamed “Raven.”  The devices give the wearer great power, but . . . the cost of use is that after a certain amount of time they will eventually kill the wielder.  That said, the choosing of agents is  very interesting. Recruitment is 100% voluntary so the candidates range from suicidal, to the crestfallen seeking atonement, to the just plain crazy.

The Grand Legacy

This new series by Nick Spencer feeds directly off the old material and presents a continuation of that series’ legacy into the new millennium with great care and fidelity.  It starts out with a brand new roster of agents, and then to illustrate the morbid premise of the series, kills off half the agents in the middle of a crucial mission of global importance.  Hence, a new team must be chosen, accept the terms of recruitment, be crash trained, and thrown into a conflict that could result in the downfall of nations . . . No pressure.  Through his artful storycrafting, Nick Spencer also fills us in on the gaps between this series and the previous series by Deluxe Comics from the 80’s.  He also flashes back to moments in the various other series and time periods with an interesting use of back up artists to segue and facilitate the flashback sequences from the present which is done for the seven issues by Cafu, two issues by Dan Panosian, and the final issue by Dan McDaid.  He uses the very stylized art of Nick Dragotta to go back to the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R team from the 60’s, Howard Chaykin to explore the life of the enigmatic colleague of Dr. Jennings, Dr. Anthony Dunn aka NoMan, George Perez to recap the history of the Dynamos, Ryan Sook to recap the SPIDER sequence, Mike Grell to do the 1980’s sequences, and ChrisCross doing the Lighting sequences.

Mike Grell's Rendering of the Iron Maiden in the 80's

This is one of those series like Green Lantern or Captain America where a writer who really understands the core of the piece invigorates it for the contemporary audience, and doesn’t just remake it so it holds up to today’s standards, but also feeds off of the older “hokier” source material and uses that as a moral foundation, but also a plot foundation, making those seemingly outmoded issues MATTER.  That is the real mark of an excellent series and a talented writer.  That is what makes modern era comics excellent.  This truly is an awesome collection and a good jumping on point for anyone that wants to start a long love affair with the world of T.H.U.N.D.E.R.

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.

Illustration Credits:

T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents #1: Cover by Frank Quitely & Val Staples

T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents #4: Drawn by George Perez, Colored by Blond, Inked by George Perez & Scott Koblish

T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents #7: Art.0 by Mike Grell, Colored by Val Staples

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