When I was young, I had always heard that the prerequisite for comic book fandom was owning a complete set of All Star Comics featuring the JSA, and that for second generation fandom it was Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. Because we now live in the Golden Age of Reprints, I am able to own both of those series, in hardcover. [NOTE: the title is an acronym for "The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves," but don't expect me to continue putting the periods behind each initial throughout this discussion.] DC started releasing the series in archival format in 2002 (wow, has it really been 20 years?), but I only ever got as far as midway through volume three (which I know because my bookmark is still in that volume where I left off and volume four is still in its shrinkwrap). Because the first  of my Comic Collecting Precepts is "Don't buy what you don't read," it is my intention to read my way through volume eight during the course of this discussion.

I have a bad habit of, when returning to an abandoned reading project, starting over at the beginning. Or I should say I used to have that problem, because I resolved in 2009 to always pick up where I left off when returning to an unfinished project. I have been pretty good about adhering to that plan over the intervening years, but this time I am going to start at the beginning because it has been so long since I last attempted it. I have read this first volume at least three times, IIRC: once when it was released, once when v2 was and once when v3 was. So I've read v2 twice, but only the first half of v3. In addition, I have read T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents - Best of Wally Wood hardcover at least twice. 

But because I have started a discussion of the series, I shall start with issue #1. I don't know how much I'm going to have to say about these early issues, but here we go.

ISSUE #1:

"FIRST ENCOUNTER": The four-page introductory story (by Larry Ivie and Wally Wood), sets up the premise: Professor Jennings has been killed by the forces of the Warlord, but a United Nations task force manages to salvage prototypes of three devices the professor had been working on: an "electron molecular intensifier belt," an invisibility cloak and a cybernetic helmet designed to amplify the wearer's brain power.

DYNAMO: Len Brown is chosen to wear the "Thunder Belt" (as it has been dubbed). "Len Brown" is also the name of the scripter; the artist is Wally Wood. The first thing Brown (the fictional one) does with the belt is to punch through a brick wall, a Wally Wood trademark. This story also introduces Dynamo's femme fatale, the Iron Maiden, one of the Warlord's lieutenants. He can wear the belt only for a short time without causing damage to his body. At the end of this first story, he is captured.

NOMAN: Doctor Dunn is the aging scientist who invented a series of androids into which a human mind can be transferred. The catch is, although the mind can be transferred from android to android, the switch from human to android is one way. Dunn transfers his mind into one of the four android bodies shown, allowing his human body to die. For some reason, in addition to having an android body, it is decided that Dr. Dunn also receive the invisibility cloak. He adopts the identity of "NoMan" and is perhaps the most inept agent in all of THUNDER. 

I don't know how much these android bodies cost or how many of them there are, but the one thing I remember about NoMan from the few issues I have read is that he loses a body in almost every story. In this story, NoMan is sent after the Sub-Men of Demo, another of the Warlord's lieutenants. He sets out in a car with a spare body in tow, almost as if he expects to lose a body. (The spare body is incorrectly drawn with a one-of-a-kind invisibility cloak of its own.) NoMan is defeated, his body's "mechanism's demolished." He transfers his mind to the spare body waiting in the car (now correctly drawn sans cloak). He returns to the lab to find Demo and his assistant fled and to retrieve the cloak.

The art is by Reed Crandall and Wally Wood. So far, the agents are oh for two. A text story follows, but I never read those.

MENTHOR: Mr. Janus, the man chosen to wear the cybernetic helmet, is a double agent for the Warlord. You'd think the name "Janus" might have clued someone in, but the Guardians didn't pick up on "Sinestro" so maybe not. Like the thunder belt, the helmet cannot be worn for long without damaging the wearer. It gives him telekinesis and the ability to fire "brain blasts." One more thing: the "H" in Menthor is silent, pronounced "mentor" (but that spelling means something else). I can't tell you the number of time I've heard someone pronounce the "TH" as in "menthol" rather than "Neanderthal." The art is by Gil Kane (with George Tuska and Mike Esposito).

THUNDER SQUAD: A non-powered group of operatives (Guy, Dynamite, Kitten, Weed and Egghead) with art by Mike Sekowsky. 

DYNAMO: The conclusion to the Dynamo story earlier in the issue, in which Menthor, NoMan and the THUNDER Squad team-up to save him. NoMan loses another android body, the second in a single issue.

I've never seen an actual copy of issue #1 (outside a bag), but I am disappointed at the reproduction value of this entire first volume; it's kind of murky.

Views: 1534

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

I bought the series off the spinner racks when it came out. The inking of the art is on the heavy side. I don't know if this is due to the printing of the archive or the original reproduction. My copies of the periodicals were sold long ago along with all of the other titles from that time period.

I had always suspected that Len Brown was a fake name for the scripter, butI just looked him up and it was his real name.

In addition to the artwork of Wood and Crandall, what drew me to this series was the fact that just by using the devices the agents were endangering their lives. In Noman's case, failing to change bodies quickly enough would be the end.

MENTHOR: The Li'l Capn also did a double-take on the name Janus, and wondered why an espionage outfit didn't. It should also be mentioned that the Menthor helmet forces Janus to be a good guy until he takes it off, which Made him his own worst enemy. I thought that was a neat twist as a lad. Lastly, the Li'l Capn did pronounce the "H" in Menthor, which had the unfortunate result of making him sound like a breath mint.

But for all that, Menthor was a pose-and-point, which bored the Li'l Capn. It seemed a waste of Wally Wood's considerable talents.

NOMAN: My favorite THUNDER character, even if he does lose a lot of bodies. I assume that he did so because that was one of his main two super-powers (the other being the cloak) and it had to be shown in every adventure. In later issues, when there was more camp humor (thanks to Batman), the Chief will begin to chastise NoMan for losing all those expensive androids.

(I think his name was spelled NoMan.)

THUNDER SQUAD: I'm getting ahead of you, but Egghead is not long for this world. And then Guy what's his name is picked to be Lightning. That left Kitten, Weed and Dynamite. That's not a squad, it's a jazz combo.

Speaking of Lightning, did they ever explain where his super-speed outfit came from? And Raven's flight suit? I remember clearly the three inventions that started the series, the crux being they couldn't be duplicated because the creator was dead. Somehow that one-of-a-kind business carried over to the Lightning and Raven suits, but I don't remember why. Did the dead scientist leave two more inventions that took a while to complete? I don't remember what they said, if anything.

But if they weren't created by the dead scientist, why not have an army of Lightnings and Ravens?

DYNAMO: Wood usually drew this feature, which meant I always looked forward to it. I was a huge Wally Wood fan when this series came out, and still am. Dynamo would have edged out NoMan for my favorite, if Len wasn't so dim.

When Wood didn't draw a feature, Reed Crandall or Gil Kane were welcome substitutes. But boy, I sure was disappointed when Wood rang in Chic Stone or Mike Sekowsky or somebody. The THUNDER stories were pretty thin, so if the art wasn't good, it was almost a waste of time.

(I think his name was spelled NoMan.)

Right you are!

On his series covers and as a masthead in his stories, that's how its spelled.

It gets confusing because all of story lettering is in the standard all-caps.

"What drew me to this series was the fact that just by using the devices the agents were endangering their lives."

Not only that, but the implication is that all three were intended to be worn by the same agents (perhaps all the agents), but were divvied up when Professor Jennings was killed.

"(I think his name was spelled NoMan.)"

So noted. I'll keep your questions about Lightning and Raven in mind as I read. 

Oh, nice! I haven't read these in a while... but for a little while there, I was co-hosting a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents podcast with my pal Bill Zanowitz! It was called T.H.U.N.D.E.R.C.A.S.T.! Here's episode 1!

All right! I'll be expecting some participation from you, young man.

ISSUE #2:

DYNAMO (Wood): This issue introduces Alice Robbins, Len Brown's milquetoast girlfriend who works at THUNDER in a secretarial capacity (I assume; it's not really made clear what she does). The belt has now been equipped with a "powerful long-range radio receiver" and a "70mm camera, capable of taking pictures in complete darkness." When his superiors learn how close Dynamo came to losing the belt in the previous issue, they order him to run away should he ever find himself in a similar situation again. 

Meanwhile, the Warlord briefs his lieutenants (including Demo and Iron Maiden) about his latest weapon, the android Dynavac. Wood's fight scenes are populated with panels of little to no dialogue and sparse captions; the art is what moves the story. Regarding the writing, I would guess that Wally Wood's THUNDER Agents is second only to Jack Kirby's New Gods in provoking the comment, "Just imagine if Stan Lee had written the script." I don't know how these stories were produced, full script of "Marvel style" or what, but I imagine the artists themselves were responsible for the lion's share. (It's the "artists don't need writers" argument decades before "Name Withheld" made it.) Oftentimes, the writer of a given story is credited "unknown." 

I have seen enough pages of original art to know that artists would often scribble notes in the margin as to what action a given panel is meant to portray. (Stan Lee would often disregard these suggestions, but that's another discussion for another time.) Many of the stories actual captions read like margin notes, for example: "The scientist reports his finding to the council." Regarding the dialogue, here are a couple of thought balloons: "Boy, is she cute!" "Hmm... I wouldn't mind going out with him... but how do I get him interested?" Not exactly Cyclops and Marvel Girl, is it (as overwrought as those thoughts could be)? 

Dynamo gets in a tough spot during his fight with Dynavac and his superiors take advantage of his newly-installed belt radio to order him to run away. I admit that this is certainly playing against type, but after his capture last issue and needing to be rescued, in this issue he is depicted heroically running away. He gets to a place of safety only to discover that Alice has been captured by the Warlord's forces.

NOMAN: While Dynamo is fighting Dynavac, NoMan is defending THUNDER HQ against the Warlord's "zombies" (actually soldiers under the Warlord's mental control), again, featuring lots of wordless, sparsely-captioned scenes. The Warlord  uses his mind-controlling machine against NoMan and succeeds beyond his wildest expectations. Instead of merely being able to control NoMan's actions, the Warlord actually forces Dr. Dunn's mind out of the body he is using into one of the spares in the lab. 

Now in control of a NoMan body and the cloak of invisibility, the warlord steals a missile. NoMan pursues in an experimental rocket plane and actually manages to bluff Warlord into abandoning the android body. He then transfers his own mind from the  back-up android into the one with the cape and sabotages the missile from within. He then abandons the missile to fall to Earth, destroying that body in the process. He transfers his mind back the the android in the rocket plane, and radios HQ to retrieve the cloak. Back at base, an unidentified man wearing a suit and tie brilliantly onserves: "Incedible! You say the Warlord took over the android... We must figure out a way to prevent it happening again!" Scintillating. This month's installment is by Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando and Wally Wood; story by Bill Pearson.

Total bodies lost: 3

MENTHOR: Gil Kane, George Tuska and Mike Esposito have been replaced this issue by Mike Sekowsky; writer unknown. This story has two lengthy sections of wordless (or nearly wordless) panels. I have come to appreciate Sekowsky's art, but he's no Wally Wood when it comes to depicting wordless action scenes.

DYNAMO: In the second part of this month's Dynamo story, he rescues Alice from the Warlord. In one large, wordless panel, Wood depicts Dynamo fighting against thirty six (by my count) of the Warlord's zombie soldiers in a scene Mike Sekowsky couldn't have pulled off on his best day. when they get back to HQ, we are treated to the following scintillating dialogue by the story's unknown scripter...

LEN: Uh, Alice... are you, uh... doing anything tonight?

ALICE: Why, no, Leonard. (thinks) Golly, I thought he'd never ask!

THUNDER SQUAD (Sekowsky): The squad is sent to quell a military takeover of San Bolivar by General Bestia, suspecte4d of being "a tool of the commies." (Seems to me more like a job for the CIA than the UN, but whatever.) This is the story Cap mentioned yesterday in which Egghead is killed... off-panel, BTW. The caption reads: "Egghead sacrifices his life to save his buddies..."

There were members of other super teams, or just stars of super books that had devices that wore out or ran out, and I still believe that it was the characters' use in the story that made a good or bad story. Yeah, Len Brown was slightly screwy, but he was obviously the main man in the THUNDER Agents*. I mean, he got the split off book first - am l right?

It might have been awkward to turn on the helmet AND the belt AND the cloak just to activate the THUNDER Man. I think it was more intended that THUNDER's research division wanted to duplicate these items and have a whole squadron of Dynamos (the mind boggles), or a team of invisible agents. Somewhat like the Human Torch or Captain America. Speaking of...

*Stands for Supreme Headquarters Inte- oh, wait, wrong group. But SHIELD DID try the multiple bodies gig too... to some success. And eventually they tried the SHIELD Super Agents. How'd THAT work out?

This issue introduces Alice Robbins, Len Brown's milquetoast girlfriend who works at THUNDER in a secretarial capacity (I assume; it's not really made clear what she does).

I think she turns out to be the Chief's daughter. Nepotism, if true.

In this issue he is depicted heroically running away.

Brave Dynamo ran away

Bravely ran away away

When danger reared its ugly head, He bravely turned his tail and fled

Yes brave Dynamo turned about

And gallantly he chickened out Bravely taking to his feet

He beat a very brave retreat

Bravest of the brave Dynamo

Packing it in and packing it up

And sneaking away and buggering off

And chickening out and pissing off home

Yes, bravely he is throwing in the sponge

Now in control of a NoMan body and the cloak of invisibility, the warlord steals a missile.

It's pretty amazing that the cloak never gets stolen from a "dead" android before anyone from THUNDER can get there and salvage it.

... in a scene Mike Sekowsky couldn't have pulled off on his best day.

The Li'l Capn was always disappointed when Sekowsky showed up -- I didn't even like him on Justice League of America as a lad. Sure, most of us have come to appreciate him more as adults, but he was never the greatest artist and his deficiencies were really thrown in sharp relief when his work followed a story drawn by Wood.

I mean, he got the split off book first - am l right?

You are correct, sir!

I think it was more intended that THUNDER's research division wanted to duplicate these items and have a whole squadron of Dynamos (the mind boggles), or a team of invisible agents.

Or an army of invisible Dynamos! This was my impression as well, although I can't point to whatever made me think that. I still want to know why they couldn't make an army of Lightnings and Ravens, and am waiting patiently for Jeff to get there.

In issue #1, in the Menthor story the Warlord is pictured in a different costume with his lower face exposed as an apparent white guy with a beard. Every other image of him has no visible face, which later becomes a plot point.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

THUNDER SQUAD (Sekowsky): The squad is sent to quell a military takeover of San Bolivar by General Bestia, suspecte4d of being "a tool of the commies." (Seems to me more like a job for the CIA than the UN, but whatever.)

“San Bolivar” is like saying “Saint Washington.”

Back then, the China seat on the UN Security Council was held by what we now call Taiwan. The USSR was also on the Security Council, so they would have vetoed any anti-Communist actions.

Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) said:

Oh, nice! I haven't read these in a while... but for a little while there, I was co-hosting a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents podcast with my pal Bill Zanowitz! It was called T.H.U.N.D.E.R.C.A.S.T.! Here's episode 1!

I listened to episode 1, which was enjoyable. It called my attention to the Two Morrows book THUNDER Agents Companion. They still have it for sale in digital format. I squandered money on a hard copy from elsewhere.

Captain Comics said:

This issue introduces Alice Robbins, Len Brown's milquetoast girlfriend who works at THUNDER in a secretarial capacity (I assume; it's not really made clear what she does).

I think she turns out to be the Chief's daughter. Nepotism, if true.

This issue also has her being resourceful and defeating a couple of enemies after she and the staff are captured.

In this issue he is depicted heroically running away.

Brave Dynamo ran away

Well, he was ordered to retreat because his belt and his body weren’t able to continue. They didn't want the belt captured again and probably didn't want Len killed or captured.  He was far from happy about it.

Now in control of a NoMan body and the cloak of invisibility, the warlord steals a missile.

It's pretty amazing that the cloak never gets stolen from a "dead" android before anyone from THUNDER can get there and salvage it.

High level types like the Warlord knew what the cloak did. Most of the bad guys probably thought it was just clothing.

Regarding the dialogue, here are a couple of thought balloons: "Boy, is she cute!" "Hmm... I wouldn't mind going out with him... but how do I get him interested?" Not exactly Cyclops and Marvel Girl, is it (as overwrought as those thoughts could be)?

Of course she's cute. Wally Wood drew her.

"This issue also has her being resourceful and defeating a couple of enemies after she and the staff are captured."

That is true.

"Well, he was ordered to retreat because his belt and his body weren’t able to continue. They didn't want the belt captured again and probably didn't want Len killed or captured. He was far from happy about it."

What you say is true, but the visual is damning. I'll bet a lot of little kids were disappointed. How did you feel about it when you first read it? It took three entire seasons of ST:TNG for Jean Luc Picard to recover in my eyes from having surrendered the Enterprise 20 minutes into "Encounter at Farpoint" (although I would probably cut him more slack today).

ISSUE #3:

DYNAMO: Despite the fact that the Warlord was (apparently) defeated in the previous issue, Len is still chewed out by the Chief. Furthermore, a timer has been added to the belt so that it automatically shuts off after 30 minutes of use. (A warning signal will sound five minutes before that happens.) In a nice little bit of issue-to-issue continuity, THUNDER HQ, damaged in #2 by the Warlord's attack, is in the process of being repared.

Suddenly, the U.S. Capitol is attacked by a platoon of robots led by a dead ringer for the Warlord. The Warlord has previously been depicted (except as noted by Richard, above) as a green-skinned, skull-headed alien-looking creature. In this story we learn that both of the Warlords are representatives of a subterranean race whose cities have been damaged by underground nuclear testing. The Warlord is killed during the course of the battle and the robots, which had been controlled by him mentally, cease to function. A final caption promises: "Don't miss the final encounter with the Subterraneans... coming soon!"

NOMAN: In this story, "NoMan faces the threat of the Amazing Vibraman," who is blind for some reason. (His mask covers his eyes and there are no eyeholes, so that could explain it right there.) But he can "see" NoMan by images "formulated by the pattern of sound you make as you move.!" Vibraman has attacked three times in two days, including an electrical power plant, before NoMan is put on the case. NoMan is warned that he has only two reserve bodies left.

Each time Vibraman's demands are not met, he doubles the amount of his ransom demand. Currently he's up to $250,000, which means he must have started at $31,250, something of a "lowball" figure for domestic terrorism. His next target is a new nuclera powered aircraft carrier being built in New London. NoMan arrives with one of his two remaining spare bodies in tow. He activates his invisibility cloak and is immediately "killed" by Vibraman. Vibraman destroys the ship and leaves without the cloak, which makes sense because he probably didn't know NoMan was invisible in the first place, much less that the cloak was the means. 

The next day, Vibraman threatens to destroy the Lockwood Aircraft Company. NoMan arrives on the scene with his one remaining body in tow, but he doesn't even try to stop the villain. Instead, after the factory has been destroyed, NoMan follows him (via aircraft) to his secret lair inside a mountain on an island. Vibraman knows he is being followed, however, and fires a sonic cannon at NoMan, who dives out of the way and transfers his consciousness into his last remaining body outside the cave.

Unfortunately, he is immediately discovered and fired upon by three guards, forcing him to transfer back to his other body. He realizes he cannot transfer back again because his spare body has just been destroyed. NoMan ducks inside a decompression chamber, activates it, and dons some oxygen tanks. As the chamber is being drained of oxygen, Vibraman's men wheel the sonic cannon in place. Unfortunately, although soundwaves can travel through glass, they cannot travel through a vacuum, so when the sound waves hit the now airless room, the blast is deflected back to the cannon, which explodes bringing the cavern down with it. (I question the "science" behind this reversal of fortunes, but I don't write these, I only read 'em.)

THUNDER loses contact with NoMan and assumes he has been killed. With no body left to transfer his consciousness into, Dr. Dunn is presumed to be dead. They begin building a new set of androids and discussing a replacement. Days later, when the first set of androids has been completed, the Chief and the scientist are surprised when Dr. Dunn transfers his consciousness into it, explaining that, although the android's body had been destroyed, it's "brain" had not, and, with no place left to transfer his consciousness, he had to wait until another set of androids was built. 

So this story establishes that he has a virtually unlimited supply of bodies, so long as the budget holds out, but he has lost a record three bodies in a single story, bringing his total up to...

Total bodies lost: 6

DYNAMO: For some reason, Alice gives Len the cold shoulder in this story, turning down his request for a date. It is also established that she is the Chief's secretary. If she also ends up being his daughter, as Cap suggested, that hasn't been revealed yet. So far, they seem to be establishing a "James Bond, M, Miss Moneypenny" triangle. Luckily for Len's love live, special courier Agent Diana Dawn enters the picture at this point, requesting Dynamo's presence in "Vietnesia." Once there, he confronts the costumed villain Red Dragon, who has been appearing across the country. Dynamo tracks him down and discovers his secret: an image projector. with only five minutes left on his belt charge, Dynamo's defeat of Red Dragon is broadcast across the country, and the "Vietnesians" (the North Vietnesians, I assume) surrender. 

Back at THUNDER HQ, the Chief is so grateful he gives Len the rest of the day off. Alice asks him out on a date, but this time he turns her down because he's going out with Diana.

THUNDER SQUAD: A number of missile sites in the South Pacific have been attacked and destroyed, and a number of native fisherman have disappeared. The Squad goes undercover to solve the mysteries and see if they are linked. The Red Chinese have been kidnapping the islanders, turning than  into amphibious creatures, brainwashing them into zombies, and sending them to destroy the missile bases. the THUNDER Agents escape and destroy the Reds' underwater laboratory.

Occasional Sekowsky artwork aside, what I like about reading THUNDER Agents is the variety. If I were to read JLA or Green Lantern archives, it's all Sekowky or all Kane. Now I get a mix of Sekowsky and Kane and Wood as well as others. 

DYNAMO vs. MENTOR: This is Dynamo's third story this issue; it's also the cover story and the only one pencilled by Wally Wood. (The other two were penciled by Dan Atkins.) Menthor hypnotizes Dynamo to go berserk every time someone says the word "what." There are some inconsistencies in the way Menthor is portrayed in this story, but that is explained by the fact that it is not the original Menthor, Johnny Janus, but rather his brother, Conrad. Conrad is killed, leaving the mystery of what happened to Johnny for next issue.

EXTRAS: This issue is supplemented with pin-ups and other features. All of the pin-ups (Dynamo, NoMan, THUNDER Squad and Methor) are at least penciled by Wood. In addition, there is a one-page feature highlighting the Thunderbelt, also by Wood.

EXTRA: Those of you who have been on the board a long time may remember John Carbonaro, who owned the rights to the THUNDER Agents. He used to post here as "The Chief." He passed away in 2009. 

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Groups

Latest Activity

The Baron replied to Steve W's discussion A Cover a Day
"Police in a Pod revolves around the crime-solving efforts of a young policewoman and her new…"
7 hours ago
Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) posted a discussion
7 hours ago
Richard Willis replied to Steve W's discussion A Cover a Day
"I'm using Eric post as justification for my spying cover"
8 hours ago
Dave Palmer replied to Steve W's discussion A Cover a Day
"The Spider is a very busy detective"
10 hours ago
Jeff of Earth-J replied to The Baron's discussion Movies I Have Seen Lately
"Here's the trailer."
10 hours ago
Tracy of Moon-T replied to The Baron's discussion Movies I Have Seen Lately
"I feel like this movie is the imaginary world the GOP believes they are protecting themselves from…"
11 hours ago
Jeff of Earth-J replied to The Baron's discussion Movies I Have Seen Lately
"THE PINK ANGELS (1971): "Six rugged motorcyclists gather on the side of the highways to plan…"
11 hours ago
JD DeLuzio replied to Steve W's discussion Comical Comic Cuts
"That'th the firtht thing I thought of."
14 hours ago
Steve W replied to Steve W's discussion A Cover a Day
15 hours ago
Jeff of Earth-J replied to Steve W's discussion Comical Comic Cuts
""You're Thor? I'm tho thore I can barely pith!" (Neil Gaiman - Seasons of Mists)"
15 hours ago
Philip Portelli replied to Steve W's discussion A Cover a Day
"A Mostly Murder Mystery! "
17 hours ago
Richard Willis replied to Steve W's discussion Comical Comic Cuts
"three-fifths superheroes"
17 hours ago

© 2023   Captain Comics, board content ©2013 Andrew Smith   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service