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.

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I guess we'll never know. 

I had to take a peek. Even though the page numbers end in 20, GCD correctly says that the story is 18 pages. They don't note the discrepancy.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

When you get to #3, please clue me in to what's on pp. 11-12 of the Iron Maiden story.

Aw!

ISSUE #2:

RAVEN:

Thomas's second story provides an origin for Phoenicia, plus a romantic history for her and Raven.

Since it wasn’t referenced in the first Phoenicia story, her being a renegade former THUNDER agent almost seems like a retcon. If it was intended from the beginning, the lack of this info may be attributable to the 10-page story problem*.

*I can’t help but remember that in the late 50s Mort Weisinger managed to put three coherent 8-page stories in most of his Superman family issues.  A book-length story was a major event back then.

All along in this discussion we have been making excuses for the ultra-compressed, simplistic stories and lack of characterization for Tower's ten-page stories, but Dann Thomas and George Perez demonstrate how it can not only be done, but done well.

We noted earlier that the 1960s stories written by professional comics writer Steve Skeates were much better than the ones written by the artists trying to be writers.  We also now have named editors. Too bad that the “non-public domain” fiasco couldn’t have been resolved with their continuing and paying John Carbonaro for their use.

LIGHTNING:

During an interview, Guy Gilbert reveals his pre-THUNDER backstory as well as a summary of his career as Lightning up to this point.

They did a nice job of fleshing-out his character, including his life pre-THUNDER.

The "big reveal" this time is that Guy appears to be a man in his 80s. Another extremely well-done ten-pager, by Tom & Mary Bierbaum and Keith Giffen.

I was going to say that he is depicted much younger in the following story, but they addressed that in that story.

THUNDER AGENTS:

….but in this case I approve because Egghead's death served no real purpose and carried with it no emotional impact. One panel he was alive, the next he was gone. His closest teammates were not even shown grieving for him.

It was glossed over so much that I forgot the character existed. I don’t remember any later story even mentioning him.

We get more info on Kitten, who we find out was a professor of physics at MIT before joining THUNDER. Her background and her heroism don’t fit with the previous “Oh Len, stay close. I’m afraid” bit in one of the Warlord stories.

ISSUE #3:

That cover evokes other great comics couples from opposite sides such as Will Eisner's Spirit & P'Gell, and Milton Caniff's Pat Ryan & the Dragon Lady.

Contemporary with the original THUNDER Agents was the TV show The Wild Wild West. It opened with a cartoon sequence that included a woman with a knife very much like the cover illustration. The revised version for seasons 2-on has Jim West slugging the woman. The first season version had her, shall we say, changing her mind. Here's the original opening. (after the opening this link plays the whole first episode):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcGhG-dEgfQ

IRON MAIDEN:

Iron Maiden takes on a mission from an unnamed shadow organization (presumably SPIDER): to steal the magnetic belt and wrist bands of THUNDER's Undersea Agent.

The hooded man hiring her refers to the organization as The Dark Council.

Undersea Agent's civilian identity has changed from "Davy Jones" to "David Corrigan" without explanation. (I'm fine with that.)

The name Davy Jones was a little too cute. On page 9, Undersea Agent seems to be lifting or repelling a truck with some kind of power. Is this his “magnetic power”? (I’m also captivated by the lettering on the truck about something called Skunk Pie)

We discussed the page numbering mistake earlier. I’ve noticed that at least half of the stories go without in-story page numbering.

When Iron Maiden makes her move, she references "Mentanil" gas as well as "retarded tree frogs" (script as well as pencils by Dave Cockrum).

Don’t give Cockrum credit for the charming “retarded tree frogs” phrase. It was used a couple of times in the Tower comics. By the way, I’m glad to see Rusty’s flaming red hair again after they mistakenly colored it blonde at the end of the Tower run.

The archive story is missing two pages. They are numbered 1-10 & 13-20. I wonder what was on pp. 11 & 12 and whether  they were left out on purpose or if it was a production error? I have the originals... somewhere... but I have no idea which box they're even in.

I’m working from the originals and the numbering mistake is there, too. I can’t believe there were two full pages of him beating up the guys in the plastic armor. If there were I can live without them. I suspect that the pages were inked and lettered out of sequence before they were all ready and the letterer made a mistake. Either that or they dumped the two pages in favor of two pin-up pages. There were also four (!) pages of letters in issue #3. I assume that Archive #7 has all the pin-ups.

LIGHTNING:

An international conspiracy of anarchists, Anarchy, Inc., has been assassinating heads of state. THUNDER uses Lightning to rush an antidote to King Fahd, who was poisoned.

The Chief says he has to rush the antidote to King Fahd in Saudi Arabia. It should be Fahdi Arabia. Saudi Arabia was named after whoever was King Saud after WWI when it was carved out of the Ottoman Empire.

NOMAN:

Meanwhile, one of Cy Klopps' men has infiltrated THUNDER (because of course he has).

What? That never happened before!

NoMan is on the brink of "decoding the circuit matrix" behind all of Professor Jennings' devices

This reminds me that this issue or last they said that Lightning’s suit was developed by THUNDER. Not be Professor Jennings. I think this is the first time that was clarified. I don’t remember if they made the same clarification on Raven’s suit.

I should get through reading and commenting on issues 4 and 5 tomorrow.

"I can’t help but remember that in the late 50s Mort Weisinger managed to put three coherent 8-page stories in most of his Superman family issues."

I am currently reading Hulk 10-pagers from Tales to Astonish and the same thought occurs to me.

"Too bad that the “non-public domain” fiasco couldn’t have been resolved with their continuing and paying John Carbonaro for their use."

That is precisely one of the questions I would have asked "The Chief" had I realized his "secret identity" before he passed. That Deluxe Comics version was pretty damn good. 

"The name Davy Jones was a little too cute."

I'm content to believe in my head canon that "Davy Jones" was a nickname.

"Is this his 'magnetic power'?"

Your guess is as good as mine.

"(I’m also captivated by the lettering on the truck about something called Skunk Pie)"

I was going to mention that but forgot!

"Don’t give Cockrum credit for the charming 'retarded tree frogs' phrase. It was used a couple of times in the Tower comics."

I do give Cockrum credit for the "homage."

"I can’t believe there were two full pages of him beating up the guys in the plastic armor."

I suspect that another scene was intended for pp.11-12 and was dropped at some stage in the production process as you speculate, because page 13 begins with the caption "Meanwhile..." Without that caption, the scene flows from one page to the other; it was the word "meanwhile" that drew my attention to the page numbering error.

"I assume that Archive #7 has all the pin-ups."

You assume correctly. If you're not reading my posts before you read the issue, you'll find the pin-ups identified at the end, which is where they appear in archive v7.

"What? That never happened before!"

I was referring to THUNDER's lax security; it was only a matter of time.

"I should get through reading and commenting on issues 4 and 5 tomorrow."

Excellent! 

Jeff of Earth-J said:

I suspect that another scene was intended for pp.11-12 and was dropped at some stage in the production process as you speculate, because page 13 begins with the caption "Meanwhile..." Without that caption, the scene flows from one page to the other; it was the word "meanwhile" that drew my attention to the page numbering error.

I must have missed the "Meanwhile" caption. At least we know it wasn't cut because of the Code.

"What? That never happened before!"

I was referring to THUNDER's lax security; it was only a matter of time.

This was me trying to be funny. I remember at least two occasions in the Tower series where they hired infiltrators.

Captain Comics said:

I think the Companion works best as something to read. A lot of mini biographies of the folks who worked on the Agents at Tower. There is a lot of info sprinkled in but it doesn’t work as an easy to use reference tool (e.g., no index). It does have a checklist. It also includes the story “Cold Warriors Never Die!” from Omni Comix #3 (1995). The art is by Paul Gulacy and Terry Austin.

Sold. Literally. I am ordering on Amazon tonight.

I recently bought the Charlton Companion TPB. Generally, Two Morrows throws in the PDF when you buy a TPB. Like you, I bought mine elsewhere. If I really wanted to use it for research I would have opted for the PDF, which is searchable. It is still available from Two Morrows in the form of a downloadable PDF.

Now that you've read the entire Tower run ... wouldn't you agree that THUNDER was run by morons top to bottom?

I think it was an unfortunate combination of the thoughts "artists don't need writers" and "writers don't need editors."

"This was me trying to be funny."

I thought that might have been the case but i wasn't sure.

"Now that you've read the entire Tower run ... wouldn't you agree that THUNDER was run by morons top to bottom?"

Wow, I totally misread that question the first time it was posted. 

After we wrap the Deluxe discussion I feel the need to pick up the pace a bit of DC and IDW.

ISSUE #4:

RAVEN:

A hostage situation at the New York Stock Exchange, but the "hostage" ends up being one of the terrorists. Forced to strip off his costume to "save" the "hostage," Raven proves that "there's more to being the Raven than a costume... and more to flying than a cape." 

Nicely done.

LIGHTNING:

Lightning completes the mission, but not exactly to the letter. For example, he was ordered to "sanction" and witnesses "with extreme prejudice," yet he allows a little boy who sees him to live. The last page foreshadows the next story, which is apparently about a serial killer who murders little girls (this one, by hanging her with her own jump rope). 

Not crazy about this style of storytelling.  This makes Manny Stallman look good. After being told that the exploding corpse would likely take out an entire neighborhood, we are left to assume that Lightning either followed these evil orders or somehow saved everyone without being seen by anyone.

I had to peek at its supposed continuation or the child-murderer story in the next issue. It’s neither, just in the same style. It’s apparently a continuation of the murdered (or apparently just badly scarred) editor story, having no relationship to this issue’s story or the supposed next story. After saying that they were doing a good job editing, it’s like they published stories out of sequence. 

NOMAN:

Continuing from last issue, NoMan calls in his spare bodies from bases all over the world.

On page 1 they make the mistake of specifying that NoMan’s bodies are being loaded onto C-130 cargo planes. Unfortunately, Ditko draws imaginary planes, possibly jets. If they hadn’t specified the type of planes I wouldn’t have a problem with it. C-130s can be used to transport people or cargo, drop people or cargo by parachute, or load or unload same on the ground. They do not have bomb-bay doors.  Whatever/whoever goes in or out of the plane does so using the huge hatch under the tail section. Also, they are propeller planes, not jets. For various reasons (not involving parachutes) I flew on one nine times when I was You-Know-Where.

Here's one pooping out a tank:

NoMan parachutes onto Klopps's island with all of his duplicates. We've seen him transfer his mind from one to another parachuting bodies before, but this time there are 97 of them! He attacks with such speed that all of the bodies seem to be moving independently. Venooker activates his "Thundersuit" and is quickly vaporized. Klopps and NoMan fight for hours until he is seemingly down to his last body. Klops destroy that, but NoMan transfers his mind to an android bee, which stings Klopps in the eye, which is apparently all that's needed to defeat him.

Other than the annoying (to me) dissing of my favorite plane, this was a good story. I guess the android bee came along for the ride.

THUNDER AGENTS:

Then she uses her mental powers to control Rusty, which is much more difficult than simply reading minds. Menthor forces Rusty to free Undersea Agent, then to give herself up for arrest. All this time, she and Len are still starkers. Just as Dynamo gets dressed, finds a robe for Rusty and ties her hands, Light bursts in and promptly has a heart attack. He recovers quickly, but not before Dynamo purposefully allows Rusty to escape through a secret panel. 

Apparently, Menthor was still controlling Rusty after she surrendered and was handcuffed or tied. Menthor is upset by Lightning’s attack and loses control of Rusty. This saved Len from having to contrive her escape later.

as the issue ends, NoMan kicks in the door shouting, "What do you mean... 'no more bodies'?"

If NoMan told Michaels that 98 android bodies were just destroyed he’d probably drop dead. Problem solved.

ISSUE #5:

THUNDER AGENTS:

The story opens with the Chief delivering his daily briefing. Budget cuts will continue, although R.J. Michaels has been hospitalized "due to minor injuries suffered in an altercation with an unspecified--though assuredly blue-skinned agent." After the meeting breaks up, NoMan throws himself into his work.

He is now thinking of the others as “humans,” and can’t really remember much about being human himself.

While investigating, he finds a secret THUNDER base, then he is attacked from behind, and killed, by a damaged robot (see cover). 

So much for the body on the Moon.

Back on Earth, NoMan notifies the other THUNDER Agents and they decide, apparently without the Chief's knowledge or approval, to commandeer a captured alien saucer and investigate.

They finally took that fishbowl off Undersea Agent’s head.

Lightning is left behind due to his advanced age, but China is included in the away team. (Calling him "China" seems racist, unless they're using Cockney slang.)

Seems like they could have come up with a different name (like A-hole). They all call him that to his face, so I guess he’s OK with it.

They land in a area with oxygen and Earth-normal gravity, and decide to split up. Dynamo encounters lady "wrasslin' champs" Laura and Leslie Lancaster, who apparently gain some sort of super strength from slapping their hands together. Len is a big fan, but that doesn't stop them from cleaning his clock.

Undersea Agent encounters a ridiculously dressed person calling himself Captain Energy, but manages to defeat him. China encounters a Green Beret named Glen Atlas, a hero of his growing up, whom he describes as the "best space jockey in the business." Raven is attacked by a dwarf wearing "flexible back armor" whose power is to roll himself into a ball and carom off walls; his codename is "Bing" (the sound he makes as he ricochets). Raven defeats him. NoMan destroys the robot who previously "killed" him. then he runs into a man he knows named Makor, the leader of Codename: Danger. Apparently "Codename: Danger" is a team THUNDER has encountered before, presumably during the ten-year gap between series, who NoMan refers to as "still playing both sides against the middle." Then both teams come together, the defeated members of their respective teams unconscious or semiconscious, and both sides demand to know, "What's going on here?" Alas, we shall never know because this is the last issue of the series. 

Codename: Danger was another series from David Singer which lasted four issues. For some reason* it carried the brand name of Lodestone instead of Deluxe. We discussed one of the covers earlier with the possibly naked woman.

*I just saw in the Charlton Companion that Singer anticipated legal problems and kept the THUNDER stories under the Deluxe umbrella to separate them from the Lodestone title(s).

LIGHTNING:

The serial killer is revealed to be Mal Severino, the commander of Guy's platoon back in Viet Nam, who was placed on the mantlepiece (so to speak) back in #2. Severino's "jokey pranks" got Guy kicked out of officer's candidate school, and it was Guy's testimony during Severino's later court martial for cowardice which got him a dishonorable discharge. The names on his list aren't all little girls (as I thought last issue), but they are all friends of Guy. The latest victim is Catherine Dare, whom he did not kill but apparently blinded.

When I looked ahead at this story I obviously didn’t actually read it or I would have seen how it fits. I still don’t like the way they ended the story in issue #4 without clarification.

Meanwhile, a THUNDER redshirt named Liggett who is looking into the circuitry of the speed suit discovers that a particular "bypass" which was installed "as a security measure to sanction against unauthorized use of the uniform" is the "key component that causes the aging." Tragically, Guy could have been using the suit all along without bypass W-56. Liggett reports his finding t the chief.

Liggett should have been promoted over all the staff that missed this little fact.

DYNAMO:

Len Brown is going to a New Year's eve costume party dressed as "Superman" (but with an "8" instead of an "S" to avoid a copyright/trademark lawsuit from DC). This sets up the opportunity to go into action as "Superman" later in this light-hearted story

Written by head honcho Singer himself.

Alice is dressed as Black Canary and Weed is dressed as Dynamo. the story ends with Len in a phonebooth trying to make a call.

For continuity, they have Alice hearing rumors about Len and Rusty. She’s apparently hoping to hear it was “in the line of duty.”

DYNAMO:

This frivolous story concerns a woman named Elli Cameron who is being pursued by a purlple gorilla in a robotic suit. Dynamo comes to the rescue and she tells him that she is a time traveler.

She tells him he is “the first and most famous THUNDER agent to wear the Dynamo belt.” We shall see later.

And that's the end of Deluxe Comics' short run. Nine years later (real time), Omni Comics brought theTHUNDER Agents back for another go 'round. Since that's the last story in Archive v7, I might as well get it out of the way.

OMNI COMIX #3:

There have been many changes to the team in the near decade they've been out of the public eye. (I hope I note them all in this 28-oage story.) "Cold Warriors Never Die" is a hard-hitting espionage story in which the THUNDER Agents live up to their full potential at last.

 As pointed out in an earlier post, this story was reprinted (in black and white) in the Charlton Companion, so I can read it. I’ll do that tomorrow.

"[NoMan] is now thinking of the others as 'humans,' and can’t really remember much about being human himself."

Foreshadowing developments from the DC series some 25 years in the future.

"She tells him he is 'the first and most famous THUNDER agent to wear the Dynamo belt.'"

Ditto.

"I feel the need to pick up the pace a bit of DC and IDW."

"This story was reprinted in the Charlton Companion, so I can read it. I’ll do that tomorrow."

I am going to move on to the DC series, but feel free to comment on Omni Comix #3 as soon as you catch up.

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