After the amazing Wallace Wood completed his brief outstanding run on Daredevil, he left Marvel and attempted to launch a competing line of Tower Comics of superhero/agents that had never been seen before.  Wally Wood's THUNDER AGENTS have been revived a time or two in the industry, but none had as much promise and drama as that original run.

As a kid back in 1966-67, I don't recall seeing those issues hit the spinner racks, but I DO recall seeing them show up at a neighboring small grocery store in a variety of other forms. This means, they were frequently coverless and occasionally the cover was missing just the title, having been razor-bladed off.

Now, it's come to light that organized crime had a racket running where covers were stripped off from magazines and comics and returned for credit.  The unscrupulous operators of the scam would strip off the cover and then ship stacks of the remaining, intact comics out the back door, sometimes packaged in plastic bags, (2 or 3 for the price of one) and sometimes just plain coverless.

In my youth, I became aware that this particular Italian store had their coverless comics displayed in dual rows in a re-purposed corrugated cardboard box that sat atop a wire rack packed with used paperback books for sale for a quarter.  These coverless comics were sold for a dime a piece, and I scored many a spare Marvel for my collection from this seemingly endless box of older used comics. (They would also buy collections from older kids and resell them, so you always had to be vigilant to be the first one to discover the sudden influx of some kids collection.)  I remember vividly the dual stack of comics, standing on end in two parallel rows, similar to how today's comic boxes stand comics on end.  I spotted my copy of Marvel Comics Collector's Item Classics #2 and Tales to Astonish #44 (June 1963) in the stack and reached faster than my friend could to grab them for myself.


I remember these original Thunder Agent issues being available coverless for a long while by the dozen, but other than recognizing Wally Wood's distinctive inking and (pardon the usage) Dynamic figures, I never invested in anything other than Marvel comics (to my ever-living regret!) I vaguely remember single issues or adventures featuring Dynamo, Nomad, and possibly Thunder Agents.

Recently, it has been claimed that Marvel and DC had conspired to keep Tower Comics from getting a toehold in the industry.  Specifically, could Stan, Martin or Mort have actually accomplished this?
What do you think?  Was there a conspiracy or was it just a side-effect of the Mob's greedy practices that limited the distribution and success of Tower comics?

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Page 87 of MARVEL COMICS THE UNTOLD STORY includes the following:

"Tower Comics started to crumble, plagued by poor distribution that was, according to Wally Wood, a result of Independent News' bullying tactics toward wholesalers."

Independent News was, of course, a subsidiary of DC Comics. According to the same book, when Kinney bought DC they wanted to make more money from Independent News. They took the restraints off Marvel, allowing them to spin off the split books into separate books. This apparently happened in late '67 leading into the new comics coming out in early '68. Tower may have been better off at that point, but they may have already been dying. Somewhere around mid-'69 they ceased publication.

As for the coverless books, organized crime may or may not have had something to do with it. I've heard that a lot of newsstand operators were in the habit of ripping off covers and returning comics (from all publishers) so as to use their valuable rack space for more lucrative magazines. Many of these same people would then sell the coverless comics (which were stolen goods) either to the public for half-price or, I guess, to other crooks who would package them as you describe. This major problem with newsstands led to the direct market.

...I think that the eibowitzes were more the (pre-Warners') business/distro guys in charge at DC , Kirk , not Mort The W.

According to the second volume of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents archive. Tower's books were distributed by PDC - Publishers Distribution Corporation. These guys also distributed MLJ (Archie) comics, but they left for a competitor. At that time Tower was just another small book company, but PDC had an expensive distribution network, but no comics to distribute. The two then decided to go ahead with their own comic book line.

What hurt them in the end is what gets so many comic book companies: over expansion of the line. They weren't just doing superhero comics. They also dabbled in teen and war comics. A lot of these were double sized comics, and Wally Wood and his crew couldn't keep up. They were desperate for artists, and they couldn't get them. Although we did get to see great like Gil Kane and Steve Ditko work on the comics from time to time.

Not discounting conspiracies, but like so many things it was probably a variety of reasons that brought Tower down.

"what gets so many comic book companies: over expansion of the line"

In 2 separate interviews I've read online, Bill Black blamed this as the cause for most of the smaller companies that started in the 80's going under.  His own, AC, stayed small, and is still around!  (Though you'd never know it flipping thru Diamond's PREVIEWS catalog.)

From what I've read of the original Tower books, it seems to me that their star Dynamo just wasn't dynamic enough to lead them to longevity like Spider-Man did for Marvel.

Thank you E.D.  I don't know the DC players at all...I was basically just repeating what had been claimed elsewhere, in the hopes that someone could confirm/disprove the theory.  Thanks for the correction.

 

Travis, thanks for the pointer to the second volume of the THUNDER Agents archive.  I just just placed an order for that book today, (still can't afford all the rest, especially the first volume, that I desire) and hope to see it arrive later this week!

Thank you for the recommendation. I shall read it with great interest!

I didn't know Gil Kane or Steve Ditko had done any work for them. Were they on the Thunder Agents, by any chance, or was that Wally's baby?

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

...I think that the eibowitzes were more the (pre-Warners') business/distro guys in charge at DC , Kirk , not Mort The W.

Seems to me that Dynamo had power levels similar to the 1938 Superman, with some additional twists thrown in, such as time limit and increased mass. What the agents may have lacked in flashy DC or Marvel-style dynamics were offset by the intriguing structure of the THUNDER organization and all that came with it.

Anyone know if the Wally Wood Thunder Agents earliest books have ever been reprinted, other than in the Archive editions?

Somethings nagging at me that they might have been. I have a vague memory of a Gil Kane cover in a later version...

Tower published some standard-size paperback reprints in the 60s. The final issue of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (#20), which appeared a year after the preceding issue, was mostly-reprint, and the preceding two issues carried a ten page reprint in the back. Gil Kane covers appeared on #14 and #15, and #19 recycled the cover from #14 in its upper left corner. Information from the GCD.

 

(corrected)

Regarding the company's failure, another point to bear in mind is that the comics were larger and cost more than standard size Marvel and DC issues of the same period. #1 cost 25c and carried (I count) 58 story pages. Contemporary standard-size comics were 12c, and most of the ones from that month I checked carried 20-24 story pages.(1) So Tower's issues offered better value for money, but that's not always a better deal (e.g. a reader might not like all a title's features), and children aren't always good at making such calculations.

 

(1) DC's Young Love #52 apparently had 28 and a fashion page. The issue's contents partly consisted of reprints (one of which was altered to update the fashions, DC Indexes says).

I was going to add that as another factor. The average comic buyer at the time would see the 25 cent price tag, assuming they saw the book at all, and pass it up as being more than they wanted to pay. They probably didn't even notice how many pages there were.

Luke Blanchard said:

Regarding the company's failure, another point to bear in mind is that the comics were larger and cost more than standard size Marvel and DC issues of the same period. #1 cost 25c and carried (I count) 58 story pages. Contemporary standard-size comics were 12c, and most of the ones from that month I checked carried 20-24 story pages.(1) So Tower's issues offered better value for money, but that's not always a better deal (e.g. a reader might not like all a title's features), and children aren't always good at making such calculations.

I'm surprised DC didn't sue over their THUNDER agent Menthor!

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