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.
"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.
A nice variation on the "puppet master" theme by George Perez.
Instead of three stories (10, 10 and 20 pages), this issue has four 10-page stories.
RAVEN: S 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."
LIGHTNING: Following up on the assassinations of the five world leaders, Lightning is forced to work with Price of the Exceptional Tactics Squad, which he finds distasteful. The script is Price briefing Lightning on the mission, while the art is him carrying it out. The plot itself is rather far-fetched, but tom & Mary Bierbaum take pains to make it appear plausible. Anarchy, Inc. has somehow arranged for all of the corpses to be embalmed with an undetectable super-explosive. All of the funerals are to be held at the same time (which itself is highly implausible, given the multiple time zones involved) and, when the "corpse bombs" are detonated, they will take out all the world leaders in attendance. Lightning's mission is to rush to Bolivar and attach a device which will speed up the process to the corpse of the former leader of that country, causing him to explode ahead of scedule and thereby warning all of the other countries to call off their respective state funerals.
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).
NOMAN: Continuing from last issue, NoMan calls in his spare bodies from bases all over the world. Meanwhile, Cy Klopps saws off his own arm (it is shown in silhouette falling into a bucket) with a hand-held electric saw and has a robotic one attached. By this time he has apparently decoded Professor Jennings' circuit matrix which is the "common denominator among all paranormal THUNDER equpitment" and fitted one of his men, Venooker, with a Lightning suit, a Thunder belt, a Menthor helmet and an invisibility cape.
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.
THUNDER AGENTS: This is the continuation of last issue's "Iron Maiden" story. Rich Buckler has taken over as artist from Dave Cockrum. Rusty wants to have sex with Len, which seems to be the only reason she has kidnapped Dynamo and Undersea Agent. The title of the story is "Well, I Guess I Am That Kind of Boy!" which should give you some indication of where this is headed.
The new Menthor (who is not a THUNDER Agent, remember), has followed Iron Maiden to her lair. Back at THUNDER HQ, Dynamite and Weed try to cheer Guy up. Kitten arrives and they have an argument about what's best for him. Then, Lightning finds out about the raid NoMan is planning (in his story this issue) and that NoMan is on assignment in South Africa, leaving the THUNDER Squad to free Dynamo and Undersea Agent. Guy takes it upon himself to free them.
Back at Iron Maiden's hideout, she and Len strip off all their clothes and make love in front of Undersea Agent. Outside, Methor is following the situation mentally. She realizes that Lighting is searching for them, and mentally alerts his as to their location. 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.
Back at HQ, while all this has been going on, R.J. Michaels (the comptroller introduced last issue) has been busy counting beans. "Sue, take a memo to all," he dictates. "To all THUNDER field agents: Studies indicate it takes an average of 3.8 rounds of ammunition to take down an opponent. Henceforth, all agents will be cut 40% of their current ammo allocations to conserve inventory and avoid waste." He also authorizes 200 agents to be laid off by the end of the day, and orders custodial services to reassign all lockers so field agents can double up. He recommends the the Chief be offered early retirement and, as the issue ends, NoMan kicks in the door shouting, "What do you mean... 'no more bodies'?"
The lead story this month is 15 pages long. The other three are 8, 10 and 8.
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 shown on a windswept mountaintop, a burning desert, in a diving suit under the sea, and on the Moon. (I guess that one body must still be there after all this time.) While investigating, he finds a secret THUNDER base, then he is attacked from behind, and killed, by a damaged robot (see cover).
Roger McKenzie is now credited with plot and script, and the art has been taken over by Jerry Ordway.
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. 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.) 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.
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.
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. Meanwhile, Lightning receives a challenge from Severino to meet him "tomorrow morning, 5 a.m. Coney Island." Unfortunately, again, we will never know how that played out because this is the last issue of the series.
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, but the real fun is spotting all of the other guests at the party, which include: Jake Blues, Wolverine, Ambush Bug, Megaton Man, Daffy duck, Doctor Who (the Fourth), Thor, Spider-man, a tall skinny Captain america, Hyperion, Bill the Cat and Jon Sable Freelance, among others. Reuben Flagg is shown chatting up Vampira, and GrimJack is seen hobnobbing with Aztec Ace. 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.
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. It turns out she is a time traveler, but she and the gorilla are only playing a game of "tag."
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. The art is by Paul Gulacy, and I could not think of a better choice. Before I get to the story itself, let's look at some of the changes.
Len Brown now has a blonde, live-in girlfriend (not Alice or Roxanne) and a German Shepard named Max. Guy (whose real first name is revealed to be Virgil) looks old, but not as old as he did in the Deluxe series. Apparently "bypass W-56" has not been repaired or replaced (maybe slowed?) because he suspects he has about three years of life left at his current rate of usage. He is first seen holding hands with Theresa "Tracy" Jones, the new Undersea Agent and daughter of the original. "Because of an accident of birth, water responds to her magnetic control." A sexual relationship between her and Guy is implied. Guy and Kitten (now Kate) are cool to each other. She has attained the rank of captain and is now leader of the THUNDER Squad (which appears to have a few new members as well). By the end of the story it is revealed that she and Guy do still have feelings for one another. He, too, has attained the rank of captain.
Although NoMan's consciousness can still be housed in only one body at a time, he now has the ability to set his other bodies about doing simply tasks and monitor them from time-to-time. He no longer feels pain or hunger or desire or pleasure. "The Immortal Agent, they call him. But in many ways, he is already dead. A ghost in the machine."
The new Menthor is Colonel James Denmark, formerly of United states Navy Intelligence. He is the leader of the Super Agent Task Force. Raven has a new costume with enhanced abilities.
Storywise, a rogue russian general named Uri Kronz has captured the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces base at Kaleningrad. His first act is to detroy a civilian Carnival Princess cruise ship just to show he is serious. His plan is to sell off the weapons to the highest bidders in order to jumpstart the moribund Russian ecomomy. Menthor divides the THUNDER Agents into three squads, all with specific goals and objectives. The fight is brutal, but it ends in a never-to-be-resolved cliffhanger.
PIN-UPS: The last feature in the archive is the pin-ups from all previous issues: Iron Maiden by George Perez; Dynamo by Pat Broderick; Menthor by George Perez; NoMan by Steve Ditko; Phonicia by John Workman; Lightning by Jerry Ordway; Iron Maiden by stan drake; (another) NoMan by Steve ditko; and a truly hideous double-page pin-up of all the agents in action by Mark Texeira.
"I haven't read the posts about Wally Wood's THUNDER Agents yet."
I look forward to reading your thoughts.
"They cost less than today's comics..."
I often use that as a rubric when buying backissues... as well as not buying new ones.
"I'm ready to read and talk about the two DC series and the IDW series when you are."
I think I'm going to take a few days off from this discussion to simulate the passage of time between series. That will give you the opportunity to catch up on the Deluxe series while I read the DC series.
There is one more Thunder Agents comic from the 1980s (1987) published while the ownership of the property was contested.
Here is Tom Breevort’s commentary (and I think the whole issue) https://tombrevoort.com/2022/06/11/brand-echh-t-h-u-n-d-e-r-1/
Here is his conclusion:
“It definitely wants to be taken seriously in that way that emo teenagers want to be taken seriously, and it’s similarly overwrought. But somehow, there is a spark of something in this mess that brings me back to it. It’s somehow earnest in its cynicism.”
Which echoes my thoughts from back in the 1980s. If there had been an issue #2, I would have bought it.
Here is another review: https://majorspoilers.com/2018/07/01/retro-review-thunder-1-summer-...
CODENAME: DANGER was another Deluxe comic that focused on a rotating group of experts who are hired to undertake dangerous missions. In effect, a cross between Justice League and Mission: Impossible! One potential recruit was the Sean Connery James Bond!
It lasted only four issues and I don't have the last one but the first two were pretty good.
"There is one more Thunder Agents comic from the 1980s (1987) published while the ownership of the property was contested."
The only thing I know about that series is from the THUNDER Agents wiki: "A second issue was almost done. This series was not quite set in the same universe as the original series and took the characters in a different direction."
"CODENAME: DANGER was another Deluxe comic"
Oh, I did not know that! I was wondering if the last issue might have been a crossover but, judging from the cover, it doesn't look like it.
That wiki I mentioned also says: "In the early 1990s, Rob Liefeld stated that he had the rights to publish T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and advanced Dave Cockrum money to illustrate the series through Liefeld's Extreme Studios. Ads for a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents series appeared in Extreme Studios and Maximum Press books cover-dated February 1996 indicating that the series would feature 'stories by Rob Liefeld, Jim Valentino, Stephen Platt, Chap Yaep and Dan Fraga'."
I don't know when (or under what circumstances), between the mid-'80s and the time of his death that John Carbonaro wouldn't have owned the rights, but personally I'm just as happy this version didn't get made.
I was right about when my Wally Wood's THUNDER Agents will be delivered (1/26) but I mistakenly said Wednesday instead of Thursday. The package actually arrived at my post office today, but not in time for today's delivery.
Now that you mention it, I don't see any pants cuffs. I think you're looking at the straps of her high heels. Her legs match her top, though, so I thing she is clothed (albeit not leaving much to the imagination).
DELUXE COMICS - WALLY WOOD'S THUNDER AGENTS
I received my set of the five issues today. I went through the first issue like a knife through butter. The writing is so much better than the originals.
Surprisingly, the issue (and the series) kicks off with one of the "lesser" super-agents, but Raven, drawn by George Perez, has never looked better... even when drawn by Gil Kane. Raven is portrayed here as a "super-spy" in an exotic locale (Bahrain), and a new femme fatale, Phoenicia, is introduced. Like the majority of the stories from the series' original run, this one is only ten pages, but George Perez really knows what to do with them. It is written by Dann thomas.
A better approach to Raven. Looking forward to more.
The Menthor helmet is now in the possession of a woman named Consuela (or "Connie"). While she wears it she can communicate with the consciousness of John Janus, the original Menthor. there are some Ditko-esque effects toward the end, but the story is drawn by Keith Giffen in what was then known as his "new style" (which stands out as much from the other artists' as Manny Stallman's did in the '60s). Again, like Perez, Giffen packs a lot of storytelling into only ten pages.
Like Raven, they have expanded on the Menthor concept very well. Giffen’s art style is far from my favorite, but the storytelling works.,
Lightning is really showing the effect is super speed is having on his aging.
They don’t show guy out of costume. If his aging is visible to the naked eye, it’s hard to tell.
Finally, a 20-page story. Even the 10-page stories have a lot more actual story in them than before.
They were ahead of their time in diversity. In the first issue they have introduced an Asian Thunder Squad character and a Latina unofficial superagent.
They even got Stan Drake, who draws women as well as Wally did, to do an Iron Maiden spot illustration. The first issue also has an ad for Stan Drake’s collection of his graphic novels featuring Kelly Green. I highly recommend this collection.
As easy as it was to plow through the first issue, I’ll be reacting to the other four and your comments quickly.
When you get to #3, please clue me in to what's on pp. 11-12 of the Iron Maiden story.
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