Sunday, April 12, 2009

Single Issue Review: THUNDER Agents #1

In the mid-1960s, comics experienced something of a boom due to demographics. This attracted new players to the comics biz. Tower Books, a small publisher, jumped into the fray with a small line of comics, mostly designed around the THUNDER Agents, although they also had a fairly long-running Archie-type series called Tippy Teen. The books were edited (and partially drawn) by Wally Wood.

One oddity about the series is the price: 25 cents. Although both DC and Marvel published annuals with that cost, they were not trying to market an ongoing, regular series of books that expensively.

The first story features the Thunder Agents, a group of UN commandos. They arrive at a mountain laboratory just as the minions of the Warlord have raided the lab and killed Professor Jennings, the scientist in charge. Fortunately, they did not get away with three of his inventions, which the Thunder Group appropriates:

The belt is assigned to a Leonard Brown who becomes Dynamo, virtually invincible and incredibly strong:

In the story, the Warlord's henchgal, the Iron Maiden, pulls off a series of robberies of rare and valuable radioactive materials under cover of a suspicious fog.

Love the belt; it really makes the costume. The Iron Maiden's gang battles Dynamo, and while he at first has the upper hand, he weakens as the belt saps his reserves and they are able to capture him.

This story is continued later in the issue, as we switch to NoMan. Dr Dunn, an aged scientist, transfers his mind into an android. We learn that he can switch to different android bodies at will. He is given the cloak of Professor Jennings, which gives him the power of invisibility:

NoMan is detailed to defeat another Warlord underling called Demo, who has a beautiful assistant named Satana:

The decision to include sultry female villains was inspired. Although this had been commonly used in the Golden Age (see the Catwoman for the classic example), it had largely ceased due probably to a prohibition in the Comics Code against criminal activity being portrayed as glamorous. Note that this comic was dated November 1965, only a few months before the launch of the Batman TV series in which the male villains would all have good-looking female companions.

We learn that NoMan's android body has great strength and fighting ability, so his powers are not solely defensive. The ability to switch bodies is crucial, as we see here:

Although it does require NoMan to be fairly close to his new body to make the transfer, so it's one of those powers that comes with a negative; he has to bring spare bodies with him wherever he goes. In addition, the invisibility cloak stays with the old body, so he has to retrieve it whenever he makes a switch.

The next story features the most interesting of the Thunder Agents: Menthor. Janus (no other name given) is Thunder's highest-scoring recruit ever, with genius level intelligence and an athletic build. But unknown to Thunder, he's actually a double agent working for the Warlord. He volunteers to wear Professor Jenning's weird helmet, which gives him great mental powers:

But it also has a curious side-effect; it changes the character of Janus from evil to good. And Janus is not aware of what he does while Menthor meaning that when he thinks to help out the Warlord by putting on the helmet, he actually ends up defeating his boss' plans.

The next feature is the Thunder Squad, a non-superpowered group, kind of like the old Impossible Mission gang, with varied abilities:

Only a slight variation on the familiar "smart guy, strong guy, woman, kid" formula.

The final story picks up on the imprisonment of Dynamo by the Iron Maiden. She has been unable to get him to disclose the secret of his belt. She fiddles with the controls, not realizing that she is transmitting a signal to Thunder HQ. NoMan, Menthor and the Thunder Squad are dispatched to investigate.

The Thunder Squad does a good job of destroying most of the Iron Maiden's defenses, so she brings out her hostage. But NoMan has recovered Dynamo's belt and manages to get it to him before being shot (he transfers bodies). Now freed, Dynamo destroys the fortress:

Comments: Overall an excellent introductory issue, with art by Wood, Crandall, Gil Kane and Sekowsky. The characters are interesting, especially Menthor.