Monday, October 11, 2010

The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents are back. Again. Whatever.

I recall when I was a hard core DC fan, and a modest Wildstorm reader, but was ecstatic when the former absorbed the latter. I wanted to see DC pick up some of Wildstorm's edge and talent. Instead, DC poached the creators willing to stick around to grind out the s.o.s. big name books, then nit-picked and generally marginalized the rest. Soon, Wildstorm became Vertigo-for-Super-Heroes, as well as a studio to pawn licensed properties upon. Not only did I lose one place I enjoyed reading comics from entirely, but the appeal of DC has been steadily diminishing as well.

Which gets me to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. I was first introduced to them through my back issue dealer in the early '90s, specifically David Singer's Deluxe Comics series on the mid-'80s. Singer brought together the finest artists of the day: George Pérez, Dave Cockrum, Keith Giffen, Jerry Ordway and more to honor the Tower Comics series that did the same in the '60s. Singer had claimed the property had fallen into to the public domain, but lost any moral high ground when it turned out he came to that conclusion while associated with the properties' alleged current owner, John Carbonaro. Previously, Carbonaro had taken several stabs at publishing new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents stories, and to put it mildly, they did not feature the finest artists of their day (although Mark Texeira later improved enormously.) However questionable Carbonaro's claims might have been, and the debate left the door open for a slew of publishers to attempt their own T.H.U.N.D.E.R. revivals at the time, Carbonaro was tenacious enough in his claim to take all comers in a court of law. However, that claim led to one stalled effort after another, so that the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents announced more returns to publishing than had actual issues produced.

I went back and found old copies and reprints of the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents stories, featuring gorgeous work by legends like Wally Wood, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Reed Crandall, Al Williamson and many more. They were perfect time capsule of swingin' sixties attitude, offering super-spy adventures along the lines of Bond and the Man from U.N.C.L.E., but with the same tongue-in-cheek humor as Matt Helm and Get Smart. In other words, already well out of step with the '80s, and absolutely foreign to the new millennium. DC already licensed the property once a few years back, offering a radical new interpretation that Carbonaro found so unpalatable that he pulled the plug on the whole project. Even if Carbonaro was tone deaf to the original material, offering sincere Silver Age pathos in his attempts, at least he wasn't post-modern.

Well, John Carbonaro died a few years back, and DC seems to now hold the rights to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. To some degree, Jim Lee's Wildstorm was a successor to Tower, even if it traded more in sober military conspiracies (though the light-hearted cheesecake of Gen-13 would have done Woody proud.) It might have been nice seeing T.H.U.N.D.E.R. integrated into that universe, but I understand they will now be part of the DC proper. I guess I get to look forward to the rape of Kitten, the murder and replacement of the clumsy Dynamo, Iron Maiden becoming a sadomasochist (well, more so,) and NoMan no longer getting his kicks by wasting millions of government dollars on android copies of himself. In the geekiest depths of my heart, I'd always hoped I or some other fanboy could one day sort out the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents rights and do the concept justice. Instead, they've been gobbled up by The Man, and will be treated to inferior, limp efforts while Superman and Batman keep all the names. Just look at DC's much-ballyhoo'd Red Circle line, which was meant to see J. Michael Straczynski go all Supreme Power on it. Instead, he wrote four introductory comics, one for each character, and then passed the actual series on to nobodies.

Truth to tell, the new book has a decent creative team. I liked the first issue of Nick Spencer's Existence 2.0 and I think I got my copy of the trade collection in the mail recently. Cafu's work on the Vixen mini-series was also nice looking. Maybe this will have the right look and attitude to work. On the other hand, the new designs and swagger positively scream The Authority, and I have to wonder who this book is for. With most of the original cast replaced, I can't see it appealing to older fans like myself, and I think the Millar crowd is too hip for acronyms and names like Dynamo and Lightning. Given my druthers, I'd have kept the creative team, but also the 1960s setting and cast. Think Mad Men, and you'll know where I'm coming from. I'd have no problem with Len Brown washing his manhood in a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. lavatory in hopes of getting the smell of Iron Maiden off before going home to his wife. That's the kind of dark but "realistic" approach I could get behind, since that seems to be in the Wally Wood spirit. The maturity seen in most modern comics tends to involve returning to a teen/twentysomething mentality and status quo against all opposition, with the resultant body count. If that's the case, what would the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents have to offer the market? That they pulled the since-tired death and melodrama stunts first?


Luke said...

Don't get me started on this stuff. The Red Circle books were everything that DC fanboys cry and complain for, and I was the only one buying them! And they were awesome! "Nobodies," perhaps, but nobodies with a strong narrative plan and storytelling chops to get it done. The Web and especially The Shield were some of the best superhero comics I have read in ages.

THUNDER Agents? Do they use the power of boredom to defeat their foes?

Diabolu Frank said...

I'm guessing you haven't gotten to read any of the good stuff, just like my MLJ experiences have mostly been bad (the '80s revival and most of !mpact, although I liked the '90s Jaguar.) Between my bias and not liking the Red Circle redesigns, I never gave this last lot a chance. I think Archie should either sell those characters to someone who will get behind them (Dynamite?) or put some money into developing them outside of comics. Sleeping with the enemy just assured their super-hero line will always be treated like three day old fish.