The literary subterfuge and obfuscation surrounding the re-launch over at DC Comics continues as Nick Spencer blazes new trails in the annals of these legendary Wally Wood characters. Spencer, who is best known for his creator-owned series at Image Comics (Existence 2.0/3.0, Forgetless, Shuddertown, and Morning Glories) leaped feet first into his work at DC Comics by choosing to launch a totally new vision of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. His first story arc puts us right into the middle of an on-going adventure and a full-fledged assault on a S.P.I.D.E.R. (Secret People’s International Directorate for Extralegal Revenue),terrorist base. Added into this fast-moving story is the fact that a team of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. recruiters are attempting to fill the ranks of the team after the death of several of their members.
Yes, fans of the original Wood series read that right, most of the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents are dead (NoMan and Raven are the only original members still alive, and NoMan has been on the inactive list for several years). For whatever reasons, Spencer and DC have decided to not muck about with the original Wood line-up, and have determined that the best way to resurrect the iconic series is to deliver an essentially new cast, set in modern times with all of the shifting shades of gray that go along with living in today’s world bring with it.
What they have kept is that utilizing the power tools left behind by the original tem will eventually kill you if you use them too much, or to long. As we’ve already observed, this approach opens up all sorts of novel possibilities and potentially preventing the team from becoming stale (by keeping the heroes constant while always allowing for the “swapping out” of the human characters behind the suits themselves). To be sure, there is a down side to this approach (anyone who still stuck on the original members might have issues with all of this — we don’t).
Anyway, Spencer is electing to tell his tale in numerous parallelly-unfolding stories as we see not only the current action, but are constantly flashing back to pervious events that have lead us to this point in the story. This unique storytelling maneuver sets up a compelling overall mosaic as we are both thrust forward at a breakneck pace in the present while concurrently lollygagging to a crawl (issue #2 focused in on Henry Cosgei a Kenyan Olympic-grade runner who is the new Lightning).
This fast/slow back-and-forth is a tad jarring, but it truly does serve this opening arc well (one is reminded of the past-prestaging-the-future storytelling motif from the Highlander films). No, these are so not your father’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, but, at the same time, they are — most assuredly — the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and after some 6 issues, do stand up well to the originals.
When reading this comic, it is always important to remember that — even as initially conceivedby Wood — The Agents were never meant to be your typical heroes, first none of them were imbued with their powers, they donned special pieces of equipment that not only empowered them, but would ultimately doom them. Plus (and this is perhaps more important aty least as far as the over-all feel of the comic went), they were more super-powered “secret” agents than superheroes who happened to work alongside of an espionage group (like Captain America sometimes works with S.H.I.E.L.D.
Nope, these guys were spies & soldiers first, and superheroes second. They didn’t fight guys who wanted to rob banks or run the underworld, they fought whole groups of villains who wanted to topple America and take over the world. That is the feeling that still permeates this series as this new team goes up against the Spider cell that they attack in this first story. Even as it plays out, we see subtle layers of smoke and mirrors that define spy novels. People you think you can trust are compromised while others who come across as villains are actually moles working on the side of the angels (and still have hidden motives).
The current methodology of monthly comicbook storytelling is to stretch out a tale across five of six issues so that it can be re-packaged and re-sold in book stores as a compiled “graphic novel.” On a business level, this is totally understandable as well as a business practice that works quite well. From a fan level — for someone reading the monthly comics— this often means that much of each story arc feels like padding to make that book-length page count. None of that is present here in the new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents comic. The story feels organic and unfolds at an acceptable pace, making each chapter as compelling as the last.
Nick Spencer has hit on a winning formula and is utilizing his own rather intuitive storytelling abilities to spin a yarn that is well worth reading.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing comicbooks for some 30 years. During that time, his reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular comicbook articles and reviews.