TAG TEAM REVIEW: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #10

A comic review article by: Danny Djeljosevic, Nick Hanover
Nick Hanover: For the past few issues of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents I've felt like a teacher presented with some less-than-stellar work from an A+ student. So tell me Danny, am I being too hard on these kids?

Danny Djeljosevic: I think you're judging the more straightforward current story arc based on the more complex first story arc. I feel like it's a story that would normally have comprised a self-contained single issue story, but there's nothing wrong with letting a story breathe, regardless of serialization.

Nick: Fair enough, but for me it goes a bit beyond structure. Let's first take a look at the way this issue opens. We've got Rusty a.k.a. Iron Maiden on a plane that is supposed to be taking her to the life her husband bought for her and their daughter with his life. It's a neat little scene, modern and retro at once, with Mike Grell's stellar pencils giving it a vintage feel while the plotting is straight out of the post-Tarantino era. Rusty soon reveals that the plane trip is not taking her to her new Witness Protection/federal prisoner existence but is instead an extraction mission. And then she murders Bill, her husband's former partner, in cold blood. It's another example of how the Iron Maiden's story is essentially the fable about the frog and the scorpion given a facelift. And I can totally get behind that. But then we get this superfluous extra footage at the end, meant as a sort of juxtaposition of the Iron Maiden that Dynamo thought he knew and loved and the Iron Maiden we all see on a routine basis. Is that representation of the juxtaposition necessary given how clear it is in the A story?

Danny: I have a lot of trouble with the Nick Dragotta-drawn retro flashback stories. They're amusing and amazingly rendered, but I don't think they add anything until this issue. And here, it's mostly effect -- after the stark, violent ending to #10's main story, we get this romanticized flashback that makes the whole affair very somber.

Nick: I did like the contrast this issue but it's the lack of economical storytelling that grates on me. But you have a theory for why these flashback stories are here, don't you?

Danny: Yeah -- I almost feel like someone in editorial told Nick Spencer to add some superheroes to the mix, since this story arc is all about the star-crossed relationship between Dynamo and Iron Maiden and then the Maiden's relationship with her daughter. So, to combat that Spencer made a very retro take on superheroes, which is hilariously the opposite of what DC's trying to do with their properties.

Nick: If this has really been a subversive experiment all along then I will gladly rewrite my reviews. I do find it odd though that the bonus footage makes the main storyline even more confusing than it already was, as it begs some questions about Rusty's real age. Unless she has Elijah Wood disease.

Danny: In this issue, the Maiden looks like she's different ages in each era. Dragotta draws her pretty young looking, Mike Grell draws an obvious adult woman and Dan McDaid's is a bit more haggard, but that could also be because she got her ass kicked.

Nick: That could just be the different styles of each artist, too. McDaid made Colleen look pretty haggard as well. That scene was brutal in general. What have you thought about seeing the extent of Colleen's ruthlessness?

Danny: I think we've seen the Maiden's own ruthlessness in play, so I can't really feel too bad for her. I presume that's the point -- that we see that Colleen isn't too different from her mother, regardless of her side of the law.

Nick: Her decision to let someone else that her mother wronged handle the revenge was an interesting turn. On one hand it showed her refusal to let emotions get in the way of her work but on the other it was another symbol of how like her mother she really is, where she won't let any weaknesses through and listening to her mother would definitely have led to a weak moment.

Danny: But she specifically sought out someone with vendetta to do it, when she could have just had some random sentry finish her off. That speaks to some kind of emotion, no?

Nick: Possibly, or it could just be that she knows that wins her a favor later on down the line. It's telling that Colleen kind of surrounds herself with people who are looking for a certain kind of familial revenge, like Toby.

Nick: She seems to like to use those kinds of outcasts rather than the normal kind. So maybe you are on to something and her decision to let another orphan with a vendetta do her job for her is just Colleen's way of venting.

Danny: I almost want to extrapolate a sense of compassion out of it, for a woman whose life the Maiden totally ruined, but I also think Colleen is messing with her own mother by giving her an unexpected end.

Nick: Business AND pleasure, I suppose. I'm not sure that's the end of the Iron Maiden, though. But maybe that's just my finely honed comic skepticism towards death speaking.

Danny: Ha, I feel like death is pretty finite in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, considering how expendable the Agents themselves are.

Nick: Weirdly, though, the villains don't seem to be as expendable. Perhaps because villainy doesn't really call for a lot of noble sacrifices.

Nick: There was also just something lacking in that end, both as a climax to the final arc of the book before it goes on hiatus and as Iron Maiden's "final" hurrah. There's also the fact that Colleen had another woman finish her mother off.

Nick: It's possible that I'm reading too much into that, but given the beginning segment's display of how Rusty used an all-female crew to her advantage, I don't think it's too unreasonable to imagine it might be more than a coincidence.

Danny: Iron Maiden uses an all-female staff, but doesn't have seem to have a whole lot of sympathy for other women. Remember when she only saves one slave-girl on that sultan's yacht? Conversely, Colleen's sympathy in using Paige conversely has a streak of self-service to it, considering she's using the poor woman to have a certain effect on her mom. At least, the way I see it.

Nick: I meant more that Rusty seems to have an effect on women. Granted, Paige might be more of a challenge than normal, but Iron Maiden seems to be into challenges. Where do you see this series going after this?

Danny: Once it comes back from hiatus, I imagine something more premise-inclusive. While I totally dug the detour this book took, I imagine a lot of readers were thinking, "where are all the superheroes?"

Nick: At this point most of the introductions are out of the way as well, which leaves plenty of room for Spencer to move the series forward. I liked the way the main story was set up and appreciated the way Spencer has let this story move at its own pace, and the B story was an improvement this time around. But I still found it unnecessary and overall found the ending to this arc to be a little underwhelming. My expectations were high though, I will admit.

Danny: It feels slight at 20 pages a month, but I predict this will read perfectly fine in one complete package.

Nick: You're probably right, and I look forward to seeing it then.

When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.

Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter as @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics.

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