There's something about fucked-up childhoods that appeals to comic book writers. Blame it on Batman and Superman, two superheroes defined by the deaths of their parents in radically different ways. For Superman, the sacrifice his parents made to save his life as their planet crumbled around them is an omnipresent symbol of the heights to which he must aspire -- being the lone survivor of an advanced, superior civilization tends to make you overcompensate. For Batman, it's the opposite -- a relentless reminder that every failure could mean another kid growing up alone to become either his next partner or his next arch-nemesis or just dead. And in Colleen Franklin, Nick Spencer just might have his own doomed heroine out to use her parents' sacrifice and loss as a weapon against those who have wronged her.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents #8 picks up where the origin exploration of #7 left off -- Colleen suited up and ready to kick ass in the name of dysfunctional family ties, hoping for reunions and answers from her mysterious mother and unwilling to bend to whoever gets in her way. We're treated to a bit more of an explanation to how Colleen came to be in the dark about her family tree, but in typical Spencer fashion, it's a tease rather than a reveal. At the moment, Colleen is Batman's single-minded obsession paired with Superman's sacrificial origin, a figure who has come from a fantastic background and at the ultimate cost of two parents in love but without the big boy scout's feel-good, touchy-feely moralization.
Dan Panosian's pencils are a fitting physical manifestation of that image, all harsh lines and stark, expressive backgrounds. The chilling opening, as Colleen treats us to the first of many instances of her inheritance of her mother's stone cold effectiveness, couldn't be more at odds with Mike Grell's classic pensmanship and is all the better for it:
The two artists are used as embodiments of the contrasting motifs of the different eras. In the modern day Colleen is a relentless machine operating in the name of what she believes to be justice, a desire for answers no matter the cost and Panosian's jagged-edge style emphasizes that with its sharp corners jutting out at the reader, inflicting visual pain as the character herself goes through a certain kind of torture. Grell's work is more emotional, full of pained expressions rather than pained actions. The emphasis lies in the faces of the characters, who are suffering for their own justice, the idea that love should be allowed to cross all boundaries:
The sentiments expressed by Spencer's plot may not be revolutionary but the way he utilizes these different artists like palette choices is revolutionary, a thoroughly modern technique that has few peers, even as the time shifts and perspective juggling becomes increasingly more common in the post-Tarantino era. Whether Spencer will ultimately be able to pull that juggling off with the rest of the plot remains to be seen but at this moment it's moot, the act itself is so fun to watch and so excitingly new that any quibbles over potential future missteps would be asinine.
What is fair ground, though, are the continually irrelevant and pointless flashback footnotes that Spencer has included in these last two issues. The throwback Silver Age dialogue stands at odds with everything else Spencer is doing and despite the wonderfully retro work of Nick Dragotta and Lee Loughride these asides feel silly in the worst way. Tonally they're jarring and visually they stand at odds as well. If Spencer can make them feel less shocking maybe they'll eventually work but for the moment they're ugly sores on the face of otherwise excellent entries.
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.
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