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T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents #9

Posted: Monday, August 1, 2011
By: Nick Hanover

Nick Spencer
Dan Panosian, Mike Grell, Nick Dragotta, Brad Anderson (c), Val Staples (c), Lee Loughridge (c)
The past several issues of Nick Spencer's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents have been structured around the conflict between Silver Age sentimentality and modern sensibilities, a conflict explicitly laid out right at the beginning with Len's acknowledgment that his fundamental flaw as Dynamo is that he "was always so damn trusting." Where other epic heroes fall due to their hubris, the original Dynamo, as depicted by Spencer, fell because he couldn't adapt to the modern era, where trust is a weakness rather than a virtue.

Sent on one final mission in order to "save" his wife and their child, Dynamo is forced to come to terms with his obsolescence in an era where death is an overwhelming force in comics and the optimistic colors of the Silver Age are muted and washed out. Dynamo isn't just fighting one last supervillain (fittingly an especially grim Dynavac), he's fighting the tide of time itself, knowing full well he won't survive because that's simply not the nature of the form. It's no coincidence that Spencer has tasked Mike Grell with the art duties for this aspect of the story, as Grell not only helped usher in the "dark" era of comicdom with Jon Sable Freelance but also forced one of the Silver Age's goofiest heroes into the modern era with Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters.

But where Green Arrow was able to successfully transform himself into an "urban hunter," Dynamo is keenly aware that his role is as a sacrifice -- there's simply no other choice for him. Dynamo recognizes that Iron Maiden is far more suited for the modern era than he could ever be and so his sacrifice is meant to enable her to reach that potential. Their relationship itself was even built on that trust, specifically Dynamo's unwavering belief that there is good within Iron Maiden.

Iron Maiden herself operates on a different kind of trust, specifically the trust that everyone else is out to hurt her and the only way around that is to hurt them first. As Colleen makes her way to Iron Maiden, we witness her preparing herself not for a loving reunion but for mortal combat. The battle between the two is exactly what you'd expect, bloody and fraught with peril but deadlocked, the two natural matches for each other. The greatest moment of the issue, and perhaps of this entire arc, comes at the end when Iron Maiden has the upper hand and points her gun at her own child. Colleen merely looks at her mother and offers up this stoic dare:

Is Colleen's statement a test to see how true to her nature her mother is? An attempt to see how little her mother cares about everyone else? Or is it something more complex, a need by Colleen to prove to her mother that she's every bit as hardened and unafraid of death?

While some fans have taken issue with Spencer's pacing with this arc and the "low stakes" of the developments, that's beside the point. This was never meant to be an arc about surprise, it was instead always intended to be about the nature of trust. Colleen trusts her mom to be cold and distant and incapable of looking past the need to survive at whatever cost, which makes it possible for Colleen to get the jump on her with her teammates, a move Iron Maiden would never have contemplated herself. Colleen's tactical use of trust is the natural combination of her father's naivety and her mother's ruthlessness and adaptability.

The advanced nature of that kind of plotting also once again serves to make the final section of the book useless, an aesthetically pleasing but narratively bankrupt addition to a story that has otherwise been extremely economical. As much of a treat as Nick Dragotta and Lee Loughridge's work has been in these sections, they've functioned as bonus material at best and a complete derail at worst. Offering nothing to the larger scope of Spencer's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents stories, these sections have also needlessly muddied the waters of in-story continuity. Self-labelled as "the '60s sequence," these areas force a question of the passing of time.

If these sections are set some time in the '60s, and Dynamo's final battle is in the '80s and the Colleen/Iron Maiden bout is in the '00s...just how fucking old is Iron Maiden? Of course, given Spencer's love for messing with the concept of time, maybe this will all be explained soon, but for the moment it might be best to just ignore these sections altogether. After all, when the main story is so riveting, who needs bonus material anyway?

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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