SUNDAY SLUGFEST: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (of 6)A comic review article by: Nick Boisson, Ray Tate, Shawn Hill
Nick: Finally, they're back! Nick Spencer's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents are back at DC... for a limited time only.
Nick: As a fan of Spencer's brief time at DC, I was ecstatic to hear that Marvel was letting him continue his DC story without making him jump through hoops. But what makes it perfect is that Spencer definitely has not slowed down with this story. It picks up pretty much right where the pre-Flashpoint series drops off.
Ray: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is a largely insubstantial affair. The title characters are incidental to their own book, and this premiere should actually be called The Toby and Colleen Show. Toby and Colleen appear to be operatives for the organization, but mainly they're a crazy, mismatched annoying pair that grate on the reader's patience. Toby and Colleen stand on daises in the Hall of Nick Spencer Characters I Cannot Tolerate. In fact, Toby recalls this git from Spencer's Secret Avengers Black Widow issue:
Shawn: Maybe it's a nostalgia trip for me, but Spencer's first series prompted me to get a run of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents back issues, and to unpack the history of the characters a little bit.
Ray: Honestly, I was never a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents reader and couldn't see the big deal about them. Without Wally Wood, the series never would have gotten off the ground, but everybody knows that Wally Wood is a better babe and alien artist. Neither of which was in the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. Just a bunch of boring-looking guys.
Shawn: I'd always ignored them before, even in the '80s when I tried a lot of independent titles. The concept has attracted at least three of my favorite creators over the years (Wally Wood, Dave Cockrum and George Perez), and something about the retro-styled backups in the recent series especially got my attention. The “next generation of legacy heroes” thing has been done to death, but my attention was caught by the inclusion of another favorite creator, Mike Grell, and I was hooked on the idea of the U.N. sponsored team of operatives who benefit from amazing but deadly technology and face a high mortality rate.
And we learn this issue that Toby becomes someone else when donning the Menthor helmet (that's the purpose of it), and Colleen is every bit as ruthless as her assassin mother; she seems the logical product of the mismatched pairing of her parents.
Ray: This was another reason I disliked the new volume of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. It felt like I had slept on the bus, got off in a daze and ended up somewhere I didn't recognize. What the hell? Ipswich? As a jumping-on point it leaves much for which to be desired. I didn't understand that Colleen, the titian, had an assassin mother. I was also ultimately confused by Toby's role, besides being an intellectual jackass.
Nick: Nick Spencer back on writing duties for this series is something that I genuinely enjoy. In the first series, Nick Spencer was working on introducing each agent while they were all on their first mission. Then we got a great four-issue story that both gave a wonderful introduction to Colleen's character and gave us adventures from the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents of the past. With this series, Spencer is trying to give us an actual adventure/mission with this team. We also get a quick introduction to the new Raven for the team, who -- unlike the rest of the team -- is not wearing a Thunder belt that decreases her life span.
Ray: I did like the design of Raven and the art overall, which at times appears to be a slightly more detailed Wally Wood. However, I don't see the need for Raven since Hawkman is back in the DC Universe, and he's the winged man with the resonance of history. The only thing better would have been a Hawkgirl similar to the one we had in Justice League. Raven seems likable, an astounding revelation given Spencer's panache for creating characters you wouldn't want to sit next to while eating, but she's just not given a lot to do. It's all on the humans without fancy accoutrements.
Shawn: I think the point of the new Raven is that she's a product of Earth-tech, not Thanagarian (if the Hawks even still are, I have no idea), and she's already got a target on her back as Colleen so cynically notes. I'm surprised you'd rather have Hawkgirl/Woman back, as that character has seemed like a misfire to me from the start. Shayera she never really was, and the thing about T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, the gender doesn't really matter. Except for NoMan (who's a robot I think?) anyone could be asked to put on the belt, etc. I mean, do we need another Dynamo in a world with Superman and Cyborg? The Agents do, because of the kinds of missions they go on.
Nick: We get a nice bit of character interaction between Toby and Colleen that I enjoyed quite a bit, and not just because they go on a bit about Jean-Luc Godard's wonderful New Wave film, Breathless (oh, Nick Spencer dialogue, how I love thee). We are introduced to what the Menthor helmet actually does to its host and get a nice moment where Toby realizes that it was his own conscience that killed his brother.
Ray: The Breathless scene made both characters appear pretentious. It's not because they're attending such a film. Rather, it's the whole meaningless conversation about the translation, and the possibility that other versions exist with different translations. I can't remember if Video Watchdog ever mentioned such a thing, but I'll assume Spencer did his research or was personally involved in scouting out such translations. So what? It just seems that the characters are talking out of a film book rather than talking. It's worse than the previous scene where they pull each other's guns and hold each other at bay. I would have reprimanded them for that. I would have swatted both with a newspaper after Breathless. Real people just do not talk like this.
Shawn: I didn't mind the Breathless scene at all, I found it funny. It may be pretentious, but one thing foreign film fans do, if they know the language, is judge the quality of the translation, and "correct" it after the fact. The scene showed that despite their animosity, the two are also trying to build a kind of closeness. I can understand the dislike for Toby, he really is kind of a twerp, but that also fits his role in the comic: the Menthor helmet, explained in such detail, actually does make the wearer a better person, thanks to that morality algorithm. So it's dramatically useful to have the person chosen to wear it be a loser when he doesn't.
Nick: The whole "arguing the ending of Breathless thing"...I may have done that on a few occasions. But I know I'm pretentious.
Shawn: Breathless is also an apt choice for this particular series, as the French New Wave really sets the tone for the era in which T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents debuted, and that wacky sort of mod vibe they always had. Looking back at the old issues and reprints I have, the basic nature of the concept seems to me to signify mostly unrealized potential. To have them written by someone who's seen Breathless gives me hope this is the incarnation to finally realize some of it.
Nick: While Toby and Colleen are the main focus of this issue rather than the agents themselves, they were scenes that we needed. Spencer dropped a lot on us in the previous series and some form of resolution needed to come to it. Also, the scene with the two drawing one another's guns at each other before Toby asking Colleen to a movie is just a fun moment all its own.
Ray: Since this book is called T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents you would expect the characters on the cover to be in the book for the majority. I'm buying a book called T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, not Film School Dropouts With Guns.
Nick: This might make me sound awful, but I would so read Film School Dropouts With Guns! It sounds like a new Alex Robinson comic. But one thing that I will say about the story is that it leaves those who did not read the previous series behind.
Nick: I understand -- even appreciate -- that it is a continuation of that series, but a #1 does have certain obligations that need to be met. The biggest: being readily available for new readers to hop on. I'm all for fan service, but this is it in its worst form. And as a fan, I want others who are jumping in with DC's New 52 to pick this issue up and want to continue along until #6. Otherwise, why make it a #1 at all?
Shawn: Because they have to make EVERYTHING a "new number one!" at this point. And probably for the next month or two, until the New 52 isn't so new. Even Marvel is doing it, for even less reason. I know at my comic shop many of the previous issues are still on the shelves, and part of the fun of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is delving into back issues. So I didn't need the number one to justify itself, beyond delivering a solid story with good art. And while I have no idea who the villain is at the end, the fact that he sends everyone who recognizes him into panic mode is certainly a tension builder.
Nick: I was in no way familiar with Wes Craig's art before this issue. I had enjoyed Cafu's run on the prior series and when they announced the series' return, I was hoping that he would come along with Spencer. Now, I cannot wait to see what Craig has in store for this miniseries! Quite a contrast from Cafu's almost-cinematic look and feel on the previous volume, Craig exhibits Silver Age-like lines and forms to his panels. Some might say it looks cartoony in a belittling manner, but Craig's work manages to make panels where Toby and Colleen are sitting on a bench look just as interesting and engaging as the action scenes in this issue. And his detail comes through in a few panels. On Page 8, where Colleen tells the new Raven that Toby shot the last Raven, you see Colleen's fingers form a gun behind Toby's hilarious facial expression of surprise. Again, not an action scene, but a panel that captures a reader all the same.
Shawn: Wes Craig isn't an artist I know, but this issue he hits a mark somewhere between Ryan Sook and Peter Snejberg, which is a pretty good (if kind of Vertigo-esque) way to go. He keeps the action intense with tilting panels in the initial sequence when things go quickly awry underground, and while the sequence with the new Raven is less exciting, the personal interactions of Colleen and Toby are dramatic and intense. Many of the questions I held over from the first series are answered by their exposition, but Craig makes even the flashbacks interesting with details of fashion and facial expression.
Nick: Craig's art is also perfectly complimented by Hi-Fi on colors. The characters in Subterranea come off as bright and poppy against the dark backdrop of the underground city with oranges, light blues and purples. Hi-Fi always knows how to get the artist's work to come off that much better.
This issue is a fantastic continuation to a series that I adored and I am definitely on board for #2. That said, I am just glad that I was not a newcomer to the series. While the art is something to marvel at, Spencer starts this book off with a limited audience in a time when DC is bursting with new content for new readers.
Nick Boisson grew up on television, Woody Allen, video games, Hardy Boys mysteries and DC comic books, with the occasional Spider-Man issue thrown in for good measure. He currently roams the rainy streets of Miami, Florida, looking for a nice tie, a woman that gets him, and the windbreaker he lost when he was eight. He sometimes writes things down on Twitter at @nitroslick.
Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups, where he reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.