If Nick Spencer’s take on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents has been about any one thing, it’s the collision between past, present and future. Outside the narrative, you can see this reflected in how Spencer has coordinated the presentations of the series, which has featured guest art teams from different portions of comics history, with this third issue featuring veteran writer/artist Howard Chaykin.
Chaykin is a perfect fit for this issue’s look back at the past, present and future of NoMan, a blue-skinned multiple man with more than just a passing physical resemblance to Dr. Manhattan. Imbuing his characters with hard lines and often ugly features, Chaykin offers a sharp contrast to the seamless, note-perfect world that Cafu depicts- vintage pulp aesthetics versus cool digital iciness.
As NoMan’s history moves from the past to the present, a step at a time, Chaykin depicts his growing inhumanness with evolving textures that get closer and closer to Cafu’s smoothness. It’s the type of trick that only works in comics and only works when you’ve got two artists of Chaykin and Cafu’s caliber on board.
But of course, everything still rests squarely on Spencer’s shoulders, who has been building up the world of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents at a deliciously torturous pace, handing out information to the readers like scraps to a hungry dog. For the moment, what Spencer teases, from a secret shared between NoMan and Colleen to the bomb of a twist dropped at the issue’s end, is dynamic enough to potentially fuel this series for a year or two at the least. Spencer’s pacing feels so confident and self-assured that you can’t help but let him lead you on, blindly.
The real question is whether Spencer truly knows what he’s doing, whether the hints he drops and the questions he poses have real meat to them or if he’s a creator whose creations are really just tugging him along. But isn’t that the fun? What use is a comic whose every move is broadcast from a mile away? We’ve put Spencer up on a pedestal precisely because he demands risk and he doesn’t do what you expect and even if T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is a disappointment of Lost magnitude in the end, will it have been any less fun of a ride? Certainly not.