By Todd Allen
When DC announced the 52 relaunch, there were a handful of titles I was concerned about: Xombi, Legion of Super-Heroes, Jonah Hex and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. As it turns out, the only one I got burned on was the criminally under-appreciated Xombi. Last week, the new volume of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents came out.
The first question is: “Did the last series count or is this a total reboot?”
The first answer is: “The last series counts. Think of this like you think of the next B.P.R.D. series. It’s a number #1, but it’s clearly the next chapter.
This new volume is ever-so-slightly tweaked. Nick Spencer (Morning Glories, Infinite Vacation, Iron Man 2.0) is still writing it. The new artist is Wes Craig (Guardians of the Galaxy, Batman Strikes). Craig seems like a good fit for the story. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents tends to swap back and forth in time from the ’60s to the present and Craig’s style fits both time periods without needing a lot of altering. I’m not so sure I don’t like him on the book better than CAFU and I didn’t have any issues with CAFU.
The other tweak is in the story structure. The previous series had parallel tracts: the main story was in the present, while a series of backups were set in the past and gave the backstory of the history of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. This new #1 is set only in the present. When some backstory is revealed, the flashback is narrated from the present. This keeps the backstory in a tighter context and keeps the story moving forward in more direct way than the last series. The previous series may have been structured with the old DC $3.99 and add a back-up feature format in mind, prior to everything rolling back to $2.99 and 20 pages. This direct approach is a better way to go when you’re dealing with 20 pages of space.
The basic premise of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is that there’s a non-governmental agency (“Higher United Nations”) that has some tech items that grant the users super powers… but using the powers burns up the lifeforce/body of the users. It’s been around since the 1960s. Their old terrorist foes have resurfaced and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. has just re-staffed a fresh crop of agents. (That was pre-52 reboot volume of the series.)
So what’s going on here? Two threads have not quite converged yet. Thread number one has agents Dynamo, Lightning and NoMan on a peacekeeping mission to “Subterranea” when someone from their past shows up. Thread number two has Toby Henston (the new Menthor) and Colleen Franklin having a little discussion about how the Menthor helmet was built and a… quirk to it’s design that’s a little disturbing to Henston.
Thread number two is by far the more interesting and picks at some emotional scabs for the characters.
Yes, this is a legacy title. It’s not about generational heroes, but there is a history to the organization and who wore the devices in the past. Unlike the last, pre-52 reboot version of Justice Society, this is legacy espionage series. Cold war legacy where the “super” in “superspy” is a bit more literal and the gadgets are the powers.
I like this relaunch quite a bit, but I fear some of the high notes may be dulled if you haven’t read the first volume. Oh, you should be able to pick up the gist of what’s happening, but there’s some subtle horror in the details that might not hit quite as hard.
Call this strongly recommended if you’ve read the first series and just recommended if you haven’t. That said, the tpb of the first series is out. The first series, including a free preview, is also over at Comixology, so explore at your leisure.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.