I’ve been reading & re-reading a lot of THUNDER Agents tales of late. By way of hopefully starting a trend of longer reviews, this is my thoughts on the seventh issue…
Out of the first eight issues of THUNDER Agents, #7 definitely stands out as the best to me. Is it, perhaps, also the best issue of the entire 20-issue run? It must be in the running.
Obviously, none of these books are too shabby. All of them have Wally Wood, for starters, who created the concept for the newly-founded (but sadly short-lived) Tower Comics in 1965, shortly after… um, a less than satisfying stint on Daredevil for Marvel Comics. It seems that Woody and Stan Lee didn’t get along too well. Can you imagine? An opinionated creator having difficulties with Stan?! That must be a one-off! 🙂
Most of the TA lead features, starring Dynamo, have Wood either laying-out, pencilling or inking… often two or all three of the above… and sometimes he did the scripting too. In addition to Wood, these books also regularly carried work by major names such as Reed Crandall, Gil Kane and Steve Ditko. You might well wonder why Tower didn’t fare better…
Personally I suspect the double-length, 25-cent format was one thing working against it, which never seemed to go over with regular comics (it worked OK for annuals, though). Perhaps, too, these books were a little subdued and lacking in glitz compared to Stan’s aggressive hyperbole & high camp over at Marvel—the Tower stuff had more in common with DC’s output in some ways.
Still, there are two reasons why #7 is such a great issue—the first and the last of the book’s five stories, featuring Dynamo and Menthor respectively. Let’s look at the lead Dynamo tale—“Wanted: Suspicion of Treason”.
Wood co-plotted this story with Tim Brent, but the actual script is by Wood. And it’s pretty terrific… this is the moment where the Dynamo strip goes all-out film noir, and Wood attacks the theme with great relish. Can you imagine a better splash page? Dynamo, hiding out in the sewers, sitting in the shadows looking somewhat disheveled & unshaven. Who wouldn’t want to know where this story was going?
GCD credits Dan Adkins with the pencils of this strip (and the cover), but bear in mind that Wood almost always supplied layouts in addition to his distinctive finishing—this bears little resemblance to solo Adkins work, and it’s definitely Woody’s show.
The hardboiled noir vibe is punctuated nicely by featuring recurring baddie the Iron Maiden, in her civilian identity (“Rusty”), playing the femme fatale. Dynamo, in his Leonard Brown guise, fails to recognise her and plays the patsy by falling right into her trap. She frames him for stealing Top Secret Stuff from THUNDER—and, can you imagine, his loyalties seem to be under question for a little while!!
But… but… does he really betray THUNDER? Hey… what do you think? If the conclusion is never really in doubt, it’s a fun ride getting there! 1960s action comics don’t get much better.
Which brings us to Menthor… “A Matter of Life and Death”. What distinguishes this one?
First up, you might notice the artwork is a certain Mr S Ditko inked by Wood (with possible assist by Adkins; it looks mostly like Wood to me). Ditko had done a wonderful, self-inked tale in THUNDER Agents #6—the Noman story “To Fight Alone”. Visually, it’s hard to beat, showing us Ditko in his prime, always best-served with his own brushwork. But Wood was definitely a great inker for him—Ditko himself was very satisfied with their collaborations.
Lest we forget, this memorable tale was actually scripted by Dan Adkins—extremely well—who also apparently provided Ditko with story layouts.
Menthor was an interesting character who sadly wasn’t developed to full effect. He starts off as an enemy agent infiltrating THUNDER, but the helmet they give him, which grants him his Menthor powers, also turns him into a good guy while he’s wearing it! A fascinating idea that is, disappointingly, completely dropped after the first story!! Perhaps as a result of this fumble, his days were always numbered.
But this is the story where he actually dies. Not a joke, not an imaginary story! For real, forever. Killing off heroes wasn’t such a common thing at this time (long before it became a regular event/gimmick, usually followed by an inevitable reincarnation).
So, the stakes are high and real here, as THUNDER’s ongoing battle against the evil, subterranean Warlord race approaches its climax (which happens in #8). The former traitor dies in the saddle, heroically. And it’s worth noting that he doesn’t die quickly, either… the panel below shows him being mortally wounded…
But he struggles to his feet and fights on for another full page before being felled by yet another blast.
The final page, showing his funeral, carries a real punch. It must have been genuinely shocking to readers back in 1966. All beautifully rendered by the Ditko-Wood-Adkins team, it makes for great comics and, frankly, the following issue fails to match up, even with its big final battle against the Warlords…
In an issue bookended by two strong tales such as these, you could easily forget the solid, fun entries drawn by Mike Sekowsky and George Tuska! But not the rather interesting Noman story, “To Be or Not To Be!” Written by Bill Pearson, with art by John Guinta and Sal Trapani, this story delves into the character’s identity. Noman was a frail old doctor who abandoned his failing body to become a THUNDER Agent, able to transfer his mind into various android forms. Here, he falls in love with a woman and questions his entire existence & choices. It all ends rather quickly, but you have to credit these guys for exploring interesting angles.