Tuesday, November 16, 2010

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. in the (comicbook) Heavens!

Truthfully, I wasn’t ever sure that I would live long enough to actually see this day. No, seriously. This week a brand-new issue of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents hit the stands for the first time in like 15 years. (The last original occurrence of the Agents appeared in OMNI Comics #3 (1995). Prior to this single story (the first in a new, authorized line) there were two other unauthorized occurrences of the Agents (Deluxe Comics, ‘84 & Solson Publications ‘87). Other than the Omni appearance the previous authorized appearances were in Texas Comics, the JC Comics line, and Archie Comics' Red Circle Comics line (all ’83).

I had all but given up hope. Then,after my friend John Carbonaro (legal owner of Wally Wood’s legacy), passed away a year or so back, I was approached by the executor of John’s estate to consult with him on the disposition of the property (to the point, he wanted to know who had expressed interest over the years, and who might offer him the best options for licensing the property — a service I was happy to perform). Well, as you all know by now, the characters wound up at DC, and, well, now that I’ve read the first issue, I have to say two things.


1) So far, I really like what I see
2) John would have hated it.


Please be assured, this is no reflection on the quality of the comic (which is a good as any superhero book I’ve ever read), but simply because John had a very specific vision of who these characters are (were) and, well, this wasn’t it. John saw his role in the Agents story as a caretaker for the legacy of Wally Wood. He never wanted to re-imagine them (even though virtually everybody who wanted to license them wante to remake the Agents — not so much as Wood left them, but as they (the new creators) envisioned them.


No, this isn’t what John wanted. For years I argued with him against this stance, now that he is gone, I trully understand what he was trying to say all along. Again, this is not to reflect poorly on what Nick Spenser has delivered, this is just “different” from what John wanted, based on his perception of who the Agents were as originally perceived by Wood.


Still, to the issue at hand. 


DC’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. The original team is long since gone (dead, one presumes), and well, by the end of the first issue, so too is the current team (sorry this might be something of a spoiler, but as it is something of the core precept of this new incarnation, there really is no way around revealing it. You see, as we always knew, the items that endow the Agents with their super powers are slowly killing them (which is what made the Agents truly unique in the first place), this new incarnation takes that aspect and amps it up to the max. 


Let me just let that settle in for a moment. Everyone is expendable.  As a fan of the original series, I’m not quite sure I like that, but as a fan of the series, I think it is truly a wicked-cool idea. Think of it as the cast of the original Law and Order TV series, only in spandex and with a life-expectancy. Over the 20-year run of the series, every character was replaced at least once, and some, several times (with one or two returning in the same roles). This way, the writer can play around with the ever-fluctuating dynamics of the group. 


From a creative point of view, the book will (or should) never get stale. If one character becomes boring, or plays out his or her story, simply write them out of the series and replace them with someone else. Cast becoming too squeaky clean? Mix it up with some bad boy/girl characters. Alter the diversity or gender ratio of the group. Want to really shake thing up? Kill off the most popular character.


If this sounds callous, perhaps it is, but work with me for a minute here,, why not? One one biggest grips with a series is that nothing can ever really change. Joe Quesada thinks that Peter Parker should not just NOT be married, but Never have been married, because to him, Spidey should remain — if not a teenager in high school — as close to that has possible. Sure sure, Superman, Captain America and other heroes died, but since they still need their respective comicbook companies still need the characters to license T-Shirts, toys and the like, we all know that they are coming back (witness the recent resurrection of numerous Marvel & DC characters over the past couple of years). 

On TV, we all know that nothing really bad will ever happen to the title character in a series because they need to be there next week. With shows like Law & Order, that isn't so true any more. Now, with this same approach in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, the same can be said. Is there a down side? Absolutely, but this reviewer (and friend of John Carbs), thinks that it is a good thing, and while I’m totally sure that John would hate it. I honestly feel that the best way to honor his legacy (to keep the Agents relevant), this is the way to go. 


Personally, (and based solely on this initial issue, as well as this approach) I give the new series my full approval. Now (hopefully), Nick Spencer will live up to not only my high hopes, but John’s stubborn endurance, as well as the enduring legacy of Wally Wood himself.

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