Since the demise of Tower Comics in the late sixties, many of us have longed for the triumphant return of Woody's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS. With DC's new version, which I was able to read yesterday, I have to say I think its time we stop wanting new stories of Dynamo, NoMan and friends and just recognize that we'll always have the originals to enjoy.
In spite of their legal folderol, Deluxe Comics brought us some okay stories with art by Perez, Ordway and others of their caliber. JC Comics were more traditional but on a lower budget. Archie took a shot with the Agents as did Solson and a few odd companies both in the US and the UK. OMNI COMIX, almost out of the blue, gave us a long, dense, gritty T.H.U.N.D.E.R. story nicely drawn by Paul Gulacy but it went nowhere and was never continued. The problem with all of these revivals was that they weren't the originals.
Perhaps at this point I was pre-disposed not to like DC's just-released version but the fact is, it is an overwritten, oddly colored, ambitious but complicated story with mostly unlikable characters. We never really do get to meet the new heroes in any kind of lasting way or even see much of them before they...well...no spoilers. There are some funny lines from a long progression of talking heads but by the end I was thoroughly confused as to exactly what was going on...and this was the first issue, remember! Shouldn't this be where they introduce and set up concepts and characters?
The concept is credited to Michael Uslan whose comics work I have long greatly admired but the writing is by someone I have never heard of, the just okay pencilling and inking by two single named persons neither of whom has ever even been a blip on my radar. Since the art is the one thing the originals were known by, I do find myself surprised that DC would not give this title some of the best.
I realize it's unfair to compare a modern comic book, done in a modern style by modern writers and artists and for modern readers, to 45 year old comics that today's fans barely know if at all. That said, though, with this project, it's hard NOT to compare. In fact, the title splash actually notes that Frank Quitely's cover is "after Wally Wood"...although, if I remember correctly, Wood's was actually after a Larry Ivie cover sketch from Ivie's early involvement with Tower. Darwyn Cooke's variant cover (seen above) featuring the classic versions of the characters--none of whom appear in this issue at all mind you--is the best part of the whole package.
Fans of the original talk of the amazing art from Wally Wood, Dan Adkins, Reed Crandall, Steve Ditko and Gil Kane. People forget that there were also a whole lot of filler stories with lesser (albeit nostalgically charming) art by Mike Sekowsky, Chic Stone, Ogden Whitney and Manny Stallman. Although lightly written at their best, and with some convoluted continuity, the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS had a cold war ambiance and an artistic charm that just does not translate into other times, more realistic scripting, darker and grittier art. The originals are and always will be there for us but I doubt this series will last particularly long. I may glance at a second issue if I see it but I'm certainly not going out of my way to look for it after this inauspicious start.