T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 4


By Wally Wood, Steve Skeates, Ralph Reese, Dan Adkins, Ogden Whitney, Chic Stone Mike Sekowsky, George Tuska, John Giunta, Frank Giacoia & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-084-1(TPB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-611-0

The meteoric lifespan and output of Tower Comics is one of the key creative moments in American comicbook history. The brief, bombastic saga of The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves was a benchmark of quality and sheer bravura fun for fans of both the then-still-reawakening superhero genre and that era’s spy-chic obsession.

In the early 1960s, the Bond movie franchise was going from strength to strength, with blazing action and heady glamour utterly transforming the formerly low-key espionage genre. The buzz was infectious: soon Men like Flint and Matt Helm were carving out their own piece of the action as television shanghaied the entire bandwagon with Danger Man and the irresistible Man from U.N.C.L.E. – premiering in September 1964 – bringing the whole shtick inescapably into living rooms across the planet.

Archie Comics editor Harry Shorten was commissioned to create a line of characters for a new distribution-chain funded publishing outfit – Tower Comics. He brought in creative maverick Wally Wood, who sensibly called on some of the biggest names in the industry to produce material in the broad range of genres the company demanded (there was magnificent anthology war-comic Fight the Enemy and wholesome youth-comedy Tippy Teen as well as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and its spin-offs Undersea Agent, Dynamo and NoMan).

Samm Schwartz & Dan DeCarlo handled the funny stuff – which outlasted everything else – whilst Wood, Larry Ivie, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates, Dan Adkins, Russ Jones, Gil Kane and Ralph Reese contributed scripts for themselves and the industry’s other top talents to illustrate on the interlinked adventure series.

With a ravenous appetite for super-spies and costumed heroes growing in comic-book popularity and amongst the general public, the idea of blending the two concepts seemed inescapable…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 appeared with no fanfare or pre-publicity on newsstands in August 1965 (with a cover off-sale date of November). Better yet, all Tower titles were in the beloved-but-rarely-seen 80-page Giant format, offering a huge amount of irresistible action and drama in every issue.

All that being said, these tales would not be so revered if they hadn’t been so superbly crafted. As well as Wood, the art accompanying the compelling, subtly more mature stories was by some of the greatest talents in comics: Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando, Frank Giacoia, John Giunta, Steve Ditko and others.

This fourth fabulous compilation compiles and collates T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #11, Dynamo #3 and includes both issues of second spin-off No-Man – all originally released between November 1966 and March 1967 – with the incomparably cool concept and characters going from strength to strength and a spirit of eccentric experimentation and raucous low comedy slipping in to sweeten the pot…

For those who came in late: When brilliant Professor Emil Jennings was attacked by the forces of the mysterious Warlord, the savant perished. Happily, UN troops salvaged some of his greatest inventions, including a belt that increased the density of the wearer’s body until it became as hard as steel, a cloak of invisibility and a brain-amplifier helmet…

The prototypes were divided between several agents to create a unit of super-operatives to counter increasingly bold attacks of multiple global terror threats such as the aforementioned Warlord.

First chosen was affable, honest but far from brilliant file clerk Len Brown who was, to everyone’s surprise, assigned the belt and codename Dynamo. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent NoMan was once decrepit Dr. Anthony Dunn who chose to have his mind transferred into an android body and was then gifted with the invisibility cape. If his artificial body was destroyed Dunn’s consciousness could transfer to another android body. As long as he had a spare ready, he could never die…

Indomitable operative Guy Gilbert of crack Mission: Impossible style T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad was asked to beta-test an experimental super-speed suit. As gung-ho Lightning, he was proud to do so, even if every activation of the hyper-acceleration gimmick shortened his life-span…

After the death of telepathic agent Menthor, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. bigwigs created a new – flying – agent. Worryingly, the only operative capable of piloting the heavily-armed aerial warsuit was unscrupulous former mercenary Craig Lawson. Although ruthlessly effective, his attitude continues to give cause for concern …

The super-science spookshow resumes – in both paperback and digital formats – with the November 1966 debut issue of a second spin-off title. NoMan #1 was another sterling selection of superspy sagas with most of the writer credits once again an unresolved secret lost to posterity…

However, we know Gil Kane & Paul Reinman tackled the art for ‘Fingers of Fate’ as a robbery spree seems to implicate famed personages and celebrities in crimes they could not have committed. The trail of the real culprits leads the android agent to India to scotch a scheme to discredit global fingerprinting databases…

John Giunta illustrates ‘Secret in the Sky’ as NoMan battles criminal genius The Gnome after the diminutive demon seizes control of the world’s weather, after which Lightning foils ‘The Warp Wizard’s Master Plan’ (scripted by Steve Skeates with art from Chic Stone), when the teleporting bandit devises a seemingly unbeatable new weapon…

Subtly entrancing art veteran Ogden Whitney limns NoMan as the android agent is ‘Trapped in the Past’ by aliens and remains to render the tragedy of ‘The Good Subterranean’ who tried to reform despite a wave of human intolerance…

Next up is T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #11 (March 1967) which opens with the team’s top agent in big trouble and replaced by a deadly duplicate. ‘The Death of Dynamo’ (art by Dan Adkins & Wood) sees criminal society S.P.I.D.E.R. almost succeed but for one crucial oversight…

Steve Skeates, Mike Sekowsky & Frank Giacoia the detail ‘Lightning vs The Vortex’, pitting T.H.U.N.D.E.R.’s super-speedster against a wily crook with the – stolen – power to create tornados before immortal android NoMan escapes ‘The Trap’ set by telepathic tyrant The King and saves Humanity from mental enslavement in a terse thriller by Skeates & Giunta.

Drama gives way to sly whimsy in ‘Understudy for Dynamo’ (illustrated by Stone) wherein T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Dan Atkins – AKA Dynamite – is tapped to wear the power-inducing Thunderbelt until Dynamo recovers from exhaustion and pneumonia. Sadly, the substitute is keen but not so able…

The anthological exploits conclude with another quirky outing for winged wonder Raven written and illustrated by legendary craftsman Manny Stallman. ‘The Case of Jacob Einhorn’ finds robot-obsessed Mayven the Poet hired to kill a celebrated Nazi-hunter before he can expose escaped war criminals to the UN. Determined to stop her is a former mercenary who can still learn a few things about being a hero…

A star from the get-go, Dynamo quickly won his own giant-sized solo title. With a March 1967 cover-date, issue #3 kicked off with the husky hero spectacularly battling an alien invasion inside T.H.U.N.D.E.R. HQ that quickly escalates to endanger the entire city. Illustrated by Stone, Wood & Adkins, ‘The Unseen Enemy’ is a potent blockbuster yarn that promises an unmissable return match…

Ralph Reese scripted hilarious romp ‘Bad Day for Leonard Brown’ for Stone to draw as the simplistic hunky he-man hero falls foul of regular girlfriend Alice, sultry fellow agents Diana Dawn and Kitten Kane as well as steely sex siren Iron Maiden all whilst diligently trying to keep a new laser weapon out of the hands of diabolical demagogue Demo

Stone sticks around to limn Dynamo’s battle against middle eastern despot Phyllis Tyne, as the strongman is forced to reprise ‘The Feats of Samson’ after which Paul Reinman renders a sham marriage to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Kitten which exposes S.P.I.D.E.R.’s high crimes in the oil industry and leads to ‘Honeymoon or High Noon?’

The issue ends with another lighthearted romp for Wally Wood’s cartoon alter ego as wily Agent William “Weed” Wylie tries to quell a South American revolution sponsored by rival cabals S.P.I.D.E.R. and Red Star. Drawn by George Tuska, ‘Weed Vs T.H.U.N.D.E.R.’ results in the scrawny pragmatist punching way above his weight when the villains co-opt the super-agents with mindbending gases…

This volume closes with the contents of NoMan #2 (March 1967) as Whitney illustrates ‘Dynamo vs NoMan’ – wherein Spider technologist Doctor Cyber usurps control of the Invisible Agent’s legion of android bodies – and follow-up thrill ‘The Weird Case of the Kiss of Death’ as a reincarnated Egyptian queen sustains her immortal life by consuming life force. Not, however, one enclosed in a plastic body…

Skeates & Stone then detail how battle-wounded Lightning loses his memory of a hidden S.P.I.D.E.R. stronghold in ‘The Web Tightens’ before Whitney returns for ‘Target NoMan’ as hidden organisation Reconquer schemes to resurrect the most evil man in history, before the espionage excitement pauses with Skeates & Whitney’s ‘A Quick Change of Mind’. Here a madman pillages scientists’ mentalities in pursuit of the ultimate weapon, only to fail thanks to the ultimate secret agent…

With stories all shaded in favour of fast pace, sparse dialogue, explosive action and big breathtaking visuals, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was decades ahead of its time and certainly informed everything in Fights ‘n’ Tights comics which came after it. These are truly timeless comic classics which improve with every reading, so do yourself a favour and add these landmark super-sagas to your collection.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics volume 4 © 2014 Radiant Assets, LLC. All rights reserved.