This month DC comics has not only issued the third issue of its new, updated T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, but it has (re)issued a 100-page spectacular one-shot of classic Wally Wood T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents material. What could be cooler than that? With this third issue, we start to delve deeper into the new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and see that it operates — on many levels — quite differently than Wood’s vision of these characters. As stated, In Wood’s (and subsequent) versions we still were working with the original cast. As we’ve seen, in this new DC version, membership on this team isn’t as stable as it has been in the past.
In Wood’s comics, entire stories were told in four to 12 page installments, so on some level reading a full 20-page T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent story is a tad disconcerting all on its own. Still, knowing that the Agents can die and actually watching die is even more difficult, given more of a harder edge to the series. In the first issue we were reintroduced to the organization, along with its new protocols, then in the second issue we got an in-depth look into the life of the current Lightning, Henry Cosgei — an Kenyan native from the Kalenjin tribe. We learn that statistically speaking the Kalenjin are historically the fast people on the planet, so that one of them became Lightning was inevitable.
We also learn that the terrorist organization known as Spider has spies throughout the world (even inside T.H.U.N.D.E.R.), and that there is way more going on here than what simply meets the eye. Issue Three gives us a boarder view of the organization, again giving us background on one specific agent (this time the original NoMan who is still alive), as well as more info on the current mission that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. is running (an attempt to extract the original Raven from the clutches of Spider). Again, things are not quite right, and again the story continues into the next issue.
While it is difficult to make a fully-formed opinion on whether this new version will hold up as well as did the original, it is safe to say that both DC, and the creators who have been chosen to carry on Wood’s beloved legacy, are making every attempt to not only measure up to the original work, but raise the bar as they bring these characters into the modern era. In issue #3 as we explore the past of NoMan it becomes obvious that the agency has existed in “real” time (or as close to “real” as comics can get), as we see references to NoMan and Raven’s past operations tagged to approximate years.
It may seem odd to publish the new material alongside Wood’s original work that is exactly what DC has chosen to do with the 100-page one shot. By placing the two sets of comics next to each other (the 100-page Spectacular and the three new issues), those differences are obvious, the shorter wood stories, the simpler, more straight-forward nature of the stories that Wood produced. The newer material still renders clean, defined artwork, but it is the stories that tell the tale; today there is more characterization, more subterfuge, darker, more convoluted stories. Sure it is easy to say that not only did Wood live in a simpler time, but that he had a different agenda with the characters.
All that aside, it is still great that some new fans get to see from whence these great characters came. Plus, with the Wood material, fans can once again thrill to the master’s work on these iconic characters. It was also recently announced that the next hardcover collection of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents will be the Deluxe work. Again, an interesting move, as that material was never considered cannon. Also, once it had been acquired by John Carbonaro in his victorious lawsuit over Deluxe’s publisher, was suppressed. Hopefully the material that John Carbonaro himself commissioned (for JC Comics, Archie, and Omni), will also be brought back in one of these Archive editions.