Monday, March 3, 2014

THUNDER Agents - The Judgment Tower!

Jerry Ordway
Dave Sim
Loston Wallace
Andrea Di Vito
The classic Tower Comics heroes, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents have been the object of a great deal of activity in recent years. After some failed efforts, DC finally got the license and produced some highly impressive modern versions of the heroes in stories seemingly set with some few generational modifications in the same universe as the vintage Wally Wood originals. IDW has gone a different route. Phil Hester has decided to reboot the concept from scratch with recognizable versions of the heroes, but with all new backgrounds. Dynamo, NoMan, Lightning, and the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad are all present but in different forms and roles.


The first story arc, which I've just read in the current trade reprint is a mixed bag. (I'm hoping to follow the story in this format to spare me the chore of chasing the myriad covers IDW is producing on this series and to give myself a satisfying reading experience which sadly few if any modern floppy comics provide.) When the story opens NoMan and Lightning have already lost a battle with Iron Maiden and her armored troops and its up to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. leader Katy Kane to resolve the situation and rescue the men as well as solve a worldwide threat few even know about. Since no current agent can successfully use the Thunder Belt, they go outside the organization and recruit Len Brown, a retired hockey player and current part-time mob enforcer with a high pain threshold to give it a try. He succeeds and enters the field with an incarnation of NoMan who seeks to regain his old body and his invisibility cloak to boot as well as rescue Lightning and save the world by the way.

It's a neat enough premise, with some surprises along the way as we encounter familiar faces in some unfamiliar places. There are some juicy secrets and hints of story lines to comes as the threat to the world is revealed. But as with any T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents mission there are costs.

Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur
The story is okay, it works for me. And it's nice to NoMan again a machine and not a clone, my one reservation about the DC rendition. But the weakness of this latest version is the artwork, which sadly doesn't measure up. Andrea Di Vito offers up muscular figures, but they are all too often rendered against bland or uninteresting backgrounds. And the figures themselves seem to be throwbacks to a near-Image style of storytelling, powerful but not sufficiently subtle for modern tastes. The magic of the classic Wally Wood imagery was that it seem slick and modern, even mildly futuristic and while it's perhaps not fair to compare Di Vito to such a master, it's unavoidable given the project and the work here seems of the past not the future.

Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur
It's too early to say if this rendition of the Tower heroes will succeed, I hope they do. But I am happy to see new artists have been brought aboard for the next story arc. I wish Di Vito well, but I hope it's on some other project more suited in my opinion to his talents.

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3 comments:

  1. Ugh...yer killin'me...those covers up top look pretty good but they had to and "improve" the characters again. Drives me bonkers. Len Brown & company were already great characters. Why not just pick up where Tower left off?

    Those DC comics were just awful. Didn't Dynamo have a mullet and stubble? Grim and gritty! Improvement!

    Love those Tower issues to pieces. Have a few originals and all the Archives. Now if only someone would do archives of the Archie super heroes and the non-Ditko Charlton Action Heroes I'd be in heaven. Gold Key, Archie, Tower, and Charlton had the best super heroes of the '60s.

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    1. I can see why they rebooted after so many other revivals. At some point it does need to be cleared away, as it gets increasingly hard to keep the continuity.

      And I'll have to disagree. I loved the DC version, I thought it was pretty true to the nature of the original with some minor details changed here and there such as NoMan being a clone.

      Love the Tower, it's always the best though. The Deluxe was pretty good too.

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  2. I didn't read the DC version. In fact, I didn't know there was a DC version until I read your blog. I recall DC soliciting THUNDER Agents back when John Carbonaro was still alive but he balked at the project just before it went to the printer and DC had already solicited 2 or 3 issues. I've been following the IDW version, I just buy the first cover I see on the rack, and it's ok. Like most modern comic books, it's written (padded) for the trade paperback crowd, which is how I may wind up going now that the first arc is done.

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