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 comicbook 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 that never quite reached fruition) there were two other unauthorized occurrences of the Agents (Deluxe Comics, ‘84 & Solson Publications ‘87). Prior to the Omni appearance, the previous authorized appearances were in Texas Comics (in a team-up with the Justice Machine), as well as in John Carbonaro’s own JC Comics line (which wound up its run in Archie’s Red Circle Comics line (all ‘83).
From the time that Carbonaro first purchased the Agents from the former Tower Comics in ‘83, until his untimely passing in 2009, he made numerous aborted attempts to bring them back into print. Personally, given so many botched launch attempts, I had all but given up hope of ever seeing them back in the public eye. Then, after John (legal owner of Wally Wood’s legacy), passed away, I was approached by the Executor of his estate to consult on the disposition of the property (to the point, the Executor 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 only too happy to provide).
I had not only been John’s friend, but initially broke the story about David Singer’s nearly successful attempt to steal the Agents out from under John, written extensively on the characters, advised John on various matters, acted as his PR rep, contributed to The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents web page, and even sold John a Lightening story (that, unfortunately, never saw print). Well, as everyone knows by now, the characters eventually wound up at DC, and, well, now that I’ve read the first issue, I have to say two things.
So far, I really like what I see
John would have totally hated it.
Please be assured, my feelings about John’s feelings on the book are no reflection on the quality of the comic itself (which is as good a superhero book as I’ve ever read), but simply because John had a very specific vision of who these characters were (are) and, well, this wasn’t it. John always saw his role in the Agents legacy as that of a caretaker for the prodigy of Wally Wood. John never wanted to re-imagine the characters (even though virtually everybody who wanted to license them wanted to remake the Agents; not so much as Wood left them, but as they (the new creators) envisioned them).
No, what DC delivered isn’t what John wanted, but that is entirely beside the point. For years I argued with John against this stance (keeping the Agents as they were), now that he is gone, I truly understand what he was trying to say all along. Still, this is not to reflect poorly on what Nick Spenser has delivered, Nick’s view is just “different” from what John wanted, based on Nick’s 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 while this might be something of a spoiler, it is actually something of the core precept of this new incarnation, hence 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 last part settle in for a moment. Everyone is expendable. Everyone.
As a fan of the original series, I’m not quite sure that I like that, but as a fan of the characters, I think it is truly a wicked-cool concept. Think of it as the cast of the original Law and Order TV series, only in spandex and with a finite life-expectancy. Over the 20-year run of the TV series, every character was replaced at least once, and some, several times (with one or two returning in the same roles). In this fashion, the writer(s) 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 internal storyline, they can simply be written out of the series and replaced with someone else who might spice up the mix a bit. 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, and replace them with a morally-flawed character (even if it is only for an issue or two).
If this sounds callous, perhaps it is, but work with me for a minute here, why not? One of the biggest grips with a series (any series) is that nothing can ever really change. The hero will eventually catch the bad guy, The hero (and most of his supporting cast), needs to survive ‘til the next issue, etc. then there is the licensing aspect to the whole deal. If Superman, Captain America, or Batman were to really die, how would Marvel or DC sell toys based on those characters, or hold onto the copyrights?
Therefore, Joe Quesada can get away with thinking 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 have “died,” but (as we’ve already pointed out) since their respective companies still need these characters around 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).
In the past, on TV, we all always knew that nothing really bad was ever going to happen to the title characters in a series because they needed to be back the following week. With shows like Law & Order, that isn’t so true anymore. Now, with this same approach in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, the same can be said for comics. Is there a down side? Absolutely, but this reviewer (and longtime friend of John Carbs), thinks that it is also a good thing, and while I’m totally sure that John would hate it. I honestly feel that the best way to honor John’s legacy (that is to say, to keep the Agents relevant); this is the way to go.
Personally, (and based solely on this initial issue, as well as the concept of this approach to the Agent’s actual mortality) I give the new series my full approval. Now (hopefully), Nick Spencer will live up to not only my high hopes, and lofty praise, but to John’s stubborn endurance, as well as the enduring legacy of Wally Wood himself.