I have been avoiding this post for nearly a month.
By now, most of the comicbook community know what I am about to say. My friend John Carbonaro is dead. He passed away on February 25th, and was interred on March 2nd at St. Charles Cemetery, in Pinelawn, NY.
I first met John (affectionately called “Carbs” by his friends) some 30 years ago at some after-party of professionals after a Phil Seuling Comic convention in NY. I was at the beginning of my professional career, and John had just acquired The THUNDER Agents from whatever holding company then possessed the properties of Tower Comics. The meeting in and of itself wasn’t any big deal, but we met and soon after became good friends.
It was shortly after that initial meeting that Carbs had some legal issues (a faux friend and one-time employee attempted to leverage the Agents away from him by falsely claiming they were in the Public Domain) well Carbs eventually won that fight. Unfortunately he never was able to successfully leverage a long-term re-launch of Wally’s beloved children, despite numerous attempts. Still, despite one potentially devastating abortive attempt after another Carbs never gave up hope that he could re-launch the Agents, and was attempting to do so right up until the very end.
Over the years I became privy to John’s struggle to re-launch the agents (JC Comics, Archie’s Red Circle line, Apple Comics, Texas Comics, Penthouse’s Omni Comics, DC Comics, among others). I have to say, that over the 30 years that Carbs owned the Agents he approached (or was approached by) virtually every comicbook company for the rights. Some got into print, some got as far as the contract stage, and others never got past the negotiation phase.
As stated, John was a really good friend of mine, but he was (admittedly) something of a pain in the ass to work with as far as the Agents went. He was a man of a singularity of vision in regards to these characters. You see, Carbs never saw himself so much as the de facto owner of the Agents (which he, by the way, legally was), but as their caretaker. To John, The Agents of THUNDER were first and foremost Wally Wood’s, and all John wanted to do was see them done in a fashion that was befitting Wood’s incomparable legacy.
John was all about the treatment of the Agents themselves, as well as the rights he should be accorded as their owner. He felt that the last incarnation (the unfortunately still-born Omni-version), was the closest to the mark. For whatever reason, whoever he attempted to license the agents to wanted to screw with the Agents on some level, to alter their motivation, characters, change who they were, mold them into something other than who they were. From what I could tell from my conversations with John, it seemed that folks always wanted to bring their own personal baggage to the characters, something that John simply wouldn’t allow.
I don’t want to cast aspersions on the various talented people who tried to resurrect and re-position the Agents, as I really don’t know their stories, I know John’s. Now that John is gone and the future of the Agents are even more in doubt, I will admit that it seems to me as if there are several publishers circling the field like so many vultures ready to pounce on what has suddenly become an attractive and available property.
While I certainly hope that the executor of John’s estate does see his (or her) way clear to license the characters — allowing them to finally get back into print — that they (and whoever does license the characters) are respectful of both John and Wally Wood so as to treat the property with the dignity that it deserves.
Finally, John, I wasn’t there with you at the end, and for that I’m sorry. I’d like, however, to do the next best thing, and in honor of your memory help get the Agents back into print.