The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents are a curious property. More a creative success than a cash cow, they had a short-lived run in the Sixties and ever since then, comics companies have fallen over themselves to bring them back. No new take has taken.
Now it’s DC’s turn, and this first issue gives us … a headache. Well, it gave me one. Call me a lazy reader, but any time a book features the same characters in several time periods – 11 months ago, 12 months ago and, I suppose, now – I get confused. I don’t like my stories to start at one point and then flit all over the place. I know TV does this all the time (my beloved Alias was a bugger for it); it gets on my wick there too.
Anyway, I’ve read T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents a couple of times to make sure I get it before reviewing, and I think I’ve cracked it. I’m just not sure it was worth breaking the eggs.
The set-up is that the United Nations employs superheroes to smash international crimelords, dictators and the like. The heroes have agent handlers. So far, so Checkmate. The unique selling point – well, unless you remember Marvel’s Strikeforce Morituri – is that the powers will kill the agents. But at least the damaged souls who take up the offer of regular work,with lots of foreign travel, get that old shot at redemption.
The superagents in this debut issue – Dynamo, Lightning and Raven – are cyphers, on stage to show us what a tough gig life as a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent is. There’s a scene that explains the basics, but it comes towards the end of the book, after I’ve drowned in a sea of tricksy storytelling. I like a comic that stands a re-read, but I’m not keen on having to pore over pages twice simply to work out what’s what.
I understand the series, while continuing from the original 20-issue run, is now set in the DC Universe, which makes for a crowded international super-stage. DC already has Checkmate and the Suicide Squad running around toppling naughty governments, does it really need another team of international super-soldiers – even one that was in business before them? Setting the book in the DCU ensures a lot more readers will check the book out than would otherwise, but begs questions such as, why have we never heard of these people?
Writer Nick Spencer’s individual scenes of intrigue and betrayal are decent as discrete entities, but stitching them together takes work. The illustrations by penciller Cafu and inker Bit have an attractive quality, setting traditional heroic figures against handlers straight out of romance comics. Colourist Santiago Arcas is a find, and letterer Steve Wands’ work is, as ever, exemplary. Frank Quitely’s cover, coloured by Val Staples, is excellent. But when my abiding thought as I read through a book is ‘please finish’, it’s not a good sign.
That said, I’l probably give it another issue, as Spencer has impressed me elsewhere, but if it insists on a non-linear narrative being the norm, I’m straight out the door.