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T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was a comic book series originally published by Tower Comics in the 1960s, which might be briefly described in X Meets Y fashion as The Fantastic Four from U.N.C.L.E. The characters debuted in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (November, 1965), created by Wally Wood. The series lasted for 20 issues, ending in November, 1969. It concerns the activities of The Higher United Nations Defence Enforcement Reserves, an international organization devoted to preserving the world from Diabolical Masterminds, Alien Invasions, and other threats too large for a single nation to handle alone.
The initial roster of elite T.H.U.N.D.E.R. agents was:
- Dynamo: Equipped with a belt that increases his molecular density, granting him invulnerability and super strength -- but it takes energy to lug all that density around, and if he keeps it up for more than half an hour at a time he's reduced to helpless exhaustion.
- NoMan: The mind of a dying scientist transferred into an android body -- one of several, between which he can transfer at will (so if his current body is disabled in an attack, he can just switch to another one -- but if it's ever destroyed outright before he can transfer away, he's finished). He is also equipped with a technological invisibility cloak (which may or may not have a time limit, Depending on the Writer).
- Menthor: Equipped with a helmet that expanded his mind to its full capacity, granting him a variety of Psychic Powers -- and having one other unexpected effect: he'd joined T.H.U.N.D.E.R. as The Mole for one of its enemies, but whenever he put the helmet on, he was temporarily realigned to Lawful Good and worked sincerely for T.H.U.N.D.E.R.'s cause. (He later made a permanent realignment after realising that his employer had always intended, even before the helmet thing, to dispose of him when he'd served his purpose.)
- T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad: A specialist commando team without any superpowers (unless teamwork counts a power).
Later additions include:
- Lightning: Equipped with a suit that artificially accelerates his metabolism, granting him Super Speed, at the cost of reducing his lifespan every time he uses it.
- Raven: Wearing an experimental rocket pack/ flight suit (the design of which varied wildly from story to story) former Soldier-of-Fortune Craig Lawson becomes T.H.U.N.D.E.R.’s one-man air force.
Since the fall of Tower Comics, the rights to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents have been around a bit. Currently, DC Comics has the license and has been printing collections of the original stories in their Archives format. DC also launched a new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents title in November 2010. It appears to be a "next generation" sequel to the original Tower stories, with NoMan being the only returning member (due to his effective immortality.)
- Action Girl: The Silver Age series didn't have a lot of female characters, but the ones they had were pretty competent:
- When enemy agents raiding T.H.U.N.D.E.R. headquarters carry off secretary Alice Robbins, she escapes from her cell, locates and secures their radio room, and broadcasts the location of their secret base to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. (And then, because this is the Sixties and she isn't a headline character, she twists her ankle while making a strategic withdrawal in high heels, and has to be rescued Just in Time by Dynamo.)
- Kitten of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad, while primarily a "Technical Specialist," is also a competent fighter.
- Colleen Franklin, of the newest series.
- Anyone Can Die: Some of the earliest comic book examples of this trope:
- Egghead of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad was killed in action in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2.
- More noteworthy, perhaps, is the loss of Menthor in issue #8, not only one of T.H.U.N.D.E.R.'s original "Big Three", but arguably the first major superhero death of the Silver Age.
- The new DC series makes this a major theme, with literally dozens of legacy heroes lost in the line of duty over T.H.U.N.D.E.R.’s 40-plus year history. It is stated that Dynamo-class agents have averaged less than a year of active duty each, with an effective survival rate of zero.
- Artificial Human: NoMan
- The Baroness: Iron Maiden
- Body Backup Drive: NoMan is a dead scientist whose brain/conciousness resides in a robot body; when he's in danger of being destroyed he can transfer to a new robot. But if his robot body is destroyed while he's still in it, he dies.
- The new series has Colleen do this for the new Dynamo and Lightning. If only she had had the foresight to do it for Toby...
- Canon Immigrant: Davy Jones, U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A. Agent, was originally the star of his own Tower Comics series. Despite a couple of solo story appearances in the pages of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, it was never clear if his adventures took place in the same universe or not. Beginning with one of the multiple 1980s revivals, however, he was folded into the main organization. This appears to be canon to the D.C . revival, which included a cameo of both the 1960s and 1990s versions in a montage/flashback sequence.
- Clothes Make the Superman: All the super-powered agents. Occasionally, if one of them messes up, their superiors threaten to take their toy away and give it to someone else.
- Contagious Powers: It took only four issues for one of the non-powered T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad to get powers too.
- Costume Copycat: Being the only T.H.U.N.D.E.R. agent with a face-concealing costume, Menthor had two of them within the first four issues.
- Diabolical Mastermind: The Warlord
- Fun with Acronyms: The 1960s were a good time for secret U.N. agencies with meaningful-ish acronyms.
- The Guards Must Be Crazy: The ol' sick prisoner routine appears to be part of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. basic training, and no wonder, because it works every time.
- Heel Face Turn: John Janus. (And to a lesser degree Craig "Raven" Lawson.)
- Implacable Man: Dynavax
- Invisibility Cloak: NoMan
- Mad Scientist: That one guy who sent cloned dinosaurs rampaging through New York.
- Meaningful Name: John Janus, two-faced double-agent.
- Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: John Janus joined T.H.U.N.D.E.R. as The Mole for one of its enemies, but switched allegiances after realising that his employer intended to dispose of him when he'd served his purpose.
- The Mole: John Janus
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Dynamo's belt, NoMan's cloak, and Menthor's helmet were created by a brilliant scientist who kept all his notes in his head, so after he was killed by enemy agents nobody else could figure how to replicate them.
- Psychic Powers:
- Menthor has telepathy and telekinesis.
- The Warlord can mentally control people over great distances.
- Punch Clock Hero: While he's very heroic, being Dynamo is Len Brown's job, and the fact that he has many of the same problems as an "ordinary Joe" office worker (e.g., trying to get a pay raise, or to date the boss's secretary) is often highlighted.
- Remote Body: NoMan's schtick.
- The Squad: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad
- Super Speed: Lightning
- Super Strength: Dynamo
- Tuckerization: Dynamo's real name is Leonard Brown, same as the writer who created him (in fairness, this seems to have been the editor's idea; Brown originally named him something else). One of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad is named after Dan Adkins, another writer who worked on the series.
- A Worldwide Punomenon: Dynamo, agent of T.H.U.N.D.E.R., gets his powers from "the Thunderbelt". (The character's creator actually thought of the Thunderbelt first, then picked T.H.U.N.D.E.R.'s name to make it work.)