This Week's Reviews:
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents 50th Anniversary
Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #2
Sex Criminals #11
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents 50th Anniversary Special (IDW, $7.99)
By Cat Taylor
Despite the fact that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents has been around for fifty years under multiple publishers and with many different artists and writers, my love for the series comes from the more recent DC run. I first picked up some of the DC issues due to a recommendation from the owner of my favorite comic shop at the time, but I had no knowledge of the rich history of the series prior to that. Now that IDW has published this collection of classic stories from the original run, I've had the opportunity to familiarize myself with some of the series' history.
If you read any of DC's T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents series, you'll recall that they took an approach that made it possible to include the team's entire history more-or-less in "real" time. So, even in comic book time, the team had been operating since around the 1960s, with different people assuming the key identities of agents like Dynamo and Lightning over the years. Although, No-Man was still the same guy because the nature of his power is that his mind automatically transfers to a new android body whenever he dies. At any rate, DC's brief tenure with the title made it one of their better series being published at the time. I credit both the basic writing skills of Nick Spencer, as well as some uncommon plot devices such as the extreme mortality of the heroes, flashback sequences, and some double-agent situations for making the series so good. Little did I know that many of these plot devices came about from expanding some of the storylines and things hinted at in the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents comics. Oddly enough though, DC almost didn't get to publish their version of T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents because the owner of the characters' rights at the time, John Carbonaro, objected to some of the more radical changes made by DC.
Now that IDW owns the rights, they've published this 50th anniversary special that collects a few of the oldest stories as well as a lot of recent unpublished artwork. Right off the bat, my main beef with this collection is the lack of credits and background information. Since the title has been around so long, I can't tell when these stories were originally published. I'm pretty sure they're from the original run in the 1960s but an actual year would be helpful for me to have more than an assumed context. In addition, there are no writer or artist credits on the stories in this collection. I know that Len Brown and Wally Wood are the original creators but are we to assume that they wrote and drew all the reprinted stories in this book and if so, did they have any help? Regardless of who drew these stories, the quality of the art is better than most of the art I've seen from other comic books of the 1960s. While it may lack the immediately identifiable unique styles of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, it's technically better illustrated and looks closer to what eventually became the Marvel house style than the does the work of those two better known Marvel legends.
As far as the stories themselves are concerned, being as they were written so long ago, it's not really fair to judge them from a modern-day adult's perspective, but I've got to try anyway or there's no point in writing this review. So, of course I liked the DC stories better. However, compared to the reprints I've read of old classic Marvel and DC comics from the same era, I can say that these stories hold up well. They actually seem closer to the Marvel stories of the time than to the DC stories, since they have a little more complexity to the characters and their motivations than what DC was doing back then. Despite that, none of the stories presented here are particularly ground-breaking or memorable, and the characters themselves are a lot less colorful than the classic Marvel and DC heroes that are so iconic. The one exception to that statement is that one of these tales involves the death of a major character. One of the few instances of new editorial text added to this collection states that this character's death is considered to be the "first-ever meaningful and lasting death in comics."
If you are not already familiar with any of the iterations of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, I don't know that this special will mean anything to you. With so many characters and stories in the comic book world I'd be lying if I tried to convince you that the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents in their original form are any more compelling than the numerous characters and titles that have come since. However, as I indicated earlier, the best part of these stories for me was that they provided some history to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents comics that I enjoyed from DC a few years ago. If you loved any version of T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents half as much as I did, then I believe this special, or one of the trade collections of early stories will be essential to your collection. For those of you who haven't yet discovered T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents, I strongly recommend the 2010 ten-issue DC series. If you like that, then by all means come back and join the rest of us in picking up this special or some earlier collection.
Cat Taylor has been reading comics since the 1970s. Some of his favorite writers are Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Peter Bagge, and Kurt Busiek. Prior to writing about comics, Taylor performed in punk rock bands and the outlaw professional wrestling circuit. During that time he also wrote for music and pro wrestling fanzines. Right now, he's writing this and you're reading it. You can e-mail Cat at
Mythic #3 (Image, $2.99)
By Graig Kent
The last story page of issue #2 of Mythic featured a text box which proclaimed "Next: A Giant Baby Wrestles A Dinosaur!" Now, over the span of its first two issues the reader would come to know Mythic as a book that is humorous, absurd, and, at times, insane, but within its story the characters treat their missions quite seriously (no matter how humorous, absurd, or, at times, insane they are). Still, "a giant baby wrestles a dinosaur" seemed to be a joke, right? Like some self-awareness on writer Phil Hester's part, perhaps making a little fun out of how surreal the series had already become?
Then, turning the page, we see the cover for the issue 3 which, in fact, features a giant baby wrestling a dinosaur, illustrated with magnificent ridiculousness by John McCrea, an artist who has built his career illustrating many a story of magnificent ridiculousness (often with Garth Ennis, and previously with Hester on The Athiest).
It's no joke. It's true. Issue #3 of Hester and McCrea's Mythic does feature the image on it's regular cover, and its variant by Duncan Fegredo features an epic illustration of the baby on a farmstead carrying a cow in its hand. The gap-toothed, curly haired baby gets a full page splash on the opening page, screaming obscenities seemingly directly at the audience. As we turn the page, we see the giant baby is actually directing his ire at Spencer, the dinosaur (giant lizard, of the komodo dragon sort seems a more apt description), whom, yes, he is wrestling in an Australian national park. If last issue's demons and legendary giants and clockwork people wasn't enough to convince you, the opening three pages of this book confirm that in Mythic quite literally anything can happen.
The series follows "Mythic Lore Services team 8" — with its new recruit Nate from issue 1 acting as the audience's gateway into the exceptional weirdness of this world — as they help desperate people with their incredible problems (last issue to solve a drought, they convinced the sky to sex up a mountain). Each issue so far seems to present a single resolvable mission, a glimpse into other Mythic Lore Services teams around the world, and an ongoing thread of Mythic teams getting killed in the line of duty (with a singular force seemingly behind it). It's a madcap pace that doesn't give us a lot of time to bond with the main characters, but so far it presents enough sublimely inventive ridiculousness that it's more than worth the price of admission.
Hester is continually one of comics' most undervalued writers. His stories are always packed with great ideas that are equally well executed and typically approached from an unexpected angle. Here he sparks the reader's imagination but doesn't just bank on them filling in the blanks, instead delivering exceptional world building that seems at once appealingly knowing and low-brow. His original series thus far (including Golly, The Anchor, Deep Sleeper, The Coffin, and Firebreather) have all been phenomenal reads, though unfortunately short-lived. I don't know if Hester is disinterested in writing for the mainstream (where he's illustrated plenty), but anything original he puts his mind into has certainly proven worth the attention.
McCrea here seems to be angling for a less twisted version of his oft-used style (as can currently be seen over in DC's All-Star Section 8). His human characters are cleaner, more attractive, as if he's taken more patience in illustrating their faces as to contrast their normalcy against the wilder things he gets to illustrate. If it's not the best his work has ever looked, it's certainly the most accessible and appealing. Asha, the giant baby, is easily one of McCrea's greatest character designs, yes even more than the Section 8 crew.
Oh How I Love the Lay-deeeeees: Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #2, Sex Criminals #11 & Lazarus #18
By Adam X. Smith
So by a strange quirk of fate – also the fact that I'm missing a back-issue of Fight Club 2 and Providence is taking its time warming up – I once again find myself focusing on a bunch of comics about sassy independent women. Because f**k patriarchy, amiright?
So in the last issue of Carol Corps, Captain Marvel rescues a black sailor from a ship her squadron were forced to destroy under the belief it was an Ultron ship; whilst I had little doubt that this would turn out to be Rhodey – and spoiler alert, it is, albeit with a Mister T mohawk – I had no way of confirming that and decided to keep quiet until I could confirm it.
So yeah. That's a thing.
As in Kelly Sue DeConnick's previous run of Captain Marvel, there's some pretty much instant chemistry between Carol and Rhodey, who essentially doesn't do a lot apart from requiring medical attention that can only be provided on the QT by a sympathetic airbase doctor, and provide backstory as to why he was there and that he is determined to find out who blew up his ship.
Oh, the drama.
With Carol's previously stated goal to find out what's really on the other side of the sky meaning not just insubordination but also heresy, the Corps are forced to hastily convert their jets into rockets capable of spaceflight using whatever spare parts they can lay their hands on. Mack manages this, but a test-flight is required to make sure they've ironed out any kinks. Hot-headed maverick Pancho thinks they should do it straight away since delay will only increase the risk of them being caught, but Carol orders her to wait until morning.
You don't have to be a literary scholar to figure out what happens next: Pancho disobeys, and her bird explodes on take-off, right in front of Carol's eyes. Having already had the doctor literally tell her that they were going to get themselves killed, and Baroness Cochrane's chess reference to sacrificing oneself for a bigger cause, there was ample foreshadowing that one of the Carol Corps members would face being offed in the name of raising the stakes. Mercifully, David Lopez' final page emphasises the tragedy without making it unseemly. The story has elements of classic movies like Top Gun and The Right Stuff but with subtle references to WWII prison-break movies like The Great Escape – even the subplot of Rhodey as an injured outsider secretly being nursed back to health and acting as a catalyst for Carol's decision to escape Hala Field is essentially the plot of Chicken Run played straight. Not a criticism, by the way – Chicken Run is the dog's bollocks, to use the vernacular.
What is clear is that the stakes are pretty high – the cost of failure is either death or imprisonment, and now Carol has the death of a comrade on her conscience. Will her resolve waver? Are any of the Carol Corps going to make it out alive? And who is Baroness Cochrane anyway?
Seriously, I want to know.
All this and more in the next issue of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson's Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps, folks. Same Marvel-time, same Marvel-channel.
Meanwhile in Image County…
When I found out that the first new issue of Sex Criminals after a couple of months on hiatus would have a variant cover by Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley so filthy it would come in an opaque pink poly-bag, I was intrigued as to what it would be. When the wife offered to pick up my comics this week, she took the initiative of picking up the variant one, and whilst I know this is a family-friendly column most of the time, if you are curious as I was as to what the cover is… well, I don't expect Jeb to have it embedded on here, but you can find it at this link if you really want. Fair warning: it's both hilariously and unashamedly NSFW.
Picking up after the events of the previous arc, it follows a similar format to the last two issues: introduce another of the growing ranks of… there's a point, they don't really have an ironclad name yet and Sex Criminals doesn't quite fit all of them, but hold that thought – so we're introduced to the latest new potential recruit to the Sex Heroes (author's words), Doug D. Douglas (yes, really) a.k.a. the Orderly, whose relatively limited lot in life revolves around looking after his elderly mother at home, looking after elderly people at a care home and little else. Doug seems largely fine with that, with the only crack in his façade relating to the purchase of a certain item from an Asian supermarket; whilst telling you what would spoil it, it does include a very meta aside by Matt Fraction saying that they would show the inside of the supermarket but that Chip Zdarsky would be compelled to draw loads of products with jokey names written in Chinese that would likely be completely missed by the audience. Because coming up with a Barton Fink porno parody wasn't going above and beyond the call of duty.
Meanwhile, Jon and Suzie are attempting to track Doug down using the stolen Sex Police files, all while Ana tinkers with their Cumpass (*snigger*), makes Suzie jealous of Jon's fawning over her and subsequently tells them to GTFO when Suzie and Jon both reveal that they've been robbing banks to fund their exploits. So they go ahead without her, head to Miami and proceed to live as many clichés as possible – whether it's renting a flatbed monster truck or invoking a Horatio Caine sunglasses-pull moment.
Meanwhile, in a split-level B-plot, Robert Rainbow and Rachelle come to a sudden realisation that he's actually kinda boring in bed after he reacts negatively to what is implied to be oral sex, whilst Jon's therapist Doc is having an (apparently) consensual affair with big bad and head ballbreaker of the Sex Police Myrtle Spurge a.k.a. Kegelface – which turns out to be a pretty obvious ruse to get a lead on Jon. The events of this issue don't disprove my theory vis-a-vis Doc's identity, but don't necessarily confirm them either.
Sex Crims #11 is a great instalment in a book that's definitely hitting its stride, and I hope that this arc builds on the previous one's "honeymoon period" book and starts really kicking out the jams in terms of the wider story – Ana herself points out that there are likely a lot more potential Sex Heroes (and by extension, Sex Police) than they have encountered so far – and I'm probably not the only one eager to see how the plot… thickens.
Picking up after the events of last issue, Forever Carlyle has taken her crack squad of soldiers (only two of whom seem to be remotely competent) to take back Duluth from Hock troops. Of those two competent soldiers, one is Casey Solomon, introduced in the "Lift" arc narrowly avoiding getting killed by a suicide bomber and promptly killing him right back – she and Forever get a heart-warming moment when Forever demonstrates that, despite her frosty demeanour, Casey left a lasting impression on her and that they seem to be kindred spirits.
And then, after an attack on a Hock position, Forever takes a bullet to the face by a wounded soldier – all because her stupid squad members were too busy chatting to make sure the soldier was dead. Naturally, as a Lazarus, Forever has shrugged off worse than a gunshot before, but with her down for the count and a shitload of enemy troops between them and their objective, can Fuck-Up Squadron get their shit together and make it out of the OZ alive?
Meanwhile, another "Lift" character, Michael Barrett, learns why he has been yanked out of class – he's been recruited to use his science powers to help save Malcolm Carlyle's life from Hock's designer poison. And whilst acting family head Stephen struggles with the weight of responsibility, Johanna pays a visit to an old associate – clearly some machinations are in order.
If emotional whiplash was the goal with this issue, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark deliver it in abundance – whilst nothing we've seen so far, and the fact she's the protagonist, makes me think Forever is dead for real-real, the final image of her wounded and looking near-enough dead is one hell of a cliffhanger. Plus, as it's been established she's stopped taking her meds, there's no knowing what effect this will have on everyone's nigh-unstoppable killing machine.
Between the three of these books, the next issue can't come fast enough.
Adam X. Smith is (still) representing for the gangstas all across the world, whilst getting ready to head to Amsterdam for a belated honeymoon, but since these columns are written in the past by the time this goes live he will have magically returned to Britain, hopefully unscathed and still married. He's also got a bunch of other articles to write for @ElectrolyeMag, including one about the Wilhelm scream and one trying to make sense of the logistics of American TV for a British audience. Look grateful.