Codename Capricorn: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents

In 1965, (the year Yours Truly was born) Tower Comics along with a creative team featuring the likes of Len Brown, Wallace (Wally) Wood, Gil Kane, Larry Ivie, Dan Adkins, Chic Stone, Steve Ditko, and others created a comic about a team of superheroes working for the United Nations.

The team was distinct for its depiction of the heroes as regular people with specialized equipment doing their jobs by stopping subversive activity. The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves was an obvious attempt to capitalize on the popular TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the James Bond movies, and the whole secret agent fad fueled by Cold War fears.

The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents comic never really took off. It ran 20 bi-monthly issues along with two spin-off series Dynamo and NoMan which ran just a few issues each. There would have been more, but Tower Comics went out of business in 1969 with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #20 as one of its final issues.

It strikes me as weird that the original mint condition #20 is valued higher than the #1 but the #1 has been reprinted so many times by disparate companies. This one, not so much.

The first few issues of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents gave the reader an understanding about how the book would be uniquely organized. There were three pieces of equipment initially developed by T.H.U.N.D.E.R. There was the Thunder belt given to Len Brown which gave him super strength and invulnerability for a half an hour. His codename was Dynamo.

Dr. Anthony Dunn was a scientist who was able to transfer his consciousness, into android bodies of his own design. He was given an invisibility cloak with the codename NoMan. John Janus was a double agent (not a spoiler, it is from the very first issue). He is given a cybernetic helmet which is supposed to help channel latent mental abilities, but also helps Janus see the error of his ways. He is given the codename Menthor.

As part of several issues there was a support team called the Thunder Squad reminiscent of S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics), Delta Force, or the Green Berets. James Andor is Egghead the brilliant strategist. Daniel John Adkins is Dynamite weapons tech in a strike team. Kathryn “Kitten” Kane is the tech specialist.

William “Weed” Wylie is infiltration specialist who has delusions of grandeur. There are some stories where Weed gets to do more things. He wanted to be part of the A-team and instead he has been relegated to mop up. Originally, the Thunder Squad had their own opportunities to star in stories, but it quickly became apparent the guys with the costumes were the stars.

In those first few issues, there were even some two-page narratives included to give readers more bang for their buck, but those quickly disappeared too. Most people do not buy comics for the words. The pretty pictures are the selling point and with such marquee artistic talent as Gil Kane and Wally Wood who can complain?

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents has passed through several comic book companies since Tower went under, but no company has been able to maintain consistent rights due to some very shoddy and shady business practices. John Carbonaro bought the rights in 1981, but the reality is that the rights he bought were to the original characters, artwork, and stories. The rights were not exclusive, and DC comics has a beef.

Even when they received permission from Carbonaro, the changes DC made were so drastic that the rights they paid for were rescinded. Now, DC feels they have the rights, and because they used to be so financially solvent, nobody wanted to go up against DC comics in court.

Even so, recently, IDW was able to publish 8 issues of new content but with industry insolvency being a problem, it is difficult to know if T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents will ever have a new continuing universe. It’s a shame that so many want to take up the mantle but will not for fear of being sued. For now, all readers can do is enjoy those old issues that are available everywhere online.

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