Friday, May 20, 2011

An Initial Attempt at a Comic Book Review - T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7

So, mildly embarrassing, but I initially intended to write some reviews for a few of the comics I read this week, but I realized I have no idea how to write a comic book review. My first attempt with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7 actually ended up being a close reading of the text, which while super interesting in my mind, doesn't really amount to the same thing.

Therefore, in the interest of getting some type of thoughts on these comics up this week, I've decided to try for a less formal approach this time around, instead writing some short words on what I thought about a smattering of the comics I read this week. We'll see how that goes.

Let's start with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7. To anyone who isn't reading this, you probably should be. To everyone who is, well done on your discerning taste.

Written by: Nick Spencer
Art by: Mike Grell, CAFU, and Nick Dragotta

In case you aren't familiar with what T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is all about, it was originally a comic book in the 1960s that didn't run all that long, featuring a United Nations superhero team whose heroes were everyday people who just happened to be superheroes for their day job. Nick Spencer was put in charge of DC's relaunch of the property last year, and it's been pretty phenomenal. Long story short, the UN is relaunching the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent program, recruiting new people to take over the old positions. However, the catch is that whenever a hero uses their power, it drains a part of their life force, literally shortening their lifespan. And because that isn't complicated enough, things are not what they seem to be within the organization itself.

Unsurprisingly, it has been pretty evident from the first issue that Spencer has a clear story that he wants to tell, and every single issue has provided another part of that overall narrative. This is what what I love most about Spencer's work on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: every issue feels like a puzzle piece and the more pieces we get, the better our understanding of the big picture. This series feels like a complete story that is being told in smaller parts, instead of a complete story that has been broken down into smaller parts (like many comics being released nowadays). There is an important difference between the two.

Issue 7 continues to impress, taking full advantage of Spencer's penchant for flashbacks. In fact, the issue takes it to the nth degree, spending only two of twenty pages in the present, while the other eighteen are split between the 1980s and the 1960s. It may sound a little confusing, but it works quite well, because the events that take place in the past are actually divided into to separate, yet related, stories. The main story takes place primarily in the 1980s, with those two present-day pages acting as a frame narrative, and the second story takes place entirely within the 1960s.

The main story builds on the implied revelation from last issue that Colleen is the daughter of longtime T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent villainess, The Iron Maiden. Perhaps “builds” is not a strong enough descriptor, for the main story is a virtual origin story for the two, explaining aspects of their relationship while also expanding on the Iron Maiden's relationship with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and its Agents. For the sake of trying to avoid spoilers this time around, I will leave it at that, but suffice it to say, it's kind of amazing.

The back-up story is a short, five-pager presenting an encounter between The Iron Maiden and the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (thus why it is set in the 1960s). It's deceptively simple, and manages to say a lot in those few pages. In fact, it is an excellent example of the series' motif of looking at the past as a way to explain, and better understand, the present. That is exactly what this story does, as the reader's understanding of the main story, both the 1980s and the present, is directly impacted by the events depicted in the back-up.

Now that I've rambled on for a few paragraphs, let me take a moment to explicitly state that the writing is once again top-notch in this issue. It's worth noting that his writing style changed from era to era, melding aspects of the respective time period with present day sensibilities. In all cases, the characters, events, and settings all come across as well-developed and complete, so kudos to Mr. Spencer for that.

Of course, a huge part of the issue's success is owed to the trio of artists who worked on it. Just as Mr. Spencer changed writing styles for different time periods, it's only fair that a different artist handles each chronological leap as well. CAFU was on present duty, Mike Grell did most of the heavy lifting with the 1980s, and Nick Dragotta showed his stuff back in the 1960s. Each artist does a spectacular job in their respective era. CAFU's body language and facial expressions perfectly express Colleen's thoughts and feelings, without the need of dialogue (which also helps). Mike Grell really captures a style of the 1980s, using a lot of bright and faded colours that are not terribly common today, while staying true to the spirit of the book. The same is true of Nick Dragotta's dalliance back to the 1960s. The style and palette is once again completely different, while still being totally appropriate. Love it.

Verdict – In case it isn't already clear from what I wrote above, I think this is an incredibly solid book and it would make a great addition to anyone's pull list. It's also a decent jumping on point for anyone who hasn't been following T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, because there is no prior knowledge needed – everything is explained through the dual narratives. You should totally give it a chance!

Alright, so that ended up being a little longer than I had originally anticipated. Also, I only talked about one of the comic books I read this week. On the plus side, it was probably the best comic I read, so there is that.

Again, I am still trying to figure out what to do with this space, so this is a good start, at the very least. Hopefully you found this to be of some use, or at least, of some interest. Next time, I'll hopefully talk about more than one book. And if we're lucky, I'll do it a little earlier in the week.

Fingers crossed.

No comments:

Post a Comment