Monday, October 08, 2007

T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents : Phase 2

PHASE 2 - Boom and Bust!

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. was a hybrid of two pop culture genres of the 1960's: "The Spy Craze" (as typified by James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E and such) and the mid-60's boom in comicbook superheroes (spurred on by the rise of Marvel Comics, the popularity of the "camp" Batman TV show and other factors). Apart from "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.", super-spies fared far better on TV and in films than in the funny pages, but under Wally Wood's pragmatic eye the series never strayed far from reality, and the tone of the stories engendered a suspension of disbelief that DC never had in the 60's, and Marvel was fast loosing a grip on.

9 October 1966 Cover: John Giunta/Wally Wood
Dynamo: "Corporal Dynamo, U.S.A." 10
Art: John Giunta/Wally Wood
Lightning: "Andor" 10
Art: Mike Sekowsky/ Frank Giacoia (odd pages), Joe Giella (even pages)
NoMan: "The Secret of Scorpion Island" 10
Art: John Giunta
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: "The Black Box of Doom" 10
Art: Dan Adkins/Chic Stone
Raven: "Raven Battles Mayven The Poet" 11
Art: Manny Stallman Story: Manny Stallman
Letters 2

The first eight issues of featured (what would now be called) a story arc dealing with the ongoing battle with The Subterraneans, climaxing with their ultimate defeat in issue 8. It is indeed possible that this is also another example of Wood's storytelling sensibilities being light years ahead of most of his contemporaries, as I can think of no self contained storyline with a beginning, middle and end from the Silver Age (and before you start bombarding me with examples, do remember that, like the death of Menthor in issue 7, there was a sense of fidelity with, and respect for, the intelligence and sensibilities of the readers, and as such, apart from a few straggling survivors, the subterraneans vanished from the Tower line after issue 8).

Their replacements, the various agents of S.P.I.D.E.R. (check out these preliminary drawings of two hench-men types) provided a more traditional foil for the T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents (much like Bond and SMERSH or U.N.C.L.E. and Thrush). The vague shift in emphasis (lost on many folks I think) turns the organization from a top secret para-military defense force (against a hostile non-human invasion) into more of an international super-powered police force. Subtle, but I feel it took some of the bite out of the series, and made the conflicts less dramatic in some ways.
On the plus side though, the series still maintained more of a hold on reality than most of it's contemporaries, avoiding any extra-dimensional realms, supernatural elements, magic and the like.

10 November 1966
Cover: Al Williamson (Dynamo figure only) & Wally Wood/Wood
Dynamo: "Operation Armageddon" 10
Art: Wally Wood
Lightning: "The Air Laser" 10
Art: Mike Sekowsky/Joe Giella (odd pages), Frank Giacoia (even pages)
NoMan/Andor: "Three Deeds of Evil" 10
Art: Ogden Whitney
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: "Kitten or Killer?" 10
Art: George Tuska
Raven: "The Return of Mayven" 10
Art: Manny Stallman Story: Manny Stallman
Letters 2

"If a drawrin's dun good, it's a drawrin' by WOOD!
(See below for a primo example)

11 March 1967 Cover: Wally Wood
Dynamo: "The Death of Dynamo" 10

Art: Dan Adkins/Wally Wood & Dan Adkins
Lightning: "Lightning vs. The Vortex" 10
Art: Sekowsky/Giacoia Story: Steve Skeates
NoMan: "The Trap" 10
Art: John Giunta Story: Steve Skeates
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: "Understudy For Dynamo" 10
Art: Chic Stone
Raven: "The Case of Jacob Einhorn" 10
Art: Manny Stallman Story: Manny Stallman
Letters 2

For better or worse, the editorial mandate at the time seems to have been for the look of the "Tower Action Line" to be 150% Wood. Although possessing a uniform slickness (partially based on Wood's slow and possibly deliberate move towards a systemization of the working process harking back to the days of assembly-line studios (eg. Binder studio, Iger studio et al.) In the final analysis, the pages originating from Wood's studio looked like Wood, and at a volume that was staggering - John Giunta inked by Wood looks like Wood, and let's not forget Woody's tendency to encourage his assistants to draw in his style. Over time, the final package had some jarring elements in the mix. Apparently, unable to supply the sheer volume required by Tower, editor Harry Shorten contacted other (quite capable) artists like Mike Sekowsky, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Manny Stallman, Ogden Whitney and Chic Stone. The juxtaposition of art styles was startling, to say the least.

12 April 1967
Cover: Wally Wood
Dynamo: "Strength is Not Enough" 10
Art: Steve Ditko/Wally Wood & Dan Adkins
Lightning: "Speed Demon" 10
Art: Sekowsky/Giacoia Story: Steve Skeates
NoMan: "The Rock" 10
Art: John Giunta/John Giunta & Frank Giacoia
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: "The Road to Spider HQ" 10
Art: Sekowsky/Giacoia & Giella Story: Skeates
Raven: "The Raven Battles the Storm Troopers of Xochimilco" 10
Art: Manny Stallman Story: Manny Stallman
Letters 2

13 June 1967
Cover: Wally Wood
Dynamo: "A Bullet for Dynamo" 10
Art: Dan Adkins/Wally Wood & Dan Adkins
NoMan: "Escape from Destiny" 10
Art: Ogden Whitney
Lightning: "The Quick and the Changing" 10
Art: Chic Stone Story: Steve Skeates
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: "The Black Helmet" 10
Art: George Tuska
Undersea Agent: "The Second Atlantis" 10
Art: Paul Reinman Story: Steve Skeates
Letters 2

14 July 1967
Cover: Gil Kane
Dynamo/Andor: "Return Engagement" 10
Layouts: Wally Wood Tight Pencils: Steve Ditko
Inks: Wally Wood & Dan Adkins
Lightning: "To Fight is to Die" 10
Art: Chic Stone Story: Steve Skeates
NoMan: "On the Other Side" 10
Art: John Giunta Story: Steve Skeates
Raven: "Darkly Sees the Prophet" 10
Art: Gil Kane Story: GiI Kane
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: "The Fist of Zeus" 10
Art: George Tuska
Letters 2

15 September 1967
Cover: Gil Kane
Dynamo/Andor: "Collision Course" 10 Art: Wally Wood
Lightning: "While Our Hero Sleeps..." 10
Art: Chic Stone Story: Steve Skeates
NoMan :"Starflight to the Assassin Planet" 12
Art: Ogden Whitney Story: Bill Pearson
Dynamo: "Hail to the Chief" 10
Art: John Giunta/Wally Wood & Dan Adkins
Weed: "Dig We Must" 10 Art: George Tuska
Pin-up: NoMan in Action (r: TA #4) 1
Pin-up: NoMan (r: TA #3) 1

Wood's overpowering influence on the material coming from his studio did create a visual "house style" (just as Kirby had at Marvel in the early 60's), but it was on an editorial level where Tower failed to compete with Marvel in a real and meaningful way.
It must be said that the level of the writing (including character development and ongoing continuity) could have been treated with a more critical eye. Noman, in particular, had only one or two examples where his android (a non-human outsider) nature was explored, and the continuity gaffes in Menthor's strip were staggering!

16 October 1967 Cover: Wally Wood
Dynamo/Andor: "Dream of Doom" 10
Art: Steve Ditko
NoMan: "One of Our Androids is Missing" 10
Art: Gil Kane/Gil Kane & Jack Abel (Abel pgs. 1-5)
Lightning: "The Whirliwig" 10
Art: Chic Stone Story: Steve Skeates
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: "The End of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents?"
Art: George Tuska

Cover rough.

17 December 1967
Cover: Ralph Reese?/Wally Wood
THUNDER Agents: "First Encounter" (r: TA #1) 4
Dynamo: "Return of the Hyena" 10
Art: Wally Wood & Ralph Reese/Wally Wood
NoMan: "The Locusts are Coming" 10
Art: Ogden Whitney
Weed: "Weed Out West" 10
Art: George Tuska
Dynamo: "Put Them All Together They Spell S.P.I.D.E.R." 10
Art: Chic Stone

18 September 1968
Cover: Reed Crandall
Dynamo: "Dynamo Meets the Amazing Mr. Mek" 10 Art: Steve Ditko
NoMan: "The Sinister Schemes of Professor Reverse" 10 Art: Ogden Whitney
Dynamo: "The Arena" 10 Art: Reed Crandall
Dynamo: "The Secret of the Abominable Snowmen" 10 Art: Chic Stone
Menthor: "A Matter of Life and Death" (r: TA #7) 10
Pin-up: NoMan in Action (r: TA #4) 1

19 November 1968
Cover: vignettes from Issues #7, 8, 14 & 16
Dynamo: "Half an Hour of Power" 10 Art: Wally Wood & Ralph Reese/Wally Wood

Dynamo: "Dynamo vs. The Ghost" 10 Art: Paul Reinman

Dynamo: "All-Girl Gang" 10 Art: George Tuska

NoMan: "A Matter of Transmitters" 10 Art: Paul Reinman
Lightning: "Speed Demon" (r: TA #12) 10
Pin-up: Dynamo (r: TA #3) 1

20 November 1969
Cover: Chic Stone
Dynamo: "The Origin of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent Dynamo" 4
Art: Chic Stone

Dynamo: "The Return of the Iron Maiden" (r: TA #4) 10
NoMan: "Threat of the Amazing Vibraman" (r: TA #3) 10
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: "The Deadly Dust" (r: TA #4) 10
Dynamo: "The Red Dragon" (r: TA #3) 10


2 October 1966
Cover: Wally Wood
"The Web of S.P.I.D.E.R." 10 Art: Chic Stone/Wally Wood & Dan Adkins
"S.P.I.D.E.R. Strikes at Sea" 10
Art: Dan Adkins/Wally Wood & Dan Adkins
"The Priceless Counterfeit" 10
Art: Dick Ayers/Wally Wood & Dan Adkins
"Between Two Enemies" 10
Art: Mike Sekowsky/Chic Stone
Weed: "The Hyena" 10
Art: George Tuska
Pin-up: Red Star 1
Art: Mike Sekowsky/Frank McLaughlin(?)
Pin-up: Andor the Humanoid 1
Art: Dan Adkins

3 March 1967
Cover: Wally Wood
"The Unseen Enemy" 10 Art: Wally Wood & Dan Adkins/Wood & Adkins
"Bad Day for Leonard Brown" 10
Art: Chic Stone Story: Ralph Reese
"The Feats of Samson" 10
Art: Chic Stone
"Honeymoon or High Noon?" 10
Art: Paul Reinman
Weed: "Weed vs. THUNDER" 10
Art: George Tuska
Letters 2

4 June 1967
Cover: Wally Wood
"The Maze" 10 Art: Dan Adkins/Wally Wood
"The Secret Word is..." 10 Art: Dan Adkins/Wally Wood
"Dynamo's Day Off" 10 Art: Chic Stone
"The Weakest Man in the World" 10 Art: Chic Stone
Weed: "Once Upon a Time" 10
Art: Steve Ditko/Wally Wood Story: Wally Wood
Letters 2


1 November 1966
Cover: Wally Wood
"Fingers of Fate" 10 Art: Gil Kane/Paul Reinman
"Secret in the Sky" 10 Art: John Giunta
Lightning: "The Warp Wizard's Master Plan" 10
Art: Chic Stone Story: Steve Skeates
"Trapped in the Past" 10 Art: Ogden Whitney Story: Steve Skeates
"The Good Subterranean" 10 Art: Ogden Whitney

2 March 1967 Cover: Wally Wood
"Dynamo vs. NoMan" 10 Art: Ogden Whitney
"The Weird Case of the Kiss of Death" 10 Art: Ogden Whitney
Lightning: "The Web Tightens" 10 Art: Chic Stone Story: Steve Skeates
"Target NoMan" 10 Art: Ogden Whitney
"A Quick Change of Mind" 10
Art: Ogden Whitney Story: Steve Skeates


5 October 1966 Cover: Gil Kane
"Born is a Warrior" 20 Art: Gil Kane Story: Gil Kane
"Death Darts from the Ocean Floor" 14 Art: Ray Bailey
"Merman" (Part 2) 10 Art: Manny Stallman
"The Showdown on Venue" (Part 2) 10 Art: Manny Stallman
Letters 1

6 March 1967 Cover: Gil Kane(?) / Wally Wood
"Doomsday in the Depths" 20 Art: Gil Kane Story: Gil Kane
"The Sea Stalag" 10 Art: Ray Bailey
Merman: "Lobster Island" 10 Art: Ray Bailey
Letters 2

So Phase two would consist of T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents 9 (Oct. '66) to #20 (Nov. '69),
Undersea Agent #5 (Oct. '66) and #6 (March '67),
Dynamo 32 (Oct. 66) to #4 (June '67) and Noman #1 (Oct. '66) and #2 (March '67).

Paperback Collections

(Tower Book 42-660) 1966
Cover: Wally Wood (r)
Frontis "Menace of the Iron Fog" (splash only, r: TA #1) 1
THUNDER Agents: "First Encounter" (r: TA #1) 12
Dynamo: "Menace of the Iron Fog" (r: TA #1) 34
NoMan: "NoMan Battles the Spawns of the Devil" (r: TA #1) 27
Menthor: "The Enemy Within" (r: TA #1) 35
Dynamo: "At the Mercy of the Iron Maiden" (r: TA #1) 29

(Tower Book 42-672) 1966
Cover: Chic Stone & Wally Wood (r)
"In the Warlord's Power" (r: TA #2) 31
"NoMan Faces the Threat of the Amazing Vibraman" (r: TA #2) 29
"The Synthetic Stand-Ins" (r: TA #4) 29
"NoMan in Action" (r: TA #3) 3
"In the Caverns of Demo" (r: TA #5) 30
Back cover: NoMan pin-up (r: TA #3) 1

(Tower Book 42-674) 1966
Cover: Steve Ditko & Wally Wood (r)
"Menthor" (r: TA #2) 30
"Dynamo vs. Menthor" (r: TA #3) 29
"The Great Hypno" (r: TA #4) 33
"Menthor vs. the Entrancer" (r: TA #4) 30
Back cover: "The Great Hypno" splash (r: TA #4) 1

(Tower Book 42-687) 1966
Cover: Dan Adkins (r) Dynamo:
"Dynamo Battles the Subterraneans" (r: TA #3) 28
Dynamo: "Dynamo Battles Dynavac" (r: TA #2) 39
Menthor: "The Carnival of Death" (r: TA #6) 31
NoMan: "To Fight Alone" (r: TA #6) 28


1 August 1966 Cover: Mike Sekowsky/Frank Giacoia
Saga of the Lucky 7: "The Mission" 11 Art: Mike Sekowsky/Frank Giacoia
"The Well in the Desert" 6
Art: Jerry Grandenetti
"When It's Time to Die" 10
Art: Jerry Grandenetti
Secret Agent Mike Manly: "Message of Doom" 10
Art: Dick Giordano
"Chain of Command" 7
Art: José Delbo
"Iwo Jima" 6
Art: José Delbo
Gallant Warriors: "Major Charles Loring, Jr., USAF" 2
Art: Mike Sekowsky/Frank Giacoia

2 October 1966
Cover: José Delbo
Saga of the Lucky 7: "Michel's Revenge" 12 Art: Mike Sekowsky/Frank Giacoia & Joe Giella
"The Ace" 5 Art: Frank Bolle
"The Silent Service" 8
Art: Russ Jones/Al McWilliams Story: Russ Jones
"Dead Wrong" 9 Art: Ray Bailey
Mike Manly Secret Agent: "The XX119" 5
Secret Agent Mike Manly: "Assignment in Paris" 10
Art: José Delbo
"Green Berets" 12 Art: Boris Vallejo
K.P. McGoof 1 Art: Samm Schwartz

3 March 1967 Cover: Mike Sekowsky/Frank Giacoia
Zack Fight of the Green Berets: "The Draftee" 10 Art: Mike Sekowsky/Frank Giacoia
"Pearl Harbor... Old Subs Never Die..." 10 Art: Mike Sekowsky/Frank Giacoia
"The Young Ones" 8 Art: Al McWilliams
Secret Agent Mike Manly: "Assignment in Paris" 10 Art: José Delbo
Lucky-7 "A Date with Alice" 10 Art: Chic Stone
K.P. McGoof 2 Art: Samm Schwartz
"Robert Scott, American Ace" 1/2 Art: Wally Wood

It should also be remembered that at the time Tower Comics represented a serious threat to not only Marvel ("The House Of Ideas" AKA "The House That Jack and Steve Built") and DC ("The Dark Mansion Of Psychotic Editors"), but also Archie/MLJ (otherwise known affectionately as "The House Of Evil" or "The House That Dan DeCarlo Built" but that's a WHOLE other story). While it may be that frequency of publication and format (25c cover price and 68 page double size format) worked against the line, it seems that informed conjecture indicates that the arcane mechanics and politics of magazine distribution in America in the 1950's and 1960's were ultimately to blame for the lines demise.
In an interview with Shel Dorf, Wood states "I talked to Harry Shorten about that (he owes me money) and he said that he was squeezed out by his distributor". Interesting as this comment is, Dorf's reply is chilling in its implications -
"It does seem like some books were held back. I know several years later large amounts of these books turned up discount prices. Sounds like dirty pool to me!"
I personally have heard the exact same thing from more that one old-time fan - large quantities of undistributed copies going cheap, as early on as T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents 3!
Wood explained in a letter "By the time we had a Dynamo book, and a NoMan book I was spread pretty thin. But it was fun..... I ran into Harry Shorten and asked him [why Shorten canceled the comic line]. He told me the books always made money. He was forced out by his distributor [PDC], who also handled comics for a big company [Archie]".
Even the crazy format seems to have been dictated by the distibutors: Mark Evanier said "As I understand it, the distributor insisted on that format. There was the feeling that the newstand was supporting as many comics in the smaller format as it could handle, so anything that was added would cut into those sales unless it was in a more expensive package".
So I guess the great unanswered question is -
"Did Archie and/or Marvel and/or DC (or any combination of the three) exert pressure on the relevant distributors to impede or hinder the availability of Tower comics to the public?".... wait a minute though folks - let me ask the ol' Mystic 8 Ball (as informed a source as any in these uncertain and troubling times):
Survey says - "You may rely on it".

I concur, and find myself thinking that these books below (with art by Archie escapee Samm Schwartz) probably looked pretty damn scary to the folks at Riverdale, just as the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents must have raised the hackles of management at Marvel and DC.
Business Is Business and Kunst Gleich Kapital (Art = $).
It doesn't matter how you play the game but whether you win or lose, right gang?

Probably the most interesting thing in "Teen In' to me would have to be the romance stories by Chic Stone.

"How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?"

The title of the above illustration is "King Of The Hill" (as per The Wally Wood Checklist) and would seem to sum up Woody's feelings on the matter. Even without the chest logo, the upper figure is obviously Daredevil hurling poor old Len Brown to an untimely end. Do I really have to spell it out for you? I didn't think so...

Wood's career seems to become almost schizophrenic at this point as he pursues a two-pronged approach in the industry - Inking for $ and the pursuit of more freedom from editorial control and shoddy business ethics by taking the first steps towards self-publishing.

As weird as it sound, I feel that Woody was born 20 or 30 years too early. In todays' idiom, Wally would probably outshine counterculture art-heroes like Robert Williams or Coop... but I really can't dwell on this thought too long or I get angry about the lousy treatment given to Woody and many other talented comic masters by greedy publishers and ham-fisted editors.......

I wonder what an unworn and unwashed one of THESE would go for on eBay......?

So does this mean i'm back, on form and doing it with style?
I wonder if Crazy Al (over at Al's Comics) has any copies of "Teen In" kicking around the back issue bins?

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