When IDW Publishing announced it had acquired the rights to publish new stories featuring Wally Wood's cult-classic "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents", it took fans by surprise. Until that point, DC Comics had been in possession of the license, and most people were unaware that it was up for grabs. Adding to the intrigue was the fact that as of the announcement, IDW had no creative teram or, really, specific plans in place, with CCO Chris Ryall telling CBR News that the plan was simply to look at pitches and see what they liked.
Enter writer Phil Hester and artist Andrea Di Vito. In August, their plans for the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves) come to light when the all-new series debuts.
Hester, known to many fans for his time on "Green Arrow," "The Darkness" and "The Irredeemable Ant-Man," spoke with CBR about tackling Wood's famous team, revealing why the book is his "dream gig," how long he's committed to writing it, why he used "Batman: The Animated Series" as a template and more.
CBR News: The whole "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" at IDW announcement was kind of different in that, rather than waiting to have a team in place before revealing that it had the property, IDW let the news get out and then began to accept pitches. How did you land the gig?
Phil Hester: I barged in with a knife in my teeth. This is one of those rare times I heard about a project through the grapevine, requested to pitch, was granted such by the wise Chris Ryall, delivered a decent pitch and was awarded the book. I've been doing this about 25 years, and that rarely comes off. I am a huge fan of the concept, and especially the original comics (which were before even my time), so this is definitely a dream gig for me.
What incarnation of the team will you be working with? Are you acknowledging the DC Comics incarnation, is this an all-new team --?
It's the classic team presented in an all-new way. Readers will see Dynamo, NoMan, Lightning, Kitty Kane, Guy Gilbert, Weed, Dynamite, etc., but in unexpected roles and with fresh takes on their personalities and abilities. When I pitched IDW on the project, I mentioned using "Batman: The Animated Series" as a template. It's set in a timeless, modern "now," but presented in a style that's consistent with the classic books. This is an all-new continuity that new readers will find friendly, but one in which long-time fans will find innumerable easter eggs and homages to the classic series.
What's your first story-arc about?
Like the original "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" #1, it's about recruiting Len Brown to become Dynamo -- but the similarities end there, as anyone who has seen page one can tell you. I'm not going to spoil my own book, but the changes to not only Len, but Iron Maiden, NoMan and especially Kitty Kane should be intriguing enough to bring folks back for issue #2.
Somewhere in the disputed region of Kashmir, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. has built an unauthorized, covert lab for the purpose of investigating a mysterious power source deep within the foreboding mountains, but once that lab is attacked by Iron Maiden, it can no longer be kept a secret. The terrible truth about the power source and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. itself threaten the existence of every living thing on earth. Naturally, this is a great time to throw rookie agent Len Brown, armed with one of the most powerful weapons known to man, into the fray.
Are you on this book as the ongoing writer? How far out do you have the book mapped?
Technically, only two arcs, but honestly, I could write this thing for the rest of my life. I've been scribbling down "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" notes for the last 30 years after first seeing Wally Wood's art for the series. I guess it's up to the comics buying public if I'll hang around long enough to be considered the regular writer.
Did any of those notes end up making it in to these first two story-arcs?
Not in these first two, but if we're around long enough, I'm going to roll out a NoMan solo story that I wrote about twenty years ago. I actually included it in my long form pitch, so I think IDW is down with it.
What's it like working with Andrea Di Vito on this project?
Fantastic. Andrea is a real super-hero artist. I mean, he understands that even quiet scenes have to have some sense of impending dynamism about them. We're making a smart, funny, thrilling, sometimes scary book, but all the while it has to look exciting, or at least engaging. It's super heroes, folks. Andrea takes no pages off. He knows how to break out the John Buscema juice and pack each page with lively figures and impressive sets. It's old school action comics presented with a layer of modern storytelling sophistication. Come see!
Will you be providing any covers for the series?
At least one, with maybe more to come.
What are some of your favorite classic "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agent" stories?
Menthor's origin story is pretty great, and pretty indicative of the flavor of the series as a whole. Not everyone on the book is a knight in shining armor, but roles are fluid, just like in the real world, so we see bad guys turn good from time to time. I think this story is the most credible version of that concept this side of "This Man, This Monster" from "Fantastic Four."
Andor's origin story is so well done, I'm not sure I could do anything to improve on it, but I love the character so much I can't wait to reintroduce him to continuity. He's an anti-hero, or at least an alienated potential hero, on a par with Namor and Warlock.
I'm a huge fan of the very first issue introducing both Iron Maiden and Dynamo with the iron fog. Love that caper. I also dig any issue with Dr. Sparta. Who doesn't love robot dinosaurs?
Finally, what sorts of stories and themes are you looking to tell with "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents?" A superhero team working for the United Nation certainly opens the door for some interesting stories.
"T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" are different from run-of-the-mill Big Two heroes in many ways. First, this is their job. They are heroes, but like any modern soldier, it is also an occupation. They are given assignments, sometimes murky ones, and are expected to follow orders. They follow a strict chain of command and are subject to performance reviews. Their missions are sometimes clearly ones of interdiction, but occasionally they are tasked with what could be called nation-building exercises. You're just as likely to find them disarming a rogue nuke as building a dam.
Secondly, there is a price to pay for the use of their powers, and I don't mean that in any abstract "with great power..." way. Like a pro athlete, using their remarkable physical gifts has a direct impact on not only their health, but their mortality. In the case of some agents, the powers they use are eventually going to kill them. Despite this, they serve.
Thirdly, they're just weird; an invisible robot with an old man's brain, a gullible walking tank, a traitorous telepath, a villain who manages to make a full suit of plate armor look seductive. I vow to not only preserve the weirdness, but amp it up a bit. The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents will be unlike any other super team on the stands.
"T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" #1 by Phil Hester and Andrea Di Vito debuts this August from IDW Publishing.