I suspect I'm not the only person who never read "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" before now, but with Nick Spencer, CAFU, and some good guest artists (ChrisCross, Howard Chaykin, George Perez, Ryan Sook), the creative team was just too strong to not check it out for myself.
What I've found so far? It's a dark and creepy take on superheroes and governmental manipulation (in this case the United Nations). However, it's also a well-done take on dark and creepy, and let's face it, that's extra adjective is not too common.
Spencer is wisely introducing each character of the team in their own spotlight issue, showing the character's history and powers. Here, we get to see NoMan, one of the original team members, who thanks to an army of clone bodies (and a consciousness that automatically moves from one to the next in case of fatality) can live forever, but who's been losing his humanity bit by bit. With NoMan living an extremely long time and having his emotions slowly wither away (to say nothing of being blue and in a room with lots of his bodies) it's hard to avoid the obvious comparison to "Watchmen"'s Dr. Manhattan, but thankfully he doesn't go there any more than what you've just read here. While Lightning's story last month about how his power slowly strips away his life was sad, in some ways NoMan is in a sadder place, perhaps because he comes across as slightly pathetic. From an avoidable tragedy involving his wife, to the quiet revelation that NoMan's setup is in part to keep him from committing suicide, you get the impression that there's a small part of NoMan that is still screaming even while the rest of him is forever numb.
As for the rescue mission in the present day, things take a particularly interesting twist around the two-thirds mark of this issue, and it's a good way of remembering that "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" is about more than just flashbacks and origins. There's a plot unfolding in the present day, too, and that's just as engaging.
CAFU's art is, unsurprisingly, beautiful as ever. I love the rich detail and full bodies that he puts in his characters; in many ways it reminds me of when John Cassaday was just starting out, making his characters feel real without being over-rendered. He's especially good at expressions of his characters, and it's what ultimately sells every scene that CAFU (along with inker Bit) draws.
Howard Chaykin draws the flashbacks this month, and let's be fair: it doesn't mesh with CAFU's art at all. There's absolutely no connection or continuity between the two. Fortunately, that doesn't particularly matter. Not only is it a flashback (so it's where you'd expect to see an art style change if anywhere, to help tell the two apart) but it's Chaykin, whose puffy faces and bulging muscles look great. Sure, it doesn't match CAFU, but I can't imagine anyone being too bent out of shape over that.
"T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" may have an awkward name, but that's the only rough thing about it. I am loving "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents," and it's one of the best new series from DC Comics in a long time. So long as Spencer and CAFU stick around, they can count on me reading. Great job, all involved.