At the top of the cover of “T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents” #5, there’s a quote from my review of issue four: “There is no reason to not read this comic, aside from hating well-crafted comics.” Unfortunately, issue five was the conclusion to the book’s incredibly strong opening story arc, paving the way for the disappointing second story that concluded in this week’s issue. The comic isn’t the impressive, energetic, entertaining book that it started as. The finale to the second story arc and first volume is no exception to that pattern.
A five-issue story devoted to the personal problems between Colleen and her mother, the villain Iron Maiden, as the second story of the title, alone, would be a questionable move after an opening arc that established the group. It’s not an easy thing to say that a story should have or could have been told in fewer issues, but that’s the case here. This story was far too dragged out and empty to justify five issues. The moments that were lingered over didn’t raise the import of the events, nor was it a case of a slow build that paid off in the end. If anything, the wide open, decompressed storytelling hurt the finale because the proper emotional groundwork wasn’t laid.
Choosing to not show the impact of her mother on Colleen was an interesting move on Nick Spencer’s part, but it completely backfires in this issue. So much of what we’re supposed to care about is the final showdown between the two and their consequences. There’s none of that here. It’s a hollow moment. We spent so much time with the Iron Maiden but don’t relate to her; we spent so little time with Colleen, but do relate to her. Doesn’t that strike you as a little backwards? Given the lax pacing, the lack of an emotional payoff is the issue’s biggest failing. If it didn’t pay off in that respect, what was the point?
The shifting artists on the book didn’t help matters with CAFU replaced by Dan Panosian as the arc progressed, with Dan McDaid handling the art for the ‘present’ sequences here. McDaid’s basic style is interesting and dynamic: Kirbyesque cartoony art that sometimes looks a little too rough and unpolished, but also captures moments well at times. That he’s sandwiched between Mike Grell and Nick Dragotta is a little unfortunate. Their work in this issue, as in the rest of the arc, is quite good. Grell and colorist Val Staples make their sequence look like it’s from the ’80s.
The pacing and structure of this arc was a risk that didn’t pay off. The ’60s back-ups didn’t add much to the story, filling in gaps implied elsewhere with not much besides Dragotta’s art to make them worthwhile in any way. Meanwhile, this issue builds to an emotional climax without the emotional basis for that climax. After an impressive, audacious opening arc, this follow-up is baffling for its choices and shunting of the team to the side. This issue ends the first volume and the series returns in November with a new first issue. Based on this story arc, though, I won’t be picking that up. This story so killed my enthusiasm that I went from writing such glowing reviews that they were quoted on the cover of the comic, to wanting nothing to do with it.