2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents - the international superhero strike force created by comics legend Wally Wood. But while characters from Menthor to Dynamo to NoMan have remained known amongst comic diehards including a recent run with IDW, the franchise has never broken out into wide media.
That may soon change after a slate of announcements released at New York Comic Con by father/son film producers Michael and David Uslan. In a panel Saturday afternoon, the pair rolled out a wave of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents plans including a partnership with the United Nations and the early phases of a film and television universe funded by Chinese film company Huayi Brothers Media Corporation.
Joining the Uslans on stage were UNICEF Director of Public Partnerships Olav KjÃ¸rven, United Nations Director of the Outreach Division Maher Nasser, PCI Media Impact CEO Sean Southey, comic artist Bob Layton and most tellingly, screenwriters Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton.
The panel got rolling with a special video message from an unexpected guest: U.N. Secretary General from Ban Ki-Moon. The diplomat hammed it up in a message meant to tie the fighting spirit of superheroes to the high minded global goals of the international coalition of nations.
Soon, Michael Uslan and Layton were outlining the history of the original "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" comics and their connection to them. "[These comics] fell in the middle of Marvel and DC," Uslan said. "It had the darkness of Marvel but the fun of DC" in how it would place it's imaginative characters into grave danger due to the powers they were granted by U.N. scientists. "It really resonated and changed everything."
Layton recalled how he started his comics career shortly after the Agents Tower Comics heyday as an apprentice to Wood. Introduced to the artist via former Agents collaborator Bill Pearson who saw Layton's work in his early fanzine efforts. From there, Wood helped Layton get his first work at both DC and Marvel in the '70s.
To honor that legacy, Uslan and Layton teamed to created a short T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents comic to serve as a Public Service Announcement for the U.N.'s 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. "I never thought I'd see someone put comics and the U.N. in the same sentence, but then I learned it happened 50 years ago," Nasser noted. As part of the U.N./UNICEF partnership Comics Uniting Nations, more use of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents characters may be in the offing, and Uslan announced that next year he will help put together a comic art exhibition at the United Nations. For now, Layton donate a page of his original art from their story for auction to help raise funds for the initiative's goals.
The big news hit the panel as David Uslan took the mic to say, "We are happy to announce that we are turning the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents into a very prolific film and television franchise" and introduce Lustig and Thornton who will lead the writing team for the franchise and have a number of film projects of their own in the pipeline with Sony Pictures. Calling the writers "true geeks," Uslan said, "They are helping us put together this epic property."
"'T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents' was the first international superhero team...recruiting agents from all around the world who were secretly able to cross borders [to save the world]" the younger Uslan said, echoing the theme is father laid out for the franchise of making a truly global story that represents nations "coming together as one family of man."
To create this movie and TV plan, the Uslans are teaming with the Huayi Brothers Media Corporation, and Michael Uslan was quick to stress that this was not just foreign money coming in but a true partnership. "This is not a Westerner's idea of what world culture is all about," he said. "This is not China as our banker or our ATM...we're partnering to create movies that can play everywhere and have full universality."
Uslan added, "This is not simply about a movie franchise. We are building a franchise in a way that even the movie studios can't." He promised various tie-in media from video games to animation to theme park attractions.
Lustig and Thornton spoke about their plans for the characters, noting that the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents film will "be a more modern version of what it looks and feels like today" to exist with technology-driven powers, said Lustig. "We've seen Borne and we've seen the Avengers...what would it be like to merge those two?"
The writers also noted that the planned TV show may take place back in the '60s during the early days of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, but overall, the franchise will take advantage of the fact that in the original comics, characters like Menthor could die. They said their film version will work to be more shocking than "Game of Thrones" in how it will be willing to let any character die and let someone else take their place.
Michael Uslan wrapped the panel by sharing a video of the franchises first confirmed actor: Stan Lee who spoke with enthusiasm about making his first cameo in a non-Marvel movie.