Nick Spencer is on a roll. After a series of successful Image mini-series, Spencer made a big impact with the recent launch of "Morning Glories," the debut of him Jimmy Olsen back-up strip in "Action Comics," and news of his upcoming work on "Supergirl" and "Iron Man 2.0." Mixed in with that is this week's relaunch of "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" with artist CAFU. The result is very impressive. Spencer's script moves at a brisk pace, delivering a fully formed story that requires the reader to pay close attention and, perhaps, give it a second read, while CAFU shows a mixture of Frank Quitely and John Cassaday. The more I think about and flip through this comic, the more I like it.
The concept of the book isn't spelled out immediately. Instead of hooking us with that, Spencer and CAFU charge on ahead, delivering action and intrigue. The concept of a superhero team working for the United Nations, handling problems that others heroes wouldn't, remains, but the duo update it to create a hybrid of superhero and spy action as the group tries to rescue one of their own that's been taken captive by Spider, a terrorist organization. With two members in the field, the rescue attempt goes sour after the undercover agent they send out turns out to not be what he seems, leaving T.H.U.N.D.E.R. in a bit of a pickle.
This issue is somewhat reminiscent of the debut of Peter Milligan and Mike Allred's run on "X-Force" with the team proper not introduced. It's an effective way to show the stakes involved. With Spencer tweaking the concept so any recruits get superpowers that will kill them in a year and their mission to be taking down a brilliant terrorist organization, it's immediately established that this is a book where not everyone gets to go home. The emphasis is on the support staff to a degree, beginning with Toby, the man who has to sell people on joining T.H.U.N.D.E.R.
The opening of the issue is visually arresting and restrained, with the emphasis placed on Spencer's dialogue, while also showing off CAFU's ability to show body language and facial expressions. There's a lot asked of CAFU in this issue as he shifts between chaotic action and subtle reactions, always depicted with his clean style. His art is both open and detailed, casually packing panels with characters and objects but never looking overwhelmed. It's art that appeals to both the quick look and longer study: flashy, yet very good at storytelling.
My favorite panel is a simple reaction shot when the whole mission goes wrong and Director Keane stares at the control desk, asking aloud "What just happened here?" with a look of complete disbelief and confusion on his face. CAFU doesn't oversell his reaction, hitting the perfect balance between making his emotions clear and the fact that this is a man who is guarded about what he's thinking a feeling.
"T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" #1 is a strong debut that establishes the concept of the book by showing it instead of simply telling. You need to go with it a little and trust in Spencer and CAFU, because they know what they're doing. As far as first issues go, it's one of the best I've seen in a while and is a sign that "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents" may be the next must read comic.