T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is a team of comic book superheroes originally published by Tower Comics in the 1960s. They were an arm of the United Nations and were notable for their depiction of the heroes as everyday people whose heroic careers were merely their day jobs, as well as featuring some of the better artists of the day, notably Wally Wood. They first appeared in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (November 1965). The name is an acronym for "The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves".
Tower Comics were unusual for the time, being 25 cents when most comics were 12 cents, but they were thicker comics, usually featuring five or six independent stories, with all the main characters coming together for the final story of the issue.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was a bimonthly comic book published by Tower Comics. It ran 20 issues, from November 1965 to November 1969, plus two short-lived spin-off series starring the most popular super agents (Dynamo and NoMan). In the first volume of DC's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Archives, Robert Klein and Michael Uslan wrote that Tower publisher Harry Shorten "cut a dream deal with Wally Wood" in which Shorten would be the managing editor and "Wood would be granted a wide latitude of creative and business freedom devoid of a 9 to 5 office job or hefty administrative duties and be allowed to concentrate on creating characters and concepts for an expanding line of superhero comics." When it became obvious Wood could not handle the volume of material Shorten wanted to publish, he hired Samm Schwartz (1922–1997), who had worked for many years as an Archie Comics artist. Schwartz handled the scheduling of all the material and assignments of scripts and art other than Wood's own.
To launch the project, Wood huddled with scripter Len Brown on a superhero concept Brown had described to Wood a year earlier. Brown recalled, "Wally had remembered my concept and asked me to write a 12-page origin story. I submitted a Captain Thunderbolt story in which he fought a villain named Dynamo." With a few changes by Wood and a title obviously inspired by the success of the spy-fi TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the then current James Bond film Thunderball, the series got underway.
Scripts were written by Wood, Dan Adkins, Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Larry Ivie, Steve Skeates and Manny Stallman. In addition to Wood, the large team of contributing artists included Dan Adkins, Dick Ayers, Richard Bassford, Tony Coleman, Reed Crandall, Steve Ditko, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, Joe Giella, John Giunta, Gil Kane, Joe Orlando, Ralph Reese, Paul Reinman, Mike Sekowsky, Chic Stone, Sal Trapani, George Tuska, Ogden Whitney and Al Williamson.
Following Tower Comics' demise, the rights to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents were bought by John Carbonaro, who published several issues of a new series in 1983 under his JC Comics line, the last of which was published through Archie Comics' Red Circle Comics line. In 1984, David Singer's Deluxe Comics published five issues of a new series, Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, featuring some of the best artists of the era, including George Pérez, Dave Cockrum, Keith Giffen, Murphy Anderson and Jerry Ordway. Singer, a former associate of Carbonaro, claimed the group was in the public domain, but a lawsuit by Carbonaro determined otherwise, ending with Deluxe Comics' demise in 1986.
In the later 1980s, Solson Comics produced one issue of T.H.U.N.D.E.R., a planned four-issue series which was never completed. A second issue was almost done. This series was not quite set in the same universe as the original series and took the characters in a different direction.
In the early 1990s Rob Liefeld (of Extreme Studios, Image Comics) claimed to have the rights to publish T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents . He even advanced Dave Cockrum money to do the series. Liefeld was said to have told Cockrum that he had free rein and no approval needed on his stories from either Liefeld himself, or any of the other editors at Extreme Studios. But Liefeld claims that Cockrum later came back to him and decided he didn't want to do the book, and gave Liefeld no reason.
Another revival was attempted by Carbonaro in OMNI Comics #3 (1995) but was never continued beyond that issue, though more work was completed. In the early 2000s, DC Comics planned to release a new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents series under license from Carbonaro. Work for about two issues of a new series was completed, but Carbonaro put a stop to it as it made radical alternations to the characters. DC failed to create a series keeping in line with the original series and tone, but DC did begin publishing reprints of the original Tower series in their hardcover DC Archives format in a total of six volumes.
The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Companion (2005), edited by Jon B. Cooke for TwoMorrows Publishing, is a book-length history of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, combining material from Comic Book Artist with printed previously unpublished work. [ISBN 1-893905-43-8].
The first issue introduced the first three T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents: Dynamo, NoMan and Menthor. UN soldiers storm a mountain laboratory of a UN scientist, Professor Emil Jennings, driving off the forces of the Warlord. The scientist is dead, but he left behind several of his inventions- super weapons to combat the Warlord's worldwide attacks. These inventions provide superpowers: Leonard Brown is given the Thunder belt, which makes him super strong and invulnerable for a short amount of time and is code-named Dynamo. Dying scientist Anthony Dunn transfers his mind into an android body of his own design. With a wide number of these identical bodies, he can transfer his mind to any of them should something happen to the one he's in. He is given an invisibility cloak and becomes NoMan. John Janus gains mental powers from the Menthor helmet. He is a double agent for the Warlord, but when he wears the helmet, he turns to good. Joining these super agents is the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad, a special team of agents who fight the worldwide threat of the Warlord.
In subsequent issues, additional agents were added:
Virgil 'Guy' Gilbert of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad is given the Lightning suit and becomes a super agent in the fourth issue. More importantly, in the second issue, we learn that the Warlord is actually a Subterranean, and his forces are humanoids who live under the surface and have engaged in a war with the surface world to reclaim it from humans. In issue 7, Menthor is killed. In issue 8, Craig Lawson is given an experimental rocket pack and becomes the Raven and more importantly, the Subterraneans are defeated in that same issue.
Later post-Tower additions included sonic-powered agent Vulcan, two different UNDERSEA Agents (father and daughter), and two later versions of "new" agents who wore the Menthor helmet.
With the threat of the Subterraneans ended, new villains appeared in the original series. Issue 9 introduced S.P.I.D.E.R. (Secret People's International Directorate for Extralegal Revenue), the main villains for the rest of the series. Other menaces included the Iron Maiden, an armored mastermind (introduced in the first issue) who worked for the Subterraneans, and who was a possible love interest for Dynamo); Andor, a fast-healing telekinetic superhuman created by the Subterraneans, who was introduced in Dynamo #1; and Red Star (Communist menace) and others.