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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Ditko

Much like the old characters from Charlton, Fawcett, Milestone, and MLJ Comics, DC has recently acquired the full rights to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents team and is folding them into the DCU in their own title. Before I get into a review of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1, however, I should probably tell you a bit about their extremely convoluted history.

Created by artist Wally Wood, the team originally appeared in November 1965’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 published by Tower Comics. For a while the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. (acronym for The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves) Agents consisted of NoMan, Dynamo, Lightning, and Menthor, four heroes who were given powers by an invisibility cloak, a strength-enhancing belt, a speedster suit, and a telepathy helmet respectively. Only problem was that the power-granting items also slowly killed their users. Other heroes came and went (like Sea Devils rip-off sister team, U.N.D.E.R.S.E.A. Agents) before the series ended at issue #20 and Tower Comics folded.

For years, the team remained dormant (aside from a British publisher, L. Miller & Son, Ltd., reprinting the original issues in black and white sometime during the mid-70s) until John Carbonaro bought the rights in 1983 and planned on rebooting the series (with the aid of David Singer) on his own JC Comics. Unfortunately, he and Singer had a serious falling out and Carbonaro only got as far as two issues before JC Comics fell through. That same year, Texas Comics released Justice Machine Annual #1, the only issue they ever produced, which featured a team-up story between the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and their in-house superhero team, the Justice Machine.

In 1984, Singer and Deluxe Comics claimed that the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents were now in public domain (bullshit!) and began releasing a series under the name Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents with a fantastic line-up of artists including George Pérez, Steve Ditko, Keith Giffen, and Jerry Ordway. Unfortunately for him, Carbonaro still owned the rights and sued the shit out of Singer and Deluxe Comics, ultimately winning the suit and putting them out of business in 1986.

In 1987, Gary Brodsky, son of Marvel legend Sol Brodsky, attempted to release a four-issue black-and-white limited series through his own Solson (Sol’s Son, get it?!) Publications. One issue was released before the company went belly-up (probably because most of their books were either right-wing propaganda or anti-feminist screeds). FUN FACT: Following the demise of Solson Publications, Gary decided to make a series of videos teaching guys how to pick up women with titles like “Alpha Up and Rock Her World” and “How to Be a Prick Women Love.” Seriously. Look at his fucking website.

Rumor has it that in the 1990’s Rob Liefeld claimed the rights to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and wanted Dave Cockrum to release a series on Liefeld’s Extreme Studios before it fell through. If that’s true, it’s a bit strange considering that Carbonaro still owned the rights to the superhero team, going so far as releasing a final story in 1995 in Penthouse Comix’s (yup, that Penthouse) OMNI Comics #3.

Finally, some time during the early 2000’s, Carbonaro and DC Comics struck a deal and a DCU T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents book was in the works. Well, it would have been, except Carbonaro shot down every idea DC presented to him. See, DC really wanted to shake things up for the team while Carbonaro decided that nobody from the original team should die (despite the fact that the whole point of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was that their powers would ultimately kill them). Aside from a few DC Archive hardcovers and a couple of statues, nothing really came of it.

On February 25, 2009, John Carbonaro died. July 2009, DC Comics announced at SDCC that they were moving forward with a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents book. Yesterday, it came out.

So, how is it?

Written by Nick Spencer (Shuddertown, Existence 2.0), T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 tells the story of the United Nations scrambling to replace the recently deceased Lightning and Dynamo following a trap set by S.P.I.D.E.R. (the villains from the original Tower Comics run). Without explaining too much about the original team, it sets up the premise that the original NoMan and the new replacement members must save Raven (another Tower Comics character) from S.P.I.D.E.R. It’s surprisingly engaging, considering that the team hasn’t had a proper canon story since the 80’s outside of Penthouse (man, how I wish I were joking). As odd as it sounds, the book does a good job establishing the team without giving the its members a proper introduction, instead focusing on the staff behind the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (so, I guess whatever “The Higher United Nations” is). Plus, the art by the single-named duo of CAFU (Vixen: Return of the Lion) and BIT (Batman and the Outsiders)  is pretty damned good (if you can overlook the fact that everybody looks like they’re wearing crazy amounts of eyeliner).

Here’s hoping that where the Red Circle books kind of petered out, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents can take a seat next to the rest of the DC Comics greats.

Even if you’ve never read or seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, chances are pretty good you know about HAL 9000 and his shenanigans. Something you probably didn’t know, however, was that it apparently took place on Earth-616.

“What the hell are you talking about?” asked the entire Internet.

Well, from 1976 to 1982, Marvel would occasionally release comic book adaptations to TV shows and movies written and illustrated by some industry heavyweights under the banner “Marvel Treasury Special.” The first book to carry this banner was the 84-page 2001: A Space Odyssey, written and drawn by Jack Kirby (released a full 8 years after the film’s release).

In December 1976, Kirby began writing a ten-issue limited series also called 2001: A Space Odyssey which expanded on the story a bit. July 1997’s 2001: A Space Odyssey #8, tells the story of Dr. Oliver Broadhurst’s experiments regarding artificial life. After a bunch of his robots suffer existential crises and lash out, General Joeseph Kragg orders him to destroy the whole lot. Unbeknownst to him, fellow scientist Abel Stack has stolen robot X-51 (aka Aaron Stack aka Mister Machine aka Machine Man) and is in the process of removing his self-destruct mechanism when the flip is switched, killing Abel. The military shows up and captures X-51, but he is immediately freed and granted sentience by one of those big monolith things. The rest of the limited series is all about X-51 running away from Kragg’s men, ending in September 1977.

But Kirby wasn’t done yet. April 1978 saw the release of Machine Man #1, continuing the story of X-51 evading Kragg. In issue #4, Earth gets invaded by an alien robot named Ten-For (Kirby loved him some alien invasions) and X-51 jumps in and defeats him. Kragg decides that X-51 isn’t that bad a robot after all and, by the books cancellation with December 1978’s Machine Man #9, they were BFFs.

In April 1979’s Incredible Hulk Vol 1 #234, Hulk’s buddy Trish Star gets kidnapped by a bunch of thugs, one of which is wearing a purple jumpsuit. Since Hulk is a blathering idiot, he immediately sets out to fight X-51 (proving that everything up till now takes place on Earth-616). Incredible Hulk #235-237 are standard “Hulk vs. Hero X” fare (couple issues of fighting and then everybody walks away).

After the conclusion of that storyline, Marvel renewed the Machine Man series under Marv Wolfman and Steve Ditko with August 1979’s Machine Man #10. Dr. Broadhurst attempts to repair the damage caused by Hulk and, in doing so, takes away all of X-51’s offensive weapons. Tom DeFalco took over for Marv Wolfman with issue #15 and immediately started integrating more Marvel characters into the title. The series ended with February 1981’s Machine Man #19 (which was also first appearance of Jack O’Lantern and had a pretty rad Frank Miller cover).

X-51 made a couple other appearances including Marvel Two-In-One #92-93, in which he falls in love with Jacosta juuuust in time for her to get blown up by Ultron. Later, in March 1983’s Invincible Iron Man Vol 1  #168. After Obediah Stane beats Iron Man in the previous issue, Tony Stark has gone back to drinking. Just as Tony reaches shit-faced levels of drunkenness, X-51 shows up to ask for help. Tony’s immediate reaction is suiting up and beating the crap out of X-51.

In January1988’s The Avengers Vol 1 #287, X-51 is told by Fixer that Jacosta will be resurrected if he fights against the Avengers alongside a bunch of other robots. Of course, Fixer is screwing with him, and by issue #290 he’s switched sides. Later, he helps out again in Avengers: West Coast #83 and becomes a reserve member.

Nothing really happens until Cable and Machine Man Annual 1998 and Bastion and Machine Man Annual 1998, in which he helps the X-Men fight Bastion and accidentally ends up full of Sentinel technology. In August 1999’s Uncanny X-Men #371, SHIELD agents capture Machine Man with the intention of using parts of him to create Deathlok. They do, but in X-Men Annual 1999, Red Skull attacks the SHIELD helicarrier housing Machine Man. He saves the day but is seemingly destroyed in the process.

He’s not. In September 1999’s X-51 #1, a federal agent named Jack Kubrick (subtle!) tries to beat the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in recovering X-51’s head. Mystique decapitates Kubrick, but his headless body picks up the head of X-51 and puts it on his own shoulders. He spends the next few issues fighting off the Hellfire Club, learning about his new powers (specifically, self-repairing nanobots), and dealing with the fact that the Sentinel technology gives him the urge to kill mutants. In X-51 #7, X-51 gets blown up in a gas station explosion and, when his nanobots piece him back together, he’s completely purged of Sentinel technology. The series ends with July 2000’s X-51 #12, where the Celestials (another Kirby creation) send down a big black monolith (full circle!) and whisk X-51 off into space.

He next pops up in March 2006’s phenomenal Nextwave: Agents of HATE #1, written by Warren Ellis. It is revealed that the Celestials didn’t actually take too kindly to X-51 (“You are total ☠☠☠☠”), and dump him back on Earth. Upon his return, he develops a cynical attitude towards humans and a taste for beer. joins up with Monica Rambeau, Tabitha Smith, Elsa Bloodstone, and Captain ☠☠☠☠ and battles their former boss, Dirk Anger, and his  Broccoli Men.

In October 2007’s Ms. Marvel Vol 2 #18, he joins her new Initiative team, Operation: Lightning Storm, but that group disbanded in Ms. Marvel Vol 2 #27.

Aside from these appearances, Machine Man has popped up in some non-canon places. Aside from being the main protagonist of both Marvel Zombies 3 and Marvel Zombies 5, he also got a limited series in 1984 written by Tom DeFalco. It took place in an alternate future on Earth-8410 but,despite being extremely boring, was extremely popular.

So, yeah. From 2001: A Space Odyssey to Marvel Zombies. Everything you ever wanted to know about a character you never asked to know anything about.

While some of the adaptations were awesome (the Roy Thomas/Howard Chaykin Star Wars), some were far from it (the Tom DeFalco/Win Mortimer Annie).

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