By: Nick Spencer (writer), Cafu (penciller), Bit (inker), Santiago Arcas (colorist)
The Story: The Iron Maiden…she’s a cautionary tale for all the S&M lovers out there.
The Review: It’s tough to transition from one story arc to the next in a superhero comic. After the noise dies down, you’ve got this obligatory timeout for the characters to lick their wounds and reflect on their latest adventure, and after that comes the gradual setup for the next storyline. In a way, these interludes lose the momentum the writer spent the entire story arc developing.
Spencer does two smart things to address this point. First, he neatly dovetails the conclusion to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents’ first mission and the intro to their next in one issue—good. That means events can just get rolling when we come back. Second, he keeps up the tension by playing out the dramatic plot threads he set down throughout his introductory arc.
This strategy is particularly clever because it does double-duty: it allows the characters some growth, and it keeps you invested in their individual plotlines. Dynamo’s finally experiencing the side-effects of his new powers (“…like I’m ‘bout to break apart.” Doctor: “That’s normal. Take your shirt off for me, please.”). Lightning still can’t bring himself to connect with his estranged family despite knowing he may soon lose his chance. And NoMan remains as forebodingly inscrutable as ever in the midst of his dwindling humanity.
Spencer doesn’t use a lot of dialogue or narration, and the characters don’t really do anything lively, but he writes the subtext so well you never have a problem sensing the conflict at stake. One of many good examples: when his young daughter picks up, Lightning never says a word, but you know exactly why he calls and why he can’t or won’t speak up. It’s a scene that breaks your heart without much fanfare or drama.
You can tell the team remains disjointed, even after coming together pretty well as a fighting unit on their first mission. Superhero teams tend to develop rapport and banter unnaturally fast, so it’s novel to see one where the members stay a little aloof. The exception is Toby and Colleen, whose chemistry has always been strong, but was limited to rom-com kind of interactions. This new shared secret about Toby’s true identity takes their relationship to a much more interesting level, and it proves Colleen may be pulling more strings than we’ve given her credit for.
And what a way to introduce our newest antagonist, a character drawn from the annals of T-Agents history. In typical Spencer fashion, Iron Maiden arrives with intense fanfare, lulls you into thinking she may be more of an antihero—a mercenary with a feminist bent—but then blindsides you with a twisted choice of action that leaves no doubt to her heartlessness.
Even though Spencer writes subtext very well, it could not have been executed with nearly as much success without Cafu’s almost cerebral choices of POV and facial expressions. He sets up each panel to bring out as much tension from the script as possible. And just look how he plays with Iron Maiden’s expressions in that last page—you only see her eyes and mouth, but you can clearly see her thought processes change in each panel. Kudos also to Bit and Arcas for their expectedly great inking and coloring.
Conclusion: If you haven’t jumped on yet, now’s the time. I’m left with no doubts that something went amiss in this title not getting nominated for an Eisner Award for best new series.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – In some ways, I want to know how Daniel works, what with those (presumably) living bodies plugged in and all. But then again, I kind of don’t want to know, for the exact same reasons.