Having left Marvel in 1965 because he was unhappy with the way the books were created–where the artist was having to do the lion’s share of the plotting as well as illustrating, thanks to the “Marvel method”–veteran artist Wally Wood was recruited by the start-up Tower Comics to help create and launch their new line. This led to the start of their first title, the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, which was a timely mix of super heroics and spy adventure (which was a fad unto itself as a result of the James Bond films and the Man From UNCLE on TV). The Tower titles were all pretty good, but they suffered from distribution problems and also the fact that they released their entries in an oversized format that cost a quarter, when the standard price for a regular comic book was twelve cents.
This entry from DYNAMO #4, featuring the lead THUNDER Agent, is a good example of Tower’s stripped-down, art-centric appeal. It’s also a funny take on a classic comic book hero whom Dynamo owed some inspiration to. The GCD credits this story to writer Ralph Reese, penciler Joe Orlando and inkers Wally Wood and Dan Adkins.
Dynamo gets his power from the Thunderbelt, which can change his atomic structure for about 30 minutes to the consistency of iron. As you can see, it was a recurring situation that Dynamo would find himself in where he either couldn’t activate his belt or it would have been taken from him. So THUNDER Agent Weed has a new plan based on the comic books he used to read as a kid.
For years, I’ve always assumed that making Dynamo’s magic word in this story Excelsior was a dig at Stan Lee, but John Morrow points out that this story saw print before Stan began using it as his famous sign-off. It’s not impossible that he may have even been inspired to use it by this story, though that is unlikely.
Dynamo also owed a lot to the original Joe Shuster conception of Superman, of which Wally Wood was a fan.
Turns out the bad guys used to read comic books, too. Probably they stole them.
NoMan was probably the most unique of the THUNDER Agents. He possessed the mind of an old scientist transferred into the body of a super-strong android–and he could project his consciousness from body to body. So he’d routinely get killed repeatedly in the space of a single story, switching his mind to a new body seconds before death. He also had an invisibility cloak.
The Tower line, and THUNDER Agents in particular, was a great deal of fun. It’s a shame that market conditions brought it to an early close. And none of the several attempts at a revival over the years have quite captured its appeal.