Once we get to the 1960s, the deaths of super hero characters becomes a more frequent occurrence, though still relatively a rarity (and usually the characters who meet their end–Lightning Lad, Junior Juniper, Ferro Lad–either aren’t the headliners of their series but rather one member of an ensemble. And some of them, like Lightning lad, even managed to come back afterwards.). Probably the most well-remembered death of this period was that of the Doom Patrol, who sacrificed their lives to save 14 innocent people in the final issue of their series. (Though this ending, too, would be steadily reversed over the next several decades.)
But before that, we got the death of Menthor in THUNDER Agents #7 in 1966, an unheralded and unexpected death story that both turned out to be permanent and which was also affecting. Given the spy mileau background of THUNDER Agents, it was also fitting that somebody was going to die along the way (the series had killed Egghead, one of the THUNDER Squad, early on, but that seemed more like bringing the number of characters in that strip down to a workable level.)
Menthor was a troubled strip right from the beginning, the least well-formed of the original THUNDER Agents. Where Dynamo was clearly a favorite of T-Agents creative head Wally Wood, and NoMan was always interesting and creepy and distinctive, all of the sharp edges had been eroded away from Menthor issue by issue. He had started out as an enemy agent, a spy within THUNDER who was granted the mind helmet that gave him Menthor’s powers. But the helmet also changed his personality when he wore it, making him a loyal agent while using it. This interesting set-up was discarded after the first installment, and thereafter mentor fought a lot of carnival mentalists, gained the helmet’s powers for himself, had that fact forgotten an issue later, and just generally bumbled around in meaningless adventures done by whomever had some spare time. It was a directionless strip, and so the decision was made to bring it to an explosive finale.
This final Menthor story was scripted and broken down by Dan Adkins. Steve Ditko provided the full pencils and Wally Wood inked it–his powerful style making everything seem like his work, though there are hints of Ditko’s contributions in some of the compositions.
As spies, the THUNDER Agents weren’t averse to using lethal force, a real rarity in a 1960s super hero strip.
This story still retains some real power to it–and as the close of this issue, it packed an unexpected wallop. No reader could have known what was coming ahead of time.