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THUNDER Agents 4
"The Synthetic Stand-Ins!"


Story: Unknown Art: Mike Sekowsky

(Originally Reviewed On 04/08/02)

With his cloak of invisibility and ability to avoid death by changing bodies, Noman is nigh invincible, but even these abilities will be challenged by "The Synthetic Stand-Ins!" At his base of operations, Noman receives a visitor from Thunder Courier Rogers. When he activates the view-screen, Noman is in for a surprise, for Thunder Courier Rogers is a girl, and one which brings stirrings to this android. (Holy Eep, Batman!)

They meet, and Noman asks Miss Rogers why she was sent intead of the regular radio messenge, and she tells him that he'll need a guide and cover for this particular mission, and Noman may call her Linda! There have been many accidents at the Nevada Project, and sabotage is suspected. They are to investigate, and his cover story is to be her fiance, as she is a regular visitor to the site, and her father is in charge... Dr. Tim Rogers, who is also the prime suspect! Aboard a Thunder Plane, Noman finishes making up a spare android, and as the plane makes its way to Nevada, he asks Linda if she suspects her father, and is told that she wants him to clear him! Near their destination, a projectile tracks their progress, then attaches itself to the Thunder Plane's fuselage! The controls have been knocked out, and Linda knows that they'll crash, and are too low to bail out!

Removing his jacket, Noman strides outside the aircraft, and pries loose the magnetized device, using about all his strength in the attempt, causing it and he to fall from the plane, but Noman just sacrifices this body for the one in the plane, where he tries to assure Linda that he's okay, but she's still startled all the same. Linda's father is introduced to her fiance, John Dunn, and wonders how their trap could have failed? As they shake hands, John senses something amiss about the doctor. Knowing that the two must be exhausted from their trip, Dr. Rogers offers to show them the project in the morning, while Linda regrets having to spy on her father.

Dr. Rogers shows Noman to his room, but the android Thunder Agent doesn't require sleep, and plans to check out reports and see them in the morning. Soon, he hears a noise, and dons his cloak of invisibility. Outside, Noman watches as Dr. Rogers drives off, and as the parking door opens, he hitches a ride on the speeding car! The car stops at an old shack, which slides back, and reveals... a hidden shaft! Making his way down the shaft, Noman sees a well-stocked laboratory and communications center, with dozens of android bodies nearby. It is then that Noman realizes that Dr. Rogers is an android, himself!

Noman watches as "Dr. Rogers" makes a call to Mastermind, who reproaches him for contacting him directly. "Dr. Rogers" mentions that a Thunder Agent has arrived, and that means that the agency is aware of their plans, and the bald, bearded man known as Mastermind tells him to dispose of the Thunder Agent! Failure to do so will mean the android's blanking out, and the mindless state is a fate which the android would avoid at all costs. The ten minutes which the cloak of invisibility keeps Noman from being seen has worn off, and he points a gun at "Dr. Rogers" The android turns and sees Noman, who intends on placing him under arrest, but unbeknownst to the Thunder Agent, the androids have come to life and strike him from behind!

Noman fights the androids in a fierce battle until one of them strikes his head with a gun butt, giving him the idea to play possum so that if they think he's vulnerable, they won't destroy him. "Dr. Rogers" contacts Mastermind and asks if the android Thunder Agent should be disposed of, but Mastermind wants him locked up until he has a chance to personally examine Noman! The android throw Noman into a cell, where he soon meets the real Dr. Rogers, and the other scientists who were captured by Mastermind, and replaced with robot stand-ins.

Dr. Rogers tells Noman about a brain-picking device used to program the androids, and he fears that they will kill him and the other scientists when the project is abandoned. Noman tells him not to worry, for he will put a stop to it. As the startled scientist watches, Noman activates his cloak of invisibility, and soon, the android guards return to find his cell... empty! They open the door and search the cell, only to be locked in by their former prisoner! (Holy McGoohan, Batman!)

Making his way to the control room, Noman sees the mind machines which can blank out the androids, then throws a chair at it, alerting the androids to the invisible presence in their midst! Two androids are punched out by their invisible opponent, who then throws them into the other androids, and ten minutes pass, as the cloak of invisibility wears off, and Noman realizes that there are too many of them for him to destroy...

Seizing one of their guns, Noman uses it to blast a hole in the nearby wall, and places the gun barrel into it, causing a short-circuit in the wiring! As Noman begins to fully materialize, the machines flash briefly and go dead, and the androids freeze in their tracks! The following day, Noman tells Dr. Rogers that the other androids have been rounded up, being able to be detected by x-rays, and the fact that they can't feel pain! Dr. Rogers decides to put them to some good use, such as working with radioactive materials, as well as having his android double mow the lawn! Linda greets Noman and is grateful that he's okay, and he reminds her that he's immortal...

Inwardly, Noman wonders why he's acting so aloof, as well as if he's actually falling for her, and she for him. He then apologizes for his rudeness and attributes it to habit, then asks if she wants to go. She nods and wonders why Noman is acting so cold and distant, that even though he has an android body, it is a human mind which guides it! At the midwestern headquarters of THUNDER, Noman tells The Chief that the leader known as "Mastermind" is still on the loose. The Chief congratulates Noman on the mission, then lights his pipe, and vows that THUNDER will be on the look out for "Mastermind" when he strikes again! Noman seizes a pistol and shoots The Chief! As the others look in horror, Noman tells them to relax since this is an android version of The Chief, who gave himself away when he burned his hand and didn't notice it. The situation is much worse than any of them have suspected, for anyone could be an android, from a THUNDER Agent, to the president, the secretary... anyone! They will be living in a climate of fear and suspicion until they find and capture "The Mastermind!"

The art by Mike Sekowsky is dynamic and its execution seems effortless in expertly telling the story.

As is the case with Captain America and Sharon Carter in The Silver Age, Noman makes the acquaintance of Thunder Courier Linda Rogers!

The spare android that Noman makes up bears a striking resemblance to millionaire industrialist Tony Stark.

One can only wonder what an issue of Avengers would have looked like with the art of Mike Sekowsky between its pages, or for that matter, a three-way meeting between THUNDER, The Avengers, and The JLA! Just imagine, your favorite Silver Age heroes... together! With Sekowsky, Wood, and Kane on THUNDER, Buscema and Heck on Avengers, and Sekowsky, Sachs, or Anderson on JLA. Truly a Crisis on Three Earths!

Noman reminds me of The Spectre, who bids his former life goodbye, and is reborn as the android Thunder Agent.

He falls in love with a fellow agent, in much the same way The Vision would fall in love with The Scarlet Witch, or Jim Corrigan would agonize over the likes of Clarice Winston and Gwen Sterling.

Android lookalikes have been in such stories as "Spearhead From Space", where The Third Doctor would be exiled on Earth and have to face the threat of The Autons and The Nestene Consciousness.

Unlike, say, The Invisble Girl, Noman has a time limit with his cloak of invisibility, establishing some tension for his adventures, in much the same way that Aquaman could only remain on land for an hour before he had to return to the sea.

The angst between Noman and Linda Rogers is interesting, compared to that of Cyclops and Marvel Girl, two mutant teenagers who you wish would just get together and be happy, while Noman has to wonder if he has become more than human or has he lost his humanity in serving THUNDER? For that matter, does Linda love him for himself or is it pity? Fine themes here and worth following.

I wonder if John Dunn was named after John Donne, who wrote "Death Be Not Proud," a title used for Avengers #56, by Roy Thomas and Big John Buscema? Another classic of the Silver Age.

In killing "The Chief", Noman proves that it truly takes one to know one.

Steve Chung
"The Synthetic Review!"