Editor's Note: Agents of Atlas #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, February 4.
Matthew J. Brady:
Matthew J. Brady
Back in the heady days of 2006, Jeff Parker and Leonard Kirk created a miniseries that captured the attention of fans everywhere (or at least enough people to warrant a continuation), revamping several forgotten Marvel characters from the 1950s and putting them together for some interesting adventures. It made for an excellent six-issue story, building on some of the breadth of weirdness in the Marvel universe and leaving readers asking for more. And more has finally arrived, with this new ongoing series that aims to tie the team into the Marvel's main plot, making them an essential part of the universe.
That seems to be the plan, anyway; this first issue is mainly concerned with establishing the team in respect to the current "Dark Reign" storyline, showing how they deal with Norman Osborn's villainous schemes. And for those not up to speed on the characters, we get a nice bit of exposition, as Osborn, speaking to the reader through another character, helpfully describes each member of the team, their backstory and powers, and how they fit together. That makes for something of a slow patch in the middle of the issue, but it's a welcome refresher, even for those who were familiar with them in the first place.
And luckily, the rest of the issue has some nice storytelling, including action and suspense. First, we see Osborn's operative Man-Mountain Marko attack one of Atlas's facilities, prompting a battle with Gorilla Man, Namora, M-11 the Human Robot, and Marvel Boy. Later, Venus stages a sort of assault on Osborn, enrapturing his muscle, the Sentry, in the process, before a sort of deal is struck that will allow the Agents to operate under his regime. And then we get a bit of intrigue involving the future of the team, since they are good guys sort of pretending to be bad guys (but not exactly; it's more complicated than that). It's a nice setup for the series, as the team will need to face internal and external tensions while trying to do the right thing on the increasingly morally murky Marvel stage.
Parker does a good job showing us the different characters and revealing their personalities, and he's as good at delivering action and humor as ever. With Leonard Kirk busy illustrating Captain Britain and MI:13, the art is provided by Carlo Pagulayan, who doesn't exactly set the pages on fire, but he does make things clear and readable. His style is somewhat reminiscent of Mike Deodato's work on books like Dark Avengers, although not as reliant on celebrity likenesses for the characters. He also uses an interesting technique to define Marvel Boy's face within his glass globe of a space helmet, sort of smudging the details to make it look like it's being viewed through a translucent surface. With time, he could develop into an interesting talent.
And if the main story isn't enough, there is also a backup story by Parker and artist Benton Jew that details a 1958 mission of the team's, in which they investigate a threat in Cuba that involves Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and stumble across a oddly-coiffed agent by the name of Logan. That's right, the sales-boosting Wolverine cameo has already been dealt with in the first issue of the new series. It's a nice diversion, but nothing essential, notable mostly for Jew's somewhat stiff artwork.
No, the main story is the draw here, and it's a good setup for the series, hopefully allowing Parker and Pagulayan to spin some exciting tales of action and adventure that will continue to utilize some of the odder corners of Marvel's broad setting. It's a tough prospect, creating credible threats for this team, since the characters are all extremely powerful (with the possible exception of Gorilla Man), but if anybody can do it, it's Jeff Parker. Let's cheer him on and pray he doesn't let us down.
Plot: Everything old is new again.
Summary: Just before I began writing this, I caught the first trailer for the G.I. Joe movie, but it got me thinking about how there doesn't seem to be any new ideas anymore. G.I. Joe ain't alone in the movies with Land of the Lost coming out and a "re-boot" of Robocop on the way. TV has Battlestar Galactica, Dr. Who and three or four American remakes of foreign TV shows. Comics aren't immune either with Project Superpowers and Marvel's Ultimate line and how every third comic is a zombie title or license. Everything old is new again. So what do you get when you have a retro title but with an "edgy" update? Except that it's not a retro title, it's just pretending to be an update of a retro title and its look and attitude mimic a retro title update? What do you get when the characters harkens back to a more pulpy action comic era but are really only a few years old? You get a new idea wearing the costume of an old idea. You get Agents of Atlas.
The Agents of Atlas line-up consists of Ex-FBI agent James Woo, a normal human but a tactical genius and leader of the shadowy Atlas Foundation. Woo's whole look and presentation plays off of classic "Yellow Panic" pulp villains like Fu Manchu, Ming the Merciless, and Shiwan Khan. Robert Grayson – a.k.a. Marvel Boy – possesses advanced technology, including a flying saucer, "Bob" has gotten his outfit from a yard sale put on by Flash Gordon. His helmet is the classic fishbowl spaceman helmet of '50s movies. Venus is a siren (the "drawing sailors to a watery fate" creature) with the ability to hypnotize men with a song. M-11 – The human robot - looks like Gort's 1st cousin. And Ken Hale is Gorilla man, which pretty much says it all. Namora is also part of the team, and though she is a modern Marvel superhero, she hails from Atlantis and that's got to count for something here. But everything is not what it seems here; Woo is really a good guy, Venus has a soul and is trying to atone for past sins, and Hale… well, he IS a gorilla man, but he's pretty funny.
Agents of Atlas is a ruse; the look, plot and feel of retro but with a modern sensibility and a clever complex mind. This is reflected in the plot; Woo approaches "Dark Reign" mastermind Norman Osborn, coming off like a super villain. He proposes an alliance offering resources outside of Congressional oversight. Osborn sends Man Mountain, a super powered thug turned ATF agent, to view Atlas' secret underground city. Discovering an informant is actually Woo in disguise, Man Mountain figures that Atlas isn't as mean as they present themselves. Then he's eaten by a talking dragon.
Another layer of complexity is introduced; it seems Woo has assumed control over the Atlas Foundation (which was previously run by his enemy "Yellow Claw"), but he doesn't have complete control. Elements of Atlas are schememing against their new master. So Woo faces a power struggle on one side and a plan to de-rail Osborn, the most dangerous man in America, on the other.
All of this is mad fun, by the way. The opening battle has a great pace and introduces the Agents with a bang. Norman Osborn comes off as smart and dangerous as he should be, even though he's loaded with the lion's share of the exposition. Ideas like "The conclave of warrior scholars" seem to be simple throwaways. Parker seems to have an uncanny control over the wackness at the heart of AoA; everything feels organic and lived in, even though it's all brand new. The art team hits all the right marks too, from the excellent pacing and detail to the way Bob seems to glow inside his saucer.
The back-up story also plays the "Retro" card. Looking for all the world like a Bronze age reprint, the story involves a pre-revolutionary Castro, mind control bugs and guest stars Wolverine as "Agent Logan." It's a fun goof of a story and furthers Agents of Atlas' integration into Marvel continuity.
Final Word: I really enjoyed the stand alone AoA story in "Secret Invasion." I felt instantly drawn to the characters and that I was viewing something special. Issue #1 lives up to a heightened sense of expectation I had. Whether it's "Post-retro" or not is debatable. But it is, without a doubt, worth picking up this Wednesday.
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