Editor's Note: Avengers Vs. Atlas #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, January 20.
Jeff Parker certainly gives his artists some cool stuff to draw, doesn't he? And unlike certain writers by the name of Jeph Loeb that we won't mention, he does so while still crafting a good story around the nifty imagery. That's what makes him one of Marvel's best current writers, and with this first issue of the current miniseries starring Parker's pet team, the Agents of Atlas, he's up to his usual tricks, pitting his characters against some cool, wacky threats (Lava men! The Growing Man! Crystalline cyborgs with floating brains and spinal cords and lasers and flamethrowers!), giving them all their own unique voices, and coming up with an interesting plot to keep things moving. It's a good start for the latest miniseries, and if teaming the Agents up with various other Marvel characters is what it takes to keep sales up, then that's what we'll have to live with.
But as much as Parker's record of good writing inspires confidence, this first installment doesn't really have much to it other than cool action. The Agents fight two different threats in various points across the globe before joining the Avengers ("New" version) to fight another one, which seems to be involved with a space-time anomaly that warps the latter team into a past version of the roster. That's about it, and while it's enjoyable (especially in the action scenes, with the takedown of the Growing Man being the main highlight), it's one of the most simplistic plots that Parker has probably ever done, at least in this issue. He's certain to add more wrinkles in future installments, and he does do a good job of referring to the continuing plots involving the Agents and their previous encounter with the Avengers, but as of one issue, the story doesn't seem to be much more than "team encounters anomalies/villains, fights them". Which isn't a bad plot for a superhero book, but hopefully Parker has more complexity in store.
Ah, but plot mechanics aren't all that necessary when Gabriel Hardman is on hand to wow with his incredible artwork. He uses a realistic style when it comes to figure work and land/city-scapes, but he's able to blend this with some incredibly fantastical creatures and effects. The crystal robots and lava men look amazingly otherworldly, and the weird space-time anomaly is a mass of screaming, contorted faces and sparkly tendrils, some freaky-looking stuff. At the same time, the action is clear and easy to follow, while still seeming large-scale and explosive. It's a gorgeous book, and Hardman is a pretty great find for Marvel.
There's also a backup story featuring Namora, seeing her fight some whalers over the course of eight pages. It's nicely drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa (Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane), if a bit over-colored. It looks like other issues are going to feature similar backups starring the various Agents, which should be a nice opportunity for Parker to highlight his characters separate from the chaotic exercises of the main crossover plot.
Overall, it's quite a good bit of comics, with some quality content in a monthly installment. The story might not be the best thing Parker has ever written (yet), but it's a nicely-portioned chunk of superhero entertainment, full of images that seem uniquely exciting. What more could you ask for? Well, plenty, but for a mainstream Marvel superhero comic, this is about as good as we're likely to get.
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