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Agents of Atlas #1

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Agents of Atlas #1

Credits

  • Words: Jeff Parker
  • Art: Leonard Kirk
  • Inks: Kris Justice
  • Colors: Michelle Madsen
  • Story Title: Part I: The Golden History
  • Publisher: Marvel Comics
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Aug 2, 2006

The Secret Agent, The Robot, The Mythic Beauty, The Spaceman, and The Gorilla. Five players in a great game. But who are they, where have they been, and who’s the chessmaster moving the pieces?

Spring, 1958. Jimmy Woo, one of the FBI’s top agents is tasked with a dangerous mission: rescue President Eisenhower, now held hostage by the diabolical Yellow Claw. It’s a super-secret, super-sensitive mission, and only a team of super-humans can get the job done. Woo assembles M-11, The Human Robot, Marvel Boy, Venus, and Gorilla Man, and once the President’s safe and Yellow Claw has been defeated, the group operates for another six months before they are shut down. Fast forward to current day and a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base where Gorilla Man is being debriefed about his adventures 50 years ago. Agent Woo, after years behind a desk, has gone off the range, having assembled a team of problem and disenfranchised agents to raid an organization called The Atlas Foundation. But the mission has gone sideways, and agent Woo now hovers near death. As S.H.I.E.L.D. investigates further, Gorilla Man springs into action, activating The Human Robot, and then extracting Woo from the facility…via a tractor beam from a spaceship. What does it all mean? What is The Atlas Foundation? And just who is Mr. Lao?

I don’t know Jeff Parker’s work, but Jeff Parker knows how to work a spy thriller. Agents of Atlas #1 has a classic three-act structure, the first sketching the history of its eccentric band of heroes in classic Golden Age style, and the second much more dark and modern as it fills us in on what Agent Woo has been doing since. The set-up is necessarily talky, but the spy-speak is dead-on, and Parker draws us into the story by ending every plot beat with a question. Gorilla Man is the focal character throughout, and Parker’s characterization is quite deft, portraying him as a down-and-out spy-hero without giving anything away, then turning the story in a completely different direction once the character’s intentions become more, but not totally clear. Parker also gets high marks for tight pacing while also laying a thick layer of explication—very difficult to do in just 22 pages when readers are unfamiliar with virtually every character in the story. And the last page, an elegant and enigmatic address to the reader from The Atlas Foundation’s Mr. Lao, is a narrative master stroke. Once read, the big picture suddenly becomes bigger but more mysterious, and Agents of Atlas #2 instantly becomes a must-read.

In terms of genre, Agents of Atlas has as many elements of sci-fi as of the spy-thriller, with ample helpings of superhero adventure to make it even more of a hybrid. Consequently, the artwork needed to pull this story off and readers in. It needs to be as much of a hybrid as the script, and Leonard Kirk hits every pitch that Jeff Parker throws him. Like Parker’s writing, Kirk’s artwork evokes a Golden Age feel during the first act, particularly in his high-impact 6-panel grids. When the tone shifts from first act to second and from superhero to spy-thriller, Kirk shifts right along with it, using shadow, multiple framing angles, and stony but subtle facial expressions to communicate what the words on the page can’t while pushing the story forward. And as the third act transitions from spy to sci-fi with a robot, an alien ship, and a rampaging gorilla, Kirk lays down some dynamic action sequences and doesn’t let the amped-up speed of the story get away from him.

Amid Marvel’s major events lately, it’s been easy to underrate or even ignore the steady diet of strong mini-series that have nothing to do with Civil Wars, Decimations, or Annihilations. Ares, Daughters of the Dragon, Underworld, to name a few, and even New Mangaverse, have all been at least entertaining and sometimes great reads, perhaps because they came without hype from Marvel or stellar expectations from readers. Agents of Atlas continues the trend.

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