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Atlas #1

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Atlas #1

Credits

  • Words: Jeff Parker
  • Art: Gabriel Hardman
  • Colors: Elizabeth Breitweiser
  • Story Title: The Return of the Three Dimensional Man
  • Publisher: Marvel Comics
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: May 19, 2010

Leaping headlong into Marvel’s Heroic Age, the Agents of Atlas return this week after a brief hiatus, in a new ongoing monthly series simply titled Atlas. Leading their band of 1950s super-agents into the unknown, Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman take advantage of the short break to refocus the book in a different direction.

Dropping “Agents” from the title was not arbitrarily done, or so it seems by the end of the first full-length feature. Parker is a writer who seems to enjoy challenging his audience and, typically, that’s a good thing. Atlas #1 doesn’t necessarily suffer from this quality of Parker’s writing but he does choose an interesting approach to introducing his primary characters in this premiere issue. By the end of the story, it’s uncertain if Jimmy Woo’s greeting of the new 3-D Man is a dramatic device or an actual plot seed foreshadowing a shift in focus for the team and the series.

Part of the potential problem could be attributed to the fact that the audience only briefly glimpses the book’s main protagonists before the dramatic final page. Parker instead chooses to tell the story from the point of view of Del Garrett, the new 3-D Man, as he searches desperately for his predecessors’ old comrades. It’s an unexpected approach for a new series, especially in such a competitive marketplace. For a book with a premise grounded solidly in the nostalgia fans have for forgotten heroes, their absence in this first issue could be considered something of a gamble.

Or it could prove to be genius.

With the change in title and the 3-D Man’s starring role as the story’s narrator, Parker seems to be shifting his focus away from considering Woo’s secret empire just another organization fighting evil and towards an exploration of Atlas as an overriding concept. Atlas is more than a small unit of superhumans and joining its clandestine battle against the forces of evil isn’t a thing of choice. It’s a crusade, a calling.

The entire issue seems geared towards exploring this new creative direction, with a back-up feature starring Gorilla Man, Namora, and company more prominently, a two-page biography of the 3-D Man, a transcript of a radio show featured in the main story, and even a letters page. The creative team and the publishers capitalize beautifully on the characters’ nostalgic appeal, designing a first issue reminiscent of those truly special editions of yore, while immersing the reader in the title’s unique perspective of the Marvel Universe.

Clever marketing and slick packaging aren’t the only things that make Atlas #1 an intriguing book, though. A large part of its success – if it can be called that yet – lies in the appropriately moody, expressive art of Gabriel Hardman. Bringing just the right amount of grittiness to the visuals, Hardman’s use of different textures and atmospheric lighting gives the story an eerie, slightly off-kilter realism.

An adept storyteller, it’s easy to overlook his slick transitions and dynamic angles, when the art is so beautiful, but they’re definitely present. The build-up to the final dramatic splash page creates excitement and suspense in just the right doses, as the 3-D Man quite literally falls into Woo’s clutches.

Atlas is a book that deserves a large audience. In this first issue, Parker and Hardman seem to be laying the foundation for an epic new era for Jimmy Woo’s crusading super-agents. Hopefully, the subtlety and patience with which the creators are building their story will pay dividends as it unfolds and not detrimentally impact new interest in the book in the interim.

It took a long time for the spotlight to shine once again on these characters. It’d be a shame to see it dim again too soon.

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