Title: Agents of Atlas: Dark Reign Trade Paperback
Writer: Jeff Parker
Pencils: Carlo Pagulayan, Gabriel Hardman, Clayton Henry, Leonard Kirk & many others
Publisher: Marvel Comics
When I first started lurking on the CCW blog and YouTube channel I was curious about a comic that Elliott and Jose had spoken quite well of on several occasions, Agents of Atlas. I never heard of this team before, never even saw a trade of the comic at Borders. At least it didn’t have a X in the title, so I didn’t have to worry about getting sucked into yet another X-Men related comic churned out by Marvel. The Avengers books looked like a mess at the moment, so I was thinking “Yeah, let me give these Atlas guys a chance”. I went to my local comic store and leafed through a current issue. My quick look though of book made me put it back on the shelf. I was a bit shocked at the makeup of the team: a gorilla, a goofy looking robot, dude with a fishbowl on his head and couple of pretty women who were all lead by a guy who looked like he was lifted straight out of a bad Asian gangster movie. I am a pretty opened minded guy, but I have to admit I found the collection of characters in this team a little off putting to say the least. I decided not to get the comic that day, but not to dismiss it altogether and give it a little more thought. I finally did pick up the Agents of Atlas vs. X-Men two issue series, and I was impressed enough with the writing by Jeff Parker that I was ready to make the commitment to collecting the regular series. Unfortunately, about the time I decided to add the book to my read list the series was put on hiatus by Marvel. Even with no new Agents of Atlas books coming out in the near future I made up my mind that I wasn’t done with Agents of Atlas yet, I would wait for the trade to come out and come to my own conclusions about the book.
Coming in at $20, it’s a bit more expensive than a lot of trades out there, but you do get some bang for your buck. The book comes in at around 180 pages and has almost no filler. This first trade covers Agents of Atlas #1-5, Wolverine: Agent of Atlas(originally a backup story that ran in the first issue), Giant-Size Marvel Adventures #1, parts of Secret Invasion: Who Do You Trust? and Dark Reign: New Nation. There is about 6 pages of cover art at the end that isn’t bad, but not really needed. There is a lot of material in this trade to cover so I will just give a brief overview of each section of the book.
For a team that has only been around for a few years the Agents of Atlas have a pretty complex and lengthy history. The members of current team worked together back in the 1950’s for the F.B.I. and was lead by Special Agent James Woo. Their primary enemy at the time was a villain named Yellow Claw. The team didn’t last long and was disbanded by the US government. Years later Agent Woo, now a agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. leads a failed raid on the Atlas Foundation and is left severely injured and in a coma. Gorilla-Man with the help of Marvel Boy help restore Jimmy Woo back to health and put the old team back together for one last fight against their old enemy, Yellow Claw. As it turns out Yellow Claw had been spending years testing Jimmy Woo, to see if he was a worthy successor to become the new Khan and lead the Atlas Foundation. Woo accepts this new leadership role with the idea he will use the resources of the Atlas Foundation as a force for good in the world. This origin story can be found in the Agents of Atlas trade that collects the original mini-series.
Agents of Atlas #1-5 and “The Heist” story from Dark Reign: New Nation.
This section of the trade makes up the bulk of the book. It also the best story overall, with the Agents of Atlas running a huge scam to fool Norman Osborn into thinking they are an international criminal organization trying to sell illegal arms. Of course, it’s not that easy to fool Osborn. Writer Jeff Parker actually succeeds in making Norman Osborn a clever and dangerous opponent for the Agents. Many of the better parts of the storyline involved the lengths the Agents have to go to in order to convince Osborn that they are bad guys without actually killing anyone or delivering working weapons to the real villains. The Agents give such a convincing performance as villains that they eventually attract the attention of the New Avengers, which leads to a very entertaining battle between the two groups. I won’t spoil the end of the story for people that have not read it, but it is a very satisfying conclusion and sets up the next story arc quite nicely.
Wolverine: Agent of Atlas
A short story that is the weakest section of the book in my opinion. It covers Agent Woo, M-11 and Gorilla-Man’s encounter with Wolverine back in the 1950’s when they were working for the F.B.I. and not the Atlas foundation. The artwork is pretty bad, and not in the “hey, we’re are doing a flashback to the 50’s, so the art looks old school” kind of way, it’s just not done very well. The story is OK, nothing special, Agents meet Wolverine, they fight, they sort of make up and fight a common enemy, and then they fight again. End of story. The only intriguing part is the set up for the grudge between M-11 and Wolverine in future encounters.
Secret Invasion; Who Do You Trust?
A very short story, really more a snippet of the Agents taking part in the resistance to the Skrull invasion of Earth. Readers get a chance to see the Agents of Atlas cutting loose and terminating Skrulls with lethal force instead of playing nice like they did in the previous stories. You also get to see Jimmy Woo demonstrate a more ruthless side, showing why he was picked to be head of the Atlas Foundation.
Giant-Size Marvel Adventures #1
This is more of a Avengers story, than a Agents of Atlas story. Kang the Conqueror is using the Agents of Atlas, 1950’s version, to do what he does best, screw around with the time-line to take over the Earth. The Avengers have to find a way to undo the damage the Agents have done to the time-line and restore the present back to normal. It’s a good story and shows once again that Jeff Parker can write the hell out of the Avengers if he wants to, not just the Agents of Atlas.
You really can’t talk about Agents of Atlas without talking about their writer, Jeff Parker. The Agents are his baby and he seems to care a great deal about them. He took a bunch of forgotten characters from Marvel Comics past and formed them into a group that can give any of the current crop of Marvel superhero teams a run for their money. Parker is just a smart writer who writes smart characters. He could have easily ignored the fact the members of his team have been around since the 50’s, instead he takes the time to go back and explore what they did back in the past and incorporate it into the current time-line. I think it is important to note that that the Agents being an F.B.I. team back in the 1950’s is a retroactive change itself since there was no team back in the actual 1950’s. Parker is essentially writing two team history’s at the same time. Creating a storyline taking place right now and also creating a entirely new past history for the team and meshing them both together. I think that is pretty impressive from a writing standpoint.
The art in the trade is very solid with Carlo Pagulayan doing the heavy lifting on the regular series and Leonard Kirk handling pencils on most of the earlier Agents of Atlas books. I was especially impressed by Pagulayan’s work. He has a real feel for the look of the characters and I like his version of Gorilla-Man, making him look like a believable character, even though he is basically a mountain gorilla wearing clothes and packing guns. Pagulayan also draws an impressive Avengers team and I wouldn’t mind seeing a Parker/Pagulayan Avengers title in the future if Marvel has no plans to bring back Agents of Atlas in a regular series.
In the end I was very impressed with the work Jeff Parker has done here. He has taken a superhero team using old characters that most comic fans had long since forgotten about and formed them into a unique and interesting team. The easy thing for a writer to do would have been to just take the characters, make the team and go from there. Parker went the extra mile on this one by not just taking a new team and starting from there, but forming the team and writing his ass off to back-fill a history for the Agents of Atlas that dates back to the 1950’s and using that past history to integrate the team into the current Marvel Universe.
$20 is a lot of money to spend on a trade, but if you have the money I would recommend picking this book up. It really is a great story with some of the most unique characters currently running around in the Marvel Universe. It also might be the last time you see the Agents of Atlas as a team in their own book for a long time to come.