Pulp-style superheroes done right.
Marvel Comics has recently re-released Agents of Atlas: The Complete Collection and I was instantly curious as to why. Does this somehow connect to an upcoming Marvel movie? After some slight research, I found it in fact does connect and it has a small relationship to Ant-Man and the Wasp.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
The spy. The spaceman. The goddess. The robot. The gorilla. In the 1950s, FBI Agent Jimmy Woo forged a team of unlikely heroes for espionage operations. Now, half a century later, the Agents of Atlas return to take the Marvel Universe by storm! Woo, Marvel Boy, Venus, the Human Robot and Gorilla Man battle the Yellow Claw, face down Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign and encounter Spider-Man, Wolverine and the X-Men! Plus, the Agents’ amazing Atlas Era debuts!
Why does this matter?
This book is possibly one of the most complete Marvel trade paperbacks I’ve ever read. It not only contains the 2006 and 2009 short runs, but also the original appearance of the characters in 1950, short one-shot tales they’ve appeared in here and there, and some excellent back matter from Jeff Parker too.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
It turns out the main character and leader of the Agents of Atlas, Jimmy Woo, will be appearing in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Actor Randall Park will be playing the character in the upcoming film who is more known for his comedic films than anything else. There’s no telling how big of a character he’ll be (and maybe he’ll be a one-off joke, who knows), but it’s one of the reasons why I think this came out when it did. That or Marvel is honestly thinking about making a superhero espionage series. And if they aren’t, they should, because this is an excellent pulp-style superhero team book with Jimmy Woo being one of the strongest team leaders I’ve ever come across.
Since this book contains so many stories it’s worth noting you’ll get enjoyment in a variety of ways. Take for instance the X-Men: First Class #8 issue collected here. It involves Gorilla Man and is a reminder of how flip and funny he can be. Venus is one of the more interesting heroes I’ve ever come across as I can’t recall a character’s powers being so sexual and yet portrayed as pure goodness. She’s basically a like a Siren in the Odyssey. Then you have Marvel Boy, which is all kinds of weird and awkward and also has incredible telepathy and intelligence. Capping off the entire team is M11, a robot who does not speak (and ends up adding a touch more humor because of this). All together it’s an interesting group that probably shouldn’t work, but writer Jeff Parker makes them work splendidly.
Speaking of Parker, I was surprised this book didn’t brandish his name since nearly every story is written by him. That keeps the voices of the characters consistent and the style of adventures exciting.
The opening adventure (originally printed in 2006) involves bringing Woo back to life, bringing the team back together after they disbanded in 1959, and fighting the enemy known as Yellow Claw. It’s a racist name to be sure, but Parker changes it midway through the first story and reflects on it so that it serves more as a relic of an older time in comics. As it stands the first main adventure is exciting with interesting twists and turns and the appropriate level of backstabbing teammates for a spy thriller. Parker does a great job using each of the characters’ powers, developing their relationships and calling back to their previous standings well, and caps off this main story with a great finish that grows the team as a whole.
The follow up 2009 series utilizes the team now that they’re back together and the relationships fully defined. It takes place at a time when Sentry was in full force, Norman Osborn was leading the Avengers and has Namorita go full tilt with her powers and her awesomeness. Added to this is one-shot tales that tie into a bunch of Marvel events over the years like Dark Reign and Secret Invasion.
The art varies quite a bit in this collection which is understandable with stories spanning 60 years. Artists like Gabriel Hardman infuse the story with a bit of age that suits flashbacks for a team originally from the ’50s. Leonard Kirk draws the first main story and does a great job giving the book a pulp old school feel and capitalizing on character acting. Jason Paz draws one hell of a good looking and powerful Namorita and Benton Jew supplies a great looking Wolverine that’s unique.
It can’t be perfect can it?
There are a variety of tropes that will become familiar as you read these stories. That said, a pulp team like this requires these tropes to enjoy fully since it’s not only a new story but a celebration of an older time in comics.
As a collection, this is certainly complete, but it’s also a bit schizophrenic since it collects stories from so many eras and years. You’ll most definitely need to have a knowledge of Dark Reign and Secret Invasion, for instance, to understand the bigger picture of these stories.
Is it good?
This is a great collection and it holds true about it being complete when most “complete” collections are anything but. If you enjoy pulp style espionage stories with a smattering if superhero powers you’ll enjoy this one.