After its golden 1940’s as Timely Comics, but before its silvery 1960’s debut as Marvel, Atlas Comics forged a path through the 1950’s with a diverse output of experimentation and exciting concepts. In this way, the company and its creators proved their staying power at a time when super heroes took a back seat to a multitude of other themes.
Timely founder Martin Goodman adopted the name Atlas late in 1951 for the creation of his own distribution company to conquer the comic book field. The Atlas logo began to appear on Timely covers and the name, while never official for the books, stuck. One year later, Atlas sat at the top of the heap with nearly 400 publications.
Virtually no topic remained off-limits to Goodman. Atlas offered horror, romance, crime, Western, humor, science fiction, jungle, war, and even sports comics, and if a title underperformed, it made way for another and another, until perfected.
Outstanding in Their Field
Several legendary artists made names for themselves at Atlas in the 1950’s, including John Romita, Steve Ditko, John Severin, and one of the great workhorses of the industry, Joe Maneely. Maneely soon illustrated his worth to the company as an all-around artist, drawing thrilling issues of SUSPENSE, the medieval saga of THE BLACK KNIGHT, and shoot-em-ups in TWO-GUN KID.
JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY and TALES OF SUSPENSE. Together, Lee and Kirby would also inaugurate the so-called “Marvel method” of plotting and drawing stories at this time.
Though much of Atlas’ line embraced anthologies with done-in-one stories, a few distinct individual characters rose above the rest to make their mark in the era. These included the Black Knight, the Rawhide Kid, the Two-Gun Kid, Patsy Walker, Millie the Model, the Yellow Claw, Fin Fang Foom, and Irving Forbush himself.
For a brief moment, the super heroes that dominated the previous decade tried to make a comeback in the Atlas Era.
The Code Cometh
In the middle of its reign over the comics industry, Atlas felt the pinch of the debut of the Comics Code Authority in 1955. After a scathing attack on the field by a noted psychologist, comic book companies banded together to adopt a self-policing code of standards, so as to assure parents that the books remained suitable for impressionable young minds.
Some thriving companies went under from the Code’s strictures, sending top talent to Atlas, much to Martin Goodman’s satisfaction. Overall, he toned down some of his titles’ more graphic content and emphasized mystery over horror and teenage antics over full-blown romance. Ultimately, Atlas continued at the top of its game despite the restrictions.
With a new distributor in 1957, Atlas cut back on many of its books until only 16 remained by the end of that year. Stan Lee gathered his few remaining artists around him and continued to produce new material, but the writing on the wall spoke of the end of an era. By 1959, the recognizable globe symbol of Atlas disappeared and a different mind-set arose from the ashes of the old. As the 1960’s dawned, a marvelous new experience awaited both fans of Atlas and Timely and a fresh crop of young readers.
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