By Kiel Phegley
With its debut amidst the chaos of Civil War, Jeff Parker's wildly inventive AGENTS OF ATLAS limited series snuck its way into comic fans' hearts as the
cult Marvel hit of the modern era. Over the two years since, the team consisting of long-forgotten Marvel heroes like Marvel Boy, Gorilla Man and Venus waited patiently for their chance at the Marvel spotlight.
This February 4, their time will arrive.
"I tried several ways to get the Agents of Atlas to jump back into the Marvel Universe after [the first] series, but the ongoing super story of the whole universe was constantly in flux," Parker explains of the road to he and artist Carlo Pagulayan's new AGENTS OF ATLAS ongoing, which ties in
ATLAS #1 cover
by Art Adams
heavily to Marvel's Dark Reign event. "It finally aligned where our premise was just right for what they were about to do. So when you read it, it won't feel like, 'Oh, here's an excuse to shoehorn in the Agents of Atlas.' It feels very natural that they would start taking a bigger presence like they do. So I'm glad. If we waited much longer, people may not have remembered it or remembered any of the buzz around it."
Readers unfamiliar with the previous series or the characters in general can pick up the just-released AGENTS OF ATLAS trade paperback which includes the original limited series by Parker and Leonard Kirk as well as reprints of several classic issues from Marvel's 1950's era of Atlas Comics where characters like super spy Jimmy Woo first appeared. Inspired by a 1978 issue of WHAT IF? that brought the characters into one team, the original AGENTS OF ATLAS series detailed Woo's resuscitation as a younger man and his team's final battle with the dastardly Atlas Foundation run by his arch nemesis The Yellow Claw. However, by series end, the team learned that the Claw's actions against them were a mere test of Woo's worthiness to take over as leader of the Atlas organization, which he reluctantly did.
The story of the ongoing series picks up from there, as Parker explains:
"Our back story is that they've been trying to clean up the organization and trying to give the various arms of it something to do that isn't stealing and violence and everything else Atlas is into. But then, at the beginning of this all Jimmy Woo can remember is his time as an FBI guy. He doesn't remember any of his time with S.H.I.E.L.D. since his body was repaired. And to him this is just like an enormous undercover sting. And instead of having to go around and look like a bad guy, now he's got the ability to say, 'Yes. We were always big heavies.' It's like ingratiating yourself to the mob. You've got massive street cred because of this gang you run.
ATLAS #1 variant
"So Jimmy starts playing into it and wearing clothes like the Yellow Claw would have worn, and the irony is not lost on him. Jimmy's like, 'This is messed up. I used to fight this guy all the time, and now I have to act like him to get my job done.'"
That front as an international criminal organization brings Atlas to the attention Norman Osborn, who sees potential in what he believes to be a corrupt team of former heroes.
"Osborn really trusts people who want power," Parker notes. "He doesn't trust people who just want to do good. That makes no sense in his head. An obvious front like the Atlas Organization—in his mind he can go, 'We'll give you government papers to overlook your little operation, and you have to do some work for us like ship up weaponry we can't get anywhere else.' And the downside to all of that is that there are other heroes in the Marvel Universe still, and this is going to fool them too."
Those heroes will come from all corners of the Marvel U, starting off with issue #1. "You see the Sentry halfway through the issue. Osborn wastes no time calling him in when he has to. There's fun, big superheroics going on. Also, the New Avengers show up and Captain America. I went back and re-read [Ed] Brubaker's issues [of CAPTAIN AMERICA] to make sure I'm getting him in character. And in theory, the X-Men are going to show up in the first year too. We can only avoid the fact that the X-Men live in San Francisco and the Agents of Atlas are a few miles underneath them for so long. I also like that that big Celestial is still just sitting over there in Golden Gate Park."
But before he dives into conflicts between his undercover Atlas crew and those heroes, Parker wants to play with the darker side of Dark Reign. Readers who pick up AGENTS OF ATLAS #1 will be treated to the origin of the Atlas/Osborn relationship.
ATLAS #2 cover
by Greg Land
"Osborn has been on their trail since they knocked over Fort Knox [in the DARK REIGN: NEW NATION one-shot]," Parker recounts. "That gold was about to be spent on a weapons system that Osborn wanted for H.A.M.M.E.R., and to Jimmy, it's like, 'I'm going to take that gold and hang onto it because it's no longer safe in the United States' vaults.' He has no intention of keeping it.
"So Osborn has been on his trail and he has a lot of sway with other enforcement agencies, specifically with the Bureau Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. In the preview, you see Madman Marco because in my mind, Osborn likes to give old Spider-Man villains a chance—people he can relate to. So he puts that big heavy in ATF to investigate an Atlas operation on the West Coast in Northern California. That's what you see in the preview. As they go in to shut the thing down, Atlas shows up to give them the bum's rush, and everything starts to come to a head from there."
Surprises remain in store for longtime Atlas fans as well, as Parker and Pagulayan worked to develop the cast in new and exciting ways, including the centuries old Dragon that inhabits the team's underground base of operations.
"One of my favorite parts of the story is that Mr. Loa returns in a big way. He makes a big splash. He was one of my favorite characters even though you didn't see him until the end, and he plays a big role in this series. And Carlo draws the best dragons in the world. It's crazy," Parker promises.
"Gorilla Man's always fun, and M-11 does some unexpected stuff coming up. He's our favorite quiet wild card because you can't get in his head or read his poker face. Everything he does is for a reason, but you won't find out until a long time after that why it was. He does something in the first couple of issues that just sets a whole lot of violence in motion. It's great. It's the most fun bit because it's very true to everybody's character. We're doing a lot of stuff set in
ATLAS #2 variant
the 50's this year too. Starting in issue #2 we bounce back and forth between 1952 and the present day. I think it's important to keep their presence as these '50s characters going. And no one can afford the old comics to check me on this stuff!"
Parker also promises that fans of the original series can rest easy knowing that he plans on involving his original AGENTS partner in crime.
"Don't worry, we're going to sucker Leonard back in," he assures. "He thinks he's out, but you can't escape it. He'll be back down the line.
"Carlo is such a genius. I'll often worry, 'Gee, I don't know if I described that character well enough,' and then he'll send back his page, and we're all picking our jaws up off the floor going, 'Boy, that's way better than whatever I had.' He's just really got a world class imagination and the ability to pull it off. That guy is something. It doesn't hurt that he drew some of the New Avengers, so it all feels of a piece [with the modern Marvel Universe] which is kind of neat."
Jump onboard with AGENTS OF ATLAS beginning with issue #1 on February 4! And read the original series on Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.
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