Reading mainstream superhero comics is becoming a bit of a chore lately—if a comic isn’t part of a line-wide crossover that has two or three good ideas spread out over way too many issues, it’s rife with death, destruction, despair, and misogyny. Often, it’s both. That’s why I’m glad a book like Marvel’s Atlas is around. I don’t read superhero comics to be bummed out, I read ‘em so I can follow the adventures of reformed killer robots, talking dragons, and wisecracking gorillas who occasionally wear Hawaiian shirts.
This diverse group reunites to help Jimmy track down his old nemesis, who is behind a globe-spanning science terror organization known only as the Atlas Foundation. However, by the end of that initial miniseries, Jimmy learns that he is the true heir to the Foundation, which dates all the way back to the Mongol Empire; seizing control of his destiny, and with his old comrades in arms, Jimmy sets about trying to change the Foundation from within—a task that may be impossible when the organization he commands is responsible for nurseries full of giant killer plants and orphanages populated by white-haired psychic toddlers.
Agents of Atlas appeared again (this time as an ongoing series) in the wake of Marvel’s Secret Invasion crossover, but was sadly cut short after 11 issues. Having that stupid Dark Reign banner on the early issues might have helped out with the initial sales, but that kind of quick sales fix is a short-term solution that hurts a book more in the long run—in my opinion, anyway. Regardless, Marvel’s commitment to this cult favourite has been surprisingly steadfast; the team appeared again in a two-part X-Men vs. Agents of Atlas mini, and then later in a four-part Avengers vs. Atlas series. There was also a recent Marvel Boy three-parter, which filled in the 1950s backstory of the team’s mysterious spaceman. And now, in the wake of yet another crossover (Siege), and with yet another banner (The Heroic Age), the gang is back again, in another ongoing simply titled Atlas. Despite the banner, however, Atlas doesn’t have much to do with the rest of Marvel’s publishing line—it occupies its own cozy corner of the Marvel U, one teeming with secret intrigue, pulp adventure, and mad science to beat the band.
So, if you’d rather read about mystical hidden cities and electrically-charged zombies than drug-addicted antiheroes and sexually dysfunctional former sidekicks, give Atlas a try. The new series is a great jumping-on point—3-D Man’s entry into the team provides a great point of reference for new readers—but the earlier adventures are available in trade paperback as well. If you’re a fan of Astro City’s wistful approach to gee-whiz superheroics, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s shared universe of pulp archetypes, or even if you just think a book about a talking ape, an old-timey robot, a love goddess, and a secret agent cruising around in a flying saucer from Uranus (yeah, Gorilla Man laughs at it every time too) sounds like fun, then you’ll find Atlas is where it’s at.