Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What If #9: The Agents of Atlas!

What If #9(What If the Avengers Had fought Evil During the 1950's?)

Story by Don Glut

Art by Alan Kupperberg & Bill Black

Cover by Jack Kirby

Ok, so it may sound like sacrilege to some, but I enjoy a number of comics being published today. I know, they are super-decompressed and take 6 issues to tell a story that would have encapsulated a single book 30 years ago. I find that, if done right, allows the characters to "breathe" a bit more and can deliver some good character moments. One such I enjoy is Jeff Parker's "Atlas" series. It's such a terrific blend of super-heroes and pulp action I find it impossible to put down. It has a nice "old-school" vibe to it that doesn't take itself too seriously which many of today's books lack. So imagine my surprise to find a comic had already been done some 30 years before featuring this exact same cast of characters! Sure, I was aware these characters existed individually in Timely/Atlas/Marvel's long history, but I had no idea a precedent had already been set for this unlikely group of heroes. I had to read it!

So, the set-up is Iron Man calls a meeting of only Captain America, The Vision, Beast, and Thor. He's wanting an answer to his burning question(the very same one mentioned in the title, in fact). But before anyone can hypothesize one, Iron Man directs the group's attention to a large TV screen. It is, in fact, his version of a dimensional transporter. You may be asking yourself, "I wonder if this is like the dimensional transporter that brought the Squadron Supreme into our world?" Well, worry not, as Iron Man indicates this is, indeed, the same, and we are soon treated to a look into 1950's Earth, but what is not certain is whether or not it's our Earth or a parallel one.

It matters not, however, as we are quickly thrust into the action as special agent Jimmy Woo sets out to form his team of "Avengers" to take down Yellow Claw and the motley crew HE has assembled. And what a treat it is, too. We meet Skull-Face, the skeleton of an alleged demon burned at the stake centuries ago, The Great Video, who can kill with his prolonged stare(!), Electro, the russian assassin(who also is a shriner, apparently, judging from his headwear), and last, and honestly, least, is Cold Warrior who can't even be bothered to have his powers summed up. I guess his name says it all. Any ways, each character has his own footnote indicating when they first appeared and they were all pretty old even for 1978.

Back to the story, Jimmy assembles his group to retrieve President Eisenhower who was kidnapped by Yellow Claw while playing golf with Agent Woo. They are, of course, successful in their mission. So it's only logical that the President asks the team to disband afterwards. Wait, what? Oh, apparently simple people believe that comic books and super hero types are responsible for all the world's ills like communism and martians. Actually, this bit was stab at the Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearings from 1954 so that's pretty sly.

So, the story was entertaining, and on the art side of things, Kupperberg and Black are adequate with only some odd bits here and there where they seem to struggle with perspective. The one thing that bothered me, though, was right at the start with the cover and all through the book, Gorilla-Man looks nothing like a gorilla. In fact, with the odd facial hair, he more closely resembles Bigfoot, so I'm not so sure what was going on there, but there you have it.

The only postscript I have for this is that I came to new Atlas series a bit late, tracking all the back issues of assorted minis and what not, only to hear the news it's being cancelled at #5. All good things must end, I suppose, but we'll have always have Iron Man's way back machine to remind us of the good times.

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