Chances are, if you were reading a Marvel comic between 2005 and 2007, you were reading a lot of hype for the Agents of Atlas. I dunno if it was just the comics *I* was reading, but it felt like everywhere you turned, there they were- either featuring prominently in ads, getting big “Crossover” Limited Series with more-established heroes, or just plain crossing over into everyone else’s books. The Agents of Atlas were EVERYWHERE.
And honestly, it annoyed the hell out of me.
Don’t get me wrong. I READ the book’s first arc, and it was FINE. I wasn’t enamored with it, but it was Perfectly-Acceptable Comics, featuring characters with a bit of chemistry, a unique concept (“Heroes From Long-Dead 1950s Comics!”), and it was a different batch of characters than you’d normally see featured in an all-too-static Marvel Universe. BUUUUUUUUUUT… much like how Wolverine annoyed people with his constant Cross-Over Appearances and Hype, The Agents of Atlas did the same to me. Pick up the odd Winter Guard Limited Series?
There they were- in the first issue, showing up just to have their book shilled. Reading the phenomenal Incredible Hercules series, before it went to shit around Chaos War? GREAT STUFF- now here’s your Agents of Atlas Cross-Over and hype. Read ANY Marvel comic? Well here’s some ads for Agents of Atlas. I was like OH MY GOD I GET IT ALREADY YOU WANT PEOPLE TO BUY THIS BOOK.
The sad thing is… comics could stand to hype more off-kilter books like this FURTHER. Showcase their line and build hype for lower-selling acts by letting some more-popular characters shill for them. But doing it endlessly, for just this one book, made me dislike the characters for no other reason than the hype. Theoretically this could entirely be in my head (I’ve never read of anybody else noticing this), but it irked me. IRKED ME, I say!
The book revolves around Jimmy Woo, a government agent from a mostly-forgotten 1950s comic book (yes, really- an ETHNICALLY-CHINESE PROTAGONIST. In a 1950s Comic Book!). He teams up with the Gorilla-Man, Namora (Namor’s cousin), Marvel Boy (possibly Marvel’s top-selling act of the 1950s) and The Human Robot- all 1950s-era characters, and faces down the Yellow Claw- a “Yellow Peril” villain also popular in that era.
The characters (who’d been teamed-up in a random What If? story from 1978, which was again seen in Avengers Forever as an Alternate Timeline) were retconned into having been a team in the 1950s, and reforming in modern times.
With Jeff Parker & Leonard Kirk as creators, and the name Agents of Atlas (Atlas being the name Timely/Marvel was going by at that point), it had some positive word-of-mouth and a TON of hype from Marvel, but was never a big seller. It went eleven issues (following a Limited Series) before being relaunched in the Heroic Age (which relaunched a TON of stuff), but only lasted five issues- the Agents just weren’t popular enough to continue.
What’s odd is that immediately following the book, Mad Men became a HUGE HIT, capping off nostalgia for the late ’50s, early ’60s era. Of course, that one was more about fashion, handsome men and crazy people (seriously, EVERY CHARACTER on that show was this tormented nutbar- it’s basically a soap opera done with a budget and more style… which explains its success, really).
Turns out Marvel was just a bit too early. And didn’t focus enough on bad-ass 1950s hats (Kennedy killed the hat for men, it was later pointed out. Same way Audrey Hepburn killed the bust for women, but that one didn’t stay dead).
FBI Agent and enemy of the Yellow Claw.
Jimmy Woo was created as the protagonist of Yellow Claw, a book largely-about the “Yellow Peril” villain within. And yes, this was EXCEEDINGLY-unusual in comics at the time. Generally speaking, ethnic minorities were used as simple-minded, stereotypical Sidekicks, or horrible villains. And Jimmy came out more than TEN YEARS before one of the Big Two tried to create books featuring another non-white hero. The book failed, and Woo was brought into S.H.I.E.L.D. in 1968, though he was never an important character (I’d never heard of him until 2006, for example). He was a part of the “Godzilla Squad” sent after the Japanese Kaiju in Marvel’s Godzilla series of the ’70s.
He was brought out of the mothballs for Agents of Atlas, which revealed that his old enemy (who points out that his name is supposed to have been “The GOLDEN Claw”) actually wanted Woo to REPLACE him, at which point he committed suicide (well, allowed himself to be eaten). He’s more or less the “Normal Guy” on a team of weirdos, and heads the Atlas Foundation- Yellow Claw’s old organization. After the series is cancelled, Woo is revealed to be the headmaster of a Mumbai-focused school for Asian Superhumans.
Woo is basically an enhanced version of an elite S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent, being a somewhat-ugly PL 8 build that doesn’t hit his caps all the way. This kind of fits the guy who acted more as a team leader, not muscle. He apparently had his aging retarded, but it was being undone before it got re-done (oh, older comic book characters…), so now I think he’s just aging in real-time.
Standard “Talking Gorilla”, though was originally a regular dude.
Full confession time: I don’t find the idea of talking apes to be nearly as funny as apparently 95% of the comic-book audience does. It’s like… okay, it talks. That’s unexpected and a bit amusing. But THEN what? Just being a talking animal does not a great character make. It’s just the subject of a five-minute Saturday Night Live gag. Cripes, that’s like the joke in Zookeeper! DO YOU WANT TO READ COMICS THAT ARE LIKE A KEVIN JAMES MOVIE, PEOPLE??
The Gorilla-Man debuted in a 1950s “Adventure” story, back when comics like that were popular and extremely-common (Martin Goodman’s company, being a bunch of copycats who would alter their entire line to suit the hot new gimmick, was of course on board). He’s a soldier of fortune who slew a Gorilla-Man, hearing that doing so would make him immortal. It was apparently true… except he also BECAME a Gorilla-Man himself!
Retcons have placed him as a jungle guide to the original X-Men, and he rejoined the Agents of Atlas in modern times. Later stories saw him join Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos (a Monster-based team in a book that could not POSSIBLY have been intended to have a long, successful run- I refuse to believe that anybody thought it would last). He’s sort of an “Everyman/Snarker” guy, as I recall, making snide remarks about stuff.
Gorilla-Man is pretty capable in a fight, especially once he starts using machine guns with various limbs.
M-11/The Human Robot
Old-school Sci-Fi character.
The Human Robot debuted in a five-page story in 1954, and is programmed by his creator’s greedy business partner to murder the scientist. However, the incomplete robot comprehends “kill the man in the room”, and kills the MANAGER, too, then goes on a rampage. He’s largely a knock-off of many Sci-Fi Movie Robots from this era, and looks particularly-like the Alien’s robot from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). In the Agents of Atlas series, he appears in a non-speaking role, kind of doing mop-up stuff, and having no real character of his own.
He simply joined the team decades ago, and is still intact to this day. His origin was also Retconned- the inventor, afraid of giving his creation over to the government, had it kill him, reasoning that this would allow his mind to sort-of live on in his creation, which gained a bit of sentience.
Standard-Issue boring-ass Kill-O-Bot Build, albeit with Force Fields and Self-Repair. Also, despite being called The Human Robot, he’s not human.
Namor’s Cousin and a Distant Counterpart back when Marvel was doing that a lot.
Namora first appeared in 1947, back when “Girl Versions” of male heroes were still fairly-rare and new, and even got her OWN SERIES in 1948, probably to capitalize on female readership. It lasted only three issues, however- superhero comics have almost ALWAYS struggled on that front.
Nonetheless, she continued appearing with her cousin Namor in Marvel Mystery Comics and other books until the mid-1950s. However, she did not reappear with Namor when he was brought back in the 1960s- she appeared to be a relic nobody wanted to touch (even as Namor got his own book for a bit there), and was even killed via flashback in 1972! This led to a lot of “flashback” stories, and even a DAUGHTER in Namorita (because… I guess they wanted a Chick Namor, but not THAT Chick Namor). It would be until 2007 when we’d see her resurrected to appear alongside the other What If? 1950s Avengers.
Namora is, oddly enough, possessing the SAME hybrid nature and mutant powers that Namor does. She appeared with her cousin on many adventures, but was poisoned to death by Namor’s enemy Lyra- her sole legacy being a cloned “offspring” named Namorita. She is resurrected by her “old allies”, the Agents of Atlas, in a pretty-simple manner (they just kinda open her coffin and there she is). She joins Amadeus Cho’s pro-Hulk team during World War Hulk, then becomes a Girlfriend of the Week in the tremendous Incredible Hercules series. She even manages to become Kissing Cousins with Namor, but they split when it’s determined that some Atlantean Elders had connived for the two of them to get together, as Human/Atlantean Hybrids are so powerful.
Namora is no weak stripling, like a lot of Female Versions of male characters are- she’s stated to be EQUAL in power to Namor, which makes sense when you think about it (I mean, HUMAN men are much stronger than human women… but why would that hold true for OTHER SPECIES?). Also, I was about to start statting her, when I noticed that I’d already done so when I did a “Namor” set a year ago, so THAT was easy! This build at least features all-new commentary, as I’d already done THAT bit before getting into her stats. Namora’s basically Namor Lite, being equally-powerful (she’s the heavy-hitter of the Agents), but a less-skilled fighter.
One of Marvel’s most-popular ’50s characters, working in a Romance Comic that later went Horror. Supposedly the actual Goddess of Love (this was later undone).
Oddly one of the bigger characters of the 1950s for Marvel, Venus was supposed to be the Goddess of Love (Roman Mythology, naturally), living on the planet Venus with her female companions. Her book began as a lighthearted humor/fantasy feature (with her boss as a love interest, and an Office Bitch as a rival), but started shifting towards dark subject matter- Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics showcased a series of covers, one of which featured the skin sliding off of a sinister, grimacing SKULL. Various other mythological figures appeared (including Thor & Loki, in pretty much non-continuity appearances, I would imagine), and the series was cancelled after 19 issues.
She resurfaced in a Sub-Mariner comic book 25 years later, manipulating Namor into defeating the amorous Ares, and she then became a guide for young Namorita as a peace activist. Later, she teamed with the Champions to stop Pluto & Ares’s attempt at overthrowing Zeus (she was to be forcibly-wed to Ares in the agreement). She then allied with the Avengers against a raging Zeus in that popular Avengers arc where they fought the Olympians after Hercules was nearly-killed. HOWEVER… stuff happened. Basically, Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente, working on the awesome Herculesseries, were using Aphrodite (who, you know, IS Venus, as Marvel makes no difference between the Greek & Roman Pantheons) in her more “traditional” (ie. bitchy & vain) personality, at the same time as the Agents of Atlas were being a thing. It is eventually revealed that the being known as Venus is NOT a true Goddess, but a soulless Siren (one of the creatures that lured sailing ships to their doom)- years ago, a ship’s captain got a mystic to give her a soul, thus sparing his ship.
She became a mute nun, but then regained her voice and made herself thing she was the divine Venus, since her voice could bring lust to the minds of people. It remains unclear just how much of the earlier stories feature Venus or Aphrodite, as both are Shapeshifters with Love Powers. Though I assume that the Gods and Aphrodite herself would probably know the difference.
The revelation nearly broke her mind until Jimmy Woo talked her down, and she elected to stay with the Agents, where her sheer costume is the kind of UBER-Fanservicey thing that can look a bit silly at times (like, she’s walking around basically wearing a single bedsheet draped over herself). A fight between her and the authentic Aphrodite ends with Aphrodite admitting that she’s nowhere near as good a person as Venus is, and gives up.
Venus is essentially another Emotion Controller kind of character, albeit with physical stats closer to a minor-level Olympian. Later on, she possesses the Cestus- the “Magical Girdle” that gives Aphrodite enhanced powers. Creating both Love Slaves and turning weapons into harmless materials, it’s basically the NRA’s worst nightmare.
The former Marvel Boy and one of Marvel’s top ’50s characters.
One of the more-odd characters out there, the original Marvel Boy was a Sci-Fi/Super-Hero story that came out way back at the tail end of the Golden Age (and after most of Timely’s characters had stopped being popular). However, despite his somewhat-iconic name (Marvel’s re-used it at least twice) and appearance (he’s got the same look as Quasar, and packs Energy-Shooting Bands like he & Captain Mar-Vell), the character was nowhere near popular, and his series died one year later. It would take another TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS until someone would bring him back, and THAT was for a What If?! Really, he’s more of an historical footnote than anything.
Robert Grayson and his father fled Earth during the rise of Nazi Germany (their family’s original last name is Grabshield, and they’re Jewish), landing on the planet Uranus, where they are met by the Eternals of that planet (note: that’s obviously been retconned- initially they were just Uranian aliens). Growing up there, Robert was given cool bracelets and fought crime when he returned to Earth. However, he later went insane when the Uranian colony was destroyed, and became The Crusader.
He battled the Fantastic Four in this state, and died when his wrist-bracelets overclocked themselves and exploded (these were in fact the Quantum Bands that were later given to Quasar, then called “Marvel Man”). THAT part would get retconned in The Agents of Atlas, where it’s revealed that Crusader was a surgically-altered Uranian Eternal who had been given the Quantum Bands, and died in Marvel Boy’s place. Grayson himself now calls himself “The Uranian”, and is a mysterious, aloof guy who I recall spending a lot of time in a spaceship.
The Uranian’s powers are a bit odd (you don’t see a lot of Flying Dazzle-Based guys who are also super-strong and tough), and I don’t recall much of him fighting, so I think a PL 9-10 build is alright for him. His Flying Saucer is basically a big ol’ Spaceship with Tractor Beams (Move Object), Hologram Projections (Illusions/Equipment), Regenerative Pools (Healing), Virtual Reality Controls (??) and Laser Blasts. I don’t like the vagueness of that.
Left off of the team, because he was actually a “modern” character that existed in the mainstream Marvel U, and thus didn’t fit the timeline. Later, Delroy Garrett, the former Triathlon, joined the team under that name.
3-D Man was created by Roy Thomas in the 1970s to be an homage to the Kirby/Simon character “Captain 3-D”. His adventures took place in the 1950s (3-D being a huge gimmick in theatres back in the day- I mean, can you imagine? Theatres charging more for a cheap, pointless gimmick like 3-D?), and he didn’t last very long- his appearances in modern times are few and far between. A Test Pilot captured by Skrulls, Chuck Chandler was transformed into a two-dimensional being by an explosion from their gear, and his crippled brother Hal discovered his body trapped within a pair of glasses. When Hal put on the glasses, Chuck’s body super-imposed it over his own, and had Triple-Peak Human stats.
At some point after the 1950s, Hal left Chuck floating around in otherdimensional space while he lived a normal life. However, 3-D Man returned when an aged Hal met the Hulk. Their power was stolen by the leader of the Triune Understanding, who used it to empower Delroy Garrett, the controversial late ’90s Avenger known as Triathlon. Triathlon later freed the brothers, and Charles regained a human form. Garrett thus became the new 3-D Man, appropriately fighting Skrulls.