Agents of Atlas #10
Jeff Parker, writer
Gabriel Hardman, Paul Rivoche, artists
Marvel, September 2009
Credit for this excellent superhero comic must go first and foremost to colorist Elizabeth Dismang. Coloring this nuanced, engaging, and lovely in a superhero comic is a rare treat indeed, and from nighttime parking lots to forgotten mad-science labs to the red hair of the goddess Aphrodite to the sheen of a killer robot, Dismang imbues this issue of Jeff Parker’s strong off-model Marvel super-series with warm, sumptuous, tactile hues. Put it together with the just-so minimal-realism (is there such a thing) of Hardman and Rivoche and you have the best-looking variation on modern Marvel’s noir-naturalism house style since David Aja on The Immortal Iron Fist (or that Ann Nocenti Daredevil story everyone’s talking about). Right now I’m looking at a panel where Venus asks a wistful-looking Namora if she’s thinking about her old comrade and lover Hercules, and the team nails the emotion of it just as well as they handle the machine guns and robots of the action sequence that follows it. It’s really a joy to look at.
And that makes all the difference, doesn’t it? Books like Agents of Atlas, operating at the margins of the mainline superhero universe of which they are nominally a part, live and die on the strength and cleverness of their ideas, or specifically the variation they represent on the usual superhero ideas, if you follow me. But there are a lot of perfectly clever, perfectly nice minor superhero comics out there–you’ve probably read a lot of them–with art that never rises above the functional, and therefore who cares? But you care about the Agents of Atlas after reading a gorgeous-looking, well-constructed issue like this. Parker packs its pages with idea after idea–you get more exposition on this whole “warring Dragon Clans” idea that makes for a nice fit with the kinds of things Iron Fist fans would appreciate; you get a crazy Weapon Plus-style look at the decades-old killer-robot production program Atlas has instituted; you get a big giant battle with souped-up automatons. But more importantly, you also get that great calm-before-the-storm feeling you’ll remember from your favorite action movies, with the characters collecting their thoughts, bonding a bit, but also making damn sure they’re ready for whatever’s about to come through that door. I know that sounds like such a cliche, but here it feels fresh, rooted to this specific motley crew of characters drawn from the various corners of the Marvel Universe and thrown together by the accident of when they were first published. You’ll believe a top-notch, visually and emotionally engaging comic can be made out of an Atlantean queen, a siren, a talking gorilla, a mute robot, a Uranian-Earthling hybrid guy, a dragon, a bunch of knowing yellow-peril/dragon-lady pastiches, a thawed-out secret agent from the ’50s, an Art Bell knockoff, and some warp zones. Like Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis’s B.P.R.D., it’s an ensemble action book with brains, looks, and heart. Well done all around.