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Friday, 23 March 2012

Atlas Comics -The End Of The Line….

…probably for me anyway.

Back in March 2011 I announced, with all the overly excited boyish enthusiasm of an original fan, that Atlas (Seaboard Periodical) Comics was back!  If you missed the article here it is:

Atlas Is Back! You DO Remember Atlas??

Some thirty-five (thirty-five??) years ago I was living in a caravan between Ramsgate and Margate, Kent.  Don’t ask why –hush-hush- but it got boring.  Walks down to look at the Hoverport and the very noisy hovercraft coming in and out, Listening on a little transistor radio to pirate radio Mi Amigo and shopping trips into Ramsgate.

I picked up a few very cheap comics but not much since there ain’t that much storage space in a caravan!  I walked into a newsagents next to Woolworths in the High Street.  There were comics I had never seen before –Atlas. Hang on, wasn’t that a former Marvel Comics name?  Had they gone back to using it?  I grabbed a bunch of the comics and itsy bitsy teensy-weensy brother Mike (Knowle Order) and I hoofed it back home.

Turned out this was not Marvel. And the characters were almost British in their anti-heroic way.

Firstly, there was Tiger Man (alias Dr Lancaster Hill). Dr Hill was working at a medical clinic in Zambia when he injected himself with the chromosome that gives a tiger its strength and speed and it  transforms him. Dr Hill now has abilities on a par with the great cat.  Dr Hill returns to New York City he meets up with his sister, pleasant enough?  Oh, come on –this is comics! Dr Hill’s sister is shortly thereafter robbed and murdered by two criminals working in a rodeo. Adopting the identity of Tiger-Man, he tracks them down and kills them.  Tiger Man’s gloves also sport razor sharp claws –very pre-Wolverine or even my own Celtic hero the Badger.

In the black and white Thrilling Adventure Stories #1, the gore factor is much higher –the criminal boss he goes up against is eaten by piranhas!  I think I re-read this Ernie Colon fest several times the first day.  As I recall, Brother Mike giggled.

I love Tiger Man and at least his origin is not as odd as the UK Tiger Man’s!
Then, of course, there was The Tarantula. Or, as he was known before he went all arachno, Count Eugene Lycosa.  A European nobleman, an ancestor, was cursed by a witch burned at the stake.  This cursed passed from generation to generation making them “were-spiders.”  The 1970s Count Lycosa would transform into the were-spider but tried everything to avoid taking innocent lives. Instead he focussed on the worst criminals and all that entails.  “Oh, a Spider-man rip-off!” you say. Uh-uh; as The Tarantula Lycosa was a predator and would eat human victims.

And Pat Boyette was the artist –I just don’t think it could have been any better. I’d been a Boyette fan due to his Charlton work.  This was all exciting stuff.

More “Ernie Colon really rocks!” came with the story of Matthew Dunsinane, an infamous highwayman in colonial America in the 1740s.  Dunsinane hid his identity behind the mask and persona of the Grim Ghost. However, after robbing the coach of Lord and Lady Braddock in 1743, Dunsinane’s luck ran out when the beautiful Lady Braddock is lured into a ”honey-trap”  and he was captured and unmasked. Just three weeks later he is hung by the neck until dead…then the story really picks up.

For Dunsinane’s sould went straight to…HELL!  And there he is met by the Fallen Angel himself. Old Nick. Behel—oh, you’ll know all that. Anyway, Satan offers Dunsinane a choice of suffering in pergatory for all eternity or, here it comes, he can return to the world of the living and harvest evil souls for him.  Hmm, red-hot pokers up the jacksy for all eternity or…? Dunsinane chose to harvest evil souls.

And so, Dunsinane finds himself in 1970s New York where Satan thinks he can make a good start in his Grim Ghost persona and riding a jet-black flying horse and carrying a brace of spectral pistols off he goes.
Oh, Satan apparently has a black sense of humour.  Dunsinane is forced to work with non-other than the treacherous harlot Lady Sarah Braddock! Boo! Hissss!

His greatest foe was the demon Brimstone, who sought to topple Satan and rule Hell in his place.

The usual anti-hero action was underway when Dunsinane found himself in the middle of a Hellish uprising.  The demon Brimstone wanted to topple Satan and looked in a strong position and made some interesting offers.  The Grim Ghost sided with …SATAN!?!  I know.  That’s what I thought. Can you believe it?
Man, I still take those issues out every-so-often and Colon’s work just looked..luscious.
Above: The New Grim Ghost
Wulf The Barbarian and the origins of the character are explained by The Atlas Archives thus:
“”…On a nameless world in a forgotten time…” there lived a man called Wulf. Orphaned 10 years ago when his parents, the king and queen, were slain in an ambush staged by trolls in the service of an evil sorcerer, Wulf has spent the last decade training for the day he would return to claim his birthright.

After his trainer/mentor is killed by the same troll who killed his mother 10 years earlier, Wulf avenges his mother’s death, reclaims his father’s sword from the slain troll, and begins his long awaited trip home. As Wulf rides homeward with the intent to raise an army to raid the evil sorcerer’s lair and free his hereditary kingdom, he encounters many magic-induced obstacles conjured by his foe.”

More of a sci fi character to start with was astronaut Ed Tyler -The Phoenix.  After  months on board the Threshold I space station, the three-man crew were forced to abandon ship after an airleak.  The escape shuttle made a three-point emergency landing (Here, There and Everywhere!) in the Arctic –Tyler was thrown across the ice and near death.  However, Tyler was saved from freezing to death by the Deiei, an alien race that had been monitoring mankind for years from within a secret hidden base in the frozen north.  This was no real act of kindness since the Deiei feared that a rescue party might discover their presence.
Tyler awoke to find himself a prisoner rather than a guest and the truth was soon revealed to him. The Deiei, it seems, had been involved in the evolution of the human race but had become ashamed at the failings of humanity –war, etc..

So what do a bunch of self-righteous aliens with a god complex decide to do?  They planned to quite literally wipe the slate clean by destroying humanity.  Tyler could not be allowed to go free and expose them, the Deiei planned to keep him captive for the rest of his life. However, as such pains-in-the butt aliens tend to do, especially when they think they are superior, they ruled Tyler to be harmless and left him unguarded. The resourceful astronaut managed to steal a space suit and arm himself with “atomic transistors” –and then he made his escape.

Tyler reached the nearest human population centre which happened to be Reykjavik, Iceland, hours later.  Here he discovered that the Deiei were causing the very earth beneath the city to collapse using nuclear particles. No self-respecting human could just stand back and watch so Tyler raced back to the alien base to stop this attack. The Deiei were having none of this interference and especially not from a human using their technology.  It was the ensuing fight which set off an nuclear blast that destroyed the aliens’
headquarters. Tyler then returned to Reykjavik to help the survivors and it was here that the media dubbed him the “Phoenix,”  risen from the ashes of the city. Meanwhile some Deiei survivors, and they were really teed off and swore revenge; they would kill Tyler and then destroy the human race.

Tyler -The Phoenix-  was attacked by a Deiei spaceship a short while later, a distraction of sorts (if such superior entities felt they needed one) as the main force of Deiei craft headed for New York.  Phoenix survived the attack and learned of the learned of the armada and headed off to intercept it. After a fierce battle the alien Deiei fleet was destroyed and Phoenix was triumphant (oh, and New York was saved, though I’m guessing that you guessed that, right?).
Tyler then had to think about his newfound role in life –he was now a protector and example to mankind.  He decided to lead humanity from the evil path the Deiei predicted they would follow. Tyler dedicated himself to saving Mankind as The Phoenix

Then The Phoenix became…The Protector and got a more super-hero style costume. Why? Well, he was not the only character to adopt the super hero style but the change in this case involved more aliens.  Tyler felt guilt-ridden about the near destruction of Reykjavik and New York and basically breaking down since he felt Man had no chance to survive the further onslaught of the Deiei.  He decided to fly into space and commit suicide.

Tyler awoke to find himself aboard an alien space station.  He was badly burned and his face swathed in bandages, he was not a happy bunny as he was taken to meet his alien rescuers.  This time, however, things were not so sinister. The aliens called themselves the “Protectors of the Universe”  and had been behind the Deiei monitoring of Mankinds development.  This race was also disappointed by Mans development but unlike the Deiei, bless them, they were willing to give us a chance.

The alien leader, the Magus, declares that Ed Tyler would be solely responsible for Mankinds shot at redemption. Tyler is given new powers and a new face and given the name of The Protector before being sent back to Earth to redeem mankind or it would be destroyed.  Two-faced aliens!

Phoenix/Protector was not as anti-hero or gorey but there was, as far as many were concerned, a controversial aspect.  Helping to save Man from evil, dying and being resurrected to help redeem mankind…holy –!  Ed Tyler was Jesus-like!!  That argument still continues today amongst fans old enough to remember the series though that period also spawned another “saviour” in comics –Marvel’s Warlock!
But there was also The Brute, The Destructor and Morlock 2001 and the barbarian Iron Jaw.  Lesser remembered characters but still great were The Cougar, Dark Avenger, Demon Hunter, Manstalker, Scorpion and the Bog Beast.

But who or what was Atlas Comics, or Seaboard Periodicals. The UK had no really wide-spread fanzines back then so it took a while to filter through.  The Atlas Face Book pages cites Wikipedia:
“Atlas/Seaboard is the term comic-book historians and collectors use to refer to the 1970s line of comics published as Atlas Comics by the American company Seaboard Periodicals, to differentiate from the 1950s’ Atlas Comics, a predecessor of Marvel Comics. Seaboard was located on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York City.

Marvel Comics founder and Magazine Management publisher Martin Goodman left Marvel in 1972, having sold the company in 1968. He created Seaboard Periodicals in June 1974 to compete in a field then dominated by Marvel and DC Comics. Goodman hired Warren Publishing veteran Jeff Rovin to edit the color comic-book line, and writer-artist Larry Lieber, brother of Marvel editor-in-chief Stan Lee, as editor of Atlas’ black-and-white comics magazines. Lieber later became editor of the color comics following Rovin’s departure. Steve Mitchell was the comics’ production manager, and John Chilly the black-and-white magazines’ art director. Goodman offered an editorial position to Roy Thomas, who had recently stepped down as Marvel Comics editor-in-chief, but Thomas “didn’t have any faith in his lasting it out. The field was too shaky for a new publisher.”

You can find the Wikipedia entry here:

The Atlas Face Book page is here (though there is little there):
The best place to go on the net is The Atlas Archives which has a fuller history and explains why the Atlas logo was altered to be less “up yours, Marvel!”:

Initial Logo Design
The Atlas Comics initial logo design as featured in The Comic Reader #111, though it was later modified to less of an “Up Yours, Marvel!” approach.

Courtesy of Mike Friedrich
(Source – Comic Book Artist #16)
The less “Up yours Marvel” logo used:
Tiger-Man, Tarantula, Iron Jaw, etc
John B. Cooke also wrote a terrific article on Atlas for Comic Book Artist #16, which you might find near impossible to get in the UK/Europe but the item “Vengeance Incorporated” is reprinted on The Atlas Archives site.

I have the new books on order and Tony Isabella is back to writing comics! These I will be reviewing and I just hope they stay true to the characters origins back in 1974/1975 Atlas Comics and their dark anti-heroes were 10-15 years ahead of their time.  The company was setting out to do what DC did years later with The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen. For some reason I’m anxious to see these new versions and how they pan-out.

I hope this is good.

I may even keep my fingers crossed that the original books are brought together in a collection because the comics I have won’t suffer more thumbing-through!

Various reasons were given as to why Atlas was so short lived in the 1970s but I hope this incarnation continues much longer…if they are good!

Then, in February, I gave my considered opinion on ATLAS UNIFIED

Many regulars will remember that, when the news hit that Atlas Comics were to be revived I did a brief piece about it. You can find it here:

The art shown didn’t look so bad and being a big fan, like many other fans, I thought “YEAH!”
Well, to be honest, the artwork by Kelley Jones on The Grim Ghost has been so poor that my one time favourite character isn’t even worth bothering with. It is AWFUL. Not just down to personal taste either; I’ve exchanged a few emails with die-hard 1970s Atlas fans who have simply cancelled their standing orders for the book.  Tony Isabella ans Stephen Susco’s story and plot is quite ponderous and at issue 6 all I’m thinking is that I’ve wasted valuable money.

Jim Krueger/Brendan Deneen and Dean Zachary’s work on Phoenix has me divided.  The art is okay but I’m getting bored of the whole “He’s dead….now he’s alive again….now he’s dead…” you get my point. It seems to be getting absolutely nowhere and I keep hearing comments such s “great art” but story? :-/
The charm has been Wulf.  Now stranded on Earth, Wulf is written by Steve Niles who seems to understand how to write a story and plot things properly!   The art by Nat Jones is gritty and nice. The colour work by MAI works well. Hey, they re-introduced Lomax NYPD and now…Iron Jaw!  This book is going great guns.

The problem is that you can read all these titles in ten minutes -that is all three titles in ten minutes in one sitting.  There are 22 pages per issue BUT Grim Ghost and Phoenix have little substance to them.
Then we come to Atlas Unified -the big event.

Only 22 pages so just a regular comic (I’m not sure if the thick paper they print on is supposed to make us think there is more?).  As a writer, Tom Peyer has produced  a story trying to spin an air of mystery but it is just a confused mess and it just is not helped by the absolutely awful  art of Jimbo Salgado.  Anatomy -out the window.  Very basic art with as little background as possible which ain’t helping to hide the art flaws
oh. And Phoenix dies again. Permanently. But he’ll be alive again soon so do not worry.

I noticed the list of characters from the inside front cover: Kid Cody.  Wulf.  Phoenix. Kromag The Killer.  Scott Galland (who??). Sgt Hawk.  Vicki.  Luke Malone:Manhunter and, of course, the Grim Ghost.  I think some of these are the badly drawn quartet on the last page of the book?

If I didn’t like the Grim Ghost in his own book I hate the character in Unified. For one thing he now seems to be a mummy -WTF???????????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At $2.99 I was robbed.  If this is supposed to be the biggest ever event in (New) Atlas Comics history then all I can say is I am not surprised so many are jumping the Atlas fan-ship.  Talking to UK store owners as well as fans in the US I’ve learnt that a lot of standing orders on the regular titles and for Unified have been cancelled. Sadly, there are some who are quite happy with the art which is very, very sad.

In the 1970s Atlas had great artists and writers but lasted little over a year.  I can see the new Atlas going as well.

Ernie Colon was the artist who made The Grim Ghost such a hit originally -his art just oozes style.  And he is STILL working today:

So why didn’t the new Atlas owners pull him on board? Please don’t tell me it’s because they would have had to pay more?

And, to relaunch it, why didn’t they get Sal Almendola to draw The Phoenix  as he did in the 1970s?
If these characters are so great and “needed reviving” why then try smothering them to death??

Check out the page above from Unified #1

Above -Kelley Jones work on Grim Ghost #6.

You know, I shouldn’t care but I do.

This return had so much promise but I see myself cancelling standing orders. What is worse is that there are good amateur artists out there who could have done a far better job on both Unified  and Grim Ghost.
I really, really really want Atlas to succeed and be with us a long time but if they make it to 2013 I’d be very shocked.

look at the above cover and then 1970s style below. Point made. Or is modern American comic art meant to be piss-poor? Note the Grim Ghost as a mummy!!!

I’ve just purchased Phoenix #5 and guess what? He is killed and comes to life…again. I just cannot see how Atlas can continue like this.  As a fan who was so enthusiastic and looking forward to seeing the old characters back all I’ve been is disappointed by and large and these are NOT those old Atlas Comic characters but some “re-imagined” crap and we know how well that has been working for comics.
Wulf has, to date, been the one shining light, even though it seems to be Wulf stranded on planet Earth so the sword and sorcery is just not there like it was.

I’m expecting to hear about cancellations which would be sad.  I think the bosses need to sit down, look at those 1970s comics again and re-think.  Thirty years later the original Atlas series’ are far superior in both story and art compared to the modern incarnation.

I’m a very disappointed Atlas Comics fan.

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