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Sunday, 1 May 2016

Atlas Aarden -The End Of The Line?

SORRY-This post totally vanished and I thought "Atlas has disappeared, too" comments were a joke. Blogger!
 Above: "fan" art. Obviously a Byrne influence but I have no idea who drew this -anyone know? Hopefully he or she is working full time in comics!

This is a "bit" of a re-post.  I write "bit" because I've added a lot to it!  More covers to make those who like their text broken up with eye-candy.  But since this is about comics how could I not include covers?

And if you haven't checked out Tales from the Kryptonian you ought to. Subzero just did a very nice posting on French comics so plenty of covers there.

Let us begin the Reverend Hooper's Sunday Sermon!
Back in March, 2011, I announced, with all the overly excited boyish enthusiasm of an original fan, that Atlas Comics(Seaboard Periodical)  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 station "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 company name?  Had they gone back to using it?  I grabbed a bunch of the comics and itsy bitsy teensy-weensy brother Mike 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). I suppose you want to hear about this so...

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! But having said that, every comic in Africa from (believe-it-or-not) Tarzan, Gara, the UK Tiger-man and others encountered tigers in Africa. Now there is something I'll be delving into at a future date in a BTCG comic.

Then, returning to Atlas, there was of course, The Tarantula. Or, as he was known before he went all "arachno", Count Eugene Lycosa.  You see, a European nobleman, an ancestor of his, was cursed by a witch burned at the stake.  This cursed passed from generation to generation making them “were-spiders.”  

European nobility and their weird ways, heh?
Anyway, 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 scum around -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. I mean, Boyette drawing a were-spider I was in seventh heaven!

Screeches of “Ernie Colon 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 lures him 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 soul went straight to…HELL!  And there he is met by the Fallen Angel himself. Old Nick. Behelzebub—oh, you’ll know all that. Anyway, Satan offers Dunsinane a choice of suffering in purgatory 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 jacksie 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 Dunsinane 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!



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.

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 1" space station, the three-man crew were forced to abandon ship after an air-leak.  The escape shuttle made a three-point emergency landing (Here, There and Everywhere!) in the Arctic –Tyler was thrown across the ice and left near to 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 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 Mankind’s 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 Mankind’s 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 gory 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, wonderfully drawn by none other than the original JLA artist, the great Mike Sekowsky!  I loved this book, too. Not really the Hulk but you could see what Atlas was aiming for. The Destructor and Morlock 2001 and the barbarian Iron Jaw -other great characters and it might even be argued that with Morlock, Atlas were aiming for a character similar to The Heap, Swamp Thing or Man-Thing.  
Hands of the Dragon #1
Lesser remembered characters but still great were The Cougar,a stunt man who gets into costumed action, the Dark Avenger, Rich Buckler's Demon Hunter, Manstalker, Scorpion -created by Howard Chaykin as a 1930s adventurer but with the third issue Chaykin was gone and a costumed character replaced the adventurers outfit. And, naturally, 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:
The Cougar#1
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!”:

Interestingly, there were some larger format anthology books and me being a horror fan....well, Devilina and Weird Tales of the Macabre I had to get! Black and white with grey washes -rather like some of the Marvel mags of the time.

"Illustrated stories of female-filled fantasy"....behave yourselves!

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.

So then came the death of Atlas (Seaboard) and we had to wait until the New Atlas arrived.  We were promised a return to past glories. Excellent!

I had the new books on order and Tony Isabella was back to writing comics!  I had hoped they stayed true to the characters origins back in 1974/1975 Atlas Comics and their dark anti-heroes were some 10-15 years ahead of their time, though Archie Comics "Red Circle" in the 1980s broke a few taboos before it, too, faded away and then DC and Marvel were hailed as the "innovators"!  

 The company was setting out to do what DC did years later with The Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen. I was anxious to see what these new versions were like and how they panned-out.

I hoped this would be good.
I even kept my fingers crossed that the original books might be brought together in a collection -rather like the Essentials or DC Showcase Presents format- because the comics I had wouldn'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 would continue much longer…if they were good!
Targitt #3
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 was so poor that my one time favourite character wasn’t even worth bothering with. It was AWFUL. Not just down to personal taste either; I exchanged a few emails with die-hard 1970s Atlas fans who have simply cancelled their standing orders for the book.  Tony Isabella and 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 was okay to a degree. It was far better than in Grim Ghost.  But I started 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?  

there was no "hook" to catch the reader.  Looking at the  issues again recently, I realise the art was not great but still passable.  The story/script is as bad as I thought. Some times, if you leave a gap of time between reading something and go back you can look at it and see that you may have been wrong.  Sadly, not with this one.
The hit comic 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 then…Iron Jaw!  This book was going great guns.

However, there was a "fly" in the Atlas ointment.  You could 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 had little substance to them. The two main titles of the 1970s Atlas were reduced to being not "B" listers but "Z" listers.

Perhaps these titles were a bit light-weight because they were merely establishing things before the rumoured "Big Event".  Yes, I was clutching at straws even then.
Then we got to Atlas Unified -the “Big Event”.
That mummy on the cover above is the Grim Ghost. I just had to say "WTF??" out loud in the shop when I saw it.  And, fer feck sake -and American artist could not draw a World war 2 US Army uniform? There are only several thousand references online and lords know how many in books.

A few people noticed something about the "Big Event" book.  Only 22 pages -so just a regular comic. I’m not sure if the thick paper they printed on was supposed to make us think there is more? It was the theory going around at the time anyway.  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

In all honesty I just opened the book. Looked at it.  Closed it.  Opened it again. Didn’t help. Just very bad art. This is what us Atlas fans were built up to expect to be the event.

Oh. And Phoenix dies again. Permanently. But he’d 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?? I have no idea who this is so I’m guessing a new character). 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?

I just got the book out again. Yes, the artwork is BAD.

If I didn’t like the Grim Ghost in his own book I hated the character in Unified. For one thing he now seemed to be a mummy -there just simply were and are not enough "WTF?!" to cover this.

At $2.99 (which UK stores charged as £3.00 so I was paying more than a US reader) I was robbed.  If this was supposed to be the biggest ever event in (New) Atlas Comics history then all I can say is I was not surprised so many were jumping the Atlas fan-ship.  Talking to UK store owners as well as fans in the US, I learnt that a lot of standing orders on the regular titles and for Unified have been cancelled. Sadly, there are some who were 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 foresaw, on CBO, 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??

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 wanted Atlas to succeed and be with us a long time but if they made it to 2013 I’d have been very shocked.

I was expecting to hear about cancellations which would have been 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.


Well, as it turns out I was right.  Again. Although cover art for six Atlas Unified books was released along with some story details that made it sound almost like DCs Crisis on Infinite Earths, the series never got to issue 3.

Everything went quiet.  No one from store managers to distributors could give a definitive "the next issue will be out in---"  And fans thought the Atlas boss was giving them the runaround.  We then heard "These are not the 1970s Atlas characters but re-imaginings". "WTF?" time again. Why, if these were much loved characters that Aarden were "bringing back" did they have to be "re-imagined"?

I was in contact with Jason Goodman and even made a few suggestions -hey, why not? I was told "this" then told "that" and last I heard everything was set for a revival..two years ago?

I'm not sure what the problem was but if you want to revive the 1970s characters it makes sense to make them the 1970s characters and get the creative teams back.  It just looked like the whole New Atlas was produced on the cheap.

It was a sad little revival but it could be successful but you have to be true to the originals.


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