First thing’s first, Jeff Parker has written the best recap page in the history of the phenomenon in “Agents Of Atlas” #1. I’d say, let all writers and editors take note, that this is how it should be done, now and forever, but sadly you can probably only pull this off once. The best part about it is that Parker backs it up by fleshing out everything the new reader (like myself) needs to know completely organically over the course of the story. It’s a very appealing approach.
The story itself is, by nature of being a first issue, a little light on momentum. It certainly has its moments of conflict, but it’s more about pieces being put together. We do see the Agents in action, but the thrust of the story (aptly titled “First Contact”) is more concerned establishing these characters and their… unique… corner of the Marvel Universe.
In “Agents Of Atlas,” Jeff Parker has managed, somewhat miraculously, to carve out a delightfully pulp-inspired world and integrated it seamlessly into the rest of the Marvel Universe. The team itself is completely atypical. They’re informal with each other, they never squabble, and they’re all casually in sync with the same agenda: to help Jimmy Woo turn his inherited Atlas Foundation into a force of good.
Now, it’s not yet a hundred percent clear how Woo and his team are going to do this. They take great pains in this first issue to establish a relationship with the established-as-reprehensible Norman Osborn. (His appearance here has initiated a kind of interesting personal search of mine: What artists drawing for Marvel right now deem Norman’s classic Brillo Hairdo not serious enough? Carlo Pagulayan seems to like it, but does everyone? Keep reading those Marvel books, true believers!) We’ll have to wait and see how things shake out, but the issue certainly closes with an interesting development. I’m personally looking forward to seeing more of the team “on the ground,” so to speak.
Pagulayan is well suited to the book, even if he still has some room to grow. On some pages he looks like the perfect successor to Gene Ha. Feathery but realistic, and dynamic in expression and range. On other pages his work just doesn’t seem as assured. But showing room to improve only means that things can get better, and they’re already quite good. “Agents of Atlas” is not a typical Marvel book and, thankfully, it doesn’t look like one.
This is even more apparent in the charming backup story, “Wolverine: Agent Of Atlas”, written by Parker and drawn by Benton Jew. This short feels even more pulp, as it explores the early days of Woo as an Agent of Atlas, and their brief “team-up” with Logan, who was then a secret agent and, if I’m not mistaken, without his claws. It’s a fun story and serves to further establish the strange but consistent world Parker has created for this team. (And I’ll just say it’s really nice to see a $3.99 book that’s heavier than a $2.99 one because it has a new backup story in it, not just because it’s filled out with a “Secret Warriors” preview.)
Readers drawn into this book because of the “Dark Reign” trade dress might be a bit surprised to find “Agents Of Atlas” blazing its own kind of path through the company wide “crossover”. It’s a remarkable accomplishment that Parker is able to introduce such a unique voice and tone in the midst of such an initiative and not have it sound off-key for even a moment.