On the floor of New York Comic-Con, the booth for Atlas Comics is a new fixture, but the men behind the resurrected 1970s cult comics house are hoping that with their first launches they’ll be able to build out their reputation beyond the brand’s longtime status as a footnote in comics history. And beyond offering zero issues of the relaunched “Grim Ghost” and “Phoenix” characters at the show, the publishers shared exclusively with CBR that the first creative team has signed on for Atlas’ first ongoing series.
Starting in 2011, writer Jim Krueger will join Co-President of Atlas’ publishing partner Ardden Entertainment Brendan Deneen to script “Phoenix” with art from relative newcomer Dean Zachary (whose work will also appear in the upcoming “DC Halloween Special”). The story will follow on the heels of the 12-page “Phoenix” #0 written by Deneen from a plot by JM DeMatteis and Peter Hogan.
“We’re rebooting it,” Deneen said of the series inspired by the original Atlas title. “It’s the same central premise where this guy is abducted by aliens, experimented on and then finds out their plot. The story is what happens from there. We’re not changing that premise, but we take it to the next level. 35 years later we’ve seen a lot of these movies and comics – ‘Independence Day’ and ‘War of the Worlds’ and any number of alien comics since the original ‘Phoenix.’ So how do we take the original concept and twist it? We’ve added things we feel have never been done before. It’s a new twist on the abducted by aliens and on the run story that Jim and I are really excited about.”
As many diehard readers know, Atlas Comics was the name of the short-lived publishing house run by Marvel Comics founder Martin Goodman in the 1970s. Employing creators from Howard Chaykin to Steve Ditko, the company didn’t last long but left an impact on the medium thanks to its relatively stronger treatment of creators both financially and in terms of creative control. Jason Goodman, CEO of the new Atlas and grandson of Martin, explained that when it came to the legal status of the characters published by his grandfather, “I own all the IP, and we have been in touch with and are in touch with some of the ‘past champions’ [who created the Atlas line] – really, in the instances where we’re excited to work with them and they’re excited to work with us. A lot of people have reached out, and we’ve gotten a lot of feedback. It’s very validating for both as a venture but also as something for the family. I’m a third generation magazine publisher, and this was the hard work of my grandfather and father.”
The marching orders for Atlas creatively involve looking at the legacy of the publisher’s original 28 titles from the ’70s and “modernize them without losing what makes them fun” as Deneen put it. “We want to take those core concepts and figure out what made them work for their time. Atlas was short-lived, but the response to the relaunch only proves that though short-lived, there’s a lot of love for these characters. Everyone has their own favorite from the 28 titles, and so you’ve got something that was a flash in the pan but still really caught on.
“We wanted to keep what was cool and original for the comic book audience first and foremost, but we’re not behind the times. We’re also looking at them for film and television.”
On the heels of “Phoenix” and “Grim Ghost” (whose zero issue is by JM and Joshua Ortega’s plot with Deneen on script, though the ongoing team is still in the works), Atlas will bring back a number of other solo heroes from the original line (starting with “Wulf” by Steve Niles) but don’t expect a massive superhero universe to grow from the series just yet. “This is going to be a methodical rollout. Even though we’ve got 28 titles and hundreds of character, we’re not looking to dump them all on the marketplace,” said Goodman.
“I am an addict of comics, and I love team books and shared universe,” Deneen added. “But what we didn’t want to start out with was giant crossover books with 20 titles to understand one story. That stuff gets old, I think, and people get sick of it. We want to do this smartly and strategically, so we’re going to launch each character individually. I do foresee eventually a larger thread that will bring these guys together, absolutely, but it’s just not yet.”
The birth of the new Atlas was a long time coming, as Goodman had an eye on bringing back the characters his family owned for a while after growing up watching products from his grandfather’s various publishing operations. “I remember the embarrassment of riches that would show up back in the day because four or five comics a day, it seemed, would show up. I had a pretty great collection -Â under appreciated by somebody at that age. The famous story that people probably tire of hearing from me is that you could have bought the world’s greatest comic collection at the corner of 90th and West End when I was 10 years old in 1977. I mean, who knew? I thought they’d keep coming forever.
“[The relaunch of Atlas] was something that was on my mind for several years. I’m actually a magazine publisher in my own right. I took over the family mantle in 1996 when my dad passed away,” he continued. “But it had to be the right time, and I needed to have the right personal creative team, which I do and am lucky to have with me. We were looking for an independent comic publisher to partner with, and as it was the idea of Atlas had also been occurring to young Brendan Deneen. He called me up just as we were looking. We hit it off, had a similar approach to stuff and the next thing you know, here we are.”
Deneen, who works as the publisher of Ardden Entertainment – best known for their recent “Flash Gordon” and “Casper” comics -Â said he’d been on the hunt for Atlas before getting connected with Goodman online. “Thinking about licensed properties to go after was tough because everyone was gobbling these things up – Dark Horse, BOOM! and Dynamite. There’s just not a lot to get anymore. And we’re a small company going up against some biggies,” he said, noting that he and Goodman quickly came to a similar creative mindset for the line. “We pretty much immediately realized we had a similar sensibility when it came to these guys because it really took us about a year to hash out how it would work, but once we figured it out, we signed a deal literally in one afternoon.”
Once underway, finalizing plans for which books to launch “was tough because you have to start somewhere, and there are a lot of fantastic titles” Goodman said. “We’re blessed with a portfolio with a lot to choose from. ‘Grim Ghost’ and ‘Phoenix’ were kind of classic stories that resonated with everybody. We all sat and dusted off the collection and went through the titles. We knew we were going to be modernizing all of them while still trying to stay true to the starting points. Those two just really resonated, and I thought they were cool titles. I love saying ‘Grim Ghost!'”
And of course, as with many licensed and revivial comics, the team is keeping an eye on Hollywood as Deneed works with movie producers as part and parcel of his day job, but for now bigger media moves won’t be the focus of the line. “We’re already in talks with a number of major studios and producers who because of my career in Hollywood have approached me. We’re talking to screenwriters and producers and major studios. We’re not rushing into anything because we want to do this the right way, but we’re not going to turn away interest of be precious about it. But I want to stress, because I’m a comic reader who hates when companies put out subpar materials to try and get a movie deal, that me as a comics lover wants to put out great comics first and foremost. Anything else that happens is sort of icing. It’d be nice icing…tremendous icing! But I think the teams we’re putting together will make for a killer line.”
Atlas’ ongoing “Phoenix” series by Jim Krueger, Brendan Deneen and Dean Zachary will ship to comic shops in early 2011.