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In the 1940’s during one of the Marvel Universe’s darkest hours, a legion of super powered heroes came forward. These heroes stood up to the menace of the Axis Powers and then seemingly disappeared until many like Captain America reappeared when the second age of Marvels began years later. What happened during those intervening years? Who protected the Marvel Universe from otherworldly threats? “Agents of Atlas,” a new five issue mini-series by writer Jeff Parker and artist Leonard Kirk, will answer these questions and many more. The mini-series follows the modern day adventures of a reunited team of heroes who defended the Marvel Universe before The Avengers ever assembled. In part one of our spotlight on Agents of Atlas CBR News spoke with Editor Mark Paniccia about the series.
“Agents of Atlas” was born when Paniccia stumbled across an old 1978 issue of Marvel’s “What If?” The issue #9, was “What If the Avengers Fought Evil During the 1950s?” and the cover depicted a number of characters from Marvel’s past charging forward, while the present day members of The Avengers looked on. “That cover was intriguing,” Paniccia told CBR News. “It instantly tickles the nostalgia bone.”
The nostalgic characters that composed the 1950s Avengers: Marvel Boy, Gorilla-Man, Venus, 3-D Man, and the Human Robot, all first appeared during the Golden Age of Comics and were unlike any of the later Marvel Comics characters. “They are most definitely a product of a different era,” Paniccia explained. “When you look at the original versions of these characters, they’re like something out of an Ed Wood movie. That surface impression is what helps them stand out from the ‘modern’ Marvel hero, but there’s more to all of them than meets the eye.”
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To help show off the hidden qualities of these characters, Paniccia enlisted Jeff Parker to chronicle their modern day adventures in “Agents of Atlas.” “Jeff is cool,” Paniccia said. “But besides that, he not only gets the appeal of bizarre characters like this, he understands how to apply them in contemporary terms without losing that nostalgic charm that they have. When I first saw these guys, I called him right away. We were both looking at the cover online and he started giving me this ‘Doom Patrol’ meets ‘JSA’ take – which was spot on.”
And to bring Parker’s take on the characters to life, Paniccia recruited the artistic talents of Leonard Kirk, “Leonard is a superb draftsman,” Paniccia stated. “He can draw anything from a 1950s-style rocket to a lavish jungle scene to an alien cityscape. I ask, what makes him not perfect for this book?”
One thing Kirk won’t be drawing in “Agents of Atlas” is 3-D Man. Paniccia told CBR News that there were no plans for 3-D Man or his modern day counterpart the former Avengers member Triathlon to appear in “Agents of Atlas.” The team, which was originally assembled by former FBI agent and current SHIELD agent Jimmy Woo, will include Gorilla Man, Marvel Boy, Venus, The Human Robot, and a fifth member whose identity Marvel wants to remain a mystery for the time being.
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Readers looking for a good mystery set in the Marvel Universe will want to pick up “Agents of Atlas.” “There are super powered beings in it, but there’s a grand mystery involved here,” Paniccia explained. “Part of the fun is going to be watching that mystery unravel – and see how it ties into the Marvel Universe.”
The team members of Agents of Atlas all have ties to the early days of the Marvel Universe, but readers who may be unfamiliar with the characters’ histories will have no problem understanding and enjoying the series. Paniccia said, “I think this is a good series for anyone who is looking for something a little different to jump into.”
CBR’s “Agents of Atlas” coverage continues next week with an in-depth interview with series writer Jeff Parker. Also, each week we’ll bring you another Agent Profile, where Jeff Parker gives CBR News the inside info on the team members that compose the Agents of Atlas. Find below the first of those profiles as Jeff Parker tells us more about Gorilla-Man. In the weeks ahead, look for the identity of the mysterious fifth team member to be revealed exclusively here at CBR.
AGENT PROFILE: Gorilla Man
There have actually been a number of Atlas/Marvel characters with the moniker of Gorilla-Man. “One was a mad scientist who was sure that taking the form of a gorilla would help him enslave the world,” Parker told CBR News. “Ours is Ken Hale, the Gorilla Man who appeared in Men’s Adventure #26. That version is credited to Stan Lee and Robert Q. Sale.”
Like any good primate, Ken Hale has evolved since his debut appearance. “I think that what happens with a lot of good characters is that they slowly create themselves,” Parker said. “What readers enjoy sticks, and what they don’t falls by the wayside. At least that’s the way it should work. It’s interesting how even just looking at pictures of the characters, readers gravitate to Gorilla Man. Smart talking gorillas are a beloved staple of comic books, and people don’t think of Marvel as having any. But we’ve got Gorilla Man, and that’s better than a barrel full of monkeys.”
To help distinguish Ken Hale from the band of other four color Gorilla characters, Parker has further defined Gorilla-Man’s background and made him a simian super solider. “We’ve added more to his origin to help the logic of why he was brought into the group originally, and this is one of those cases where the character has become more of what people want him to be,” Parker stated. “People like him being a big-action weapons expert, and now that’s part of his back-story. We find out Ken was a Soldier of Fortune who was a force to reckon with even as a human. You curse him with the immortal body of a gorilla, and you have a major @$$-kicker.
“He’s very strong, agile and proficient with all manner of weaponry. Actually, he’s a bit bigger than a mountain gorilla. He also doesn’t age, as you’ll read more about in the story. His most valuable function in the group now is actually as the touchstone to the present day. Everyone else has been largely cut off from the modern world except for him.”
Gorilla-Man was last seen interacting with the modern world in the pages of “Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos” “The Howling Commandos unit has had him busy in secret operations so he doesn’t know much about what’s going on with specific things like say, the events of ‘Civil War,'” Parker said.
When “Agents of Atlas” begins, Gorilla-Man is still serving as an agent of SHIELD, which will put him in an emotionally difficult spot. “He’s got a really tough decision to make about his allegiances (not unlike ‘Civil War’, I guess!),” Parker explained.” He’s one of SHIELD’s go-to guys, but being part of Jimmy Woo’s team was a key time in his life. What you have to know about Ken is that loyalty is very important to him; he’s pretty old-fashioned when it comes to values like that. Not the type to leave a man behind, definitely someone you want to have your back.”