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In part one of our spotlight on “Agents of Atlas,” CBR News got inside info on the background of the five issue mini-series from Editor Mark Paniccia. For part two of our in-depth look at Marvel’s “Agents of Atlas,” CBR News spoke with writer Jeff Parker for the scoop on the series, which reunites a group of heroes that defended the Marvel Universe of the 1950s for a modern day adventure.
As we revealed last time, “Agents of Atlas” was born out of a phone conversation between Parker and Paniccia after the editor rediscovered “What If?” issue number #9, which asked the question “What if the Avengers Fought Evil During the 1950s?” What impressed Parker and Paniccia the most about the issue was the unique characters. “He had a gut feeling about those characters,” Parker told CBR News. “It’s easy to see why — they’re not simply older superheroes, they’re pulp adventure icons.
“I’m a sucker more for what they represent — gorillas, spacemen, robots, etc.,” Parker continued. “They’re going to be a clean slate to lots of readers, so we’ll be referencing their past adventures when we can. Okay, I’ll admit I found Venus a little bit hot.”
The name “Agents of Atlas” is a reference to the characters’ past, but it also has plot significance. “The original name for the group of course was essentially The Secret Avengers,” Parker said. “But since then Marvel has determined that no prior group called themselves that, so we couldn’t use it. We were a bit bummed at first, and then when we realized we could mark out historical territory by using the Atlas name, we cheered up pretty fast! There’s no need to ride the coattails of another team, ‘AOA’ should show that they deserve a book on their own strengths.”
One man saw the strengths of the “Agents of Atlas” and brought them together as a group. “The glue is Jimmy Woo!” Parker stated. “They’re from before the generations of bickering infighting teams. It’s all about loyalty and honoring a connection they had together years ago. That said, they will run into a pretty huge intrateam conflict that there’s no way of avoiding. That’s when we’ll see what Jimmy is really made of.”
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Jimmy is going to have to be made of some stern stuff to survive the perils he and his team will face in “Agents of Atlas.” “Jimmy is in… pretty horrible shape at the beginning of the series,” Parker explained. “His life has gone way off course from where it was in the 1950s. He’s way up in SHIELD, in Directorate, but it’s an ugly job and he hasn’t seen field work in years. Unknown to the rest of SHIELD, he’s been investigating a personal mystery for the past few years, and though he’s in his twilight years, he heads an unauthorized mission that ends as bad as it possibly could.
“No one at SHIELD really knew Jimmy in his heyday; A young slang- talking firebrand who would routinely run into danger with impossible odds,” Parker continued. “Had James Dean known about Woo at the time, he would have abandoned Hollywood to join the FBI and emulate Jimmy! Jimmy had such a strong sense of direction and self-assurance that he radiated leadership. People respond to that in a big way. It’s almost like a superpower itself — better in some ways. Jimmy’s short-lived team felt a sense of belonging and purpose in that few months together that none of them ever did afterward. And that’s why even after almost fifty years, when word gets out that Jimmy’s in trouble, the team comes back for him.”
The team’s quest to save Jimmy will have them traversing the globe. “This bounces around the world a bit, from the Mojave Desert, to Africa, and colder regions,” Parker said. “That’s another Golden Age difference — whereas ’60s Marvel stories hang around Manhattan mostly, the ’50s ones hopped the planet a lot. Our main American city is going to be San Francisco.”
As the Agents trek around the world to save their friend, readers will learn more about them in a series of flashbacks to the Agents’ original adventures. “Though the initial ‘What If?’ story said that the team was disbanded after their one successful rescue mission, we’re establishing that they were together for about six months after that,” Parker stated. “Remember, Iron Man and even The Watcher said the events being seen on the Avengers computer might not be the exact events from our (616) history! It could pick up things that happened in alternate realities. So this will determine how it all went down in our timeline.”
When Jimmy Woo wasn’t working with the Agents of Atlas in the 1950s, he was most likely serving as an agent of the FBI and working hard to foil the latest nefarious scheme of his arch-foe, the Yellow Claw. “If you want to dig up some of his bouts with the Yellow Claw affordably, they ran them later as back ups in ‘Giant Size Master of Kung Fu.'” Parker said. “Someone re-lettered the parts that said ‘FBI Agent Jimmy Woo’ to ‘S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Jimmy Woo!’ You couldn’t really say there was a cohesive
Marvel Universe then, but it’s pretty interesting. The creators were trying all kinds of genres to see what would stick, and indulging their interests. When you look at the range of genres, you see the groundwork, the foundation of what the ’60s books would be built upon. Look at the Fantastic Four as the best example of taking what came before. Reed and Sue are straight out of the Romance books with the science-fantasy added, Ben is a carryover from the Monster comics, and of course Johnny is an update of an earlier superhero. Bring them all together and you’ve got a quirky and exciting team that redefines what a superhero comic book is. This is why I think it’s important to not dismiss those pre-Marvel years. Much of the success of the Silver Age grew out of the experimenting that happened then.”
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When Jimmy’s old team reunites in the present day to rescue him, they’ll find to save their friend they must confront his chief foe from the Pre-Marvel Years. “You’re going to see the Yellow Claw, and just as there’s more to each of our heroes, there’s a lot more to him, too,” Parker explained. “I mean, you know his name probably isn’t really ‘Yellow Claw,’ right? And why would a diabolical mastermind even refer to himself with some stereotypical racist ‘yellow peril’-style name anyway? In other words, there’s a good chance everyone who fought him was being played in a major way! And as if he wasn’t manipulative enough, we’re going to be introduced to a mysterious advisor of his, essentially the consigliere to the mastermind.”
The “Agents of Atlas” will also have advisors of their own; some of the agents of SHIELD that are part of the series supporting cast. “Besides our main heroes, we’ll be seeing a stalwart of SHIELD, Dum Dum Dugan,” Parker said. “Much of the investigation from their perspective will be handled by agent Derek Khanata, who appeared in ‘Amazing Fantasy.’ His Wakandan origins figure in very well with some aspects of our story. In a way, he sort of steps into the position Jimmy Woo had in the original ‘Secret Avengers’ story, where now Jimmy takes a much more active role with the team.”
SHIELD might be able to offer some assistance, but the “Agents of Atlas” shouldn’t count on any of the Marvel Universe’s costumed champions to be of much help. “The other heroes have their hands full with ‘Civil War,’ but there’ll be some brief communications with Reed Richards and King T’Challa,” Parker explained.
The Agents of Atlas might not be directly involved in the epic conflict that is “Civil War,” but the events of the mega story will affect the series. ” ‘Civil War’ doesn’t impact directly on our group; they’re all very separated from current society- at least at first,” Parker said. “Something that happens in ‘Civil War’ will affect one of them later, though. It’s not something we were anticipating either, it just worked out that way.”
Parker hopes things work out with “Agents of Atlas” because he has plenty more tales of the team that he’d love to tell. “As you’ll see at the end of the series, if we continue their adventures, the dynamic will be pretty different than other hero-team books. We’re counting on readers being ready for something different, because if we made the Agents of Atlas work in similar fashion to other superheroes, there really wouldn’t be any point to bringing them back. What I’d like is for a threat to present itself, and readers to say ‘Sure, the Avengers or the X-Men could deal with this menace… but I’d really like to see how these guys handle it.'”
AGENT PROFILE: Venus
Venus made her debut in issue #1 of her self titled series in 1948. “I don’t know who wrote the first story, but the first artist was Ken Bald, who Timely often went to for drawing heroines,” Parker told CBR News. “She started out in stories that were more about cheesecake and humor. What’s interesting is how that gradually started bending to the supernatural and horror, so more often than not Venus is having run-ins with living skeletons, monsters, and the undead, and so on. Our arc for her character is very much a tribute to that development. It’s interesting to me that in today’s adventure and superhero comics, most characters showing up on the scene are likely to cause some friction with other characters. By her very nature though, Venus doesn’t do that. When she’s around, people tend to forget why they were angry or fighting. What we want to show with her is that such an effect can be even more potent than destructive power.”
Venus’s potent powers allow her to influence even the most confident and self assured individuals. “On a small, human scale, you’ve probably experienced women like her,” Parker explained. “An attractive woman with such presence that when she says the briefest of things to men-and looks them in the eye- they just lose it. They can’t focus, they feel like they’re underwater and even the most James Bond of the bunch can’t keep his composure. It’s generally pretty hard to say what’s affecting the guys the most. Sure she’s gorgeous, but so are other girls and they don’t all make you walk into walls because you’re trying to keep track of where she is in the room. Is it something in her eyes, or the unearthly quality of her voice?
“If you’ve encountered one of these mind-wiping women, then you have some limited idea of the effect Venus has on people she wants to influence,” Parker continued. “Or even those whom she doesn’t. She tries to rein in her effect when it’s not needed, but it’s so much a part of her nature that it’s not possible to muffle completely. Her own team has come up with various solutions to stay on course. Jimmy Woo often sticks his fingers in his ears when she’s talking to dampen the vocal effect.”
Vicki Starr is the secret identity Venus often employed in the past and she still maintains to actually be the goddess of love. When asked about Venus’s claim of godhood Parker cryptically hinted, “As we’ve said, there’s more to all of these characters than we may have thought.”