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In part one of CBR News’s focus on Marvel Comics‘ “Agents of Atlas” mini-series, Editor Mark Paniccia gave us the background and basics on the series. Last week, writer Jeff Parker gave us an in-depth look at the series. Today, in part three of our coverage, CBR News chats with the man responsible for bringing Parker’s action packed scripts to life, artist Leonard Kirk.
“Agents of Atlas” is the first in a number of projects at Marvel for Kirk, who CBR News has learned recently signed an exclusive contract with the company. “In all honesty, this is the first time anyone has offered me an exclusive,” Kirk told CBR News. “As for going with Marvel, I just felt it was time. DC has been great for me over the years and I’d love to work with them again someday but there are still some characters and projects that I’d like to work with that are only available through Marvel.
“After being offered the exclusive, I was already working on one project with Marvel when I got a call from Mark Paniccia about ‘Agents of Atlas,'” Kirk continued, “That’s about it. He described the project, sent me the outline and I jumped aboard.”
It was the chance to illustrate an eclectic group of bizarre characters that drew Kirk to “Agents of Atlas.” “The appeal for me was the histories of the characters themselves,” Kirk said. “I’m not very familiar with them, but what I did learn from my research was
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what clinched the deal for me. How the hell do you say no to a project featuring characters named the Human Robot, Marvel Boy, Venus and Gorilla Man? Being a fan of ‘Planet of the Apes,’ I certainly wasn’t going to pass up the chance at drawing a talking gorilla.”
For Kirk, the chance to illustrate a talking gorilla and other offbeat and obscure characters was the most fun and rewarding aspect of “Agents of Atlas.” “The term ‘obscure’ might bother some fans but, really, many of the gang you’ll see in this series have made only sporadic appearances since their Atlas days. Some of them haven¹t shown up in comics for years,” Kirk explained. “I like working with characters like this because I have a little more freedom with how they can be depicted. There aren’t the kinds of restrictions in place that you might encounter when working with characters like Spider-Man or the X-Men.”
The lack of restrictions has made “Agents of Atlas” an almost difficulty free assignment for Kirk. “I don’t know that I’d call this a difficulty but Marvel has insisted that I turn in layouts of the pages before doing the finished pencils,” Kirk stated. “I generally prefer to go straight to drawing on the board, but that’s OK. The process adds a little time to my work week, but not much. Also, there are advantages to fleshing things out ahead of time. Aside from that, and digging up a bundle of reference, I can’t really think of any difficulties I’ve had with this project so far.”
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For Kirk, collaborating with Jeff Parker was another difficulty free and fun part of “Agents of Atlas.” “Working with Jeff has been great,” Kirk said. “He’s good to talk with, really open to suggestions and I can honestly say that he has given me fewer wedgies during the typical work week than any other writer (Peter David included). Also, he’s so personable over e-mail that you’d never guess he had those huge Borg-like cybernetic implants imbedded in his skull unless you saw him in person. However, if you ever do see Jeff in person, I strongly suggest you stay on your side of the Plexiglas barrier. If you want an autograph, just pass your comic through the sliding panel to the right.”
Kirk was greatly impressed by Parker’s script and wanted to capture all the major elements, with the characters being the most important element. “Gorilla Man is probably the one character I most wanted to properly flesh out,” Kirk said. “However, I really enjoy working with the rest of the cast as well.”
Fans of Kirk’s other work on titles like “Freshmen” will be happy to hear that he’s bringing the cast and action of “Agents of Atlas” to life with his usual artistic style. “I don’t think my style is going to be all that different than what you’ve seen from me before,” Kirk explained. “In my opinion, this isn’t the kind of project
that’s really suited to something too radical. However, as far as backgrounds are concerned, especially when we find ourselves inside Marvel Boy’s flying saucer, I will definitely be pulling some inspiration from Wally Wood and some of the great sci-fi backgrounds he did in the ’50s and ’60s.”
Kirk already has another project lined up after “Agents of Atlas” which he had to remain mum about. “All I can say is that it stars some of my favorite Marvel characters,” Kirk said. “I got started on it before ‘Agents of Atlas’ was dropped in my lap and one issue has already been finished.”
Kirk hopes that when “Agents of Atlas” finishes with issue five that readers will want more because he’d love to depict the team’s future exploits. “I hope that everyone enjoys ‘Agents of Atlas’ and that they go out and buy lots of copies. Lots and lots of copies,” he joked. “Seriously, break the frickin’ bank, people. Poppa needs a new car.”
AGENT PROFILE: The Human Robot
Last week CBR Readers felt the love as they learned about the Agents of Atlas member, Venus. This week readers will be saying, “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto,” as CBR News again chats with “AOA” writer Jeff Parker for the latest Agent Profile: The Human Robot.
The Human Robot sprang to life for the first time in 1954 in the pages of “Menace” #11. “He was created by the team that would later make regular comics history, Stan Lee and John Romita!” Parker told CBR News. “It’s a very brief horror story that’s simply about a killer robot following instructions a bit too literally after it was rushed into development. According to the letter column in ‘What If’ #9, when Roy Thomas was concocting the idea of a 1950s super team, it was writer Don Glut who remembered the ‘Menace’ story and suggested that the robot ended up sinking into the harbor. The choice of that robot in the ‘Secret Avengers’ story is the most interesting one they made, I think. I like the fact that Namora is the one who found it and put Jimmy Woo onto the robot, and that Marvel Boy restored it.
“Since the original story left out a lot of detail — it doesn’t give you the name of the scientist who builds the robot, the company he works for, or why he’s built what is apparently a killing machine — it gives us a nice blank slate to fill in,” Parker continued. “You rarely get an opportunity like that! So we’re going to find out a bit more about the organization responsible for building this machine in the first place. I’ll give you a hint — it starts with an A!”
The organization responsible for the Robot’s creation didn’t build your garden variety automaton, as the character’s name suggests, they built a Human Robot. “We’re going to address exactly why he’s called that, beyond being a bipedal construct,” Parker explained. “Still, it’s a bit ungainly when the group talks for everyone to say, ‘Hey, The Human Robot, come here,’ and simply referring to him as robot seemed too demeaning. So we’ve given him a designation as his builder would no doubt have done. His proper name is M-11, the reference of which will now be obvious to CBR readers, at least.”
M-11 is equipped with a variety of awesome and mysterious capabilities which make him an asset to the Agents of Atlas. “He’s clearly very strong,” Parker stated. “In the preview you saw him throw a tank through the door of the fortress they stormed. It’s also revealing about his nature that he has a Death Ray that fires from his eye at various levels of intensity. We know it’s a Death Ray because if you look on the inside of his chest plate there’s a diagram that says ‘Death Ray!’ When Marvel Boy repaired M-11 originally, he changed the structure of the robot’s metal to an alloy that will be near impossible to affect with earthly weapons. As the story goes on, we find some more modifications that weren’t made by Marvel Boy, which begs the question: who made them? M-11 now seems to be able to infiltrate any computer system he wants. In fact, he’s constantly accessing datastreams from the internet as well as many other normally secured systems around the world. What’s he doing with all this information? Suddenly what everyone thought of as a relatively primitive killing machine seems to be a lot more sophisticated and versatile. Appropriately for the most cryptic member of the team though, his secrets are going to be revealed last.”
In addition to being a walking arsenal shrouded in secrecy, Parker feels that the Human Robot will strike a chord with readers because of his retro style appearance. “Visually, the robot is cool because he embodies the robot menace of the pulp adventures,” Parker said. “With that cyclopean eye, no mouth, the antennae — he’s got a classic look that conjures up everything from Gort in ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ to the giant robots in ‘Sky Captain.’ His body is a bit more detailed than in the ‘Menace’ story — we kind of approach that as ‘what would the artist have likely done had he more time than a weekend to design this guy’ and so he gets a little more definition and a nice solid eyepiece instead of one that looks like a lightboard. I was originally suggesting that we leave off his chest door or move it to the back, but Leonard Kirk was adamant that he needed it up front to really convey ‘classic robot.’ He’s right of course.”
That classic robot has been MIA for decades when “Agents of Atlas” begins. “No one has seen M-11 since the late 50’s,” Parker explained. “He was hanging out with Marvel Boy, but we’re going to find out that Bob Grayson had to leave Earth in a hurry and didn’t take the robot with him. So, where’s he been all this time? He’s a really tough nut to crack, because he doesn’t say much. But he seems to respond to Jimmy Woo. He turns out to be very important in bringing the team back together, but it’s going to very puzzling for a while. What’s his agenda? Does he even have agendas? Should we even refer to him as ‘he?'”