Friday, September 17, 2010

Atlas Rides Again, Sort Of...

Atlas Comics are (almost) returning from the beyond, and this time they're out for vengeance...err...or maybe this time they're Not out for vengeance?!?  WTF?  Well, in either case, two particular titles from the Atlas Comics all-too-brief hey-day are coming back, whether or not you care, remember them or want them to--because no IP, no matter how obscure or marginal or buried will escape the latest craze for comics sweeping Hollywood.  There's money in them there funny books.

The Press Release is available at the Atlas Archives site.  It reads as follows:

In 1974, Martin Goodman, the Founder of Marvel Comics, created Atlas Comics. On October 8th, 2010, Jason Goodman, the grandson of Marvel's Founder, will re-launch Atlas Comics at the New York Comic-Con.
Goodman, in association with Ardden Entertainment, will release Atlas' first two titles, THE GRIM GHOST and PHOENIX. Both series will draw from the original Atlas library that featured stories and art by such industry legends as Neal Adams and Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko.
THE GRIM GHOST and PHOENIX are the first of many Atlas properties that Goodman plans on releasing. "Although my grandfather eventually sold Marvel, he insisted on keeping Atlas Comics in the family. As a result of his vision, Atlas Comics is the largest individually-held library of comic book heroes and villains on the planet."

Goodman continues, "We have twenty eight titles and hundreds of characters imagined by some of the greatest minds in the industry. They will now find a new life in comics, television, and movies. We are thrilled to finally bring these great characters back for the world to enjoy."

Co-President of Ardden Entertainment and comic book industry veteran, Rich Emms, and Brendan Deneen, Co-President of Ardden Entertainment and a former development executive for Scott Rudin and Bob & Harvey Weinstein, add, "Ardden has had success and critical acclaim for our own Flash Gordon and Casper the Friendly Ghost re-launches. We are very excited to be working with Jason and his Atlas team on revisiting a group of characters created by some of the biggest names in the business."

Ardden's Editor-in-Chief and legendary comic writer, J.M. DeMatteis, concludes, ""The Atlas universe is filled with characters of tremendous potential. I look forward to being a part of this re-launch as we re-imagine these wonderful characters and send them off on new adventures for the first time in thirty-five years."

For more information, contact Jason Goodman at Jason@NemesisLtd.com  or Brendan Deneen at Brendan.Deneen@GMail.com.
J. M. DeMatteis has cleared-up some of the accelerating Atlas-hype here on his blog.

So, yeah, we get two titles coming out as Zero issues at New York Comic Con...if they do well, we might get to see more of these two, and that opens the door for the dot dot dot part.  When I first heard the tale and read the various snippets and rumors, I was shocked that anyone would be so daft as to resurrect Atlas as a company, but reviving a couple of its characters, that might be fun and who knows where that might lead?
Guess the Grim Ghost has dropped the Revolutionary War-era get-up and got hisself all modernized and re-Grim-ified.  I like the typography...but the bulgy muscles don't really suit this character.  He's a ghost who has come back from Hell to send bad people there in his place.  He has a pair of supernatural flintlock handguns.  He's not a bruiser, more of a marksman or spiritual highwayman on the road to perdition, trying to go the otherway just a tad bit too damned late.  The core concept has a ton of potential inherent in it that never got the chance to really unfold in the first 3-issue run.  Compare the dark, brooding modern cover to this one from 1974:

That's quite a bold leap forwards on several levels.  It might even be an improvement, depending on the contents behind that cover.  I'm skeptical about the whole 'updating' approach, as it usually means dumbing-down, neutering and throwing away all the good stuff in order to present a bland, shallow, ultimately empty version of a character that can now be summed-up in fifteen words or less.  The same goes for dropping details from the costume and making everyone dress like a slacker or a hooker.  But then drawing historically accurate costumery is tough enough without having to do it on the killer schedule that producing a comic book requires.  I'll reserve judgement, for now, but they better not have reduced Matthew Dunsinane to some sort of emo lackwit with an overwhelming guilt complex over the souls he sends to hell in his place like some twisted outlaw psychopomp with blazing flintlocks and a centuries-old score to settle.  This is a guy facing the ultimate challenge to not become a cold-hearted, absolutely ruthless bastard of the worst sort...and seeing him struggle with that challenge would be wonderful...especially as he sends the all-too-deserving A**holes on to a suitable final reward...this could be dark, sinister, brutal and give Dennis Wheatley nightmares.  And That would be Cool.

We'll see what the new improved Atlas via Ardden delivers.

I'm not much of a fan of Phoenix/The Protector.  That short-lived series was an atrocious mess that was so badly kludged together that even the main charcter was ready to kill himself over how messed-up the book was...and they sorted him out by having aliens give him a shiny new suit, new powers and a new name in the third issue.  Arrgghh.  This one bites.  If they are reviving the character, maybe they'll play-up the aliens a bit more, maybe look to Roy Thinnes' role in The Invaders and go for a more Invasion of the Body Snatchers kind of vibe (like here, here or here)  with superpowered agents of competing pod-factions/alien forces who want Earth for breeding grounds.  That'd make more sense, and be a lot more fun than the way it got all mangled and messed-up the first time around.  In fact, you could easily take the way the original series re-vamped the main character to heart in a sort of bent and demented E. E. Doc Smith sort of approach and have him scavenge more and more technologies off of different servitor races and slave troopers and agents of the various competing powers kind of like a DIY junkyard-Iron Man who hybridizes things not meant to work together and winds up with a cyborg that only HPL could see coming...now that would rock.  I wonder what the new and improved revived version of this Atlas character is actually going to be like, though the ultra-manly pose and all those glistening muscles remind me of those sword-and-sandal Steve Reeves movies...just sayin'...

Okay, so Atlas might not be coming back exactly, but if I had to pick two titles to test the waters and see if there was any life left in the library, I'd pick differently.  Very differently.  The Destructor could easily get modernized into something very off-beat and cool, especially if the main character winds up doing some time in Afghanistan or found himself landed smack in the middle of a food riot in Haiti right after a nasty hurricane.  He also has the makings of a twisted take on the Executioner or Destroyer, and might wind up dropping the costume in order to use his powers more covertly...that one title could go a lot of different directions besides just parodying the whole Peter Parker stuff.  I'm a big fan of Remo Williams (Chiun!), Mack Bolan, and Nick Carter, so why not have a superpowered punk kid get trained-up to be some sort of superspy that isn't Jennifer Garner or Maggie Q...though the new Nikita is looking really good...

Now, as I've made clear previously, I'm a big fan of Atlas' Planet of the Vampires and I really liked the potential in their goofy Destructor and Chaykin's Scorpion would be awesome to see revived...again...away from the Marvel Universe...if that's even possible now.  (Same for Demon Slayer/Devil Slayer, I would guess...)  But the friggin' Phoenix?!?  Again: WTF!?!?  Phoenix!?!?!??  Why not Cougar, Wulf the Barbarian, or even Morlock 2001?  Grim Ghost I can see.  Heck, even IronJaw might have a shot at making the big time, really, but Phoenix is a flaming toxic waste spill amidst an earthquake during a full-out atomic war...talk about a mess to clean-up.  Ye Gods, even Tarantula makes more sense as an opening gambit than that train-wreck in the midst of oh so many other train-wrecks of bat-shit insane series/gonzo characters and off-the-wall concepts that proliferated within the pages of the first incarnation of Atlas.  You can check out the best maintained guide to Who's Who in the Atlasverse over at the Atlas Archives site, and decide for yourself.  (It opens on the letter 'B' since there are no characters in the Atlasverse with names beginning with 'A.'  It's just that friggin' weird of an operation.  Welcome to Atlas...)

Oh well, I guess that by merging the shiny-new Protector-suit from issue 3 with the clueless astronaut-jock-dude allows you to go for the more tried-and-true territory of the spandex-homoerotic tales of heroic man bondage and derring-do that we've come to expect from 'superhero' titles.  Sigh.  If anyone would take a chance and do something gloriously insane and offbeat, you'd think that it would be Atlas or someone seeking to revive Atlas...but Phoenix looks like someone is playing it really, really safe and comfortable and tapping into the vast reservoir of knock-off-itis and copy-cat syndrome that pretty-much killed things off the first time around.  We don't need another Superman Clone, what would be cool is to really, really stand all the cherished tropes on their heads, set them on fire and drop-kick the whole mythos into the gutter right before taking a seat in the pub.  But they aren't working with Warren Ellis, are they?  They ought to be.  Ellis could really sink his teeth into the Atlasverse and make it scream beautifully as he transformed it into something less derivative and more outrageous and feral than anything we've seen up to date.  I won't hold my breath for that to happen. But damn it would be fun.

Alas, for what might have been, The Scorpion is perhaps my all-time favorite Atlas title...but then how can you go wrong with Howard Chaykin at the drawing board and typewriter word processor -- in short: You Can't.  Don't even get me started on Iron Wolf...as that'll be a post of its own in the near future.  Promise.

I've always seen Atlas Comics as being sort of the Arduin of the comics world: off-beat, off-kilter, weird, gonzo and wonderful for making the attempt, whether or not they ever succeeded. They Tried To Do Things Differently. Sure a lot of both of their work is ultimately derivative, even sometimes blatantly so (Brute=Hulk Duh!)  But a LOT of imaginative literature, sequentially illustrated or not, is derivative of everything else that has gone before it.  Consider Moorcock's Elric; if it hadn't been for Howard's Conan to mock/reverse, there'd be no Elric.  Atlas might not have produced a new Elric, nor even given us a decent Conan-clone, but it did produce Wulf, Ironjaw and other properties that had they been given time, might have developed into distinct, unique characters that blazed fresh trails.  At least I like to think that they might have done so, given the opportunity.  Maybe, maybe this time around things can be different somehow.  If the rebellious, gonzo spirit of Atlas gets revived, not just the Trademark and the library of IP that they still have on hold...that'd be damn cool.
Here's what other people are saying about the return of Atlas Comics over at Techland, CBR and again at CBR, SciFiPulse, Newsarama, and Comix411.  Wow.  Tom Mason over at Comix411 really cut the BS and stated things pretty much the way I might have, but now I don't have to; definitely read Mason's write-up.  I think that he's right on the mark, except that Planet of the Vampires is only tangentially any sort of knock-off of Heston's The Omega Man.  The suits those vampires are wearing are unmistakable.  Too bad that they only really ever lifted the designer Italian leather suits from the movie, but that's a digression.  Besides, The Omega Man is an improvement over The Last Man on Earth (even with the wonderful Vincent Price), which in turn was a degenerative spawn of the 1954 Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend that got converted into the Will Smith movie that may be getting a Prequel.  But that's another digression.

To quote Heston from The Omega Man: "There is no phone ringing!"

Maybe the Eye will make a come-back, somehow and get his own title...

The people at Ardden Entertainment are already involved in bringing out the Flash Gordon: Invasion of the Red Sword series and Caspar and the Spectrals as well as reviving Atlas.  Ardden's Flash Gordon is derived from and uses the previous (timelessly cool) work of the legendary Alex Raymond as its springboard and the first series Flash Gordon: The Mercy Wars had a very pulpish feel to it, in the best possible sense.  It's as credible a re-working of the classic Sci-Fi/Fantasy/American Swashbuckler in a world of weird science run amok/sword and planet/planetary romance/pulp goodness that got started back in 1934. However you categorize it, genre-tize it or pigeonhole the over-arching thematic elements, Flash Gordon is fun stuff, the kind of thing that they just don't make any more because people are too damned uptight and concerned over labels, marketing categories, and literary movements. 

You know, now that I think about it a bit more, the future for Atlas Comics (with none other than J. M. DeMatteis at the editorial helm!) in conjunction with a company that is rolling out a very decent retread of Flash Gordon sounds very promising.  I just hope that they'll stay as far left of center as they began and run as hard and fast as they can out beyond the envelope of the safe, known, conventional and boring dreck we have too much of already.  Just as long as they bring back Planet of the Vampires.  Damn, I'd like to write that!  Reviving some of the old Atlas characters/concepts/series might be a lot of fun...

Are they looking for proposals/submissions over at Atlas?  Man do I have some ideas for them...