In an age filled with comics that mine past characters and stories like blood diamonds, Jeff Parker’s Agents Of Atlas is one of the best. Maybe it helps that I don’t have an incredibly deep knowledge of characters like Jimmy Woo, Venus, Gorilla Man, The Uranian (formerly Marvel Boy), Namora or M-11, but it almost doesn’t matter because Parker is a master of giving these characters amazing personalities and back stories that I am completely absorbed by.
I’ve written about the volume before this one already, but not the original on the blog. I actually first wrote about it for Wizard as a Book of the Month and it was a pleasure. One thing that I’ve thought from the very beginning, though, is that this should have been presented as a series of minis like B.P.R.D. instead of this strange stopping and starting that happens because, unfortunately-but-not-surprisingly, the comic book market can (or will) not support a quirky fun book like this that offers tons of entertainment, but doesn’t necessarily drive the overall story of the Marvel Universe, though it does play well within the bounds of things like Dark Reign.
Anyway, the story itself revolves around the continued adventures of the Agents as they support Woo in his efforts to change the evil Atlas organization into one that does good. This involves their continued ruse to Norman Osborn that they’re still bad guys as well as some scenes between Namorita and Namor in an attempt to have their two kingdoms join forces, but the real meat of this volume comes in the form of a war between Atlas and another similar organization that’s headed up by Jimmy’s ex girlfriend. Here’s another thing that Parker excels at: mixing legitimate character beats and overarching plots with the kinds of things that are awesome but can easily be handled poorly, like M-11’s upgrade or the dragon fight (or lack thereof). In the hands of a clumsy writer these could have been groan-worthy, but I was so invested in these issues and characters that I was full-boat in. BLOW EM UP, M-11!
On the art side of things, this collection definitely has a solid group of pencilers like Gabriel Hardman, Carlo Pagulayan, Dan Panosian and Paul Rivoche. They each have a fun, dynamic style that fit their individual issues, but I have a pair of minor complaints. First, I wish there was a list of which artists drew which issues somewhere in the collection. I also, as much as I like the individual artists, prefer for series’ like this to keep a consistent look throughout. Really, any one of them could have done it, but I get a little thrown when I’m constantly noticing the differences from issue to issue and I can’t easily look and see who did what. Again, that’s not a huge complaint and it didn’t bother me a ton, but it’s something I noticed that took me out of the story just a bit. Otherwise, though, I think Agents of Atlas is one of the best damn superhero comics around and should be read by everyone, superhero fans and not, alike. I need to get the rest of these collections.
Mysterius is the first non-Marvel comic of Parker’s I’ve ever read. I was a little worried because sometimes writers work really well within the world of the Big Two but don’t when allowed to write whatever they want. Thankfully, that is not the case here and Parker produced a fantastical action drama starring Mysterius, an immoral magician/conjurer and his brand new assistant Ella who goes by the alias Delfi at Mysterius’ behest as they encounter a demonic version of Dr. Seuss, a man trying to become a god at Burning Man and even more craziness all woven together into not only a great example of episodic fiction, but also overarching storytelling.
Before getting into more of the story details, I have to take a moment to sing the praises of Tom Fowler. Bangarang, this is a nice looking book that wavers between pretty and ugly in all the right ways. I’m sure I’ve seen Fowler’s art before, but this was the first time I really found myself drooling over his pages. There’s a cartoony style to this comic, that works so well, balancing the dark real world moments in the first few pages to the completely bonkers world and demons found in the Dr. Seuss-type guy’s dimension. I was blown away by those pages and stared at them longer than a lot of pages I’ve looked at recently. So awesome, you guys. A lot of times, art in comics feel less important than the story–much like the visuals in some movies–but in this case, it’s equally if not more important. They seem to lift each other up, it’s great.
Storywise, Parker pulls a bit of a trick on the readers by getting us to think the book is initially going to be a series of vignettes, but winds up connecting all the different elements to create a satisfying combination of–and I’m starting to sound like a broken record here–the episodic and the long range ways of telling a story. Plus, the very idea of a Dr. Seuss-like writer putting demonic incantations into his books is ingenious. There’s a lot more going on, but that is easily my favorite part of the book.
I actually tweeted to Parker how much I enjoyed the book and asked if there are plans for more stories to which he replied that he and Fowler “badly want to make more.” You can add me to the list of folks on that list as well. We need more Mysterius in our lives.