Trade Post: Marvels, Atlas Volume 1 & Gotham By Gaslight

marvels Marvels (Marvel)
Written by Kurt Busiek, painted by Alex Ross
Collects Marvels #0-4

Going into last weekend, I pulled out a random sampling of mostly one-off trades that I wanted to make my way through this weekend. Some I had experience with, others were brand new to me. I’m splitting the experience between two posts, but here’s how the first three went over.

When I was a kid in the early-to-mid 90s Alex Ross blew everyone’s mind in comics. He might not have been the first guy to paint comic books, but he seemed like it to me at the time. His figures were so iconic and classical looking that you just couldn’t help but pour over his pages. The fact that he and the writers he worked with liked hiding pop culture easter eggs throughout the panels also helped. Kingdom Come was the first book of his I read and it blew me away. I even picked up his next work, Uncle Sam, which I didn’t understand at the time, but definitely want to dig out of my longboxes when I have access to them. I did eventually pick up the four issues of Marvels at a garage sale where a woman was selling off her son’s collection for a buck a book.

I don’t actually remember much about that original reading experience, but I can imagine it was pretty revelatory to me. I was a hardcore DC guy growing up, so my main exposure to the Marvel U was through trading cards, action figure bios, pieces in Wizard and cartoons. At the time, I was a novice when it came to Marvel’s Golden and Silver Age history which we see through the literal lens of photographer Phil Sheldon. He’s there from the beginning, when the original android Human Torch first gets shown off to a suspicious crowd and, as a NYC journalist, sees the beginnings of the superhero world and the way people react to what he labeled Marvels.

Unfortunately, the story wasn’t nearly as fresh this time around. I’ve read a ton of Marvel comics in the meantime and even a few books about the company, so the big action scenes are pretty well-worn for me even if they were presented by Ross in his heyday. I know that’s not what the book is ABOUT, but it is what drives things forward. I appreciate the man-on-the-street perspective that Busiek uses with Sheldon, especially the way his opinions of the “mutant menace” evolves, but I felt like he did all this much better in Astro City (a complaint I realized I also had when reading Busiek’s Web of Spider-Man #81). It’s interesting to see how the writer has wanted to work with specific themes throughout his career, tried them out with Marvel books, but, in my opinion at least, was really able to nail them down in his creator-owned book.

I can’t move on without talking about Ross’s art in this book. It’s as big and bold as you’d expect, though far less pastel than you might expect if you’re more of a recent fan. You can also tell, though, that this is the guy who will evolve into the Kingdom Come painter. The characters here seem a bit lighter and less dense than they do in KC, which is still one of my all time favorites and I’ve got the itch to read it again, so look for that review soon.

atlas return of the three dimensional man Atlas: Return Of The Three Dimensional Man (Marvel)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Gabriel Hardman, Giancarlo Caracuzzo, Ramon Rosanas & Parker
Collects Assault On New Olympus Prologue, Incredible Hercules (back-ups) #138-141, Enter The Heroic Age & Atlas #1-5

In writing about Agents Of Atlas: Dark Reign, AoA: Turf War and pretty much every other Jeff Parker comic I’ve reviewed here on the site, I’ve talked about how much I enjoy his ability to play within the Marvel sandbox while still adding something new to the characters. It’s a skill set that I’m always impressed by, especially in the days when it seems like creators at the big two don’t have as much freedom thanks to huge events and/or other external circumstances that have nothing to do with creating. Of course, it helps when you’re dealing with characters that are only really cool because you made them that way.

Parker launched AoA as a miniseries back in 2006 based off of an old issue of What If?! that posited a team of characters created back in the Atlas days of Marvel’s history actually became the Avengers. Forgotten by most, Parker dusted these characters off, gave them unique voices and personalities and, in the course of telling thrilling stories, hooked me forever. Since that first outing, the team has appeared in a few failed ongoings (I always said I’d like them to simply take the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. series-of-minis approach, but that wasn’t in the cards), minis and back-ups. This trade collects the team’s back-up features in Incredible Hercules which were going on at the same time as the Assault On Mount Olympus story. The team then got another shot at an ongoing simply titled Atlas, but it only made it the five issues collected in this volume.

Anyway, this volume continues all the elements about Parker’s team that I enjoy while always moving the individuals and the team itself forward. The thrust of the main story revolves around Triathalon and the gang figuring out why beings are trying to kill the original 3D Man and his brother (who was a part of that What If?! issue but no subsequent iterations). The book ends with the team searching for and finding a resolution that actually winds up helping everyone involved instead of going the easy route, which is a nice touch. At this point, I believe this is the last AoA book around. I still haven’t gotten my hands on the Gorilla Man or Marvel Boy minis, but I’m hoping somewhere down the line Parker gets to bring these guys back again and show the world why they’re rad.

gotham by gaslightGotham By Gaslight (DC)
Written by Brian Augustyn, drawn by Mike Mignola

Gotham By Gaslight is the kind of book I’ve heard about for years. Though not labeled as such on the cover of this original GN version, this was the first of the Elseworlds tales, stories taking iconic DC characters and putting them in different settings throughout time, space and, oftentimes, literature. Back in 1994 when I was 11, DC gave every ongoing book the Elseworlds treatment in that year’s annuals. It was a lot of fun, spawned one of my all time favorite stories and also sparked my imagination in a general way. So, as a fan of Elseworlds and artist Mike Mignola, Gotham By Gaslight was easily on my to-get list.

After working out a Sequential Swap, I wound up with a copy in hand and while I’m not sure if it deserved so much anticipation, it’s still a pretty good story. The idea here is that Bruce Wayne became Batman back in 1889. As it happens, he comes back to Gotham just in time to take on Jack the Ripper who has also relocated after committing his infamous crimes in London.

I think this book sounds cooler than it actually is. Batman versus Jack the Ripper drawn by Mike Mignola? That was a much different animal back in 1989 than it is today. The book isn’t bad by any means and dodges many of the elements that made some of those Elseworlds books annoying — like every single DCU supporting character coming into play in these alternate universes — but also doesn’t do a great job of creating a compelling mystery. The looming question over the story is, “Who is Jack the Ripper?” {If you want to completely avoid SPOILERS, skip the rest of this paragraph.} We’re offered a few potential suspects, but the actual culprit is really the only person it could have been, right? We’re thrown some red herrings like the creepy British people on the boat and this world’s version of the Joker, but neither of them come up ever again. Had those characters recurred more throughout the story, I would have questioned my original guess at who the killer was, but as it was, I had it pegged from that character’s first appearance in the comic.

Still, I enjoyed the comic and would be interested in checking out the follow-up which features art by Eduardo Barreto called Master Of The Future. While the main character of Bruce Wayne and Batman is basically the same as you’d expect as even a casual Batman fan, it’s cool to see how that character interacts with a world that reminds me a lot of the one seen in Sandman Mystery Theatre. Plus, that costume is just rad!

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