We interrupt the ‘optikon‘s chronological look at DC’s 100-page Super-Spectacular to jump almost a year ahead of ourselves. This afternoon’s post will tie into a future entry on Some Fantastic Place on Michael Fleisher’s Spectre but today, we’re going to look at Atlas Comics.
Reading through back issues of FOOM magazine, I get the impression that inspiration at the House of Ideas was more about rollin’ a fat one on the back of Tales of Topographical Oceans or The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, maybe even Veedon Fleece. In the summer of 1975, Killraven’s outrageous Death-Birth saga ends with its abortionist-villain dying in the ruins of a McDonalds “restaurant”; the quest for the Celestial Madonna is over and the Beast, high on, er, Stevie Wonder, joins the Avengers disguised as Edward G. Robinson; and the Son of Fu Manchu fights to stop a villain called Velcro from getting his, er, sticky mitts on a nuclear arsenal. Of course, as I start Secondary school, I can’t see any of this until it’s reprinted in the UK, since virtually no colour US Marvels are on sale in my area.
Meanwhile DC is bringing us Kong, a charmless revamp of Anthro; Beowulf; Richard Dragon Kung-Fu Fighter; Lady Cop and the dying days of Kirby’s contract: Kamandi, Justice Inc. and the Sandman (well, the covers, anyway)
Into this four-colour wasteland swings a Kirby-esque character, The Scorpion, introducing me to the dark, sadistic world of Atlas/Seaboard:
I think I bought this issue in East Kilbride, maybe somewhere like this:
How could you resist the combination of a golem and The Golden Fuhrer? The 18-karat Red Skull impersonator is a work of bongwater genius. There was a certain edginess and audacity to the Scorpion that led me to try the next three, from the spinner rack in Baird’s in Strathaven.
Morlock 2001 is set in a Clockwork Orange-lite dystopia. Its eponymous hero is an artificial being , like Adam Warlock crossed with Man-Thing. He transforms in times of stress into a carnivorous plant-creature and consumes a little blind girl in this story. It’s hard to sympathise with a Silver Surfer-style outcast who snacks on handicapped kids.
Where The Scorpion had been a deliberate attempt to ape the pulp avenger known as The Spider, Planet of the Vampires was Atlas’ answer to The Omega Man.Pat Broderick’s first issue is the best-looking of the three, introducing a post-apocalyptic scenario where …well, the blurb speaks eloquently for itself.
The Atlas titles were a concerted effort by publisher Martin Goodman to take on DC and particularly Marvel, which he had sold to Cadence in the early 70s. The new company offered exceptional pay rates and rights to artwork, attracting the likes of Wally Wood and Neal Adams. But this was the Post-Watergate era of the Energy Crisis and the cynical, sensationalist Atlas titles folded in less than year, despite early attempts to “reboot” them, as we would call it.
Wulf is murky, predictable barbarian fare from Steve Skeates; the most interesting thing about it (apart from an industrialised culture, which is pretty unusual for sword and sorcery) was the map:
I used to draw maps like this all the time as kid–sketch out a coastline (make sure to have some islands and a large, inland sea) then write in some unpronounceable names- and any paperback with a frontispiece like this was a must.
I went on to read two more Atlas books picked up at comic marts in the 80s: The Destructor by Steve Ditko and the first issue of The Scorpion by Howard Chaykin.
Gerry Conway and Ditko pit their abrasive and thuggish hero against a tribe of freaks who remind me of Joe Simon’s Outsiders. It reads like a role- playing game supplement from the mid-80s or a Bronze Age parody gone rather wrong.
Chaykin’s Scorpion is far and away the best of the bunch. A stylish pulp adventure that looks about ten years ahead of its time. After the re-working of The Scorpion as a Batman/Daredevil clone, Chaykin brought his original conception to Marvel:
Marvel didn’t do a lot with the character of Dominic Fortune, Brigand for Hire: and Chaykin, of course, went off to do American Flagg for First in the 80s . Most recently, however, Fortune appeared as one of the late-50s Avengers in the Bendis/ Chaykin New Avengers arc.
I have as yet to sample any of the other titles in the Atlas roster: the cannibalistic Tarantula and Brute; the crippled stuntman Cougar or the mutilated barbarian / would-be rapist, Ironjaw. Delightful. The Grim Ghost and the Phoenix were relaunched last year but I’ve never been inspired to try them either. I would have thought Planet of the Vampires was an obvious choice for revival in the current cultural climate
Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery but Atlas seized upon the most transgressive elements of Marvel’s comics and recycled them without irony, charm or imagination and crucially to no commercial effect.
Coming soon: Mr. Sandman, send me a dream…
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