Jeff Parker Talks ‘Atlas,’ The Mad Men of Marvel [Interview]
This week, Marvel’s Agents of Atlas get a new start with “Atlas” #1, by Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman! If you’re already a fan, then you probably know why we’re so excited to have one of our favorite team books back on the stands, and if you’re not… well, the only thing we can do is try to let series co-creator Jeff Parker try to convince you himself! To that end, we’ve asked Parker (who’s also scripted “Thunderbolts,” “X-Men: First Class” and a big chunk of “Fall of the Hulks”) to sit down with ComicsAlliance senior writer Chris Sims to chat about “Atlas” and everything else.
ComicsAlliance: For any of our readers who might not be that familiar with (the Agents of) Atlas, what’s their deal?
Jeff Parker: They are the Mad Men of Marvel, or the Rat Pack from the Timely-Atlas age of Marvel Comics, rejoined in the 21st Century with the task of trying to reform or close down the many villainous operations of The Atlas Foundation- and save the world. They are lead by former FBI Agent Jimmy Woo and have a killer robot named M-11, a Uranian named Bob, a Goddess named Venus (who was actually a siren, but now has God Status), an Atlantean hybrid woman called Namora, and most importantly, a talking Gorilla named Ken.
CA: And these are all characters from the ’50s who–except for Jimmy Woo–had been largely unused for most of Marvel history once the Fantastic Four showed up, right?
JP: Yes. And Gorilla-Man showed up in the “Howling Commandos” working for SHIELD.
CA: What was it about those characters that made you want to go back to them? I know that Don Glut used them in a “What If” where they were the ’50s Avengers, which later came back in Kurt Busiek’s “Avengers Forever.” Was there just a lack of teams with gorillas, robots, and kung fu super-spies?
JP: I liked that they worked as icons of pulp entertainment. And with them you could do a lot of
different types of stories. Like in “Atlas” #1, we start off with more of a horror-mystery story. In “Avengers vs. Atlas,” it was sci-fi/superhero. And we drift into romance a fair bit. The closest one to being a pure superhero in the group is Namora, and she often appears in other Marvel books for that reason.
CA: Did you know that she was going to be a key player in other books when you brought her back? She’s got a pretty big role in World War Hulk and Incredible Hercules.
JP: No, and it’s been really cool. She’s a big time ass-kicker, nobility, and not hard to look at — she should turn up everywhere.
CA: This is kind of a cliche, but which one is your favorite character to write?
JP: I’ll cliche you back — it changes all the time. It is fun to write Gorilla-Man bustin’ snaps on Iron Man and all, but they all step into spotlight well. M-11 can be a lot of fun even when he says nothing.
CA: Or when he quotes Muhammad Ali.
JP: SO PRETTY. For those who didn’t read Atlas before, that happened in the last series.
CA: Atlas has sort of been the spearhead of a recent look back at the pre-FF Marvel stuff that, like I said, was largely ignored. There’s “Atlas,” “The Twelve,” “Marvels Project,” and even Groot in Abnett & Lanning’s cosmic books. What’s the appeal there, beyond the obvious killer robots, talking gorillas, and tree-monsters?
JP: I think the existence of Marvel characters who have history but not miles of continuity to wade through is very attractive to creators. It can be a colossal pain to write, say, one of the X-Men. You don’t know who the character has already met, or if you do you feel obliged to reference it- I enjoy this cast with a relatively clean slate.
CA: Yeah, I’ve often gone off about retro storytelling, but is it really retro if you’re doing new stuff with characters nobody’s seen in sixty years?
JP: No, but don’t tell anyone please.
CA: Ha! So what’s in store for Atlas now that they’ve got the new ongoing?
JP: They have to solve THE MYSTERY OF THE THREE DIMENSIONAL MAN! Del Garrett is suddenly being attacked by seemingly everyone in the world and has to go on the run. He starts having dreams where he’s a member of this strange team with a gorilla and a robot on it. The one thing that helps is that his special vision (which allowed him to see disguised Skrulls back in the Secret Invasion) is getting better and better. Finally after hunting all over San Francisco, Del sees the group that everyone else views as normal, yet he can single out as the agents of ATLAS.
CA: That’s Del Garrett, who used to be Triathlon in the Avengers?
JP: Yes! And in Avengers: Initiative, Dan Slott continued Kurt Busiek’s goal there and made him the new 3-D Man.
CA: The 3-D Man is a pretty weird title for a super-hero. I mean, isn’t EVERYONE a 3-D Man?
JP: Yes, but we flesh that out much more — his name makes a lot more sense in the next few issues!
CA: I just realized that you’ve actually built a team of characters that can’t age: A Greek goddess, an immortal Gorilla Man, an Atlantean, a robot, and a guy who was rebuilt 40 years younger than when he started.
JP: Yes, when you have full rein to rebuild a group from the ground up, you can also set up some things to avoid the usual problems! And they have a huge dragon named Mr. Lao for an advisor.
CA: Was that intentional, in order to sell the “team out of time” aspect of them, or was it just a happy accident?
JP: Well, I had to give them good reasons to not look like a bunch of codgers, so it sort of went with the logic. And remember one was altered by alien creatures deep underneath… I’ll let you complete it, Chris…
CA: He was altered by aliens deep within Uranus. Were there a lot of altered humans in Marvel’s version of Uranus? Where does Uranus fit into Marvel continuity? Are you planning any stories set in Uranus? Who’s your favorite artist to have drawn Uranus?
I could literally do this all day.
JP: Uranus. It’s the planet with the vertical ring. Eat THAT, Saturn.
CA: “Parker Tells Saturn To Eat Uranus.” There’s my headline.
JP: “It was beauty that brought down the beast — there’s your angle, play that up, boys.”
CA: Getting away from Uranus for a second, this isn’t really a question, but holy cats, Gabriel Hardman.
JP: You mean the king of art? That Gabe Hardman? Yes.
CA: His stuff is amazing. But Atlas has never wanted for good artists. You started out with Leonard Kirk…
JP: And then Carlo Pagulayan. Yeah, we’ve pretty much focused on the best. And I think they’ve enjoyed the subject matter and put even more into their work.
CA: Have you ever considered drawing up an issue of Atlas yourself? You haven’t done it lately, but you’ve done art in the past.
JP: Yes, I might draw a short story at some point. If I could do it without making the book late. I would also want Elizabeth Breitweiser to color it, she’s been doing gorgeous stuff on Hardman’s pages.
CA: Hardman’s work is gorgeous, but I haven’t seen him in a lot of comics.
JP: He actually was drawing “War Machine” in the 90’s under an assumed name, and then he went into
storyboarding film. He’s a much-sought after board artist, and has directed his own movie. He always focuses on clear storytelling that gets across scale, wonder, and all the other excitement Atlas has to have. He’s incredible.
CA: What else have you got coming up for Marvel?
JP: The very next week, the rebuilt “Thunderbolts” hits stands, and I think readers will be talking. We turn the book into a bigger ensemble piece, put Luke Cage in charge, and do the thing that will rip the industry in half… PUT MAN-THING IN A MAJOR BOOK.
CA: What’s the deal with the new Thunderbolts? I mean, they’re obviously not Norman Osborn’s team of flunkies anymore.
JP: No, now they’re connected to The Raft federal prison and under government control. Mostly like a work release program to use some powerful people to do good things they ordinarily never would, but also to push some toward rehabilitation. So the next time an Osborn comes along, hopefully there won’t be so many people for him to exploit.
CA: Okay, one last question. Do you ever just stand behind Paul Tobin when he’s trying to write the Marvel Adventures Super-Heroes book and go “Cap wouldn’t say that. Iron Man should be in this scene. Where’s Tigra?”
JP: I could almost do it without standing, he sits so close now that we’ve moved Periscope Studio around. I wish I’d thought to have Tigra say “aw sneezes.”
CA: Anything else you’d like to say?
JP: I’d like to invite DC readers who think there’s nothing for them at Marvel to just try “Atlas” #1 and see what they think. I just bet they’ll like it. We have serious situations and missions, but lots of good times on the way. I also invite those Marvel readers who prefer to read the books of their youth to check in and see if we don’t hit a lot of those notes that they want from today’s books. Plus partial nudity.