The Original Secret Avengers Return: Tom Taylor on ‘Agents of Atlas’ [Interview]
What if the Avengers formed a decade earlier, before Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and their fellow writers and artists at Marvel Comics had created Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, Ant-Man and The Wasp? Before there even was a Marvel Comics?
This an idea pursued by obscure character aficionado Roy Thomas, Don Glut, Alan Kupperberg and Bill Black for an issue of What If...? in the late '70s, revisited briefly by Kurt Busiek, Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino in the turn-of-the-century Avengers Forever and then used to power Jeff Parker, Leonard Kirk and others' 2006 Agents of Atlas mini-series, which not only gave the team an official name, but reinvented them as a group of old-school adventure heroes posing as rulers of a secret empire of villainy.
The characters, concept and resultant comics proved to be fan-favorites, and now they're coming back in another "What If"-style scenario, in the pages of Secret Wars. As we reported this past weekend, Jimmy Woo, Namora, Marvel Boy, Gorilla-Man, Venus and M-11 the Human Robot, are returning in one of the domains of Secret Wars' Battleworld in the upcoming Secret Wars: Agents of Atlas by Tom Taylor and Steve Pugh. We spoke with writer Tom Taylor and editor Mark Paniccia about what we can look forward to.
Comics Alliance: Because of the nature of Secret Wars, with characters from various timelines and continuities appearing, I suppose we should clarify which Agents of Atlas these are. Is this the very same team we last saw, or an alternate version of some kind?
Tom Taylor: With only 30 pages to tell our story, we couldn't open this up to too many characters. We didn't want to have more characters than pages. So, this really only deals with the original team that Jeff Parker and Leonard Kirk brought in. Gorilla-Man, Namora, Jimmy Woo, M-11, Marvel Boy and Venus.
CA: How Secret Wars-y is this going to be? From what I’ve read of the tie-ins, they seem to range quite a bit in how directly they connect to the main series, and thus how much a reader might need to know about Battleworld, Jonathan Hickman's Avengers comics and so on.
TT: We've made sure that this is very new reader friendly. We quickly establish a city ruled by the iron fist of Baron Zemo, the oppressed and constantly monitored people who are forced to work there, and the heroic team fighting for the people from the shadows.
CA: Mark, I understand you're a huge fan of the characters, and you originally pushed for the creation of an Agents of Atlas team, and inclusion in the modern Marvel Universe. What is it that you find so interesting or compelling about the characters?
Mark Paniccia: Everything. When I saw the Kirby-drawn cover to What If #9 from 1978 I was immediately drawn to the uniqueness of the group. Dan Glut and Roy Thomas had this crazy idea about the Avengers forming in the 1950s. I started to research the story, then found it in the archives and read it.
At the time I was working a lot with Jeff Parker and I thought this would really play into his sensibilities. Jeff and I have similar nostalgic touchstones and he really dug into this and made it something special, from the excellent story lines to the execution of our "gorilla" (no pun intended) marketing with his weekly Mr. Lao blog. It developed quite a passionate audience at the time. We originally pushed for them to be called The Secret Avengers but ended up with Agents of Atlas, which is less commercial but much more appropriate.
CA: Mark, how did the current creative team come together, and what do you think Tom and artist Steve Pugh bring to the characters?
MP: Tom was finishing up the critically acclaimed Superior Iron Man series and as I was going over my list of Secret Wars projects I thought Tom had the kind of imagination that could come up with something familiar but would take advantage of the immense opportunity that Battleworld afforded us in terms of scope and just plain coolness. And he did.
The story is really fun, and both new readers and the original series' core fans will enjoy this 30-pager. It's got great moments for all the characters and it's in this domain that's very Stalin-esque and reflective of the time period these characters were dealing with back in the 50s.
As for Steve, I'd be hard pressed to find a project that he wouldn't be perfect for. He was doing such great work on Age of Ultron Vs. Marvel Zombies that, after reading Tom's script, I had to get Steve on. I knew he would dig the characters, the set up and the story just as much as I did.
CA: Tom, given how many of the Agents of Atlas stories Jeff Parker has written, does it feel at all weird to you to be writing "his" characters at all? Do you feel an imaginary Jeff Parker looking over your shoulder as you write?
TT: Wait? He's imaginary? That's so good to hear. I was trying to work out how he'd found my house in Australia, and why my kids were so accepting of him just hanging out in my study.
Honestly, Jeff's work with this team speaks for itself. Everything I've written is following on from the great character work and the themes he's established.
CA: You’re writing the half-dozen characters of the title, some of whom must be challenging to write; M-11 doesn’t talk, for example, and Marvel Boy’s a remote alien. Do you have a favorite character to write, or a least favorite?
TT: Yes, it's a juggling act but I was once a professional juggler, so I'm used to keeping a lot of things moving while trying not to drop the ball.
My absolute favorite character is Gorilla-Man. I wrote pages of dialogue and interactions for him before I even knew where our story was going
CA: If Secret Wars: Agents of Atlas is a hit, are we going to see another ongoing? Tom, are you up for writing more Agents of Atlas?
TT: I'd love to see the Agents of Atlas in their own series again and, yes, I'd definitely volunteer to tell more of their stories. However, the imaginary Jeff Parker, currently sleeping in my study, might have a few words to say about that...