Of course on Battle World, almost everyone has “Kill Doom” on their bucket list. That motivation has made the vast majority of Secret Wars very hit or miss, but mostly miss. That’s fine for a few of the series, but sometimes a series embraces its messed up world and its adventure takes place largely in spite of Doom being god. Agents of Atlas does it in what might be the most refreshing way possible: a fairly simple rescue mission.
The book opens with a brief description of Baron Zemo who rules Metropolita with a ruthless iron fist. SHIELD acts as his bludgeon, and the Agents of Atlas is the only group who stands against him in any significant way. Gorilla Man has a meeting with agent Coulson because Johnny Woo (leader of the Agents) is missing. Turns out SHIELD isn’t the bludgeon the Agents thought they were, and off they go looking for Woo. As a plot, it’s pretty simple. So, what gives it it’s A+? As far as I’m concerned, there are three things: the art, the quirk, and the tightness of the narrative.
Steve Pugh handles the art. I know him most memorably from Generation X (Marvel’s most underrated book IMHO), though his CBDB reads like a good portion of the comic book reading public’s “best of” lists. His art is clean, and expressive and makes good use of heavy lines. Those seem like such basic comic-art requirements, but Secret Wars has been overwhelmingly plagued by some low-rent looking art. But, in a single panel, we don’t even need the caption to see the looks of absolute haunted trauma.
He captures reactions and subtle details of non-human characters as well. It’s not really a ground breaking skill, but it’s nice to be able to interpret emotions via faces without having to rely on story cues (looking at you, Mike Land). I mean, ultimately, Pugh isn’t the best artist, or even the best artist of Secret Wars, but his clear, crisp art is.
The story is full of quirk, both inherent to the concept of Atlas, and playing within the bounds of Marvel. Just for eyeball’s sake, (most of) our heroes:
Gorilla Man: a man turned gorilla through a curse, and whoever kills him inherits the curse
Marvel Boy: alien royalty psychically bonded to a UFO (not pictured)
Namora: cousin to the ruler of an underwater kingdom
M-11: a robot riddled with some pretty faulty programming.
Not pictured are Jimmy Woo — Chinese American secret agent; and Venus — a living siren acting as goddess. I mean, really, the team cries out for a Morrison run. If there’s anyone out there who can incept that idea in his brain, then by all means, please do. For the sake of the world.
The weirdness doesn’t end there either. I mean, Baron’s making these:
And I don’t care about spoilers, but there’s some weirdness with Baron’s sun that’s too delightful for me not to want you to discover it on your own.
I think the best thing about this, like the Silver Surfer stories, and “Pax Romana” is that not a single word or panel is wasted. The story is so tight and fast paced. Every element feeds just perfectly into the next, and all the tension is character driven: because Gorilla Man is so good, they hunt for Jimmy Woo; the story resolves in part because M-11 is able to overcome his faulty programming. Zemo’s evil is the result of a very flawed search. But the action feels purposeful and fast and inventive, and you can’t wait to see what comes next. I mean, u guys…
I frequently think that Marvel tries to steer away from the weird and nonconformist sometimes because now they’re owned by Disney, and as such, their entire survival depends on being accessible, non-alienating, and recognizable. It just feels like genuine fresh air to see something so unique.