© 2003 Ken Jones. All rights reserved.
The Seaboard/Atlas Comic Book Company came and went in one year. Its short newsstand life was evidence of its commercial failure. Today only a handful of its titles are deemed collectable while the vast majority of its output languishes in the “quarter boxes” that are tucked in the back of specialty shops. Why bother to document a company that for all intents and purposes doesn't appear to be worth a second look ?
I am the first to admit that Atlas had some major problems. A small but highly visible number of derivative and even poor titles have contributed to the myth that the whole Atlas catalog was pure hacked-out schlock. I say, let the work speak for itself. Despite their sometimes ragged and derivative nature, Atlas Comics had some brilliant moments. Not only did they showcase new work by such seasoned pros as Russ Heath, John Severin, Howard Nostrand, and Alex Toth, but they were a proving ground for men who later went on to reshape the comics industry. Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson, Larry Hama, Pat Broderick and Ernie Colon all used Atlas as a place to experiment and learn, and were I think encouraged to do so by Editor-in-Chief Larry Lieber.
In June 1974, Seaboard Comics (as Atlas was at first called) seemed poised to take the publishing world by storm. Martin Goodman, publisher of Marvel Comics since the Golden Age, had decided that the time was ripe to start his own company with his own characters. His track record was such that he (along with his son, Chip) was able to attract a stable of top creators to produce this new line of comics.
Atlas suffered from several problems which eventually proved its undoing. Although Martin Goodman thought he had a tight commitment from the nationwide chain of distributors, he found that his first month's worth of product was hardly distributed. Things little improved over the next few months of Atlas' short life span.
Even more disastrous was the fact that there was also too much shifting in the personnel of books, some having three different creative teams in as many issues. Disgruntled, several creators came and went in the space of a couple of months. Worse yet, several of the characters changed radically in the short space of one or two issues, leaving anyone who cared totally confused. Atlas also suffered from being too artist-heavy a company. Good, even excellent work often times graced poorly plotted and ill-thought-out concepts and characters.
Adding even more to Atlas' image as a copycat company was the very-sad attempt made to set up Larry Lieber as a pseudo-Stan Lee that I found embarrassing. One senses that Lieber was expected to have the same charisma and salability as Lee just because he was “Stan the Man's brother” (shades of the Jacksons!). I know I felt awkward as a longtime fan of these two brothers to be apparently caught in the middle of a sibling rivalry.
On the plus side, however, one senses that Atlas allowed their creators a larger degree of experimentation and artistic freedom than they might have found at the other companies. Wildly stylish artwork was considered as purchasable as the more mainline looking product. One suspects that if Atlas had came into existence ten years later than it did, it might have become a successful alternative company such as Eclipse or First Comics are today.
Ultimately, Atlas Comics produced a core of solid work that deserves to be represented in a high quality reprint series. Several characters, such as the Scorpion, the Destructor, and the Grim Ghost, could be successfully revived just as Deluxe Comics has so wonderfully done with their updated versions of Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.
Tiger-Man - Tiger-Man was a very tasty variation on the 1940s “avenger with super human powers” concept. Issue #1 was especially tight. Lancaster Hill, a medical doctor interning in Africa, becomes fascinated with an Indian tiger, given to him to experiment upon. He isolates the tiger's chromosomes, concocting a tiger serum which he uses on himself. The local witch doctor, jealous of Hill's popularity with the native villagers, releases the tiger to prey upon the village. Hill battles the tiger to the death and is given a ceremonial tiger suit by the grateful village chieftain.
When he’s home, his sister is brutally mugged and killed by two rodeo cowboys. Crazed with vengeance, he dons his costume - which has certain magical qualities - and slays his sister's killers in a brutal bar brawl. Issue #1, a complete package by Ernie Colon, is notable for cartooning and down to earth dialogue and plotting.
Issue #2 and #3 saw the team of Gerry Conway and Steve Ditko as the series became slightly more mainstream in its orientation. Issue two features some rather typical super villain business with a mad scientist, named Kobart, inventing super powered union suits for a couple of bank robbers. The main attraction in this issue, however, was the Blue Leopard. The Blue Leopard, an obvious parody of Marvel’s Black Panther, was an emissary of the evil witch doctor from issue #1, sent to America to wreak havoc and discredit Tiger-Man with the populace at large. It seems that the once grateful villagers blamed Dr. Hill for a famine that struck their village, killing 200 people after he left, and they elected the witch doctor to turn their best warrior into the mystically powered Blue Leopard.
Issue #3 featured an evil psychiatrist named Dr. Otto Kaufman who, under the nom de plume Hypnos, was using a hypnotic monocle to order social misfits to commit suicide. Tiger-Man intervenes and is hypnotized into an attempted self-immolation.
Luckily, two hoods robbing the gas station where this all takes place mugged Tiger-Man before he could put a match to the gas he had poured all over himself. Returning to Hypno’s psychiatric clinic, Tiger-Man uses the evil physician’s own monocle to force him to commit suicide, ending this rather tantalizing three-issue run.
The Phoenix (later Phoenix, the Protector) - A case book study in how not to do a comic book. Whatever talent Sal Amendola may have developed since this outing, his art stunk on ice here. This Six Million Dollar Man rip-off was agonizing and inexcusable. The final issue, in which Phoenix becomes the Protector, is incoherent to the max, made even more undistinguished by Ric Estrada’s bizarre and ugly doodling. The only worthwhile moment in the three issue run is the Dark Avenger eight-pager in issue #3, wherein we see Pat Broderick show us the first glimpse of the unique style that has made him a distinctive contributor to the evolution of graphic storytelling.
The Destructor - Teenage punk Jay Hunter, son of an altruistic scientist, is a cheap “muscle” for a local racketeer, in Harbortown, New Jersey. Dr. Hunter, who has labored many years to bring forth a serum that heightened every human sense, wants his son to redeem himself by becoming a prototype superhero, proving the validity of his father’s serum. Jay’s reaction is rude and negative. As he and his father argue, some of Jay’s racketeer “friends” arrive to deliver “the kiss of death” to the young wise-guy who had stepped over the line once too often.
As both father and son lay dying from a hail of machine gun fire, Hunter’s dad feeds his super-serum to his son, who instantly heals and rejuvenates. After his father’s death, Jay, realizing that his arrogance had caused his father’s untimely passing, vows to become a Destructor of the mob. In a closet he finds the prerequisite union suit of a superhero then sets about avenging himself on his former employers.
The Destructor proves to be a senses-heightened super-type like Daredevil. Interestingly enough, the Destructor’s powers are based on adrenalin. When they fade, Jay Hunter is exhausted. As the Destructor begins smashing the local mobsters and closing down all their operations in the course of his crusade, outside muscle in the form of a super villain named Slaymaster is brought in and defeated by Jay. In issue #2, the Destructor follows a false trail given to him by a rival mob, the Combine. He goes to New Mexico after mob boss Mike Brand. Working his way inside the mobsters inner circle as Jay Hunter, the Destructor, soon becomes romantically attracted to Brand’s daughter. He also discovers that her father is dying and that he is going to turn state’s evidence. Destructor battles a Combine hit man, a costumed weirdo named Death-Grip. After an epic battle in Larry’s junkyard (nice joke on Larry Lieber), Destructor uses the junk-yard’s electromagnet to feed the iron-handed Death-grip into an auto crusher.
Issue three features Atlas’ version of the Huntress. Instead of being like either of DC’s two incarnations, she is instead very much like an earlier Ditko Spider-Man villain Kraven the Hunter. The Huntress is a buxom tracker and trainer of animals with a rather lethal laser lash. She eventually captures Destructor in New Mexico. Destructor finds himself in what appears to be a canyon covered by a force field. He proceeds to defeat Siva and Kali - Huntress’s pet cougars, her henchman, Lobo, and finally the Huntress herself. When Destructor breaks out he discovers that the “canyon” is inside of a Las Vegas casino, within an audience consisting of Combine members.
Issue #4 finds the Destructor back in New Mexico. After defeating Combine guards in a huge cave, he meets three mutants reminiscent of Marvel’s Inhumans who call themselves the Outcasts. They take him to their secret city, located inside the cavern. While Destructor is visiting the Attilan-like city, the government conducts an illegal nuclear test which destroys this Secret Citadel.
Destructor, at ground zero, feels the serum within him boil and change and discovers that he has developed a bio-blast very much like the one that the Avengers’ Wasp later received.
Perhaps the radiation affected Destructor's mind too, because he agrees to join the Outcast’s army in their vendetta against the human race. As they march off into comics limbo, presumably to battle the U.S. Military, one wonders if the Destructor was pulling a ruse.
This was one of Atlas's better titles. Archie Goodwin, one of comic’s supreme scripters, was in top form here. His scripts were more than done justice by the reuniting of one of the graphic story’s top illustrative teams, Steve Ditko and Wally Wood, in the first two issues. Issues #3 and #4 featured complete Ditko artwork and Ditko inked by Milgrom, respectively. Although some might call Destructor a Spider-Man rip-off, I can’t help but think it was instead Ditko’s vision of a serious Spider-Man revision. I might also note that on a whole, Ditko was very inspired during his tenure at Atlas, turning out work that was consistently as good as his best work on Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. The Destructor was clearly the best of Ditko’s Atlas work.
Targitt - John Targitt, Special F.B.I. Agent, started out as a stylish rip-off of Kenneth Robeson’s The Avenger. The character as delineated in issue #1 might have been an inspiration for Mike Grell’s Jon Sable, Freelance years later at First Comics. Issues two and three, which feature Targitt becoming the Man-Stalker, reminds me of Marv Wolfman’s Vigilante. Despite the ridiculous costume and feeble excuse for Targitt gaining supernormal powers, this series remains fast-paced entertainment. It still seems modern and fun 10 years later.
Targitt’s very violent stories revolved around a hippie and mafia drug war (featuring a funny in-joke about the “Amendola family”), an Alaskan pipeline story where Arab saboteurs team up with a multi-natural-oil conglomerate to destroy the Alaskan pipeline (ending with a visual quote from James Cagney’s White Heat), and an honest-to-God 1940’s-ish supervillan named Professor Death.
From start to finish, Howard Nostrand’s distinct art and storytelling are the main attraction here. His clean syndicated newspaper strip-like art is one of the true treasures of comic book history. That he is little seen in mainstream comic books makes these books all the more worth seeking out. One of Atlas’ highpoints.
Police Action - This book featured two series. The lead feature, Lomax, N.Y.P.D. was a kind of sloppy mix of Kojak, McCloud, and Columbo. Jack Younger’s scripting was unimaginative and stereotypical. The artwork was much nicer than the scripts deserved. Mike Sekowsky’s unique cartooning looked wonderful under Al McWilliams’s sophisticated brush work.
Luke Malone, Manhunter, the back-up feature, was a double disappointment. Mike Ploog, who has made so many fine contributions to the graphic story, is clearly uninspired here. If you liked his work on Werewolf by Night, Weird World, Man-Thing or Ghost Rider, you will be incredibly let down by Ploog’s flaccid stories and minimal layouts. Frank Springer’s chicken scratching style of inking is the final disappointment in this utterly forgettable package.
The Cougar - This series had an interesting premise that never quite found proper creators to do it justice. Hollywood daredevil stuntman Jeff Rand, in the guise of the Cougar, fights tinsel town vampires and werewolves in the back lots of a major studio. Issue two was especially promising, as it ends with the Cougar shattering his spine. Previews promised us that in issue #3, he would become the first avenger in a wheel-chair, Undoubtedly the biggest drawback was Frank Springer’s listless artwork, which managed to obliterate the latent potential of the strip.
The Scorpion - The Scorpion was the best comic book that Atlas produced. In the first two issues, created by Howard Chaykin, we are privileged to see this fine graphic storyteller take quantum leaps forward in his storytelling ability. The Scorpion is a very important link in the chain that ends (to date) with First Comics’ American Flagg. It seems to me that Chaykin, like Michael Moorcock, prefers to deal with archetypal heroes—always basically the same character in different guises. Thus, if you follow Chaykin’s creation of original characters over the years, you will find that DC’s Iron Wolf metamorphoses into Star*Reach’s Cody Starbuck, who evolved into Atlas’ The Scorpion, who blossomed into Marvel’s Dominic Fortune and Monarch Starstalker - all of whom finally jelled into the finest comic book of the 1980s: American Flagg.
Even beyond the evolutionary importance of The Scorpion, this feature is worthwhile in its own right. Moro Frost, the Scorpion, is a man whose unusual longevity leads him through many adventuresome identities. In his Scorpion incarnation he is a mercenary with a heart of gold.
In issue #1, we find a rousing aviation adventure set in the 1930s, a tale of fast-paced espionage and adventure still as tautly thrilling as it was ten years ago.
Issue #2’s pulp magazine like supernatural adventure is all the more notable for the great art jam session that occurred when Berni Wrightson, Michael William Kaluta, Walt Simonson, and Ed Davis came in to help Chaykin finish his illustrations.
Unfortunately, when issue #3 came out, Howard Chaykin was gone. In his place were Gabe Levy, script, and Jim Craig, art. Taking the place of the very interesting Moro Frost character was a new identity for The Scorpion. The immortal mercenary was now David Harper, a 1970s crusading publisher by day, by night The Scorpion, a watered down Spider-Man replete with pre-fabricated hang-ups. His foe could have been a refugee villain from the Batman TV show - he’s the Golden Fuhrer, who travels with a pet golem. Thankfully this travesty only lasted one issue. When Chaykin left Atlas he brought The Scorpion over to Marvel, and renamed him Dominic Fortune, Brigand for Hire.
Wulf the Barbarian - Larry Hama, later a writer and then an editor for Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian, really got his chops together as writer/penciller on the first two issues of Wulf the Barbarian. The embellisher on the two Hama issues of this unusual sword-and-sorcery title was Klaus Janson.
Wulf takes place on an unnamed alien planet, unique because no one knows exactly how large it is. In the course of the first two issues, we meet Wulf, a street beggar, and the crippled knife juggler Stavro. In a series of powerful flashbacks, we find out that Wulf is the orphaned son of a king and Stavro is his royal protector. We further learn that Stavro is grooming Wulf to fulfill a blood oath taken out against Mordek Mal Moriak, evil sorcerous master of Castle Darkenroost. Stavro must hide Wulf for ten years until he is of an age to assume his father’s throne. When Stavro is killed by minions of Mordek, Wulf, tracking a blood trail left by the assassins, confronts the troll who killed his mother and kept her sword. After killing the troll and regaining the sword, Wulf steals the local magistrate’s cape and horse and flees the city forever.
Issue #2 finds Wulf in the middle of a drought crazed region of desert. After being attacked by a thirsty bunch of soldiers, he is rescued by the Free Swordsmen’s Guild of Rama-Kesh. When Wulf returns to that city, he finds himself enmeshed in the middle of a demonic battle for water that leads him and the other guild members to a wizard’s palace. Inside, the Guild encounters an interior which shifts constantly. Fighting their way thru a zombie army of former Guildsman and a corridor filled with rotten hanging corpses, the Guildsmen finally burst into a huge water filled chamber and encounter Rasselas the Wizard astride a giant demonic statue. When Rasselas is killed the sorcerer's blood brings the demon to life.
Zemba, a black witch doctor, forces Wulf to slay him so that he can release a fire elemental who slays the demon. As the castle explodes from the destruction caused by the two battling monsters, the fury of the explosion causes it to rain, ending the drought.
Unfortunately there were two more, less-than-distinguished issues of Wulf. Scripter Steve Skeates teamed with artist Leo Summer to turn in a lackluster tale in issue #3. Issue #4 is a travesty, obviously cobbled together at the last minute by Mike Friedrich, scripts, Jim Craig, pencils, and the “whole Atlas bullpen” inks.
It is a shame that the unique promise of the first two issues of Wulf the Barbarian was allowed to degenerate into such a predictable rut. Larry Hama, as has become evident in the ten years since this series debuted is a unique and versatile talent, Hama’s Wulf is worth seeing, if only just to catch a glimpse of a growing multifaceted talent classic run on the color Conan comic book.
Iron Jaw - A smashing Neal Adams homage to Frank Frazetta greets you on the cover of issue #1, Atlas’ greatest barbarian book. Iron Jaw might appear to be very much like Marvel’s Conan visually, but that’s where the resemblance ends. In fact, this rip roaring mirthful series has a lot more in common with Gold Key’s Mighty Samson. Like Mighty Samson, Iron Jaw is set on a post-atomic war holocaust Earth. Iron Jaw, a huge brutal barbarian with a lower metal jaw, saves a rebel girl from a pack of soldiers only because he wants to ravage her himself. Iron Jaw takes the girl to a cave until they are discovered by a young shepherd boy, who betrays them to the Queen’s soldiers. Taken captive, Iron Jaw and the girl are brought to a castle where the Queen and her consort discover - lo and behold—that Iron Jaw is the infant son they thought they’d killed years ago. Iron Jaw’s sister overhears her mother’s conversation and slips a dagger to her brother in his cell, who kills his guard and escapes.
Issue #2, which has another startling Adams cover, opens with Iron Jaw’s girl friend being led into an arena. She is covered with honey as wild bears are released. Riding a unicorn, Iron Jaw rescues her. The pair return to the rebel camp, where Iron Jaw reluctantly becomes the rebel’s General for a huge fee.
That night Iron Jaw slips into the castle, attempts to molest his sister, who now reveals to him that they are twins and that Iron Jaw is the rightful king. Iron Jaw, thinking she is lying, opens the castle gates and leads the rebels to a bloody victory. After slaying his evil step-father, Iron Jaw, who now has accepted his birthright, becomes king. Soon bored by the mundane restrictions of royal duties, Iron Jaw slips over the castle’s walls and returns to the life of a brigand.
In issue #3, we meet Iron Jaw’s adopted father Tar-Lok, leader of a band of thieves. There is a very amusing sequence where Iron Jaw goes to visit his pagan deity, the Great Machine, which turns out to be an old electric dryer that has been rigged up by a charlatan priest. Tar-Lok is the only one who sees through the ruse. This issue has a rare wry humor to it.
The last issue, #4 - the origin of his Iron Jaw - is a real disappointment as it sinks into the predictable rut of most barbarian stories. The first three issues of Iron Jaw written by Michael Fleisher, were heady stuff. His unique vision of the human race as something glorious and brutal at the same time was powerful, to say the least. As good as Fleisher’s later tenure was when he replaced Roy Thomas on Marvel’s Conan, he never again approached the quality and originality that he did on Iron Jaw. It’s a shame that Gary Friedrich was incapable of following Fleisher’s lead on the last issue. Mike Sekowskys art on issue #1, inked by jack Abel, was unique, humorous and vicious by turns, and is still worth seeing. But Pablo Marcos, who later went onto contribute so much to the Marvel Conan books was the real show stopper here.
Barbarians - Yet another Atlas one-shot. Cover featured is Iron Jaw in a nice little story featuring him roaming in mutantland, where he is captured by a mutant queen and, through cunning and courage, escapes death in the arena as he forges a new bond of respect between mutants and humans. Gary Friedrich, who did such a poor job scripting Iron Jaw #4, is on much firmer ground here, and, as always, Pablo Marcos turned in a fine exciting batch of pages.
The Andrax back-up was notable for reprinting some tasty European (in this case German) graphics, well before the first issue of Heavy Metal. Michael Rush is a super star Olympian who becomes the pawn in a crazed millionaire scientist’s scheme to have one human survive the chaos of an approaching atomic war. Rush, who spends 2000 years in suspended animation, revives to be renamed Andrax, the Barbarian. This series ends as we leave Andrax to face the brutality of an atom-blasted desolate Earth. I was extremely tantalized by the hints given as to where author Rolf Kauka was going to take this unusual strip.
Monsters and Mystery Stories
The Grim Ghost - “From out of the moonlit night he rides mounted a top a jet black steed, laughing like a demon from the darkest pits of Hell. For he is the Earth-bound specter of Matthew Dunsinane, alias the Grim Ghost, a colonial highwayman who was hanged for his crimes who now battles evil in our time as part of a gruesome pact with Satan.” This series was Michael Fleisher's finest moment, in my opinion. Better known for Jonah Hex, the Spectre series in Adventure Comics, and Ghost Rider, Fleisher shone here. This is a book cut from the same moody cloth as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, and Zorro.
Matthew Dunsiname’s 1970s identity as an eccentric antiquarian living in his baronial New England mansion was intriguing and original. Even old Mr. Scratch himself is more three-dimensional here than usual in his various four-color incarnations.
Tony Isabella, who scripted issue #3, made Grim Ghost more mellow and palatable. “Though I serve Satan, my morals are my own, and I deliver unto him (Satan) only those I deem evil,” said his Grim Ghost. As much as Fleisher and Isabella contributed to the series, enough cannot be said about Ernie Colon’s unique cartooning on this book.
The Brute - The Brute was a three-issue attempt to rewire the original savage origins of the Hulk, here recast as a blue savage neanderthal-like caveman. The Brute was yet another of Atlas’ curious cannibalistic “heroes”, a savage apeman, frozen during the Ice Age, who slept in a moving glacier until an atomic power plant awoke him in modern times. He retreats to a cave and lives on rats until three young boys stumble upon him by accident. In a bizarre bit of logic, the Brute decides that little boys are just as tasty as rats or mastodons.
One of the three boys escapes and alerts the authorities and the Brute is captured, brought to trial, and put in a sympathetic woman anthropologist’s care. He escapes, runs amok, murders, and bores the reader stiff when he isn’t making him nauseated. The Brute never attempted to rise above the obvious. Mike Sekowsky’s brilliant cartooning, ably inked by the moody tones of Pablo Marcos, was wasted on Michael Fleisher’s weird and ill-thought-out first two issues. Issue #3 was even worse, as Gary Friedrich and Alan Lee Weiss acted as pallbearers to this stillborn series.
Fright - The Son Of Dracula series which debuted in this one-shot is yet another example of a gifted artist, Frank Thorne, being expected to make a “silk purse out of a saw’s ear”. This book was nothing more than a re-hash of every cliche that ever appeared in a Universal or Hammer Monster movie. If Larry (Wolfman) Talbot had been a vampire, then he would have been Adam Lucard, Dracula, Jr. One wonders if Gary Friedrich’s uninspired script contributed to Thorne’s eventually becoming a writer/artist?
Morlock 2001 (and the Midnight Men as of issue #3): If Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Brave New World were merged with The Heap, Swamp Thing and Man-Thing, then you would get Morlock 2001. In a totalitarian society of the future, a renegade liquidated scientist leaves behind two mysterious pods. One of the pods blossoms into a humanoid, whose captors name him Morlock. When it is discovered that Morlock’s touch causes his victims to die from a plague-like fungus, he is drafted as a hitman for the Thought Police. It soon becomes apparent that when Morlock loses his temper, he “hulks out” and becomes a cannibalistic tree monster. (Don’t ask me why!) Especially gross is Morlock’s Frankenstein Monster-like murder and devouring of a blind little girl who befriends him in issue #2.
After this crude beginning, which featured stiff penciling from Allen Milgrom and quirky scripting from Michael Fleisher, the series finally began to jell in its final issue, #3. A scientist who survives being fried in a Thought Police book burning emerges as the featureless Midnight Man. Midnight Man befriends Morlock and forms a revolutionary army. As the Thought Police invade the Midnight Man's stronghold in the ruins of the New York subway system, Midnight kills the freaked-out Morlock, who has reverted to his tree monster state, and blows everybody up. Talk about climatic last issues! Penciller Steve Ditko was in top form in issue #3 and looks especially unique under a rare Berni Wrightson ink job, Gary Friedrich seemed to be able to do more with the scripting than did Fleisher, and it is sad that Ditko, Wrightson, and Friedrich were only on this title for one final tantalizing issue.
Demon Hunter - This one-shot was one of Atlas’ most intriguing features. Gideon Cross is a telepathic Vietnam vet who comes home to find disillusionment. Eventually he becomes a mafia hit-man who stumbles onto a secret occult society called the Harvesters of Night. Cross becomes their Harvester of Eyes and is given a shadow cloak which can produce ancient weaponry. His cape also can make people disappear Gideon becomes a kind of occult hit-man, accepting flasks of blood as payment from his employers.
Eventually Cross finds out that his “blood debt” is being used in congress with human sacrifice to raise demons from Hell. He witnesses the summoning of Astaroth, “the Grand Duke of Hell”, and overhears Astaroth’s plan to release 12 other demons, so that “Xenogenesis” or the rebirth of the demon race on Earth can be achieved. Horrified, Cross sneaks away, vowing to become the Demon Hunter.
This one-shot is important far beyond the fact that it featured really nice Rich Buckler art and David Kraft scripting. Its main importance is that Demon Hunter later resurfaced almost intact at Marvel, again under the pep and typewriter of his transplanted creators, where he became an integral part of the Defenders continuity.
Tales of Evil - If you crossed Warren’s Creepy with DC’s The Witching Hour, you would have issue number one of this banal title. These gross, bloody anthology stories feature third-rate art and “surprise ending” stories that an idiot could figure out. Issue number two has two more of these absurd anthology tales, plus the Bog Beast, a continuing feature that is a pedestrian tale of an envoy from a sub-surface race sent to study mankind. This Kentucky-fried monster surfaces from the La Brea Tar Pits and runs amok in two tales that are real yawns. Scripters John Albano, issue #2, and Gabe Levy, issue #3, seem listless and bored here. Artist Jack Sparling, issue #2, was only competent and the only justification for even giving Bog Beast a second glance would be to see Spanish artist Romero turn in a fine moody piece of art in issue #3.
The Man-Monster, despite lackluster scripting, featured an interesting Rich Buckler art job that for some reason reminds me of the Lee/Ditko/Kirby monster stories in Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales. The Man-Monster, who looked like a red hued version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, was supposed to graduate into his own book, but Atlas suspended publication before that could happen. There is no telling how this concept would have developed.
Weird Suspense - The Tarantula series that ran through the three issues of Weird Suspense was one of the low points of Atlas’ output. The Tarantula was one figment of Michael Fleisher’s imagination that I’d rather not have known about. Count Eugene Lycosa is the victim of a hereditary curse that turns him into a literal spiderman who goes around weaving webs, pumping venom into the bad guys, and eating them raw. Pat Boyette’s quirky artwork did nothing to make this nauseating concept work. Gary Friedrich tried to tone all this strangeness down somewhat in the last issue, but this concept had more holes in it than a pound of Swiss cheese. Sorry I reminded you of it.
Planet of the Vampires - Despite the fact that this concept drew heavily from such movies as Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man and especially the Hammer Dracula films, it still remains one of Atlas’ best series. In 2010 A.D. the crew of the spaceship Aries VII returns to Earth after a deep space probe to Mars. As can be expected from the title, Earth has changed considerably. A combination of chemical and atomic warfare has left the world a desolate, savage place. The astronaut heroes are a white couple, Chris and Elissa Galland, a black couple known only as Craig and Brenda, and an elderly professor, Dr. Ben Levitz.
When the astronauts crash in New York City next to Coney Island, they are attacked by savage New York street gangs that kill Dr. Levitz. When an attempt is made to kill the rest of the astronauts, they are saved by costumed scientists in anti-gravity sleds who the barbaric street gangs refer to as “Domies”. The astronauts soon find out why, when they are taken to a gigantic domed city that uses the Empire State building as its axis!
Despite the fact that the “Domies” represent themselves as being the last guardians of civilization and freedom, the astronauts suspect their motives from the start. Soon they stumble into an “interrogation center” for the Street gangs and find instead a hi-tech factory that drains the “barbarians” blood. The astronauts discover that the “Domies” are mechanical vampires who lack immunities to post-holocaust diseases. The “barbarians” who have such immunities, are constantly drained to provide immunizing serum for the “Domies". Horrified, the astronauts team up with the “barbarians”, destroy the factory and escape to the outside.
We discover that the “barbarians” are actually very intelligent “streetwise” rebels who exist in isolated tribes inhabiting small turfs. Captain Galland unites the “tribes”. As they prepare to attack the dome, the rebels are ambushed by airborne “Domies” who have become literal vampires now that they are deprived of their serum. The “Domies” slaughter the tribes and capture the astronauts' wives.
In issue #3 Craig and Chris attack the dome in an attempt to rescue their wives. Craig discovers that his wife Brenda has been killed in the refurbished blood draining factory. Galland saves his wife from a similar fate. After a battle in which the Dome is destroyed and its inhabitants are killed, the astronauts decide to leave New York and cruise the country in a “Domie” skimmer. Craig decides to stay behind.
The Gallands travel across a desolate America, finally arriving in Los Angeles, California, where they come to the conclusion that the combined effects of atomic radiation and biochemical weapons have mutated the genes of all men and women, turning them into vampires. The Gallands also encounter giant spiders, flies, and vampire ants. At the end of issue #3, Elissa Galland is killed by a giant vampire spider’s bite, in a very realistic death scene.
Planet of the Vampires was a very well-handled series. Writer Larry Hama wrote a fine first issue and John Albano was in better than usual form on issues #2 and #3. Pat Broderick did some tight penciling on issues one and two. The tour de force, however, was Russ Heath’s full art job on issue #3. Heath is one of the most unappreciated artists in the business and his work is little seen these days in mainstream or alternative comics, making such efforts as this issue all the more precious.
All three issues sported covers that are noteworthy. Issue #1 was a collaboration by Broderick and Neal Adams. Issue #3’s Russ Heath cover was also excellent, but #2’s Neal Adams and Dick Giordano cover was a fine moody mixing of horror, science fiction, and barbarian elements that appropriately summed up this unique project.
Savage Combat Tales - Sgt. Stryker’s Death Squad was lead featured in the three-issue run of this title. It was a Dirty Dozen take-off that never quite worked. These adventures in the Rommel-dominated African desert of World War II were the product of scripter Archie Goodwin, with the vastly under-rated Al McWilliams on art. Goodwin was no stranger to this genre, having cut his teeth writing war stories for Warren’s Blazing Combat. I must admit that Goodwin disappoints here, especially considering the fact that he had just finished setting new standards of excellence just months before when he wrote and edited most of the war comics at DC. It is hard to believe that the same craftsman wrote this Atlas war series. These stories were cynical, violent and treated human life and suffering in a cheap expletive way. One comes away from his exposure to Sgt. Stryker and Company appreciating the moving human dramas Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert continue to weave in the DC War books all the more. McWillams’s art, however, is worth a look, if just to appreciate his craftsman-like graphics, usually only seen in obscure Gold Key books such as U.F.O.
Speaking of art, undoubtedly the high point of this book's short run was Archie Goodwin and Alex Toth's War Hawk tale, “Chennault Must Die” a high water mark in sequential storytelling. But then what else can you expect from Alex Toth, a proven modern master of the graphic story medium?
Blazing Battle Tales - Sgt. Hawk was the lead feature in this one shot and it's awful. A poor John Albano script is made worse by a terrible Pat Broderick art job. Even Al McWilliams’s art in the back-up story did nothing to save the brain dead Albano script. A two page John Severin filler is worth a look, but this book is generally a dismal failure.
Western Action - Kid Cody, Gunfighter, the lead feature in this one shot, was actually quite enjoyable. The story of how Tom Corbett (!) becomes Kid Cody was not as predictable as your average Western comic book. The drunken old ex-gunfighter who trains him to exact vengeance for his parents' death is believable and likable in a Gabby Hayes sort of way. Scripter Larry Lieber, veteran of many sagebrush sagas at Marvel, was extremely inventive here. Doug Wildey’s art (recently seen in Eclipse Monthly’s Rio) was excellent, making one wish he’d contribute more to comics and spend less time working in the animation field.
The Commanche Kid back-up was weak in concept (a white indian who tames towns with a bow and arrow), mainly due to the lackluster storytelling of scripter Steve Skeates. Veteran penciller Jack Abel looked horrid under Allen Milgrom’s fledgling inks. I wonder if it is a coincidence that the Comanche Kid later seemingly reincarnated himself in a new improved, version in DC's Scalphunter in Weird Western Tales, edited by Comanche Kid inker Allen Milgrom?
Kung Fu/Martial Arts
The Hands of the Dragon - This is yet another Atlas attempting to be commercial. This ill-thought-out vehicle appeared and disappeared in the wave of Kung Fu drek that became a brief fad in America in the 1970s. Scripter Ed Fedory turns in a mind numbing script that is completely cliched. Jim Craig, who later did more workman-like jobs for Marvel on What If? and Master of Kung Fu, is so stiff and fannish here as to make one wonder why this ever left the Atlas offices.
Black and White Magazines
Thrilling Adventure Stories - Issue #1 featured a tight Tiger-Man story, by Scripter John Albano and artist Ernie Colon. Writer Jeff Rovin and artist Frank Thorne did a really fine biographical piece in Lawrence of Arabia. Russ Heath delivered a full package on “Eclipse from Nine by One” which was a wry realistic story of World War II POWs.
There were also two eminently forgettable filler pieces: “The Sting of Death” by writer John Albano, illustrated by the horrid murky graphics of Leo Summers and the continuing series “Kromag the Killer” a senseless brutal piece of caveman nonsense by Gabe Levy, scripter and Jack Sparling, plotter/penciller.
Issue #2 was undoubtedly one of the finest black-and-white comics magazines of all time. “Tough Cop” illustrated by Russ Heath is a suspense filled story of a retired crippled policeman that oozes tense atmosphere and suspense. “Town Tamer” by scripter Steve Mitchell and fabulous E.C. alumnus John Severin, is a taut World War II tale that dwarfs most of the material in the four-color Atlas war comics. Author Richard Meyers and master stylist artist Alex Toth contribute a rule-bending police tale that is a lesson in how to tell a graphic story. The only blot on this otherwise classic issue was another boring Kromag tale by Levy and Sparling.
Undoubtedly the high water mark of this issue and one of Atlas finest moments was the lead feature “Temple of the Spider” by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson. Hot off their history-making run on DC's Manhunter, Goodwin and Simonson contribute a brilliant tale of Samurais and an accursed temple in Feudal Japan.
Simonson in Comics Interview #9 accurately described the piece by saying it was “one of the best things I’ve ever done... to me it’s still the high water mark of what I was capable of doing at the time”. To my way of thinking “Temple of the Spider” is fully the equal of Manhunter and Thor. To put the ribbon on this prize package of an issue, Neal Adams contributed a fantastic cover that shows how a more competent artist might have handled Kromag.
Devilina - The title character was a stilted ill-conceived piece of tripe written and drawn by Ric Estrada. Despite the inane lead feature, some nice work did happen here. In issue #1 “The Lost Tomb of Nefertiri” by writer Gabe Levy and artist Pablo Marcos is a delightful concoction of Egyptian magic, mummys, and hidden mysteries. Pablo Marcos’s art here is as at least as good as his classic work on Marvel’s black-and-white Tales of the Zombie.
There is also a nice two pager by Michael Cahlin and Continuity Studio associate Ralph Reese called “Midnight Muse”, and a bizarrely fascinating cover painting by an artist known only as Pulojar. The rest of the issue is made up of ill disguised filler material, including perhaps Atlas' lowest ebb - Marty Pasko and Leo Summer’s aborted adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Tempest.
All issue number two has going for it is John Albano and Frank Thorne’s tale of indians and werewolfs, “Vendetta” as well as “The Prophecy”, which has some eye catching art by Suso. Other than that, these two issues featured more of the same gory, senseless garbage that plagued most of the Atlas black-and-white line.
Weird Tales of the Macabre - These two issues could just as-well have been issued by Warren Comics when they were in their decline. Not counting a fine cover, a piece from Jeff Jones and Boris Vallejo, and #2's “Who Toys with Terror” by George Kashdan and John Severin, the rest of these two issues consisted of hack scripts illustrated by third-rate Spanish artists.
Movie Monsters - There wasn’t much happening with Movie Monsters that hadn’t been done much better by Forrest J. Ackerman in Warren’s Famous Monsters of Filmland. But some of the graphics are worth noting. Greg Theakston, who lately had done a lot of work for Jack Kirby, did the covers for issue #1 and #2. His paintings of Zaus from Planet of the Apes and Ray Harryhausen’s Cyclops from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad are both fine pieces of composition. Walt Simonson completists take note: issues #3 and #4 feature a spot illustration apiece by this dynamic storytelling master. His Id monster from Forbidden Planet and his Loch Ness Monster are finely crafted and definitely worth a look.
The Atlas Marvels
Generally, when a comic book company folds, their characters fade to the realm of nostalgia and memories. Oddly enough, as Atlas folded its tents and its creators went onto other assignments, several of these writers and artists brought Atlas characters with them to Marvel. Thus, if for no other reason, Atlas should he remembered for providing the prototypes to at least two major Marvel characters.
The Scorpion was just too good a character for Chaykin to let die, so Moro Frost, the Scorpion became Dominic Fortune, Brigand for Hire. Chaykin quite candidly admits in a preface to the reprinting of the first two Fortune tales in Marvel Preview #20 that Dominic Fortune was just enough of a reworking of the Scorpion to make him copyrightable as a new character.
Rich Buckler and Dave Kraft couldn’t forget Demon Hunter either. Demon Hunter stepped on a plane at the end of the Atlas book and got off in the pages of Marvel Spotlight, where he became the Devil-Slayer as he teamed up with another unusual character of Rich Buckler’s - Deathlok the Demolisher. Both of these characters were brought into the mainstream of Marvel 20th Century continuity in this book. When last heard from, Demon Hunter was serving hard time in the Marvel Universe.
Another odd side note to the Demon Hunter is found in the 1980 issue of Astral Comics’ Galaxia Magazine #1. Creator Rich Buckler introduced a character called Bloodwing who not only was the Demon Hunter character reincarnated, but was also named Gideon Cross. Since this was to the best of my knowledge a one-shot, it is hard to tell what kind of direction Bloodwing might have taken.
Finally, an artistic curiosity occurred in the black-and-white magazine Savage Sword of Conan #9. The lead feature, "The Curse of the Cat Goddess", features a Conan that looks so much like a redrawn Iron Jaw that one wonders if Roy Thomas allowed artist Pablo Marcos to re-touch an inventory Atlas tale, which he then wrote into the Conan continuity.
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