© 2005 Dean Webb. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
It is hard to believe that it has been thirty years since those halcyon days of my youth when as a diehard Marvel and DC comics fan, I chanced upon another company by the somewhat familiar name of Atlas. This was a different Atlas, Atlas-Seaboard to be exact. And they burst onto the comics scene with a fury, literally a bang. How they ended up is the definition of a whimper, but the "New House of Ideas" produced some intriguing comics by some pretty impressive young and veteran talent. So with that in mind let me begin a month-by-month overview of the majority of Atlas-Seaboard's color comic output. All books save for the reprint Vicki title will be covered, and when appropriate the B&W magazines will be referenced. Let's begin at the beginning.
By my reckoning there were three color books produced by Atlas-Seaboard with a January date on the cover. I know for a fact, that this cover date is suggestive only, because I specifically remember buying Wulf the Barbarian with a February date at the same time I purchased the books discussed below. The January and February books have the same text page in the back, and as far as I've seen so far the same distribution of ads and house ads.
Ironjaw has always seemed to me to be the flagship title of the Atlas-Seaboard line. The book gets the first specific mention on the text page and that Neal Adams cover is almost hypnotic. In fact this first trio of Atlas covers are among the very best the company ever produced. Talk about making a good first impression. Ironjaw is clearly intended to take advantage of the barbarian bubble that was ongoing in the Bronze Age. Marvel's success with Conan was indisputable, and DC was likewise trying out all sorts of ideas to find one that succeeded. (Atlas will try at least three barbarian titles, two starring Ironjaw.) The first Ironjaw issue is a surprise in two ways. Ironjaw, as written by Michael Fleisher is a woman-hating, bloodthirsty thug; in other words a barbarian in more than name only. A descriptive essay on the last page of the comic says that Fleisher is trying to write a "real man" in barbarian setting. Mike Sekowsky does an admirable job under better than average Jack Abel inks. I distinctly remember not liking it so much at the time, but my maturing tastes have given me a fresh appreciation for Sekowsky's storytelling skills. All in all, Ironjaw is a good comic. The story of his origin gets underway, as we learn he is the son of the local King and those in power are threatened by inexplicable return; Ironjaw doesn't seem aware of his potentially royal roots. After the usual barbarian battles, and a somewhat disquieting incestuous scene (Ironjaw's sister frees him, but of course he doesn't know who she is...don't worry it remains Code worthy) the story ends midway, with Ironjaw dangling from a prison tower and the promise the story will conclude next issue.
Phoenix is identified in the text pages as the "Greatest Story Ever Told", a clear reference to Jesus and the Biblical saga of his life, death, and resurrection. Ed Tyler is an astronaut in 1977 (remember the book came out in 1975), and the Skylab is damaged and he's the lone survivor of a crash landing in the Arctic. He's found by the Deiei, a race of tall big-headed somewhat pruney-looking aliens who claim that after God created the Earth and the early creatures that preceeded man, they took genetic control and manufactured modern man from those raw elements. The problem is they want to end the experiment totally and start over. After some discussion and histrionics, Tyler gets his hands on some of the alien equipment and becomes super-powered. He escapes, but the aliens attack Reykjavik, Iceland with a subterranean volcanic assault and Phoenix (not technically called that yet) does what he can to fend them off. Using his vaguely described radiation powers he sends the offending beam back at the aliens destroying their Arctic base in a mushroom cloud. But we find out there are more aliens, and that Ed has a lot more to do before he has saved the Earth from these "demons". The parallels with Christ will continue in the next issue. The story is written by Jeff Rovin (the editor of A-S's color line) and drawn by Sal Amendola, a member of Continuity Associates. With a Neal Adams cover on Ironjaw, a Dick Giordano cover on Phoenix, and Amendola's work, CA seems to have had a big hand in early Atlas-Seaboard.
Grim Ghost is a wonderfully wicked book. If The Phoenix is the sci-fi retelling of the Christ story, then Matthew Dunsinane, an 18th Century highwayman turned 20th Century spectral avenger for Satan is something else again. This book is lusciously drawn by Ernie Colon, who also does the gorgeous cover. The script is again by Michael Fleisher. Borrowing from the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (I love this TV-movie by the by) and the Spectre, along with perhaps the old Gay Ghost from Sensation Comics, Fleisher creates a wicked anti-hero who attacks murderous robbers and sends them to hell. Like Ironjaw tried to hop on the barbarian craze, this book seems to want to take advantage of the Bronze Age interest in horror, but with a twist. Fleisher had been the writer for DC's Spectre, and he brings that violent bent to this book as well. The story is extremely tight, and unlike the other two January dated books, has something of a satisfying ending. The Grim Ghost is fully established as a character after this one issue. The story briefly is that a notorious highwayman, Dunsinane, a murderer many times over, is eventually captured by falling for a beautiful woman (ain't it always the way) and then is hanged. He goes literally to Hell, where the Devil makes him his agent on Earth to gather souls, but not in the 18th Century, but forward to the then-modern 1975 setting where things have apparently gone from bad to worse. Armed with an array of powers, this Grim Ghost (more than a name at this point) rides his black steed into trouble and gathers up evildoers.
January was a good month for Atlas-Seaboard. These are all good books, with high concepts and ample evidence that they are set up for long runs. February will yield even more potential.
The Atlas-Seaboard "explosion" continued through the February issues. They all feature the same debut text page (as does the March dated Targitt), and they mostly all communicate that same sense of the beginning of something longterm.
Wulf the Barbarian is clearly a blend of Tolkien, Burroughs, and Howard with snippets of other folks tossed in. Wulf is the obligatory orphaned prince cared for and trained by the master-warrior Stavros Dar Kovin, loyal warrior to the slain king and queen. The arch-villain glimpsed only through magical lenses is suitably mysterious and vile using Trolls to do his evil bidding. The story is the brainchild of Larry Hama who both writes and draws the story with effective Klaus Jansen inks. The first story sets up our hero nicely, and sets the stage for many future conflicts. The use of flashbacks to tell the saga works very well in this effective comic book. The cover by Dick Giordano is another beauty!
The Brute is Atlas-Seaboard's homage/swipe of Marvel's the Hulk. A blue sometimes-giant caveman murders and suchlike, but the general idea of a off-colored wildman is communicated. The story (as I've stated in another post) is ripped off from the movie Trog and if any cared enough, legal action would likely yield a result for the filmmakers. Mike Fleisher scripts this exceedingly well drawn Mike Sekowsky-Pablo Marcos effort. The Brute is a better story than it has any right to be, and that Dick Giordano cover is magnificent. Now if they could only figure out just how big the Brute is supposed to be.
Morlock 2001 is a sci-fi epic set in (gasp) 2001 by Fleisher and Al Milgrom with Jack Abel inks. Morlock (named of course for the H.G.Wells monsters from The Time Machine...somewhat illogically) is a plant creature who can transform into a humanoid, or is it the other way around. His scientist creator is killed by the oppressive and tyrannical government clearly ripped off from 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. These "Big Brother" types try to control Morlock with all sorts of schemes but it all comes to naught and the plantman is loose by story's end. There is clearly a desire to tap into the muck-monster success of Man-Thing and Swamp Thing with this book. It's a clever mishmash. The cover by Al Milgrom and Dick Giordano seems is deceptive as it offers both versions of Morlock in seeming opposition.
Planet of Vampires is another sci-fi effort, this time by Larry Hama and Pat Broderick with Frank McLaughlin inks. The cover by Broderick and Neal Adams is considered the best in the entire line by many folks. It is a dandy! The story is part Planet of the Apes and part I Am Legend, as five astronauts return to Earth after being away to the planet Mars for five years. Ironically they launched the flight this very year...2005...and returned to a destroyed Earth in 2010. The Earth is overrun with gangs of what appeared to be bikers sans bikes, and there are also high-tech vampires who live in a dome built around the Empire State Building. They ride around in the exceedingly poorly named "floaters" and there is general death and mayhem all around. By the story's end, the heroes (two married couples, one white and one black...with all the obligatory sterotyped dialogue sadly) are split up, and trying to deal with both the threats of the street gangs and the "vampires".
Weird Suspense offers a real treat by Michael Fleisher and the exceedingly excellent Pat Boyette. TARANTULA is a monster spider-man of sorts who is an 11th generation European nobleman afflicted with a curse that transforms him into a "weird" (the title did not lie) humanoid-tarantula. In this debut, he and his butler Joseph are confronted with escaped killers who are quicly dispatched by the monstrous Count Lycosa. We also get the origin story by way of flashback, how the first Count Lycosa frustrated the plans of an evil Spider-Witch to transform the whole of a village into tarantulas, hence the curse. It's a quickly-paced monster adventure. Good comic with a better-than-average Dick Giordano cover. Though technically, this is a genre book, it reads more like one of the other self-titled features and so I include it here.
The Scorpion is often picked by folks as the best Atlas-Seaboard book. It is a good one! Howard Chaykin is given free rein as he both writes and draws this debut adventure of a 1930's mercenary named "Moro Frost" who along with capable and lovely aide Miss Bishop take on cases of a peculiarly pulpish nature. Frost is not the hero's real name and we are clued in on the opening page that the Scorpion is a very long-lived fellow who has been different people at least since the heyday of the Civil War. There are lots of thugs, car chases, biplane derring-do and such as this story rolls along to a very violent and satisfactory conclusion.
The Destructor is the book that gets my vote for the best that Atlas-Seaboard had to offer. With true comics giants like Archie Goodwin on scripts, Steve Ditko on pencils, and Wally Wood on inks, this book is an instant classic. The familiar story has a few interesting twists, as a young boy gone bad works smalltime for the local gangs, and ignores the wisdom of his scientist father. The ganglord imagines the kid to be some kind of threat and orders him hit, but the father sacrifices himself to save the boy. Dying, the father gives the boy a potion that heals the boy's wounds and gives him superpowers of all sorts. The boy of course then realizes the errors of his ways and promptly promises revenge on the gangs. He finds a costume and the game's afoot. The book is full of great Ditko action, and features some lovely Wood finishes. A master-hitman named "Slaymaster" shows up, but the "Destructor" (always found that name a bit of a mouthful) wins out. By story's end the ganglord is killed by his own boys, and the Destructor is set up to continue his one-man war against organized crime. It's a good tight superhero story. A highlight of the Atlas-Seaboard run, there has been a lot suggested about this book being a response to Spider-Man and the parallels are pretty obvious, the most telling thing though is the presence of Spidey creator Ditko. This saga seems like vintage Ditko to me, and typical of his other work for Charlton and DC as well as Marvel. Good Ditko is good no matter where you find it. (Special note: This is the only mainline superhero title of the first wave edited by Larry Lieber, who edited all of the genre books as well...but more on those later.)
It's clear that Atlas-Seaboard desired to attack all the traditional genres of the comic book. They give us in February a horror-short anthology, a western, a crime drama, and a war book. These four along with somewhat genre-sounding Weird Suspense (edited by Jeff Rovin), make for a strong beachhead in the market. All of these books are edited by Larry Lieber by the way, and his touch is felt on many of the covers.
Savage Combat Tales offers us Sgt. Stryker's Death Squad. This story offers us a somewhat pacifistic hero who is reluctant to kill despite being in a very hostile war zone. Striker is a sensitive fellow who must not look out for himself but his beloved's brother Andy. Of course Andy gets killed, and guilt-ridden Striker finds himself fitted with a battlefield promotion to sergeant and soon finds himself a squad of soldiers/prisoners. These four ethnically diverse fellows hearken back at once to not only the Howlers and Easy Company, but also to the Dirty Dozen. There is the stereotyped asian who of course can effectively use martial arts, a large bald wrestler type, a curly-haired acrobat, and a vaguely Italianesque former gangster and seeming hitman. These five joined, form an effective fighting team, and are capably drawn by Al McWilliams and despite a lack of logical credits written by Archie Goodwin. The Squad will have to wait for issue #2 to get their formal name as "Death Squad". The second offering is a war short story and gives us the destiny of a selfish pilot who is in it for the "bounty" he gets on opposing aircraft. The story gives us a somewhat predictable twist ending, but does feature some better-than-average Jack Sparling artwork.
Police Action gives us two very different crime adventures. Lomax is a member of the NYPD and he is very much a Dirty Harry wannabe, as he tears up the criminal element with his singularly violent policing techniques. The story by Jack Younger and Mike Sekowsky has very much a TV-detective feel to it, and reads smoothly if without many surprises. The second feature in the book is a real gem, Luke Malone is the work of Mike Ploog (former Will Eisner assistant who shows his talent to great effect here) and the story is a vintage noir story of a hard-boiled dick with a heart of if-not-gold-then-maybe-bronze. There is a real mystery here, and it unfolds neatly as the story winds its way through some dark alleys and up some very atmospheric streets. Frank Springer offers inks, and as good as they are, I wish Ploog had inked himself on this. It would be a masterpiece.
Tales of Evil is a typical fright book with three short stories each offering some twist right out of the old EC playbook. Two stories are very nicely drawn by Jerry Grandenetti and the middle story is done by Mike Sekowsky with some very indiffernt inking. The first two stories are written by Russ Jones and the last one by Jack Younger. The Grandenetti story that opens the book is the highlight and offers a story clearly inspired by the Exorcist as a young girl is possessed by a demon and goes about destroying her family. The second offering is a strange story about werewolves and hair tonics; not the best horror story I've ever read. Jones is one for two in this book so far. The final story features a neatly frightened protagonist who ends up being a singularly inept vampire slayer. All in all Tales of Evil is a decent effort but nothing to get terribly excited by or be afraid of. The book will undergo substantial change with its second issue. One thing about this book though, is as bad as the werewolf story is inside it, the cover by Lieber has always been one of my favorite werewolf images. It's a keeper!
Western Action offers two features. The cover is an arresting image by veteran western artist and Atlas editor Larry Lieber. It features Kid Cody Gunfighter and is a very successful image in my opinion. The Kid Story is written by Lieber, but drawn by the magnificent Doug Wildey. The only problem here is that Wildey's ultra-realistic western images clash somewhat with the more modern kinetic story of Kid Cody. It's a quibble on what is a very good western origin full of the usual revenge stuff. Wildey's western work is famous, as we'd later learn in Rio, but I remember from superb reprints of Outlaw Kid. The second feature in this book is Commanche Kid. This better-than-average story is written by Steve Skeates but sadly is not helped by adequate but somewhat inappropriate Al Milgrom pencils. I like Milgrom, but this strip wasn't his cup of tea. Commanche Kid is the cliche white boy raised by Native Americans who grows up to be the run-of-the-mill man-with-no-country type. He wanders the west helping folks and whatnot. There's some decent characterization, and maybe it's the fact the story has to compete with the Wildey magic in the first part, but it's always seemed an oddball effort. The one notable thing about Western Action though is that despite its prominent debut, it becomes the first color Atlas-Seaboard comic to get the axe. Issue #1 was the one and only issue of this pretty good western comic book.
(Special Note: Vicki #1 also came out with a February date and this reprint of the old Tippy Teen stories are still entertaining. They reprint those old Tower stories in their totality save for relettering Tippy's name as "Vicki" when necessary. One time they messed up and left "Tippy" in one of the balloons. I only have the first issue of this series, but it's unusual too in that it's square-bound and sells for twenty-five cents. Maybe that's why I didn't get anymore!)
March was a lean month for Atlas-Seaboard (don't worry they make up for it next month). There are only four books wearing a March date, and only one of those is a #1 issue debut. I'll go over the the #2 books then take a look at Targitt.
Ironjaw #2 gives us a new artist, a grand Neal Adams cover image, and the second half of his "origin" story. Pablo Marcos takes over the book on both pencils and inks and his work is typically lush. He is a perfect choice for a barbarian book, and he shows his skills here to great effect. Ironjaw it turns out is a lost prince named Roland, who was taken away to die in the wild when his Kingly father was slain by his Queenly mother's lover, who soon becomes king himself. Seen as a threat to the throne the baby is exposed, but his sister remains and she figures out who he is by a distinctive birthmark. Ironjaw takes the requisite steps to guarantee his revenge, and briefly becomes King Ironjaw. But his barbarian passions are ill-suited to being a civilized leader and he "escapes" from his role and rides off in the final panel astride his unicorn to seek new barbarian adventures. Fleisher seems to want to turn the usual "fairy tale" elements on their heads a bit, and he does so neatly.
Phoenix #2 continues the saga of Ed Tyler, astonaut and budding "messiah". Empowered with alien technology he mourns the hundreds killed in Rekjavek by the Deiei, and he soon finds out he has been blamed for the destruction. He's even been given a new name..."Phoenix", as he rose out of the ashes of the city. After a personal encounter with an Icelandic family that ends tragically and the death of his alien mentor, Tyler heads to NYC which is under attack by the aliens. A battle rages during which Phoenix is forced to divide the waters between the city and the Statue of Liberty allowing people to escape. The aliens are not so lucky. By the end of the story, the astronaut Ed Tyler has been buried but his mourning wife has a visit from the Phoenix and she takes courage as he flies off to fulfill his new role to bring "salvation" to mankind. Gabriel Levy takes on the scripting while Sal Amendola continues on the artwork. Phoenix remains the book I'd most like to have seen continued somewhere after the fall of Atlas-Seaboard.
Grim Ghost #2 offers more spiritual mayhem courtesy of Ernie Colon and Mike Fleisher from the ghostly servant of Satan. The story begins aboard a cruise ship where a large-scale robbery of an apparently wildly expensive Buddha is foiled by Grim Ghost. He quickly heads home where he hosts a party as Matthew Dunsinane in his home, the same home he owned when a rogue in the 18th century as it turns out. The party is a big success and introduces the local police chief and more importantly his daughter Jackie who seems to be something of a potential love interest. The story turns as Grim Ghost has to save some folks on a building and his magical vengeance is seen by the Chief much to his dismay. The backstory of the Ghost is well developed by this time.
Targitt #1 is the sole debut of the month, and it's something of a mixed bag really. The book is advertised in the text page as having Dan Adkins artwork, and I wish it had had it. Howard Nostrand gets the nod over a Ric Meyers script and despite Nostrand's clear skills (from the Eisner school for sure), his light tone seems out of order for this grim saga of mayhem and revenge. John Targitt is an FBI agent who witnessess the murders of his wife and child when their airplane is blown up. The bombing was a mob hit and Targitt then begins to tackle the mob to gain vengeance. Of course his superiors in the FBI are reluctant and he goes somewhat rogue to accomplish his goals. By the story's end he's gained a measure of revenge, but clearly there is a lot more to do before he can ever be even. There is no costume evident in this crime-saga debut, but the next issue will change that.
April is next...and it's a big month for Atlas-Seaboard.
Atlas-Seaboard's big month for sure! The company's last big stand really before the fragmentation sets in. Actually that fragmentation is already evident in the books from this month.
Wulf the Barbarian #2 is a grand tale of adventure and in it Wulf meets some compatriots. After a tussle with an evil and mad king, a monstrous elemental creature from beyond, and his own conscience, Wulf finds himself with a buddy, Rymstrdle, a theif and swordsman who puts me in mind of the Grey Mouser from Fritz Lieber's excellent stories. This is decent fantasy story, but the clear vision of the first issue is has disappeared somewhat. The book is no longer written by Larry Hama, and the artwork is one of those hodgepodge Continuity Associates group-jobs that were not uncommon during the Bronze Age. It's good but uneven material.
The Brute #2 continues right where it left off with more Sekowsky-Marcos artwork. The Brute runs across a mad scientist and what are referred to as Reptile Men, though they all seem clearly amphibian to me. The scientist apparently transforms people into these monsters and he has plans for the Brute as something of a lackey to kidnap other scientists who have offended him. The lady doctor from the previous issue makes another appearance, and there's a hint that the Brute might be able to speak. The story ends with the Brute presumed dead...and with Atlas-Seaboard's publishing history who knows.
The Destructor #2 continues under the multiple hands of Goodwin, Ditko, and Wood, but there seems to have been more haste in the artwork. The story gets Jay Hunter, The Destructor out West where he is manipulated into a battle with Deathgrip, a hitman for the Combine, a criminal organization that wants control of the rackets. Jay runs across a possible love interest and gets himself insinuated in a mod organization so he can destroy it from within. Good intrigue.
Planet of Vampires #2 offers up our astronaut heroes as leaders who gather together the various street gangs for a dramatic battle against the "Domies", the high-tech vampires. The battle rages and our two heroes Chis and Craig survive only to find that their wives have been kidnapped and taken to the Dome. The Vampires, deprived of their high-tech solutions begin to revert to the more traditional fanged variety most of us are familiar with. The cover by Adams is okay, but has almost nothing to do with the story. The interiors are drawn by Broderick and McLaughlin again.
Morlock 2001 #2 continues the tale of the plant-man and we get a Fleisher-Milgrom-Abel tale that demonstrates the true horror of his condition. The government wants to harness him, but he eludes them and eventually ends up killing a young girl. One detail is that Morlock battles some thugs who are very similar to those famous thugs from A Clockwork Orange. The sci-fi sources are various and sundry as this tale unfolds.
Weird Suspense #2 gives us another Tarantula story, and the witch that first put the curse on Count Lycosa returns and a battle of the spider-people erupts. More great Boyette artwork, and a pretty good Fleisher script make this one of the most reliable reads in the Atlas-Seaboard canon so far.
Police Action #2 offers more Lomax and Luke Malone stories. The former shows the police detective taking on kidnappers at the airport, while the latter gives us the "origin" story which concerns...surprise...kidnappers in a bank. There is a strange similarity to these stories, but again the better one is Malone by Ploog, though once again Sekowsky's and McWilliam's Lomax is sturdy work.
Tales of Evil #2 offers a gem of a three-pager by Grandenetti about a train of death; it's a real highlight. Another story about a Werewolf by some guy named Marvin Channing and the much missed Tom Sutton rounds out the issue. The headliner though in this issue is the Bog Beast, with Jack Sparling artwork. This series actually began in the B&W magazine Weird Tales of the Macabre #2, and like another comic this month finds its way into the color books. This is a clear indication that things are changing at Atlas. The Bog Beast is another attempt to tap that Man-Thing idea, but this is a really inferior effort.
Savage Combat Tales #2 gives us another Sgt. Stryker's Death Squad story where the squad is formally given its name by a notorious general the Squad saves then transports to his date with destiny. There is clearly some Patton influence in this story of the war in North Africa. The story by Goodwin and McWilliams is sturdy and worthwhile, but not great. The second story in this issue features Warhawk, a mysterious pilot in the Burma airwar who saves a young pilot from whose perspective this excellent Alex Toth story is told. (Note: Warhawk was apparently one of two stories Toth did in this era and both are discussed in the current Alter Ego issue.)
Two new books debut this month. They are very different from each other, but sadly show the fragmentation of the Atlas line at this point.
The Cougar #1 is an oddball mix of elements. This comic featuring the adventures of a movie stuntman with story by Steve Mitchell and artwork by Dan Adkins and Frank Springer doesn't deny its source, The Night Stalker TV movie. In fact the creator of that movie is credited as an inspiration for the comic book. The story offers us a movie about a vampire that discovers a real vampire and similar to the famous TV flick, there's a blend of disbelief and mayhem. The Cougar is a weird comic, trapped between genres and oddly uncomfortable in neither. It wants to be a superhero book in places and a horror book in others. Clearly this book was supposed to have been drawn by Dan Adkins, but he must have been unable to finish it and the reliable Frank Springer stepped in to finish it up. The Frank Thorne cover is energetic but seems to have been produced quickly.
Tiger-Man is another character that debuted in the B&W books before finding colorful glory. The story of Dr.Hill begins in Thrilling Adventure Stories #1 and he's a researcher in Africa inspired by the instinct for survival that seems to thrive in animals and people of the region. A few scientific experiments and an injection later he is imbued with those instincts and lots of other powers. He's attacked by a a tiger and later gets its hide to use as a totem. He does so months later in the big city when he takes on muggers and rapists. His sister is attacked and killed and Tiger-Man takes to the streets to seek vengeance. He finds it, and then promises to keep at it. The artwork is decent Ernie Colon, but doesn't have the energy of his Grim Ghost work. The cover for this issue by Colon is one of the strangest in the whole Atlas line, and seems to me to be a very quickly produced item.
There are of course some B&W magazines this month as well as more Vicki's but by and large, the company has reached its zenith. After this month, Atlas-Seaboard will continue to lose its focus as books are abruptly cancelled and directions are changed. But not all of them, not yet.
More in May.
May is a tiny production month for Atlas-Seaboard.
Only two color comics wear a May date.
Ironjaw #3 offers a tremendous tale by Fleisher and Marcos. Ironjaw, who in the previous issue rejected a kingship, finds his way back home to find his adopted father Tar-Lok. Tar-Lok is a grand character and his exchanges with Ironjaw are very entertaining. The two clearly have an affection for each other, but won't lift a hand to assist each other before a price has been bartered. There are robbers, sherrifs, and serpent-headed cannibals in this wildly imaginative tale that introduces us to the Great Machine, the god that Ironjaw worships and has invoked repeatedly in the first two issues. Well let's say the "Great Machine" is a relic from our time and is actually a humble humbug managed by a corrupt cleric more interested in the collection plate than his flock. Ironjaw is shown to be a naive yet devout individual who ignores his father's advice to quit throwing money at his "god". This a well-paced self-contained story with energetic artwork and a very entertaining and funny script.
Scorpion #2 gives us another Moro Frost adventure. This time there is voodoo and curses galore. The Ernie Colon cover isn't all that accurate of what goes on inside the book so beware. The story is another period piece, a bit confusing in places but filled with vivid characters and situations. The artwork is another group-project with diverse hands throughout. This is another indication that Atlas is fragmenting, and Chaykin has clearly pulled away from the project.
Aside from the B&W Devilina magazine, this is the whole of the Atlas-Seaboard May offerings. One more month and the train comes off the rails for good.
See you in June.
June was a pivotal month for the fledgling comics company known as Atlas. The change made in the editorial direction of the company was seen in the color comics, as Larry Lieber stepped forward and took control of the whole line following the departure of Jeff Rovin. Before this, the two men had split the color books with Leiber focusing on the genre books. Now all the books got some new talent and new directions. The fragmentation of the line is becoming evident.
Phoenix #3 offers the latest episode in the life of astronaut-turned-messiah/superhero Ed Tyler as he attempts to solve the dilemma of a distant village overcome by Abominable Snowmen. He finds a destroyed village with a single survivor, an old man, and proceeds to find the rest of the missing folks. That brings him into conflict with the Snowmen and their creator and master Lucifer. Lucifer it turns out is something of a rogue Deiei who is now free to pursue his inclinations since Phoenix has largely destroyed the Deiei bases on Earth. Needless to say after much hooplah and one sacrifice, the village is saved and Lucifer is frustrated. The story is by Gabe Levy with more worthy artwork by Sal Amendola. Frank Thorne does the cover. The second feature of the book is Dark Avenger and it's a reasonably well-crafted tale of urban crimefighting and offers splendid Pat Broderick artwork. A young man finds a mysterious metal, is able to transform it into a suit and so finds himself with a wonderful superhero gimmick. That such a fellow with so vivid an imagination and so specific a set of skills is still living with his mother and brother is arguably the strangest thing about this little one-off story. It's a bit like Spider-Man meets The Katzenjammer Kids, but lots of folks really like this story.
Destructor #3 gives us another installment in this ongoing Archie Goodwin - Steve Ditko epic saga. Gone this issue is Wally Wood, and the artwork seems to have been inked by Ditko. I don't know about that. The story continues with the Destructor still battling thugs from the Combine, but this time under the direction of Dr.Shroud. He sends the Huntress and her attentive sidekick Lobo to take on the Destructor, and they trap him in an elaborate casino/canyon (you've really got to see this one to understand that). Because the thugs fight among themselves, the Destructor lives to fight another day. One thing about our hero, he's certainly presented as a cool character who is willing to sacrifice others to achieve his goals. The anti-hero is popular with Atlas, but in many respects Jay Hunter is the purest example of the disaffected mdoern protagonist.
Tiger-Man #2 is a real change of pace issue. Steve Ditko takes on the hero and gives him a really dynamic energy he was missing in the earlier chapters. Gerry Conway takes the writing helm, and Tiger-Man seems to become a more conflicted hero, more concerned with the lives of his enemies. He encounters the Blue Leopard, a man empowered with the same talents as himself yet set on a revenge mission against Dr.Hill, the Tiger-Man. There's more than a few clues to suggest the Blue Leopard is a Black Panther clone, with several origin details in common with Marvel's kingly hero. Lots of good fight scenes in this one, and a grand Frank Thorne cover.
Targitt #2 gives us another story in John Targitt's ongoing war on crime. This issue gives more Howard Nostrand artwork, but the story told in flashback, relates how Targitt is transformed into an undercover FBI secret agent and gives him a uniform to perform his missions against the mob. There's lots of action and mayhem, and the story is reasonably diverting if not particular inspiring. Like the Dirty Harry movies that inspired this comic, there's an ongoing fascination with guns that seems to actually drag the storytelling down a bit.
Police Action #3 gives us two more crime dramas. Lomax battles a hotdog vendor turned hitman, and eventually gets his man. Mike Sekowsky does another fine job with more McWilliams inks. Luke Malone finds himself drawn into a rock star's murder scam and eventually he uncovers the plot of this thinly-veiled swipe of Alice Cooper. Despite an energetic Frank Thorne cover (Noticing a trend on cover art?), the comic seems to be losing its steam a bit, and just in time, because this is the last issue.
And now the new stuff...
The Barbarians #1 gives us a new IRONJAW story, and its an okay effort with Pablo Marcos art and Gary Friedrich story. Under Mike Fleisher Ironjaw was a grim realist, but now there seems to be a desire to make him more heroic and sympathetic. It's ill-considered I think. In this story Ironjaw fights some barbaric mutants, and to my surprise befriends them. Sheesh! The second feature is a real strange one called ANDRAX. This story seems to be an import and offers the beginning of an epic saga of a young Olympic athelete captured by the obligatory mad scientist and sent (by unexplained means) into the future where the scientist is sure the man's will and stamina will make him a king among the weak future-men. All the newly dubbed "Andrax" finds is a wasteland and soon he's fighting for his life. It ends with him seeking other people. It's a well drawn story, but has a distinct European feel to it.
Fright #1 gives us the beginning of the Son of Dracula story by Frank Thorne on art. It's a rambling story, and involves mild incest and more than a bit of coincidence to concoct a complicated situation that finds a young college professor possessed of the curse and the power of Dracula himself. It's not a bad story, just a confusing one as origins can tend to be. The story sets up a man who seems to be both the hero and the villain of the story, despite his better intentions. This book is the only issue of Fright, and the only story about the Son of Dracula I'm familiar with.
Hands of the Dragon #1 might just be the strangest new addition to the Atlas-Seaboard lineup. This story with Jim Craig artwork gives us a no-holds origin story which has elements of vintage Silver Age Marvel, along with more recent Bronze Age Marvel and a whisper of old Charlton. The book appears to be (and is) a rip-off of Master of Kung-Fu. But the story is really more a clone of the Iron Fist saga with some exploding atomic bombs thrown in to give several folks some superpowers. Two twins survive the blast to be raised by their grandfather in a monastery where one brother grows to become evil (he also was scarred by the blast though he never really looks like it) and the other becomes our hero "Dragon". There's also a villain called Dr.Nhu who corrupts the brother who eventually gets the name Ling the Cobra. It's a complicated story with a few too many elements thrown in. One gets the feeling the script and the art aren't a perfect match, and that the book was drawn with a somewhat different plot. Another detail is that perhaps the Dragon's outfit was originally to have been green. Despite his very MOKF look, one caption describes him as a green figure. I figure that change was made both to take advantage of Shang-Chi's success and avoid too obvious a comparison to Iron Fist. The story ends with an assassination plot foiled and the Dragon vowing to stop his brother. We never find out what happens as this book too ends with its first issue.
The wheels are coming off the Atlas-Seaboard machine. The changes are clear attempts to gather market, and much of the line's early character is disappearing to be replaced by less compelling material.
July will see lots of final issues, and even a debut or two. More next time.
This is the mother-of-all-months for Atlas-Seaboard. Lots of titles, lots of changes of direction, and sadly lots and lots of cancellations. This month marks the great collapse of the edifice that Martin and Chip Goodman built to spit in the face of their former success story, Marvel. Let's begin.
Ironjaw #4 gives us the "origin" of the barbarian, and this tale by Gary Friedrich and Pablo Marcos is a somewhat overdone saga of a young minstrel who is tortured and maimed by some jealous thugs. A witch tries to save him at the cost of her own immortality, and she is the one who first gives the young man his new jaw and his new name. Ironjaw was the flagship of the Atlas line, the only character to appear in five stories, but this issue is the last. We will never know the second part of Ironjaw's origin. The Atlas-Seaboard tragedy begins to unfold.
Grim Ghost #3 gives us a Tony Isabella script with more Ernie Colon artwork. This story introduces Brimstone, a demon from Hell who wants to take over the operation. He gives powers to two thugs the Ghost encounters, and the battle is on. Brimstone offers G.G. a role in his revolution, but Dunsinane sees the flaw in Brimstone's plan and rejects him. Satan gives the Ghost some help in the form of Lady Braddock, the same woman who betrayed him in issue #1. It's a clever twist, and gives the story some real depth. The battle with Brimstone has some neat twists, and I wonder if a young Todd McFarlane ever read this issue. I heard whispers of Spawn throughout. Alas this was the last issue, as despite an excellent Russ Heath cover and a logo change sales must have not been there. It won't be the last cancellation of the month.
Wulf the Barbarian #3 offers a change of talent and direction. A Steve Skeates written story with superb Leo Summers artwork, gives us Wulf and his new partner Rymstrydle saving some nobleman and his beautiful daughter from Kangroo-riding Rat-Men (shades of Kamandi) only to find themselves drawn into a struggle between a Master of an Industrial-Wonderland city-state and Wulf's arch-enemy. There is some great derring-do, before the battle is won, and by tale's end Wulf is again alone looking for revenge. There is also a map of Wulf's world in this issue. There will be one more issue.
Brute #3 gives us a change of talent and direction as Alan Weiss under Jack Abel inks takes the art chores. The new story by Gary Friedrich (who seems to have taken over all of Mike Fleisher's assignments at this point) puts the Brute in conflict again with the police before he eventually meets up with an android super-agent named Doomstalker. The story ends in a cliff-hanger with the Brute (now possessed of the limited ability to speak) having taken a terrible and fall, and the Doomstalker threatening all of mankind. Alas this is the last issue, and as far as I know the Doomstalker is still standing there.
Morlock 2001 and the Midnight Men #3 (formerly known as simply Morlock 2001) is the saga that gets one of the sharpest twists in direction. Steve Ditko with some Berni Wrightson inks gives the book a new look, and the story involves a scientist horribly burned who leads a revolution against the same oppressive government that gave birth to Morlock. Morlock is taken underground where the newly dubbed "Midnight Man" seeks to enlist him in the war. The Thought Police attack and the battle rages. Morlock seems to fall, even to be dead as the story closes with the Midnight Man vowing to fight on. Issue #4 might have been retitled I suspect, but this series ends with this issue.
Planet of Vampires #3 features delicious Russ Heath artwork under a very bland cover. The story by John Albano broadens the saga beyond the limits of the city and gets our hero into the wilderness. The death count is brutal in this issue as of our five astronauts (one was killed in the first issue) only two survive by the last page of this story and they are not together. The wives of both Chris and Craig meet tragic deaths, and a two-page ad by Larry Lieber suggests they will be together again battling more vampires. But this is the last issue.
The Scorpion #3 tells of the death of Moro Frost, the Scorpion of the previous two issues. The immortal hero has moved on into the then-modern world of 1975 and has become a superhero. This Jim Craig drawn issue is typical superhero stuff with the Scorpion doing a Daredevil thing across NYC battling neo-Nazis who want to revive assorted Nazi villains from the Big One. The battle takes place under the Twin Trade Towers, then new, but it does give the comic a poignancy that it otherwise lacks. This is the last issue of this totally transformed comic. The panic in the Atlas editorial offices is becoming apparent with this particular comic.
Weird Suspense #3 featuring the Tarantula offers another good dose of Boyette beauty, but the story is a rambling mess with a villain who ineptly used mind-over-matter to battle the star of the book. There are threats and danger, but the book lacks emotional direction. Rich Buckler offers both the cover and the splash page as there seemed to be some rewriting of the original story along the way. This is the last Tarantula story despite the fact #4 is advertised with cover art. Apparently the next story would have explained the Tarantula was part of some alien invasion early in man's history. But we'll never know for sure.
Targitt #3 gives us another episode of his war against crime, this time finding him against a ghastly character named Professor Death, neatly drawn by Howard Nostrand. There's nerve gas involved and Targitt's exposure seems to give him some powers of some sort, though this is vaguely explained. There is also something about his outfit giving him mechanical abilities of strength, but again it's vague. By the end of this story Targitt is renamed Man-Stalker and he's left his Magnums behind. Like the Scorpion another superhero is born. But like some many titles this is the last issue. Even the Buckler cover doesn't help things.
Tales of Evil #3 gives us the Man-Monster, an Isabella-Buckler effort that has an abrasive Olympic swimmer overcome by weird sparkly stuff and change into a big old monster. Some reporters save him, take him to a hotel, where a costumed villain assaults him and sets fire to the hotel. The hero's father is a equally abrasive rich guy who happens to own the hotel and the Man-Monster is accused by story's end of torching it and his own dad is ordering the cops to shoot him. What happens next? We'll never know. Bog Beast shows up for another (and final) turn with good art by Romero. Tales of Evil pulls the hat-trick and offers a werewolf for him to battle, making three werewolves in three issues of the abruptly cancelled series.
Savage Combat Tales #3 gives us the last Sgt. Stryker's Death Squad tale as Goodwin and McWilliams offer up another somewhat tepid story of the usual WWII mayhem. The team goes after Rommel, but miss, though through a complicated network of mistakes by all sides they think they've succeeded. I don't want to be there when they discover they screwed up. But we won't as this is the last issue. The second story is a pretty good tale of WWII with Jack Sparling artwork. It tells of a black vet and a white raw recruit who pull dangerous duty on a dangerous ridge and overcome both danger and racism, if only for the moment. It seems to be the start of a new series, but it's unclear. And sadly it's moot.
The Cougar #2 is another tale of Hollywood stuntmen battling supernatural menaces. With worthy Frank Springer artwork, this is a rather bland comic book. Our hero Jeff Rand, is a Lousiana boy we discover and there's a werewolf in his past. That werewolf might just be his own brother and further seems to be on the loose killing folks all around our hero. We learn the Cougar identity is the result of a failed starring vehicle for our wannbe stuntman, but little is shown beyond that. This a wide-ranging story with little direction, but it does offer a climatic battle and the potential for a change of direction in issue #3 as by story's end the Cougar is paralyzed. We'll never find out, as this is the last issue. Sigh.
The lone debut of the month is...
Blazing Battle Tales #1 starring Sgt. Hawk. Hawk is the usual hard-nosed battle weary hero and he goes after his mission in this effective one-shot story with the stereotypical Native American and Jewish soldiers at his side. I think their names are White Cloud and Goldberg, but any cliche names would have done. There's some decent Jack Sparling art over what claims to be Pat Broderick layouts, though I don't see it myself. Sparling certainly dominates. The second story features a fighter pilot with a six sense about attack targets and might be the beginning of a series, but its unimpressive despite typically good McWilliams artwork. John Severin puts in a two-page offering detailing the heroic efforts of a real soldier. This issue has it all it seems for the war comic fan. Atlas seemed to be clutching at straws by the time this one hit the stands, and even a rather nice Frank Thorne cover doesn't help much.
That's July from Atlas-Seaboard. With this wave of final issues, it's pretty much all over but the crying. Atlas will linger for a few more months, but there will be precious few more comic books from this company that promised so much, but sadly delivered so little in the final analysis. I'll see you in August.
August is a somewhat sad month. There are only two color comics from Atlas-Seaboard wearing an August date, and one is Vicki #4, the ongoing reprint of the old Tippy Teen Tower material. There is a single B&W magazine too. I'm going to discuss the second color comic, The Destructor.
The Destructor #4 is a weird, weird comic book. This series began with Atlas-Seaboard's most accomplished creative team (Goodwin, Ditko, Wood), but by the time this vintage urban crime/action/superhero series gets to its fourth issue only Sturdy Steve Ditko remains from the original trio. He's joined by Gerry Conway on scripts and Al Milgrom on inks. We find The Destructor hiding from Combine thugs in a cave somewhere in the Southwest. He disptaches them, but one is destroyed by a mysterious beam. Jay Hunter, our hero, looks up to see some very unusual Ditko creations, The Outcasts. They are The Eye, Kronus, and Sister Siren and they happen to be mutant freaks with telepathic abilities and more, and they are specifically looking for Jay Hunter, because like them he's an Outcast. Or so they say. Just like that, our story turns and the plot threads of the last three issues are largely forgotten as the Destructor is taken to the Secret Citadel. It's a haven built in the 1950's by disaffected folks looking to escape the dangerous world outside. They unwisely worked with an unscrupulous businessman who insists they use nuclear power in their underground city, which leaks radiation, infects their sixty or so children and creates the Outcasts. After killing the businessman and his associates, the parents live out their lives and now thirty years later in 1975, the irradiated progeny are in charge. They want Jay Hunter (strangely called "Jay Raven" in one panel) to join them to protect the city from outsiders. There's a bit of dramatic irony when in a typically strange Ditko panel the Outcasts appear quite devilish when an unaware Jay Hunter agrees to join them. Suddenly there's also a new underground nuclear test that irradiates the city again and our hero the Destructor, blending with the chemicals already in his blood and viola he can suddenly unleash power blasts from his fists. With this new talent, The Destructor agrees to battle for the Outcasts and the story ends. What happens next we'll never know, because this is the last issue of the series.
The Destructor was in many ways, Atlas-Seaboard's most accomplished series, but sadly by its finale it has become a bizarre shadow of itself. The hero has been contorted beyond recognition, and the story's twists and turns are well outside the limits established in the rather intriguing beginnings. I'm not sure The Destructor was my favorite Atlas book, but its fall was easily the most disappointing.
Three books from Atlas-Seaboard in September, and surprisingly, one of them is a debut.
Wulf the Barbarian #4 was drawn by Jim Craig, and the story continues to plod along. Wulf runs acorss a trio of thieves who themselves have just come across a rather potent jewel. After significant bloodletting and lots of confusion, Wulf absconds with a horse and the gem itself. We cut to a scene of a monster and a woman fighting, with the monster winning by killing the woman. The monster changes into a man, a former toy maker who as it turns out Wulf knows. Almost immediately Wulf chances upon the scene and in another ironic twist this toymaker/monster is the former of the recently stolen gem. The thieves return, a battle rages, and all die save for Wulf, a lovely thief who runs away. The story ends with Wulf killing the former toymaker and going on to further adventures. We'll never see them as this is the final issue. This issue marks a distinct downfall for this well-crafted fantasy series.This final script was by Mike Friedrich, a talented writer, but it's mostly a mess.
Tiger-Man #3 gives us some very muscular and inviting Steve Ditko artwork with Al Milgrom inks. The script by Gerry Conway is rambling succession of coincidences, almost all involving mysterious suicides and attempted suicides. Dr.Hill/Tiger-Man investigates and discovers a mad psychiatrist named Dr.Hypnos who compels people to kill themselves. He pulls this trick on Tiger-Man, but ironically our hero is saved by some crooks who attempt to mug him and so save him from immolating himself. He takes a second stab at Hypnos, grabs his monocle, the source of his power, and compels Hypnos to throw himself off a roof. Tiger-Man's adventures have come to an end with this final issue.
And now for the debut...
Demon-Hunter #1 is a Rich Buckler and David Anthony Kraft offering and introduces Gideon Cross, a disaffected Vietnam vet who seeking meaning in his life after his wife has deserted him finds a cult of demon-worshippers. It's all a tad confusing, but he becomes an agent for them with an ability to cloak his appearnce and he goes around collecting blood samples for some unknown purpose. He seems rather unconcerned about this unusual occupation. He's also working as a bodyguard to an apparent crimelord, and these two missions seem to be conjoined somehow. Despite some very interesting Buckler storytelling and typically powerful action sequences, this debut is very compressed and more than a little confusing. We'll never get it clarified at Atlas though as this is the first and last Atlas issue. The story will continue in a fashion at Marvel in the guise of Devil-Slayer.
There is one more month for Atlas-Seaboard. See you in October.
We have reached the end. Atlas-Seaboard, a fledgling company with veteran publishers, veteran talent, and at least early on a hefty pocketbook, made a big impact in 1975. They offered all kinds of titles in all kinds of genres, but by the end of the year they would be gone. There is only one book with an October date.
Phoenix the Protector #4 is an ironic choice as Atlas-Seaboard's final publication. The final Phoenix story is another attempt to revise the original, and it's not a very good effort really. The artwork by Ric Estrada and Frank Giacoia is perfectly okay, but lacked the edgey spontenaity of the Sal Amendola work that had graced the first three issues. The story by Gary Friedrich offers our hero in a fit of despair attempting to kill himself by flying into the air and overloading his spacesuit. Before his desparate plan can work, aliens (not the Deiei, other aliens) known as The Protectors beam him aboard their spaceship and his wounds are attended to by a gaggle of lovely space-chicks. His wounds bandage and his face transformed, he confronted by a tribunal of overly-dressed aliens (all more or less humanoid, though the script at times seems to suggest otherwise) who inform Ed Tyler the Deiei worked for them, and now that they have failed the Earth problem has defaulted to them. (For the record there are two short scenes that tie up apparent loose ends from the previous plotline, but it's not clear if we're supposed to see Ed's wife and boss again.) Our hero has been chosen it seems to salvage the Earth's behind by doing his hero thing, and to help him they outfit him with new gimmicks and a new outfit. After his new gear is on, but before he's had a chance to test-drive it, he's beamed to a battleground of some sort where he confronts a cyclops. After a slow start, he eventually beats his opponent and proceeds to take on this new task as savior. The final panel shows our hero, renamed the Protector, staring out toward the reader, his face in calm repose, accepting of his fate.
And that's it.
The Atlas-Seaboard company disappears into the comics mist alongside Fawcett, Fox, Tower, Centaur, Skywald and so many others. The company was an oddball blend of hubris, experience, and striking naivete. I remember wanting more than anything for them to succeed, but by the end I was ready for it to be over. The promise was wasted, and the books had drifted far from their original concepts. Thanks to those who have followed me down this particular memory lane.
Dean Webb is the founder of the Atlas-Seaboard Comics Society.
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