May 2019 saw Marvel publish the first issue of the Asian/Asian-American superhero team-up series The War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas, to rather high sales figures. As a Filipino-American Marvel fan, I subscribed to this series the month it began. Before I can review the whole story, though, I’ve decided to revisit some stories featuring the original Agents of Atlas, consisting of characters created by Marvel Comics’ predecessor, Atlas Comics.
I learned about the Agents of Atlas after Marvel announced the motion picture debut of one of their oldest Asian-American crimefighters, Agent Jimmy Woo (portrayed by the charismatic Randall Park in Ant-Man and the Wasp). This news led to a rumor of Woo leading his own superhero team in a spinoff. In preparation, I purchased a 2009 trade paperback containing the first Agents of Atlas limited series, each Agent’s first comic appearance, and the first time Marvel explored the concept of Woo leading a team of Atlas characters: A What If? story providing this review’s subject. The issue hit newsstands during a large wave of 1950s nostalgia – so large, that the month of its publication also saw the period musical Grease successfully translate to movie theaters.
What if the Avengers Had Fought Evil During the 1950s?
Published: June 1978
Writers: Don Glut and Roy Thomas
Artist: Alan Kupperberg
Go Avengers, go!
-Marvel Boy/Bob Grayson
Iron Man’s dimensional transporter picks up footage from either the past, or another timeline, of FBI Agent Jimmy Woo forming a presidential rescue team, the Avengers. Woo’s otherworldly recruits include the man-turned-ape Gorilla Man, the intergalactic Marvel Boy, a reprogrammed killer Human Robot, Venus the goddess of love, and the human fusion 3D Man. Together, they save President Eisenhower from a rogue gallery led by Woo’s arch-nemesis, Yellow Claw.
At best, I usually regard What If? as fascinating fluff, a bar that this story meets. Woo’s Avengers experience interesting personality clashes, with their respective origin stories recapped for readers who didn’t get to read their first appearances. Both them and their enemies demonstrate a wide array of unique abilities during their fights. The 1950s pop culture references sometimes feel overwhelming, but add charm. The end of the comic has Woo’s Avengers disband for reasons that don’t feel too contrived, that the paranoid atmosphere of ‘50s America couldn’t yet handle a group of super-powerful beings.
It feels pointless to criticize the script of a story intended for insubstantial fun, but I’ll admit that the caricatures of ‘50s historical figures could sometimes look ghastly. Yellow Claw’s fluorescent skin might also offend modern readers, but the pop culture references help me look at this story through a historical lens. If you can handle the unsightly-looking artwork, then What if the Avengers Had Fought Evil During the 1950s? provides a hip time.