Before Marvel publishes new Agents of Atlas comics this fall, I’ve decided to look back at the storyline that brought the original Agents into the 21st century. Almost 30 years after Jimmy Woo, Gorilla Man, Marvel Boy, the Human Robot, and Venus first teamed up in What If? Issue #9, Jeff Parker reunited them in a six-part limited series. The first part came out exactly 50 years after Jimmy Woo’s first comic appearance, Yellow Claw issue #1. Parker confirms the What If? Comic as an alternate timeline; the flashback he shares to Woo’s and the “G-Men” ’s rescue of President Eisenhower occurs very differently, most notably with the absence of 3D Man (created for a 1977 issue of Marvel Premiere rather than an Atlas comic from the ‘50s).
Agents of Atlas
Published: October 2006-March 2007
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Leonard Kirk
When I return to SHIELD I know my responsibilities will increase a thousandfold. I promised myself at that moment that in all future dealings I would follow the shining example of Jimmy Woo.
– Derek Khanata, issue #5
SHIELD subdirector Jimmy Woo leads an investigation of the mysterious Atlas Foundation, but the Foundation’s counterattacks leave him on the verge of death. Two of Woo’s companions, Ken “Gorilla Man” Hale and M-11 the Human Robot, take him to get healed by another ally, Bob “Marvel Boy” Grayson. The healing process reverts Woo’s physical and mental states to those he had in 1958, but the four of them continue investigating Atlas together. They get help from Woo’s replacement SHIELD subdirector, Derek Khanata, and from two more of Woo’s ‘50s companions: Venus the goddess of love and the Atlantean queen Namora. Together, Woo’s “Dream Team” takes down several Atlas branches, while learning about each other’s pasts. When they finally face the head of Atlas, Golden Claw (also known as Yellow Claw), Woo learns that his future intertwines with that of the storied foundation.
Agents of Atlas certainly provides an exciting read, though I end up admiring the characters more than I do the plot. Jimmy Woo seems naïve and occasionally in need of rescuing, but proves his worth as a leader through his compassion and intellect; he also demonstrates fine battle skills sometimes. Among his teammates, I feel most fascinated by gruff Gorilla Man, whose quest for immortality transferred his human soul into an ageless animal’s body, and peace-loving Venus, whose hypnotic singing produces effects that prove positive or deadly in different situations. Wakandan Derek Khanata proves an interesting choice for an audience surrogate; Wakanda usually seems like an amazing place, so having one of its denizens express awe over the Agents of Atlas further highlights the impressiveness of their abilities and chemistry. Despite the politically correct updates to Golden Claw (in addition to the name change, his skin tone looks more realistic than the fluorescent yellow used from the ‘50s until at least the ‘70s), he still provides a sinister and cunning adversary.
If I reviewed Agents of Atlas as six separate issues, I’d call the fifth one, The People’s Leader, the standout. This chapter reveals some of the Agents’ darkest secrets, some of which add duality to a member I previously found simple. Another’s secrets prove so shocking, that the team engages in a fierce internal battle. Underneath the dramatically-drawn and written anger and betrayal, the Agents’ chemistry remains evident, during such moments as Gorilla Man protecting Marvel Boy from Namora. Ultimately, Jimmy Woo keeps the team alive and together in a touching and cathartic moment, in which he convinces a disillusioned teammate to cast aside demons of the past.
If I had to find a fault with this series, I’d question the decision never to restore Jimmy Woo’s memories between 1958 and 2006. It left me wondering if someone who liked him for a series other than Yellow Claw or Agents of Atlas would feel disappointed to learn that it apparently doesn’t matter anymore; even before his mental and physical reversions, the first issue summarizes his SHIELD career as an uneventful, “He fought a fake Yellow Claw, then sat behind a desk for decades.” On the bright side, this makes Woo more accessible to readers who never read any of his previous comics. Overall, Agents of Atlas provides a compelling update of ‘50s pulp comic characters.