In 2019, Marvel rekindled my short-lived interest in Agents of Atlas with some intriguing new developments. During Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Atlas Foundation gained a roster consisting entirely of Asian or Asian-American crimefighters. Some recruits I already knew and liked from other comics, others appeared for the first time in Western print here. Now that Marvel has published all four chapters of the War of the Realms tie-in, I can determine if it proved as engaging as I hoped. I’ll also share my thoughts on the Agents who made their comic/American debuts.
Before I began The War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas, I didn’t read the main War of the Realms storyline, because of how seldom I read comics in general. Among the Agents who appeared before, I felt most familiar with Jimmy Woo, thanks to the Agents of Atlas comics I reviewed earlier. I also introduced myself to Shang-Chi through Master of Kung-Fu Epic Collection Vol. 1: Weapon of the Soul, which I bought out of high anticipation for Shang-Chi’s first movie; New Agents of Atlas marked my first look at how Marvel updated him for this decade. I could only recall reading one comic with Silk beforehand – a Spider-Man story included in the back of one of Ms. Marvel’s trades – and none with Brawn (or Amadeus Cho’s other identities, for that matter) or White Fox. While waiting for the last issue of New Agents of Atlas, I did read the Asian-American New Agents’ first team-up, the Totally Awesome Hulk’s Big Apple Showdown storyline (which also featured some crimefighters who show up only briefly in this comic), and I will compare that comic to this one throughout this review.
I will not let the question of whether or not the Agents of Atlas should only include Atlas Comics characters affect my judgment of New Agents of Atlas, as the first chapter explains that the title now refers to the Atlas Foundation. Finally, the cover above comes from the next Agents of Atlas storyline, but it marked the only one I could find to show all of the new Agents.
Fire and Ice
Publication: May 2019-June 2019
Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Gang Hyuk Lim
We’re up against a god, and there’s no way we humans can win, unless we start working together.-Jimmy Woo/Woo Yen Jet, issue #2
When Queen Sindr of Muspelheim leads her Fire Goblins in a movement to conquer Asia, Jimmy Woo leads the newest Agents of Atlas – Amadeus “Brawn” Cho, Cindy “Silk” Moon, and Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu – on a mission to fend her off. During the flight to Korea, an attack injures Woo, leaving the impulsive Brawn as the reluctant leader. Brawn builds an army by recruiting some pre-established Asian superheroes – including the ice-powered K-Pop singer Seol “Luna Snow” Hee, the duo of Tae Kwon Do prodigy Dan “Crescent” Bi and the spirit bear Io, the shapeshifting intelligence agent Ami “White Fox” Han, the wind-controlling architect Lei “Aero” Ling, the water-controlling crimefighter Pearl “Wave” Pangan, and the self-explanatory Lin “Sword Master” Lie. Even though these warriors hail from at least three different countries, they must work together to save Seoul and the ice caps from Sindr. The Hawaiian fire godess Pele also aids the New Agents of Atlas in battle.
Rest assured that the plot doesn’t feel too dependent on knowledge of War of the Realms, Big Apple Showdown, or Agents of Atlas (although either of the last two would make a less daunting introduction to Jimmy Woo and/or the new Asian-American Agents). New Agents of Atlas also feels more ambitious than Big Apple Showdown, with its more global cast and stakes, and more distinctly Asian, since I spotted only one (briefly-appearing) human of another background. The story also develops the latter tone through such moments as the New Agents bonding during a brunch of dishes made with Spam and rice (which felt especially relatable when considering that on the day I bought that particular issue, I had leftover Spam for breakfast). Finally, the New Agents all get to show off their distinctive powers throughout the battles.
Among the New Agents who had yet to appear in American comics, wholly original Wave feels the most fleshed-out; the first issue opens with her valiantly defying authority to address a potential danger in the ocean, and the appearances of her commander and grandfather provide some exploration of her life beyond fighting in the War of the Realms. Combined with our similar Filipino backgrounds, these qualities convinced me to prioritize Wave and Aero’s comics (they currently share an issue) above Sword Master’s; I’d read the latter mainly for more of his clashes with the calmer, weaponless Shang-Chi.
While New Agents of Atlas has the same number of chapters and an occasionally similar plot structure to Big Apple Showdown, its much larger ensemble makes it feel more daunting. Even with the included single-page origin stories for Luna Snow, Crescent and Io, and White Fox, the Asian New Agents save Wave feel more distinguishable by their designs and powers, than by any personalities. Consequently, keeping track of everyone proves difficult, but not impossible. The War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas proves exhausting for a four-part comic, but I can’t resist the appeal of seeing so many Asian-Americans and Asians cooperate to save the Earth.