Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Secrets Of The Golden Claw!


When I dug out my collected volume of Agents of Atlas it was with the intent of re-reading the vintage and totally awesome story which introduced the 1950's "Avengers" in What If? #9. But after enjoying that, which I reported on here, I was intrigued by the main stories in this volume which collect the 2006 six-issue limited series by Jeff Parker and Leonard Kirk that re-introduced these stalwarts from a time gone by by a new monicker, specifically the "Agents of Atlas". Under some handsome portrait covers by Tom Coker we get a rock-solid story filled with adventure and action and splendid characters.


It's a tremendously entertaining name for a super group, at once evocative but also direct and even alliterative. Apparently the first choice was "Secret Avengers", but that got taken for other purposes. I'm very glad as the forced change to this name apparently affected the story which was eventually told and I have to report right now that I love that story. It's been nearly a decade since I read it, so it was sufficiently hidden in the recesses of my memory for the story to have a pretty jolt all over again. The big surprises I remember sort of, but there were lots of smaller reveals and flourishes which I'd totally forgotten.


The heroes involved are Jimmy Woo, Gorilla Man, Marvel Boy, Namora, Venus, and M-11 the Human Robot. The nominal villain of the piece is the notorious Yellow Claw who it seems actually prefers the more nuanced translation of "Golden Claw", a man with a multitude of secrets. This story is in many ways a secret origin for a team which hardly existed at all, as we learn (with some changes made for modern continuity such as the elimination of 3-D Man from the mix for instance and the absence of sundry super-villains) not only how these heroes were assembled but why and the truth as they say might well set you free.


This is a story with a host of wonderful surprises for the longtime fan of Marvel Comics. Lots of neat little jots and motes are here and there offering fresh insights to things long thought settled or forgotten or both. We learn what really happened when Doctor Grayson took his son to Uranus to presumably escape the Nazis, and what has happened to the hero "Marvel Boy" since then. What we thought we knew is wrong, all wrong. Namora is brought back from the dead in a clever move which is at once elegant and simple without undoing ages of precious continuity - a sleeping beauty indeed.


We learn secrets about the "goddess" Venus and that information makes her at once less and more than she had been before, with a terrible secret laid bare. Given what Marvel has done with its god pantheons over the years, this fix was exceedingly effective and added some grim danger to a character who at times seemed too breezy. And ultimately we learn the secret of M-11 (the Human Robot) and how that particular secret in many ways leads to the real reason the Agents of Atlas were assembled so many years before. And after decades in side roles or limbo the character of Jimmy Woo becomes more real and more important, crucial even to the history of all the world.


This is a rich evocative series, which draws on Marvel lore but then deals almost exclusively with characters limited to the story at hand. Blessedly no Wolverines or Spider-Men are malingering to uptick sales. This is story with a beginning, a middle and an exceedingly glorious end. After this tale, the broader Marvel Universe came calling and subsequent stories (which I've not read to be fair) involve the Agents in various crossover events. Sales apparently were never all that strong and after about five years of pushing them Jeff Parker moved on to other more lucrative projects.

I've purposely stayed vague about the details, so as not to spoil any of the treats this story has. If you have not sampled this wonderful yarn and can find the collection for cheap then I heartily recommend a story which will warm your heart with the simultaneous glow of nostalgia and of really real human drama.

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4 comments:

  1. Can you offer up why 3D-Man didn’t make the cut into Agents of Atlas? He seemed pretty prominent in the What If? story….Too garish or possibly because he wasn’t actually a 1950’s character?

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    1. Parker's rationale was that the character was a ret-con and not really a 50's character. That didn't stop him from using him in a later storyline though, but not one I own, so I cannot speak directly to how 3-D Man is involved.

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  2. The 1950s-set 3-D Man was Roy Thomas' tribute to Captain 3-D, introduced in Marvel Premiere #35 in 1977 (with a kool Jack Kirby cover, no less)!
    In fact, Rip himself mentioned it here... http://ripjaggerdojo.blogspot.com/2011/11/3-d-king.html

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    1. Always have liked 3-D Man who I encountered before I found the Simon and Kirby source material. The way Thomas used the shape-shifting Skrulls to inform the paranoia of the 50's culture was genius.

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