Jeff Parker: Mixing the Agents of Atlas into Dark Reign

Jeff Parker on Agents of Atlas

Agents of Atlas #1, cover by Arthur Adams

The Agents of Atlas are back, but this time they're messing with Norman Osborn.

The new ongoing Agents of Atlas series begins in February, and this time, the team is smack in the middle of Dark Reign. Based on the Eisner-nominated Agents of Atlas mini-series written by Jeff Parker with art by Leonard Kirk, the new ongoing series will start off with a battle between the Agents of Atlas and enforcers led by none other than Norman Osborn.

Newsarama talked with Parker about how the Agents of Atlas got involved in Dark Reign, why Osborn is so interested in the team, and what makes these unique characters so endearing -- particularly that talking gorilla.

Newsarama: So Jeff, your first issue of Agents of Atlas ties into Dark Reign? How did that come about?

Jeff Parker: Good timing, gears clicking into place, the celestial spheres spinning around just right. We had been trying to find a logical entry point for more Atlas into the Marvel Universe, and then got wind of how Secret Invasion was going to end. I immediately interrupted class raising my hand and tilting my desk forward to say "we've got a group of heroes that run a global criminal network!" It sets up a different dynamic for the team right off the bat; they realize they can do the most good by meeting the world as super villains.

NRAMA: Why do I get the feeling that the Agents of Atlas are going to be Norman Osborn's worst nightmare?

JP: Hey, he's the one who thinks he can work with all the troublemakers. You've got to give it to him though, talk about making lemonade from lemons-- for himself.

Agents of Atlas, from Dark Reign: New Nation

NRAMA: For people who aren't familiar with the critically acclaimed mini-series that introduced this concept, what is Agents of Atlas about?

JP: The Agents were a short-lived team working for the FBI in 1958, hand-picked by government operative Jimmy Woo to take on his arch enemy The Yellow Claw. As we found out, Claw (known more properly as Master Plan) was really grooming Jimmy to take his own place as the Director of the Atlas Foundation, which is the modern incarnation of the empire of Genghis Khan. At the end of the miniseries, Jimmy and his team realize there would be more chaos in destroying the organization, so they take the route of running it themselves.

NRAMA: What is the story in the first issue of the new Agents of Atlas ongoing?

JP: It deals with this new status quo in the Marvel Universe as Osborn's people run into the Atlas Foundation, with violent results. If you saw the Dark Reign: New Nation special [in stores this week], you know that the Agents of Atlas pulled off a major heist, literally stealing the gold from Fort Knox! I don't want to spoil that one anymore, but Norman Osborn takes it as a slap in the face and begins digging up intel on the Agents of Atlas from old SHIELD dossiers. It results in a really memorable meeting in Avengers Tower that I don't want to ruin for you.

NRAMA: Guardians of the Galaxy may have a talking raccoon, but you've got a talking gorilla. Really - is there anything better than a comic with a talking gorilla?

JP: I like to think Marvel's one true weak spot was not having a prominent gorilla, and Ken Hale finally steps in to fix that problem. Ken used to be a soldier of fortune who ran afoul of an ancient curse that made him the Gorilla-Man for eternity. You could kill him, but then you're just going to be the immortal gorilla. So you might as well let him be the main Marvel Ape.

NRAMA: Seriously, though, this character has really captured the attention of readers. What is it about Gorilla-Man that makes him so endearing?

JP: I think because he gets to occupy that royal jester position of the character who seems the nuttiest, yet he has the clearest perspective on nearly everything. Gorilla-Man doesn't have to know you for long before he totally has your number. And artists love to draw him.

Agents of Atlas, from Dark Reign: New Nation

NRAMA: Introduce us to some of the other characters in Agents of Atlas.

JP: There is an old-school killer robot with a Death Ray eye named M-11, sometimes called the Human Robot. He doesn't say much and to an extent he's unpredictable, except that I predict he wouldn't like the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still. I love writing him because he's the biggest enigma.

You would think the gorilla or robot provide the weirdness, but really all the weird comes from The Uranian, formerly known as Bob Grayson, the original Marvel Boy. He's spent the last half-century living beneath the planet Uranus with gooey aliens in an environment called The Membrane, and he's nothing like the peppy solar-powered kid we saw zooming around in a rocketship in the 50's. Bob's flying saucer is the vehicle of choice for the Agents now, and his bizarre mental powers take the place of his physical ones.

The physical powerhouse role is filled just fine by Namora, the only other Atlantean-Human hybrid besides The Submariner. She's similarly fiery, and is a one-woman army at the slightest provocation. You may have seen her recently having a fling with one of the few men who can hang with her, Hercules. And he's not remotely over her, so we're probably going to have to deal with him crashing into our book in the near future.

But the real secret weapon of the team is Venus, once thought to be the actual goddess, and now known to be a mythical siren given humanity by no less than The Ancient One. Because most people have no real defense against her power, and in times of battle, no one expects an attack that goes straight to your deepest desires. What I like about her is that she really cares about the well-being of her teammates, and is always looking for ways to make them happy. It's a refreshing personality to deal with in these times, and it helps you forget about the thousands of sailors she sent to Davey Jones' locker in her old life.

And someone who should be mentioned though not an Agent is the Royal Council to the Empire of the Khans, Mr. Lao. Not only is he diabolically manipulative, he's a very large fire-breathing dragon who's been around for who knows how long. It's hard to find something he doesn't have a claw in, and he begins the series by using his role to make trouble for Jimmy and the team. Lao appoints a Second to take over in the event of Jimmy's demise, and this is someone who sees the role as his own destiny. Many Marvel readers will know him by the name Temugin, the son of The Mandarin!

NRAMA: The mini-series kind of functioned in its own little corner of the Marvel Universe, but the way this comic is starting it, it looks like Agents of Atlas is going to really interact with the rest of the Marvel U. Will that be the case going forward as well?

Agents of Atlas, from Dark Reign: New Nation

JP: Yeah, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. I know many fans of the miniseries expressed the wish that the Agents stay in their own corner of the Marvel Universe, but trust me, it's much more fun with them rampaging into everyone else's section.

NRAMA: What can you tell us about the artwork you're seeing from Carlo Pagulayan and the visual tone of the comic?

JP: It's just incredible what Carlo has been turning in, and then when Jana Schirmer colors it- readers are going to be pleased. It really makes the scale of everything that happens in the book huge. It's especially fun for me because he was the first artist I worked with regularly when I started writing for Marvel on Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four, and we knew he was going places then. Carlo is one of those guys you want to be able to lavish time on a story, so we're setting up the events to let him do that and bring in other artists we like to tell other bits in complementary styles. Benton Jew is working on the online story where they meet Wolverine in 1958 Cuba, and he's taking a suitably retro approach to it. Gabriel Hardman, who I worked with on the Monster-Size Hulk special, is also getting to indulge some of his 1950's interests like early supersonic jets and women with cat-eye sunglasses.

The interiors are gorgeous enough, and then you start seeing artists like Art Adams and Chris Bachalo and Adi Granov on covers, Ed McGuiness chipping in variants, and there's just visual goodness everywhere. Of course I'm still working on a master plan to somehow get Leonard Kirk involved again somehow, I don't care if he is on a really good Captain Britain book already.

NRAMA: Anything else you want to tell people about Agents of Atlas?

JP: We'll soon be revamping agentsofatlas.com so there will be more options to add to your Atlas experience while reading the series. I'm hoping to make it a cool hangout, and give readers a chance to participate in a way that will make no one miss letter columns. Probably just before the series launches.

Marvel's Dark Reign Coverage

 

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