Last time I checked in on the Agents of Atlas, they were a superhero team pretending to be a villainous organization. A kind of wolf in evil wolf's clothing. A reverse "Thunderbolts," using Jimmy Woo's Yellow Claw network to maintain peace and prosperity across the land. Or at least use it as an excuse to punch a few other costumed characters.
Now the Atlas gang (no longer "Agents" apparently) find themselves time-tossed into the early days of the Avengers, when the Hulk was rampaging and Iron Man was a bulky gold. When men were men and women were the Wasp.
Since I haven't been following this series, I'm not sure exactly what's going on with the temporal flux (Kang's involved, somehow), but the Atlas crew doesn't seem to understand their situation much better than I do. By the end they have sort of figured it out, even if the whys and wherefores aren't totally explained. But the centerpiece of their travel back through time -- or their alternate time-stream adventures, or whatever -- isn't as important as the inter-team and intra-team dynamics.
It's "Avengers vs. Atlas," after all, so the two teams have to spend some time throwing punches at each other, but they also spend time interacting on a more low-key level. Jeff Parker isn't afraid to throw in some humor during those moments.
Here's the thing about Parker's humor: It isn't Deadpool slapstick. It isn't absurdly goofy. It isn't dripping with irony. It's jovial, it's amiable. It's the kind of humor that comes from characters interacting with one another on a more human level. And that's what we get in this issue. After Tony Stark learns that the memories that might explain the mystery of the time displacement have been injected into the brain of Hank Pym, Iron Man jealously mutters, "He could have put the knowledge in me…I would have gotten it." Pause. "I built this suit…" he adds, his head down in dejection.
Parker's humor contrasts nicely with the chiseled artwork of Gabriel Hardman, whose work resembles Michael Lark by way of John Buscema. Hardman is a powerful artist, one who can draw a splash of the Atlas team "assembling" with the Avengers and then give us quiet scenes by the edge of the water, and make both of them look great. Last time I read a comic featuring these characters, Hardman was providing the flashback story. It's nice to see his work displayed more prominently here.
This issue also gives us a "Hey, Venus" back-up feature in which the red-haired goddess reads some mail from the likes of "Mister Hulk" and "Wade Wilson," and provides her divine words of wisdom. Paul Cornell writes and Leonard Kirk draws, and it's even funnier than the main story.
I'd been neglecting "Avengers vs. Atlas" until this issue because I figured I'd read it in the eventual trade paperback. Or maybe just skip it completely.
But it's too good to skip, even if its nothing more then a well-told superhero story of two titanic teams tussling.