Take a group of 1950s almost-forgotten pre-Marvel heroes, whip them up into a heady blend of nostalgia and self-conscious wit, throw in a dash of innocence, give it all a seedy underbelly, and pass it along to some of the slickest artists in the business. That seems to be Jeff Parker's plan for "Agents of Atlas," which follows up a good-looking miniseries from a couple of years back with an even better-looking ongoing series featuring art by Carlo Pagulayan and Gabriel Hardman.
Pagulayan tackles the present-day scenes, and with collaborators Jason Paz and Jana Schirmer, his work takes on an ephemeral quality that looks a bit like Gene Ha's painted work, but more dreamlike. There's a golden hue -- a glow -- to the present day sequences that contrasts with the down-and-dirty plot points. But the contrast works, giving the characters the appearance that they're fallen gods, slumming with the riff-raff.
Hardman (with coloring by Elizabeth Breitweiser) illustrates the 1958 flashback scenes with a blocky grace reminiscent of a more delicate Tommy Lee Edwards. I like that the creative team has decided to go with a distinctly different art style for each era, and I like that the flashbacks aren't done in the by-now overused Benday, faux-Silver Age style. Hardman's sections look great on their own, and thankfully aren't just jokey flashbacks to the days when men were men and men were apes, too.
There's plenty of Gorilla-Man in this issue, don't worry, but Parker knows how to walk the line between serious and winking-to-the reader. Parker knows Gorilla-Man is ridiculous, Gorilla-Man knows he's ridiculous, but neither of them flaunt it. Instead, we're treated to a tough-talking hero in the manner of the Thing, but without the constant longing for humanity. Gorilla-Man seems perfectly fine being who he is.
The rest of the Agents of Atlas seem similarly comfortable with their place in the world, with the exception of former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jimmy Woo, who uses his strange position as new leader of his father's criminal syndicate to do good, instead of evil. The Agents of Atlas are kind of like the Bizarro Thunderbolts, doing good deeds while pretending to be bad.
The art is certainly good enough to make "Agents of Atlas" worth reading, and issue #2 has some nice moments (particularly in the scenes with Gorilla-Man in the present day, and with Marvel Boy in the flashbacks), but Parker hasn't kicked this series into gear yet. It's still just idling in the superhero parking lot, looking pretty, making a sweet purring sound, but not going anywhere. But it is a nice-looking ride, and it's sure to be a thrill once Parker decides to take it for a spin through the Marvel Universe.