The Spy. The Spaceman. The Siren. The Mermaid. The Robot. The Gorilla.
Back in the 1970s, Marvel did What If? #9, which asked "What If The Avengers Had Formed In The 1950s?", bringing together a team of Marvel's Golden Age heroes to rescue a kidnapped President Eisenhower.That was pretty much it for the next three decades, until editor Mark Paniccia stumbled across the "What If?" and decided to ask writer Jeff Parker what he'd do with the idea in the mainstream Marvel Universe. The result was a six-issue miniseries called Agents of Atlas, which came out in 2006.The set-up: In 1958, FBI agent Jimmy Woo was tasked with recruiting a team of heroes to rescue President Eisenhower, who had been kidnapped by evil mastermind the Yellow Claw. Jimmy recruited Ken Hale, the immortal Gorilla Man; M-11, the enigmatic Human Robot; Venus, the goddess of love; and Bob Grayson, the superhero Marvel Boy. Following the success of their first mission, the so-called "G-Men" stayed together for the next six months — before being abruptly shut down on orders from higher up. The team members disbanded, going their own ways.Five decades later, Jimmy Woo, now a sub-director in SHIELD, led a mission to uncover the mysterious Atlas Foundation, but things went badly wrong; all of Jimmy's team-mates were killed, and Jimmy himself was left badly burned, and in a coma.Jimmy's old team from the 1950s reunited to save Jimmy's life — and to discover how far the Atlas Foundation's reach extended. In the process, they rejuvenated Jimmy, brought sea queen Namora back from the dead, and took on the Foundation's many agents, eventually confronting its secret masters.Again, that pretty much seemed to be it for the Agents, although they made a couple of other appearances elsewhere in the Marvel Universe.Then in mid-2008 came the news that the Agents would be getting their own ongoing series, kicking off in February 2009. Cue much Squee from the Agents' fans — and a certain amount of cynicism, noting what usually happens with new series. This fate was semi-averted: the series wrapped up with #11, had a two-issue crossover with the X-Men, was installed in Incredible Hercules as a backup, got relaunched, then got cancelled again, with Parker calling quits at issue #5. There was also a three-issue miniseries for both Gorilla Man and the Uranian, and a one-shot for Namora.Note: Atlas Comics was the name Marvel went by for most of the '50s. All of the characters in Agents of Atlas were created during the Atlas Comics period, before the Fantastic Four ushered in the modern Marvel Universe.
This comic provides examples of the following tropes:
All-Loving Hero: Venus, who likes and cares about everybody, as befits a goddess of love.
Alternate Reality Game: The original series had one, with clues hidden in news sites leading to a text story set in 1958, "Menace From Space". note The serial is now available on Jeff Parker's blog in its entirety.
Alternate Universe: In one AU, Marvel Boy, Venus, M-11, Gorilla Man and 3-D Man became a team of 1950s Avengers; the timeline later got destroyed by Kang. The AU was based on the same issue of "What If?" that inspired the Agents.
Arc Welding: The series reveals several elements from the characters' solo stories were part of the Atlas Foundation's plan. An Atlas agent told Ken Hale to go to Africa, and the Foundation commissioned the building of M-11.
Badass Normal: Jimmy Woo — not least for forming and leading a team of supers in the first place. It says something about him that even five decades after the team originally disbanded, the Agents still jump at the chance to help him out again.
Batman Gambit: The secret plan behind the events of the mini is one of these, as the main Chessmaster is conscious that failure is an option.
Because Destiny Says So: One thread running through the mini is that the Agents were a team 'destined' to exist. Jimmy selected his original 1950s team in a dream, and strange coincidences play an important part in the team's reunion in the modern day.
Canon Immigrant: The team concept, which first popped up in an issue of "What If?".
Captain Ersatz: The Yellow Claw is an Ersatz for Fu Manchu — who later ended up becoming part of the Marvel Universe himself. One of the cases where the original and the Ersatz share the same fictive space. They also share a universe with Iron Man villain The Mandarin. Their similar claimed backgrounds are explained by "Genghis Khan has lots of descendants."
Charm Person: Venus's central power; anyone who hears her voice will do anything to make her happy. Good thing she's the All-Loving Hero type.
Comic-Book Time: An unusual case, this: most of the Agents have been active in-universe at least since The Golden Age of Comic Books, but since most of them don't age as a human would, they still look much the same (allowing for updates, revisions, and so on). Jimmy is something of an exception: up until the mini, he aged pretty much in real time, then got rejuvenated back to his twenties.
Continuity Lockout: Averted; everything we need to know about the characters' history is presented in the mini. The trade paperback nicely includes the first appearance of each character and What If? #9, though.
Covers Always Lie Issue 3 of the regular series features the Agents fighting Captain America on the cover. Cap does show up, but not until the very last panel. The fight happens in the next issue.
Lampshaded two issues later, where the cover shows the Agents fighting The Avengers. Just as the teams are about to clash, Spider-Man stops them both, suspecting that the Agents may actually be good guys. It looks like the cover has lied again, and the two teams are going to just talk it out. Nope. One misplaced laser blast later, the two teams are duking it out.
Cursed with Awesome: The catch to Ken's immortality? It made him an immortal gorilla. He'd like to be human again, but it's been at least fifty years, and he's pretty much adjusted to life as a talking gorilla. (He can still be killed through violence, though.)
Death Ray: M-11 is equipped with one of these, which he fires from his eye. He was built to be a 1950s killer robot, after all.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: Yellow Claw notes that despite the fact that Jimmy stopped his plans many times over, captured a Nazi war criminal, and even rescued the President, he was still buried in red tape, because the U.S. Government wasn't "ready for a hero of Chinese lineage".
Yellow Claw states that his real title is Golden Claw, and that Yellow Claw is simply a slur created by the West.
Flying Saucer: Bob has one of these, which the team uses to get around.
Fountain of Youth: Present-day Jimmy is left horribly burned, with no higher brain function, after his first Atlas investigation goes wrong. Bob restores him using his last recording of Jimmy's physical pattern. However, Bob's last meeting with Jimmy was about five decades ago — so Jimmy gets reset, physically and mentally, to how he was in 1959.
Retcon: Most of the Agents, apart from Jimmy, have their histories hammered into shape for the series.
Ret Gone: Originally, Avengers Forever was supposed to be tied into the 616 timeline, thus explaining Wasp's surprise when they find the 50s Avengers in their past, as to her memory, they'd existed as different heroes, never as an Avengers team. This was explained by Immortus showing up to wipe said portion of the timeline from existence in order to keep a Skrull posing as Nixon from accidentally kickstarting human aggression against offworld races.
Tomato in the Mirror: Venus, who discovers she's actually an amnesiac Siren, which leads her into a Heroic BSOD. Note there IS a Venus goddess in the Marvel Universe. How much of the 50s Venus series depends on which Venus remains to be defined.
A later issue shows that the goddess goes by Aphrodite instead, as she refers to Agents Venus as a "mortal bitch" "passing herself off with my Roman name." And now Venus is the goddess, as Aphrodite vacated the position when she realized that she'd become too jaded over the centuries to properly handle the concept of love, and handed over her status to Venus before vanishing to go sort herself out.
Trickster Mentor: Yellow Claw, who spends fifty years pretending to be an over-the-top supervillain just to teach Jimmy the leadership skills he needs to run the Atlas Empire. Appropriately, his real name translates to Master Plan.
Wolverine Publicity: The Agents of Atlas show up in at least a guest spot in nearly every title Jeff Parker has written since the original mini; they've quickly become go-to characters for cameos and/or guest roles.
Jeff Parker: I know some people think I try to cram them in everywhere, but thatís really more editors suggesting it, and me usually agreeing.
Yellow Peril: The Yellow Claw was pretty much this in his original stories — balanced against the fact that Jimmy Woo, a Chinese-American, was the hero opposing him. Gets Lampshaded and subverted in the miniseries; it turns out Yellow Claw was invoking this trope on purpose because he wanted to groom Jimmy into a hero by turning himself into a flashy period-appropriate supervillain to oppose him.
Zeerust: M-11, and Bob's Uranian tech, both of which were futuristic for the 1950s. Jeff Parker took advantage of the decades since their creation to update their capabilities — but their styles still remain the same.