Back in the 1970s, Marvel Comics published What If? #9, which asked "What If The Avengers Had Fought Evil During 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 (October, 2006 -March, 2007).
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 The 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.
Greg Pak introduced a "New" Agents of Atlas in 2019, in a miniseries tying in with War of the Realms. This roster consists entirely of Asian or Asian-American superheroes, with Jimmy Woo, Amadeus Cho, Kamala Khan, Shang-Chi, and Silk teaming up with newcomers Aero, Sword Master, and Wave. Luna Snow, Crescent, and Io also made the leap from Marvel Future Fight to comics.
The War of the Realms miniseries will be followed a couple of months afterwards with another mini, featuring the new Agents in the main story by Greg Pak, and the original Agents in the backup story by Jeff Parker.
While there hasn't been a live-action adaptation of this series to date, Randall Park appeared in 2018's Ant-Man and the Wasp as Jimmy Woo. Various businesses named Atlas have also appeared (for instance, across the hall from the Nelson & Murdock offices in Daredevil), and it's nice to think they're fronts for the Atlas.
Note: Atlas Comics was the name Marvel went by for most of the '50s. All of the characters in the original Agents of Atlas were created during the Atlas Comics period, before the Fantastic Four ushered in the modern Marvel Universe.
Tropes for the original lineup:
- Action Girl: Namora.
- 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
- 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.
- Ancient Conspiracy: The Atlas Foundation.
- Anti-Hero Team: In a way. It's made apparent in the series that the Agents of Atlas don't follow conventional rules of morality or law, and hold themselves as a sovereign power trying to do some good in the world on their own terms. It's best made clear when Jimmy Woo had a bunch of fleeing Skrulls incinerated by M-11 that the team plays for keeps when it comes to taking down foes in most cases unless Venus is involved and even her presence is not a guarantee a foe will live. According to Norman Osborn, even Venus, the resident all-loving hero of the team, managed to rack up a body count during her time as a siren that would be equivalent to a casualty list from a small war.
- 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.
- Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Temugin.
- A True Story in My Universe: The Uranian miniseries reveals that the original Marvel Boy tales are in-universe comics published by the comicbook company Atlas, fictionalizing Bob's adventures.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Jimmy is also Woo Yen Jet, and it turns out the Golden Claw's real name is Plan Chu, so everybody addresses him as Master Plan.
- Back from the Dead: Namora.
- 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.
- Beware the Quiet Ones: M-11. He's a killer robot who does not speak most of the time, but he's also the member of the team most willing to kill enemies or just opponents in a moment's notice. Case and point, when burned the flesh off of Wolverine's arm just after immediately meeting him when it was meant to be a kill shot.
- The Big Guy: M-11
- The Chick: Venus
- 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 currently the All-Loving Hero type since she used to be a Siren leading sailors to their deaths.
- The Chessmaster: Yellow Claw and M-11, who collaborate on its Batman Gambit.
- Cool Car: Jimmy Woo's red 1958 Edsel Pacer.
- 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.
- Compelling Voice: Venus' ability.
- 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.
- Complete Immortality: Venus.
- Continuity Snarl: While the series mostly manages to actually fix these in passing, Venus's history is possibly more snarled. Is her 50s series in any way canon? And which Venus joined the Champions, "our" Venus or "Aphrodite"?
- 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.)
- Cyber Cyclops: M-11.
- The Dark Chick: Namora. Her idea of intimidation is dragging you to the depths of the ocean and has no compunction over killing people who offend her enough. Just like her cousin.
- 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.
- Dem Bones: Atlas fights mobile skeletons so much it borders on a Running Gag.
- Does Not Like Shoes: Both Venus and Namora go barefoot.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Spider-Man covers Venus in his webs to stop her. Let me say that again, Spider-Man shoots his white, sticky substance all over the very attractive woman.
- Dragon Lady: Jade Claw.
- 11th-Hour Ranger: 3-D Man, added in the last incarnation of the title.
- Enthralling Siren: Venus is a rare heroic example. Her power is so strong that Aphrodite gives up her position as the goddess of love after being convinced that Venus would be better for the job.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: Ken, who's an immortal talking gorilla.
- Evil Counterpart: Their Dark Reign tie-in plays this up - Jimmy is a Hero with Bad Publicity that most think has done a FaceHeel Turn, and is using a formerly-evil organization to do good. Osborn is a Villain with Good Publicity that the public thinks has pulled a HeelFace Turn but is really using the formerly-mostly-good organization SHIELD into the villainous HAMMER.
- Flying Brick: Namora.
- 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.
- From a Single Cell: M-11.
- Good Running Evil: Jimmy became this when he led the Atlas Foundation.
- Immortality: Venus
- Immortality Inducer: Ken.
- Imported Alien Phlebotinum: Bob's Uranian technology, including his flying saucer and Mind Control headband.
- Innocent Fanservice Girl: Venus.
- Kissing Cousins: Namora and Namor. (According to Issue #6 they're Not Blood Cousins, though.)
- The Lancer: Ken
- The Leader: Jimmy
- Legacy Character: Delroy Garrett (formerly Triathlon of the Avengers) to the original 3-D Man.
- Let's You and Him Fight: Inevitable, given that they're pretending to be villains. Astonishingly one was stopped by Namor:Namor: I will resolve this dispute!
- Meaningful Name: The Yellow Claw's true name is Plan Chu, so everybody addresses him as Master Plan - also, obviously, a Punny Name.
- The Mole: Turns out M-11 was a mole for the Yellow Claw... but he still remains loyal to Jimmy and the team.
- Mole in Charge: The entire premise.
- Mythology Gag:
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: See the top of the page. And that's just the heroes.
- Parts Unknown: Bob tries to obscure the fact that he's from Uranus by solely referring to it as "the seventh planet", mostly because it makes Ken laugh.
- Pick Your Human Half: Double-subversion with M-11. Initially subverted in that he looks and acts like a typical robot... which gets subverted in turn when we find out why he's called the Human Robot.
- The Quiet One: M-11.
- 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.
- Robot Names: According to Word of God, the M in M-11 is short for Menacer. It's also a Mythology Gag, as the Human Robot's first appearance was in Menace #11.
- Rule of Cool: Practically runs on the stuff.
- Sixth Ranger: Namora
- The Smart Guy: Bob
- The Spock: Bob.
- Super Hero
- Super Team
- 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.
- Touched by Vorlons: Bob, who was modified by the Uranians.
- 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.
- True Companions: The Agents.
- 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 thats 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.
- You Kill It, You Bought It: The Gorilla Man curse/blessing.
- 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.
Tropes for the New Agents of Atlas
- Artifact Title: No one in this roster, except for Jimmy Woo, came from Atlas Comics. In-Universe, the title now refers to the Atlas Foundation.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Amadeus Cho does this in their mission in Korea in a sequence of Epic Fail. First, he ignores Jimmy Woo's advice to perform reconnaissance and tries to land the ship to help the Korean heroes, even though the heroes clearly had the advantage over the invaders. This leads to their ship getting shot down and Woo getting knocked out in the resulting crash. The Korean heroes then mistake Amadeus for working with the fire demons due to his attempt to take over America last time, which leads to the two groups fighting each other. Amadeus trying to help, tries to dose the fire demons with water, only to hit Luna Snow and accidentally freeze her instead. Whoops...
- Tonight, Someone Dies: War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas #4 declares "A hero falls!" in its solicitation.