Review by François Peneaud
Two years after their return to active status, the Agents of Atlas find themselves in a very different place and in the very changed landscape of the Marvel universe: having replaced the Yellow Claw as the head of the Atlas Foundation, Jimmy Woo now leads a secret organisation he hopes to reform; after the events of Secret Invasion, Norman Osborn (yes, the Green Goblin) has become one of the most powerful men in the USA, and he’s far from reformed (more about that here). Might the two come to blows? Yes they might!
Writer Jeff Parker is back from Agents of Atlas, this time with new artists Carlo Pagulayan and Gabriel Hardman. Having stated he’d been looking for a good way to bring back the Atlas characters, Parker makes the most of the new status quo. Woo and his partners-in-crime are considered criminals by the world at large and thus have to behave as such, at least on the surface. The tale that follows is one of manipulation of both Osborn and the do-gooders (here, one of the Avengers teams) by a very shrewd Woo.
The conflict between Atlas and Osborn would see a return match the same year in Thunderbolts: Siege, the first collection of Jeff Parker’s long tenure on that title, right after Andy Diggle’s short run. It would have Osborn send his troops against the Agents, with some deadly results.
There isn’t much character development in this volume, but the story is constructed in a clever enough way to hold the reader’s interest. A sequence set in 1958, when the Agents were first active, gives us a tale that will feed the current-day story, as they discover a parallel world that enables the Atlas personnel to seemingly teleport anywhere in the world and would play a role right until the last volume of the series.
The 1950s sequence is drawn by Hardman, whose stylised art has an old-look feel that nicely complements the story (think Darwyn Cooke, for example); the modern-day one is by Carlo Pagulayan, an artist with a very realistic but somewhat drier style. Both are solid artists and in the following years, Hardman would become one of the most interesting artists of his times.
As a bonus, this volume also contains a 1950s tale showing an encounter with Wolverine (drawn in a rather unusual style by Benton Jew), a short Secret Invasion story drawn by Leonard Kirk and a longer story from the younger readers-friendly line Marvel published at the time, also drawn by Kirk, here in fine form.
Though unlinked to regular continuity, this story is a fun romp through Marvel history, with time-travelling Avengers villain Kang attempting to change said history to his advantage by having the 1958 Agents find and revive an iced Captain America decades before the proper time (well, decades before the current continuity, since the return of Captain America was initially published in 1964). For a story intended for a younger audience, it’s surprisingly twisty.
The main story would continue in the third volume, Turf Wars.