Not everyone can carry the weight of the world. But Kirby and Atlas… – 1st Issue Special #1
No one would question the fecundity of Jack Kirby’s mind. In the 1970s he ran wild throwing ideas against the wall, scattin’ and beboppin’ all over the place to varying effect. Some creations, like the Fourth World saga, stuck, and became foundational elements of a broader fictional universe. Others, like OMAC, were remembered, perhaps not as fondly, but remembered nonetheless. And others slid down that wall like slimy egg yolks, right down into the dark cobwebbed corners of our collective consciousness.
It’s no stretch to put Atlas in that last category.
This muscley man with his little red riding hood got his sole trial run in this, the senses-shattering premiere of what should have been called 1st (and Last) Issue Special— not the best track record for launching concepts. And Atlas didn’t exactly help the title put its best foot forward. You could see that Jolly Jack wasn’t firing on all cylinders here, even if there are moments where his usual sweeping grandeur comes out to play. Let’s get some of that positive stuff on the table (if you can’t say something nice…), like this two-page splash (inks by D. Bruce Berry):
Not bad. Like biscuits, people. LIKE BISCUITS.
Splashes like the one above may be a selling point, but they also exemplify one of the great weaknesses of this introductory tale. It’s riddled with over-large panels, which, instead of adding to the scale and scope of the narrative, only serve to highlight what a thin broth we’re being served. Kirby often used big honkin’ stuff to great effect, but it’s too much in this case. It cuts down on the story, a deadly deed when groundwork is (supposedly) being laid. It’s like watching Lost, when you were so desperate for more answers to the series’ legion of core puzzles, but were instead given a slow-motion, piano-accompanied sequence of people walking on a beach at the end of almost every episode. WHAT IS THIS CRAP? BRING ME MY HOSSENFEFFER.
A lot of sizzle, but far too little steak.
While not providing the reader with much story, this one issue also glossed over a mini-series’ worth of plot development. The comic offers up a highly derivative origin for Atlas, complete with a murdered family, a wise mentor and a lifetime quest for vengeance against an evil ruler (an evil ruler THAT KILLED HIS FAMILY). Maybe such things were fresh when this was conceived. Doubtful. The point is, you weren’t given much, but you were given everything. Know what I mean?
Maybe this comic was damned if it did, damned if it didn’t. Or maybe it screwed you coming and going. Maybe both.
But hey, at least there’s this Atlasy moment for the big fella, as he gets to balance something heavy on his shoulders:
The Earth. A bridge. There’s nothing that this guy can’t perch across his meaty deltoids. Like Jurgis Rudkus in The Jungle, “[his] back is broad!”
Sadly (or not), neither Atlas’ well-developed trapezius muscles nor this comic could get him an ongoing series. This now-depressing appeal for reader input and a series-launching sanction — using as it does Kirby’s track record, as if that’s supposed to spin straw into gold — serves as a grave marker:
Atlas, mothballed for decades, did get an update in recent years in Superman. Maybe he can one day up himself into the OMAC tier.