June 15, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #365: Atlas

A Jack Kirby one-off sure has had a strange resurgence.

OK, so, I wrote up one of my Noteworthy Issues columns on Jack Kirby’s Atlas.  Did you read it?  Well, even if you didn’t, here’s the Misplaced Character entry for the DC Comics strongman who seems to wear a hood without the rest of the hoodie.

So, to be fair, DC Comics probably had two or three different guys named Atlas who were all supposed to be the figure from Greek myth who held up the sky.  Grant Morrison even used a character like that in the pages of All-Star Superman.  That seems to be some sort of thing where Atlas and maybe one or two other mythological strongmen would pop up and cause the Silver Age Superman some headaches.  Those stories were generally stand-alone fare with little or no continuity, so it probably didn’t matter how many times Atlas, or a character named Atlas, appeared in all his toga-clad glory to basically not be as strong as the Silver Age Superman.  You know, the one that probably juggled planets for fun.

I’m gonna guess Supes here is only lying down like that because he’s hung over.

No, I’m not talking about those guys.  I’m talking about the one Jack Kirby created for a comic titled 1st Issue Special #1.  That came out in April of 1975 and ended with a cliffhanger that was never resolved because Kirby didn’t write or draw a second issue.  Whatever plans Kirby had for Atlas never came to pass.  But what little he showed was Atlas was the son of a chieftain of a tribe that were known for their great strength.  He was orphaned and wanted revenge against the Lizard King Hyssa (not Jim Morrison).  After growing up and going through various odd places, he and Hyssa come face-to-face and…that’s it.  It was like a cross between Kirby’s own Thor from Marvel and at least the cinematic version of Conan the Barbarian.  In the grand scheme of things, there really wasn’t a whole lot to the character, and he might be a forgotten DC footnote if it weren’t for one little thing:  there doesn’t seem to be such thing as a “forgotten” DC footnote.

See? All hood, nothing else.

See, one thing DC does that Marvel for the most part doesn’t is it seems to insist that all of the company’s characters all seem to exist somewhere in the same multiverse.  Marvel might be edging that way with the Spider-verse, but DC has been doing that for much, much longer.  Oh, some oddball character can’t exist in the same world as the Man of Steel?  No problem.  That character is on another Earth.  That becomes somewhat obvious if you read the adventures of the very first Misplaced Character Case File, namely Captain Carrot.  Superman appears in the opening storyline, and one of Captain Carrot’s teammates on the Zoo Crew is a superfast talking turtle named Fastback.  Fastback, AKA Timmy Joe Terrapin, was one of DC’s old “funny animal” characters, and his old nemesis from his humor days even appeared in the Captain Carrot series at one point.

Man, that Captain Carrot article is so old, Watson had to upload photos and add captions for me.

Anyway, due to that, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for Atlas to eventually reappear in the mainstream DC Universe.

That time came in the pages of Superman #677 from August of 2008.  Atlas suddenly appeared in modern day Metropolis, challenging Superman to come fight him.  He easily took out anyone who was got in his way, mostly because Superman was off with Hal Jordan playing catch with Krypto…in space.  Atlas thought he was there to save the Earth, and first, he wanted to prove his superiority by defeating the world’s strongest champion, Superman.

He actually did that without too much trouble one issue later.

Atlas, not satisfied that the fight was so easy for him, went on to smack around both Bibbo Bibowski and Steel before someone showed up and managed to put in a good fight:  Krypto.  By then, Superman figured out the reason he fared so poorly was because Atlas’s strength came from magic, so he fought smarter, not harder, and defeated the big jackass.  Apparently, writer James Robinson conceived of this version of Atlas as being someone like Namor:  a character who could go either way as a good guy or bad guy, but in Atlas’s case, he tended to go bad instead.  From there, Atlas was recruited by Project 7734, one of those anti-Superman government programs that never seem to believe Superman is one of the good guys.

That’s about all there is to Atlas in many respects.  He does seem to appear in random places, even battling the Justice League at one point.  Heck, this column’s banner image comes from an Aquaman cover.  But I think the lessons stands…DC will use any character that isn’t nailed down in some way if it can, even if it may just be for copyright reasons.