Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Comic Book Confidential: The Return of Atlas

Welcome to the show folks...

It's time to get your geek on kiddies, because I'm taking a moment to talk about the comic book business. It's just been announced that Atlas Comics has been brought back from the dead.

For those who don't know, I'll give you a little history.

Many moons ago, during the heady days of the 1970s, Martin Goodman owned Marvel Comics. According to legend he sold Marvel to Cadence Inc. on the understanding that his son Chip would remain working for the company. However, according to the legend, Stan Lee, now in charge of the Marvel, gave Chip the boot.

In revenge, Martin and Chip began what was known as Atlas Comics, or Atlas/Seaboard comics. The company's mission was to crush Marvel. It didn't work, and the company eventually folded. Time passed and Martin's grandson Jason Goodman is reviving the company and their characters.

Let's look at the pros and cons of this revival.


1. The new Atlas will have the largest privately owned catalog of characters and stories to work with.

2. They've hired comics veteran J.M. DeMatteis to be the editor in chief of this venture. He's an experienced hand who knows the industry well.

3. The original Atlas Comics introduced radical concepts like creators owning the characters they create, returning original artwork to the artist, and profit sharing. All concepts that helped eventually break the work for hire ghetto that dominated the industry since its beginning. Hopefully the new Atlas will keep up that tradition.

4. Baggage. Hopefully this new company, and their new line-up will start from scratch, and not try to jam in the original continuity from their first run. Decades of convoluted, confusing, and even contradictory back-stories are one the main reasons it's so hard to get new readers into comic books. Why would anyone want to start reading something where they know they're not going to know what the hell is going on? A fresh new universe might attract fresh new readers, hopefully.


1. Most of the Atlas Comics characters were considered either derivative of Marvel characters, if not outright rip-offs. The company also got criticized for changing around all their concepts and characters between issues, not good. While their back catalog is all well and good, they're going to need new creators with new ideas to make the company stand out among all the others.

2. The business of adapting comic book characters to movies is big business. However, it only really pays off in a serious way if those characters have some sort of the connection with the general cultural zeitgeist. I'm talking Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, with Iron Man showing that even characters on the relative fringe of that zeitgeist can still catch on. However, Atlas characters are way beyond the fringe that even Iron Man called home. Also that previously mentioned inconsistency with many of their characters can make things confusing for audiences unless they start over from scratch, as I suggested earlier.

3. The comics market is pretty harsh right now. The industry's having a hard time getting kids to read their books, having to compete with video games, the internet, and whatever pop-tart crap the Disney company is squatting out at the moment. Without kids, the overall readership will start to dwindle, if it hasn't started already, and the majors like DC and Marvel get most of, if not all, of their profits from movie and TV adaptations of their characters.

I wish the new Atlas Comics and the people working there lots of good luck, I like the idea of some fresh competition on the market, but they are going to have a tough time ahead of them.


  1. You left out the biggest problem. There's about half the number of outlets for comics as there were when Atlas was around. Maybe less.

    Maybe this is why Marvel isn't plowing some of their huge booty from movies back into supporting more comics shops - where kids can go and buy a cheap comic. It keeps the competition locked out.

  2. Good point.

    Personally I'd like to see comics back in corner stores. The way things are I am literally 3 hrs away from the nearest decent comics shop.

    I don't know if it's economically viable or not, that requires deeper economic thought than what goes on in my noggin.