Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tales From the Quarter Bin--...Does Whatever a Tiger Can...

Back in 1974, if you wanted superhero comics, there were only two companies, Marvel and DC. Charlton had essentially dropped out of the superhero biz, while First, Comico and Eclipse were as yet undreamed of. So really, readers had little choice.

Except for one brief, not-so shining moment. For less than a year, an alternative stalked the landscape like a decaying zombie: Atlas Comics (also known as Atlas/Seaboard, to distinguish them from one of Marvel's earlier nom de guerres).

Do you know how hard it was not to title this piece 'Atlas Shrugged'?Founded by former Marvel owner/publisher Martin Goodman, Atlas is remembered today as something of a pioneer in creator rights. In order to compete with the Big Two, Atlas payed crazy high page rates to their artists, promised artists the return of all their art, and was the first in industry with a type of profit sharing/ownership of characters writers and artists created. A lot of notable veterans and young up-and-comers did work for Atlas. And there was serious excitement about the enterprise in the trade press and even the "regular" media.

Sadly, Atlas was also known as one of the most mismanaged companies EVER. Goodman assumed that he could duplicate Marvel's success without the magic of Stan & Jack & company. So he hired Stan's brother to be editor, and then micro-managed every creative decision to "make it more like Marvel." (A glance at this page of all the Atlas logos should give you an idea of how much they were trying to ape Marvel) At his insistence, Atlas often re-booted mags after 2 or 3 issues, completely changing their creative teams and premises on a whim. He installed his universally disliked son, Chip, as publisher, and many blamed his...well, his lack of comics background and creative sense for the constant shifts of direction. And, sad to say, most of the comics were crappy.

In the end, no Atlas title made it past 4 issues, and most didn't make it that far. The promises of returning art to the artists were largely broken, because much of the artwork was "stolen." And ater 10 months the comics line was no more.

And as for the ownership of creations, well, that turned out to not be pretty worthless for characters that lasted 2 issues and no one remembers. And it's hard to imagine in this day of The Twelve and Project Superhero, but as far as I know no one anywhere has resurrected a single Atlas character from limbo.

Which brings me to Tiger-Man. or is it Tigerman?

Did they really need to promise 'No Reprint' for issue #1??Special anal note: although the name Tiger-Man is hyphenated both in the logo and in the word balloon on the cover, it is NOT hyphenated anywhere on the inside, including the indicia. Do you know how much that bugs me?

Anyway, behind the (great) Ernie Colon cover, what do we get? A boring melange of a generic Marvel(ish) book and the Death Wish movies. And enough violence and cleavage to wonder if the Comic Code was paying attention to the new kid on the block.

We start on page 1, as a sexy nurse is assaulted by two hippie/biker-looking goombas, just because, apparently.

Scene borrowed from any Death Wish movie, or The Brave OneWait a minute: run that line by me again!

The Bikes of Navarone?Their bikes were "demolished in the war"?!?! What war?!? What, were they in the Hell's Angels Brigade in 'Nam? What war? How? And what of their brother in the body cast, who's never mentioned again?!?! Uh....head exploding...

Fortunately, our hero makes his first appearance, ready to save the damsel from the bikers with purple hearts (for their bikes):

Sex AND violence, and it's only page 2Now on this page, and only this one, the colorist or printer screwed up, and forgot to color in the blue for the tights covering Tiger-Man's arms and legs. So in our hero's very first appearance, he's colored wrong. Which results in a disturbing image:

Two more years, and he could have been in the Village People!But he does manage to stop the cads, although a bit violently for these pre-Wolverine days:

A panel teleported from the future?Note the decidedly over-the-line violence (and killing? they're very vague, probably intentionally) and the "Holy God!" exclamation. Code anyone? Meanwhile, our naughty nurse flashes some cleavage and first states the meme that will inform our hero's journey:

Despite warning her, he can't take his eyes off her boobsYup, New York is Hell.

So who is Tiger-Man? Well, young doctor Lannie Hill (so incompetent is our flashbackery, that we don't find his surname until 2 pages into the flashback, and his first name until 5 pages into his origin) is interning in "African Zambia." He becomes fascinated by "the survival instinct of the inhabitants of this region" (it seems that animals in our continent just lay down and die, or something). So how does he pursue this field of inquiry?

A tiger? In Africa?!?(Yes, go ahead, insert Monty Python joke here...get it out of your system).

Ignore how or why a man-killing Indian tiger is still alive and hanging around Zambia. Instead, ponder that, somehow, studying a predator from India is supposed to tell Dr. Hill about the survival instinct of African prey. This is making DC science look good...

Gone beyond our mission statement, haven't we?Of course, he takes it himself...duh. And, remember, when you're a scientist:

Methods? Controls? Documentation? Phooey! I'm going to bed!Yup, why worry about what effects might be? Why, that would be actual science!! The result:

Completing the most generic origin story EVERAgain, duh. Anyway, he returns home to New York City, where his sister is an actress in a hit Broadway show!! Which somehow leads to this:

We also have some notes on Act II...Yup, two rogue rodeo folk (?) who decide to take in a Broadway show (??), decide the actress must be rich (???), find out where she lives (????), break in, and kill her (and maybe rape her, too...).

So of course, Lannie uses his tiger powers to track them down, and once again lays down the verdict on what life in NYC is like:

The pig behavior of swine? The cow behavior of bovines? The cat behavior of felines?You object to "mugging" before "murdering?" And isn't "stealing" redundant after "mugging?"

The final fate of our scum? Well, here's another reason why it's hard to believe that this is a 1975 Code approved book:

Punisher meets CatsAll we're missing is the "Snikt."

So what's the verdict on Tiger-Man? Exploitative crap, or prescient vision of what the comics industry was heading to? Gabe Levy and Ernie Colon, what were you thinking about while creating this? (Note: in one of those Atlas shifts discussed above, Gerry Conway and Steve Ditko took over the mag for issues 2 & 3, and considerably lightened the tone to something more Marvel-like).

And when is someone going to snap up the rights to some of the Atlas characters, and incorporate them into, say, the DC universe? And when will someone tell me whether or not his name should be hyphenated!?!?!?!

On a final note, after Atlas/Seaboard dumped their comics line, Chip Goodman stayed with Seaboard as publisher of magazine Swank for several years. I've always wanted to legitimately mention Swank in a comics post, and here's my chance.

Much of my discussion of Atlas' history is indebted to The Atlas Archives website...check it out for an in-depth look at a much-forgotten period of modern comics history!


Gary said...

Special anal note

How much traffic is that line going to get you...?

Joking aside, this was a cool read.

Anonymous said...

It's funny you should bring up Atlas Comics, because I was just having a conversation with Jim at Flashback Universe about them:

The quality varies tremendously on these comics, but they're fun to collect in that anyone could get the company's complete output without much expense (other than Planet of the Vampires).

I wonder what it would take for a company like Dark Horse to put out an Atlas Omnibus or two?

snell said...

Dr. K: I don't know for a fact, but considering the fact that none has touched them for over 30 years, I'd wager that the demise of Atlas/Seaboard and the partial creator ownership has everything stuck in an Eclipse-style quagmire...

Gary: Sorry, no Google hits from that phrase yet. But I'm hoping...

rob! said...

i'd love to see an Absolute-style collection of the entire Atlas would probably only take about 2 books to handle it all.

plus it would just be funny to read some of their horrific crap on giant, high-quality paper. :)

Doc Savage said...

I'd recommend anyone who puts down Atlas comics check the concurrent publications from Marvel and DC and think again. They were publishing much worse dreck. At least Atlas had originality and a striking new grittiness in its initial output. Marvel and DC sucked bad in 1975. Of course they look like good compared to what they do today.