Agents of Atlas #s 9-11
“Terror of the Jade Claw” Parts 1-3
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artists: Dan Panosian, Gabriel Hardman & Paul Rivoche
Colors: Elizabeth Dismang & Sotocolor
Letters: Tom Orzechowski
Cover artists: Leinil Yu/Dave Johnson/Adi Granov
Editor: Nathan Cosby
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US per issue
This story arc may well be the best of this series thus far. Sure, the original Agents of Atlas limited series that spawned this ongoing was stronger, but “Terror of the Jade Claw” has made the most of the Atlas Foundation concept and it’s been handled more clearly in this arc than ever before. Maybe what’s really allowed this story arc to shine, though, is the fact that it’s not hindered by connections to other Marvel continuity. There’s no “Dark Reign” branding. There are no Avengers, no Atlantean cousins, no Hulks. Parker simply focuses on telling an Agents of Atlas story instead of a Marvel Universe story, and it allows the true strength of the premise and the color inherent in these characters to really come out.
Suwan, the niece of the conqueror once known as the Yellow Claw and the woman Jimmy Woo loved back in the 1905s, stands revealed as the woman pulling the strings behind the scenes at the Great Wall, a rival private army with a dark purpose that serves as a reflection of the good works to which Atlas is no dedicated. The element of surprise and a much more powerful robot servant, M-21, gives her the upper hand in her war with Woo’s empire, allowing her to deal devastating blows to the Agents of Atlas. She aims to reclaim Atlas as her own and to use the combined might of Atlas and the Great Wall to pick up where her uncle left off decades ago.
The biggest problem with this story arc is the artwork. Most of it is crisp and clear, but three different artists worked on this arc, and two of them both contributed pages the same issue. This has been something of an issue for this series from the start. There’s never been a consistent art team assigned to the title, so the quality of the visuals has varied. Some of the artists seem to have really clicked with these characters, others not so much. Dan Panosian provides quite a bit of the linework for “Jade Claw.” The first couple of pages he provides for issue #9 exhibits a strong Howard (Dominic Fortune) Chaykin influence, but overall, he boasts a cartoony style that emphasizes the goofier side of the property a bit too much. Gabriel Hardman’s style seems like a better fit, and it’s reminiscent of the styles of Michael (Daredevil) Lark.
The covers for all three of these issues are quite striking, and I like how the “Jade Claw” masthead connects all three issues. The best of the three is Dave Johnson’s cover for #10. I love the design work. With the Jade Claw in the center, it’s clear what the driving force behind the story is, and I like how the icons of the heroes’ faces, while drawn to look like targets that have been shot, also look like pieces of a puzzle. Johnson also overcomes the obtrusive nature of the Agents of Atlas logo by incorporating it into the scene and scheme. His work on that cover reminds me of the striking cover designs he contributed to 100 Bullets and the work of Phil Noto as well.
Jade Claw is a great new villain, and I’m pleased that the artists don’t amp up her sexuality as a major character trait. Her drive is actually understandable. She was forgotten and feels cast aside by men she loved and trusted. Her desire to hurt them and to destroy what they’ve built makes a lot of sense. She’s actually a tragic yet admirable figure. Dr. Zu, the Atlas Foundation’s weapons maker, is another great new character, and I trust we’ll see more of him as well. The legend and politics of Atlas really came into focus in this story as well, and Temugin finally seemed to fit into the plot and cast.
The third chapter of this story arc is the weakest of the three-part run, and the reason is obvious. It’s rushed and compressed two chapters of what should have been a four-part arc into one episode. M-11’s second defeat in #11 comes off as rather redundant, and his triumph over M-21 arrives too quickly in the wake of that repetitive destruction.
It’s a shame that this title is set in the Marvel Universe as it’s clearly at its best when it’s unencumbered by the extraneous elements of the shared super-hero universe. Of course, like many DC and Marvel super-hero titles that don’t spotlight a recognizable icon of the genre, Agents of Atlas hasn’t boasted posted strongest sales numbers. That explains the previous “guest-stars” and the upcoming X-Men Vs. Agents of Atlas two-part limited series that will replace this title for the next two months. The Catch-22 is that Marvel’s promotional efforts weaken the storytelling, hiding the strengths the publisher is trying to tell its readers about in the first place. – Issues #9 & 10: 8/10 – issue #11: 6/10
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