Thursday, January 7, 2010

THEN CAME ATLAS/SEABOARD! Part 3: Led astray and fighting it every step of the way, Plus who owns the rights to these character's anyway???


So what does Robert McNamara have to do with Atlas comics after the fall? It has to do with a common enough mind-set of  avoiding taking the blame for failure. Since he is the best performer of that parlor trick McNamara won the right to name it, and claim it. In retrospect, it can't be easy to apologize for whatever mistakes were made by anyone, claim you warned against it before you were for it, and knew it would never work all along! Larry Lieber is a great artist/writer, but he's too shiftless in his chair for me when it comes to Atlas related interviews: "When I went there, Martin put out two kinds of books... color comics and... black-&-white comics like Warren and Marvel. Now, I knew nothing about black-&-white comics, right? My only experience was in the color comics. And Jeff Rovin came from Warren, and he knew nothing about color comics. And Martin unfortunately put Jeff in charge of all the color comics, and put me in charge of the black-&-white books.... It was an unfortunate thing, and basically what happened was that Jeff's books didn't turn out so well." [Larry Lieber interview, Alter Ego Vol. 3, #2] That's some name dropping, I hate to say it style, blame placing going on right there.

It should be noted Lieber handled the anthology titles along with The Destructor, which were just as hit and miss with color comic experience, but didn't break any sales records either. According to Jon B. Cooke's Comic Book Artist column there is no proof Lieber edited any of the black and white Atlas magazines. In keeping with the 'I knew it all along' revisionism Lieber said "I don't know that I ever felt the product was that good. They were different in a sense, but they weren't around that long." [Larry Lieber, CBM interview] Then you have the I did the best I could defense: "But in the end it was just that Martin lost too much money. There was nothing I could do to help out. I wasn't a genius, too much was lost, and so they gave it all up," [Larry Lieber interview, Alter Ego Vol.3, #2]  Lieber was one of the first hires at Atlas presumably the books he edited he would have had to sign off on, he didn't come in mid-stream after the dam burst. Martin Goodman in all I have read around the web also doesn't strike me as a hands off kind of guy. If they though the line up was so poorly from the start why did no one try to change direction before the first issues ever went to press? It comes off to me as if they were surprised the people they hired did what they did on the titles, but shouldn't a publisher and a editor pay more attention to what's headed for the newsstands? You could wonder if the attempts at changing direction was a response to poor sales, but according to Jeff Rovin, Martin Goodman made the decision to 'be more Marvel' before any sales figures came in. If your the owner and you want to go in a particular direction, why wait until it's too late to clue your employees in on what your plans are?


Atlas/Seaboard was here and gone before I was a twinkle in my fathers eye, but I do remember the early, heady days of Image comics. Comic book fans talked about all the great new titles that would come out, better deals for the creators, and speculated Marvel would get it's ass kicked by the new competition. Looking up the history similar sentiments were out in force in anticipation of Atlas's arrival on the scene. From Jim Steranko in Mediascene: "Seaboard Periodicals has unleashed a tidal wave of events on the stunned comics industry. Quicker than you can say, 'Jack the giant killer,' the new publishing company... is establishing itself as a leading contender in the race for comics supremacy" and "Goodman's David and Goliath strategy is insidiously simple and outrageous-possibly even considered dirty tactics by the competition-such as higher page rates, artwork returned to the artist, rights to the creation of an original character, and a certain amount of professional courtesy".   

The Comic Reader led the cheers, then turned off the lights: "Goodman will undoubtedly use his contacts with distributors to Seaboard's advantage, so this looks like a comics group that will make it, and big... We know that the line-up will be exciting as well as surprising....", -followed by- "All the Atlas books of the past three months have been delayed from their published release dates by two to three weeks. There's no need to panic, so take heart... if you keep watching the newsstands they'll all come out." -ending with- "What was the major problem with Atlas? Perhaps Neal Adams summed it up best when he said it was an example of 'Too many dollars and too little sense'.. R.I.P. ATLAS COMICS Born: June, 1974 Died: June, 1975".

The haze of hope even made it's way into the main stream in the Philadelphia Daily News, November 8, 1974: "That’s why the forthcoming Atlas line could herald a third Golden Age. Other, smaller comics publishers have tried to challenge the Big Two (notably the Charlton line), but they never had the expertise (and incentive) represented by Atlas. The new company might well be the Marvel of the 1970’s".

It's a damn pity Wizard magazine didn't do a 'remember the would be titian' article way back when, some fan boy hearts might not have been broken. Image could have also learned, without going through the school of hard knocks, it really is better if your books come out on time, and you don't flood the stands. 


When any old characters I think many fans tend to wonder these days, is it in the public domain? I came across this column about who owns/doesn't own the Atlas characters from Beau Smith at the Comics Bulletin:

All the time I was at Eclipse I pushed for us to buy the characters from the Goodmans. In 1994 I pushed Eclipse Publisher Dean Mullaney so much that he finally checked into it and talked to Goodman. He also did some research on copyrights and such on his own with the Eclipse lawyers. It seemed that the copyrights had expired and the Goodmans no longer owned those characters. Now don’t hold me to all this because my memory isn’t all that clear, but this is the round about way it went.

Dean wanted to pay the Goodman’s a price he thought the stuff was worth, but the Goodmans wanted much, much more. Dean declined. He also told them that he found out the stuff was free and clear. Needless to say that subject went back and forth with no real winner of the argument.

So Dean gave me the greenlight to develop the characters and update them where they needed to be updated. I came up with a plan and a history for them along with a storyline for a series. We hired a couple of artists to draw up and update some of the characters. We published a few ash cans with these results.

Then Eclipse Comics went out of business.

Those ash cans were lost some where at Eclipse. There was talk that then big time retailer Moondog’s in the Midwest had a few of them. I had my copies. Or I did. Soon after that my office burn to the ground and I lost everything.

So either it's open season, or time to track down the heirs of the Goodman estate.

Note: Yes, there will be a part 4. One main reason is a lack of want to make this blog post any more epic in size, if not scope. Next time I comment on the legacy of Atlas, and stifled intentions due to swiping.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

THEN CAME ATLAS/SEABOARD Part 2: Pissing away what made you special


The thing that gets the Atlas/Seaboard line the most talk was it's deciding to abandon it's own push the envelope path set out by Jeff Rovin in favor of being more like Marvel at Goodman's whim. What this actually entailed was as abrupt a change of direction as you could ever find in comics.  It's called The Third Issue Switch because that's the issue the change most often went down in. The most obvious loss was the Michael Fleisher quality of anything can happen to anyone -at any time. Reading a Fleisher comic (along with most of the other early writers) you can never be sure a character is safe, even if it's the title character. Well deserving villains didn't die for keeps in Marvel or DC in the 70s, in the early days of Atlas villains were killed, children were killed, it was grist for the more dangerous -therefore more realistic- comic universe of Atlas. Marvel did kill off Gwen Stacy, but Atlas went 'there' and then a few steps beyond.

The classic Atlas style anti-hero was before it's time. In the mid-70s Marvel's Punisher was -at best-  a gray villain because he killed the 'bad guys' out right. In Atlas killing the 'bad guys' was the standard operating procedure of the heroes at first, laying waste to some bystanders happened a fair amount of time too.  Then the 'Marvelization' started and you had conscience's developing, along with Peter Parker style guilt trips breaking out all over the place.A great example of this is one of my favorite Atlas titles Targitt written by Ric Meyers -with co-writers after issue 1- and drawn by Howard Nostrand. He started off as a cross between Dirty Harry and the Punisher mixed in with a nice dose of bat shit crazy. The differences being Targitt was with the F.B.I. which broadened his base of operations, and in the first issue had no costume. The appeal to me is seeing someone lose everything but there life snap, and get through it by turning to there work with a vengeance. In issue #2 he got a costume, and a new title John Targitt... Man-Stalker. but still shot the bad guys deader than hell. In issue #3 with the other Marvellizer Gerry Conway (ironically the co-creator of the Punisher, and writer of the Gwen Stacey death) as co-writer, Targitt lost the guns for good, got super powers in a convoluted way, and became just another fancy underwear jockey.


The letter pages in third and fouth Atlas issues tell the tale: "...What I object to is not that it was "stolen" from the movies, but that it was so brutal. It seems you have given John Targitt tacit approval to take the law into his own hands. As such, the mag is a paean to lynch law. Really the hero is to be pitied instead of glorified. The worst thing I can say about Targitt is that it is unconstitutional; it is an abuse of the comic art, and goes against all the rules of the comics code." [Larry A. Miller, John Targitt... Man-Stalker #3]

Well, cry me a river of bullshit. If Larry was still reading comics in the 80s and 90s it probably gave him a complex. What got me about that letter was invoking the U.S. constitution and championing the mind-killer censorship of the comics code. I love the First Amendment especially the part about freedom of speech, and freedom of the press,  -but I guess neo-fascists book burning types don't go in for that sort of thing. Raising the specter of lynch mobs, never mind all the other vigilantes in comics bouncing around in there underwear... I'm a fairly mellow fellow, but all these decades later Miller's comments and mind-set that is still around today, sicken me.
Atlas's response: "This may come as a complete surprise to you (a pleasant one too we think), but we feel, as Targitt learns this issue, that the gun is not the answer. However, we cannot disregard the events in John Targitt's life, which have shaped his personality. He was burnt once too often by the inhumanity that sometimes plagues government institutions; and by the brutal, vicious deaths of his wife and daughter at the hands of the mob. Because of this, he understandably trusts no one. And so, Targitt had to find the superhero in himself -with a little help from Gerry Conway and ye olde editor, Larry." [Letters page, John Targitt... Man-Stalker]
The only thing it cost the title (along with most of the rest of the Atlas line) was the edge that made Targitt stand apart from all the multitude of other superheroes that had already found themselves.

Not every Atlas title got the Third Issue Switch treatment to purge away the Anti-hero tone of the early issues.The Scorpion suffered the switch for a even more short-sighted and eat up with stupid reason. The Scorpion title is generally hailed as one of the best Atlas put out, but that only goes for the first two issues. Howard Chaykin was the artist/writer/creator of a 1930s era old fashioned pulp style adventurer. This homage to the pulp magazines made the title unique compared to the rest of the Atlas line. There where other pulp characters brought to comics but there treatment seems half-hearted compared to Chaykin's work. Wither it was facing down saboteurs in issue 1, or black magic killings in issue 2, Chaykin made the themes and moods of those old stories work in his title.  Most pulp hero types who made it into comics ended up time traveling to modern times, and this title sadly was no exception. Chaykin left because he said he lost creative control (one of those pesky promises Atlas made back at the start) and ending up taking his idea to marvel in the form of Dominic Fortune. Scorpion got turned into a Daredevil rip off in issue 3 who swung around New York like Spider-Man thanks to his grappling hook wrist blasters. The editorial explanation: "Levy and Craig thought a mood piece of the thirties would get monotonous after a few issues." [Letters page, Scorpion #3] Lieber was referring to Gabe Levy and Jim Craig who took over from Chaykin. Being a "mood piece" was what gave the title a spark, but I guess Martin Goodman didn't think a D-list version of Daredevil would get monotonous? Did no one think that if a kid wanted to read Daredevil he/she would buy the actual title from Marvel, instead of the Scorpion?

No surprise, pulling those kind of re-write stunts almost company wide finished off Atlas/Seaboard when people chose to accept no imitation, and go back to buying Marvel.

Note: I had just planned to do a 2 part post on Atlas/Seaboard but I've enjoyed writing about it even more than I thought I would, so get ready for part 3!  I also intend to do a review/commentary on each of the comics titles over the months ahead -except Vicki- so please let me know what titles you would like me to take a stab at first. Right now I'm leaning towards Targitt, The Destructor, and Phoenix -but I also take requests! As always I welcome any readers ideas, suggestions, and -if need be- complaints. :)