We’ve gone over the history a couple of times in teh past, and yet I feel a need to recap it again here for any newcomers to this page who haven’t yet read about THE DESTRUCTOR or DEMON HUNTER or THE SCORPION. Atlas Comics (also known as Seaboard) was a short-lived company set up by Marvel founder Martin Goodman after his son Charles (AKA “Chip”) was ousted from the firm. Martin wanted Chip to succeed him as publisher, but those rat-bastards whom he sold the company to backed Stan Lee instead. Atlas was known in the industry as “Vengeance, Inc”, as its sole purpose was to compete with Marvel, to drive them off the racks and to prove definitively that the Goodmans had been the ones behind Marvel’s success, not that ingrate Lee. Obviously, things didn’t work out that way.
Atlas rolled out aggressively, with an entire line of titles almost the size of Marvel’s output in those days. But difficulties started to show up almost instantly, and even titles among the initial fleet of releases that showed interesting concepts and some potential were by their second or third issues being retooled and overhauled in an attempt to make them look and read more like the Marvel books. What resulted was a sloppy mess, and Atlas closed up shop in just over a year–one of the great missed opportunities in the history of comics.
One of the initial Atlas titles was THE PHOENIX, a series that seemed on the surface to be a typical super hero story, but which was a bit more bent and New Age-y. He was an astronaut whose craft was captured by aliens, but he used their technology to give himself super-powers and escape. After three issues of messing around, in the fourth the Phoenix was taken in by some other aliens, outfitted with a new and unspeakably ugly costume, and rechristened the Protector. As you can imagine, none of this worked in the slightest, and that wound up being the final issue of the book.
But during this period, a few tiny bit of inspiration slipped through. One of which was the back-up story in PHOENIX #3m which featured the first and only appearance of the Dark Avenger. Martin Goodman wanted super heroes, and so editor Jeff Rovin decided to give him what he wanted–with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek and his jaw clenched tightly. The Dark Avenger was a weird cross between Batman and Spider-Man, and carries a feeling of distain for the very genre that it’s operating in. It never quite crosses the line into self-parody, but neither can it quite take itself seriously.
The Dark Avenger was the work of writer John Albano, who is probably best recalled as the originator of Jonah Hex over at DC. Albano wrote a ton of stories all across the field, but relatively few super hero stories. His approach to the character is a little bit dismissive, even as he exaggerates a number of the tropes that were typical of super hero stories of the time. The artwork was provided by a pair of relative newcomers to the field, Pat Broderick and Terry Austin. Both would go on to greater things, but even given their relative youth and inexperience, the Dark Avenger is one of the better looking stories in the Atlas Comics canon.
The Dark Avenger didn’t amount to much, only ever appearing in this single short story. so it’s a bit of a buried gem (and really only as noteworthy as the entertainment you get out of it.) The description, “So dumb, it’s fun!” comes to mind.