Here’s another example of the wasted potential of the short-lived ATLAS COMICS line of the mid-1970s and how they unsuccessfully attempted to compete with Marvel Comics head-to-head, in the worst way possible. As we’ve talked about before, ATLAS was founded by Martin Goodman and his son Chip following the latter’s ouster from Marvel. When Martin Goodman had sold Marvel to its new owners, it was with the understanding that Chip would take over after he retired and run the place. But the new guys in charge understandably chose to back editor Stan Lee for teh position, and so Goodman was stung by this twin betrayal. As a retaliatory move, he set up ATLAS in order to drive Marvel out of business, crowding them off the magazine racks while proving to teh world that he was the real secret power behind Marvel’s success, not Stan Lee. Didn’t really work out that way for him.
What’s too bad about all of this is that ATLAS represented the possibility of a third viable mainstream publisher entering the field, which could only have made things better for everybody. As it was, ATLAS paid the best rates and offered perks such as the return of original artwork in order to lure talent from marvel and DC over to work with them. This led to both outfits revising some of their policies to the good of creators. But ATLAS was a bit of a Don Quixote effort, and Goodman lost a fortune on it. If he was expecting to be able to put Marvel in its place rapidly, he wasn’t really as smart as he’s credited with being.
ATLAS rolled out of the gate with a full line of titles–no slow ramp-up for the Goodman clan here. All of them seemed to be a bit rushed, but within that, there were some unpolished diamonds. However, many of those diamonds lost their luster as subsequent issues hit teh stands. You see, what Goodman wanted was books that looked and read like the Marvel titles (or at least how he thought the Marvel books looked and read.) He wasn’t interested in innovation or being a trailblazer. He’d made his fortune by following trends and exploiting fads, and he wasn’t about to stop in 1975. So while the initial ATLAS releases had some interesting strips nestled within the line, almost immediately changes began to happen. MAN-STALKER is the result of one of those changes.
MAN-STALKER began life in it’s first issue as TARGITT. The creation of writer Ric Meyers, artist Howard Nostrand and editor Jeff Rovin, and it was intended as a tough guy crime series in the vein of the Dirty Harry movies that were then popular. John Targitt was a hard-boiled cop who shot first and asked questions later. The first issue had an appealing cartoonishness to it, an over-the-top machismo that was somehow very entertaining. It was almost too broad to be taken seriously, and that helped to make the violence more palatable. (It was Comics Code-approved violence in teh first place, so it wasn’t all that violent in and of itself.) TARGITT wasn’t a great strip in that first issue, but you could see that it had a point of view and a personality to it that might have grown into something given some time. Alas, that was not to be.
With the second issue, TARGITT had morphed into JOHN TARGITT…MAN-STALKER in an attempt to turn it into a costumed super hero title in emulation of the Marvel brand. This seems to have happened fairly late in the game, and in mid-stride. The first half of this second issue is written and drawn by Myers and Nostrand and plays very much in the manner of the first one. And then suddenly, about 2/3 of the way through, Targitt suddenly puts on a costume with no explanation or rhyme or reason and begins doing more super hero things. I’d be willing to bet that Gabriel Levy, teh second writer credited on this issue, was drafted in to write these remaining pages ad to rework any needed material in the first 2/3. To say that this is a jarring turn of events is an understatement.
Nostrand did all of the artwork, but it’s clear that drawing super heroes wasn’t really his forte, and so once Targitt becomes Man-Stalker, he looks far more ridiculous than fearsome. It’s almost impossible to take him seriously. Frank Thorne does a better job of things on the issue’s cover (which no doubt replaced a non-costumed Targitt piece at some point in the production cycle.)
And ultimately, these changes were all for nothing, as JOHN TARGITT…MAN-STALKER only lasted one more issue before the whole of ATLAS COMICS closed up shop, having bled enough revenue that even Goodman had had his fill of the whole affair. It’s a shame in that one can look at these books and see what might have been. (And they were easy to come by, especially on the East Coast. For years afterwards, any comic shop in that part of the country had stacks of issues of the ATLAS releases, typically clogging up quarter boxes and the like.)
And here we go! On a dime, Targitt is suddenly wearing a super hero costume without a whit of genuine explanation. (He’s never referred to as Man-Stalker within the story either, only on the cover.) Looking over these pages, I actually wonder if most of teh images of the costume were after-the-fact redraws. That panel where it debuts above sure looks like an add-in, pasting over something else that had been there.
Similarly, this panel of Targitt swinging in on a rope is entirely unconvincing, and looks like it may have replaced something else that had been there earlier. It’s pretty weak sauce.
ATLAS also ran their own version of the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page, ostensibly written by Larry Lieber. I have no idea whether he actually wrote this Stan-style half-page set of plus for other ATLAS releases–but he might have. That said, it could just as easily have ben somebody else.