As we’ve discussed multiple times in the past, Atlas Comics was Martin Goodman’s short-lived publishing endeavor in which he attempted to prove that he, not editor Stan Lee, was responsible for the success of Marvel Comics after the ouster of his son Chip Goodman from the firm. Goodman wasn’t so much interested in selling comic books as he was in driving Marvel right off the stands, and he chose to do so by launching an entire line of 20 titles all at once in a bit of a blitzkrieg move. To secure the services of top flight talent, he made a bunch of promises about the return of original art and character equity and so forth–many of which were reneged on in practice. But for a brief shining moment there in 1975, Atlas Comics looked as though it might become a viable third mainstream action-adventure publisher.
Atlas Comics’ material ran the gamut, both in terms of the popular genres it released titles in as well as the quality of a lot of the product. Speaking plainly, Atlas Comics put out a lot of drek, albeit fascinating drek. What’s more, as time went on, even the more interesting titles were plowed under, their concepts and creative teams overhauled on the fly in an attempt to make them more like what Goodman thought Marvel’s books were like. For years, these titles were plentiful in the bargain bins of seemingly every comic book shop, at least the ones on the East Coast.
There are a couple of contenders for the best series that Atlas published, but for my money it was THE SCORPION. Created as well as written and drawn by Howard Chaykin, the book starred Moro Frost, a man with an unusual longevity who had already lived for almost a century by the time of the 1930s when the series is set. Moro’s adopted a succession of names over the years–Moro Frost isn’t his true name at all–as he’s needed to relocate and set himself up elsewhere in order to prevent people from realizing that he’s not aging. He also plies a trade as a mercenary adventurer known as the Scorpion.
THE SCORPION was one of Chaykin’s earliest attempt to craft a lead character that reflected his own sensibilities. Unable to believe in the broadly altruistic activities of most common super heroes, Chaykin preferred characters who did what they did for understandable reasons–including, sometimes, altruism–but who also evidenced a collection of vices and foibles, not the least of which was routinely a prurient interest in the opposite sex. To put things plainly, Chaykin’s heroes fucked.
THE SCORPION was less a super hero title than a pulp adventure series, and Chaykin delighted in evidencing the styles of the period. It’s an era that maintains a fascination for a certain sort of a person, even today. So in a way, THE SCORPION presaged the appeal of later characters such as Indiana Jones.
The artwork is also really nice and stylish. Chaykin was only just beginning to get his sea legs as a solo professional, having worked as an assistant for Gil Kane for some time, where he learned the basics of the craft. There’s also the hint of an influence from Walt Simonson in these pages, who was then sharing studio space with Chaykin. (In fairness, that might be a reverse-influence, where it was Simonson whose approach was affected by Chaykin’s work.)
But a pulpy 1930s adventurer wasn’t at all what Martin Goodman was looking for, and so Chaykin found himself butting heads with his editors about the direction of the series and the overall approach. In the end, Chaykin was ejected from the series, which was tragically revamped into a modern day super hero title of the same name that tried to emulate Spider-Man or Daredevil. It really wasn’t much good at all, and it died after a single issue. We looked at it at length here:
Chaykin, meanwhile, found further success in the industry. A few years after Atlas Comics; demise, he followed in the example of creators such as Rich Buckler and pretty much ported the character over into the Marvel Universe for a series of back-up adventures in HULK magazine to start with. In this incarnation, the character was renamed Dominic Fortune and the backstory involving his seeming immortality was dropped.
Launch-time house ad for the new line illustrated by Ernie Colon.
And the first Atlas faux-Bullpen Bulletins page.