by Jeff Parker (writer), Gabriel Hardman & Paul Rivoche (art), Elizabeth Dismang (colors), and Tom Orzechowski (letters)

The Story: Jimmy Woo and company prepare for round two with Jade Claw and the Great Wall.

What’s Good: This is quite possibly my favourite issue of the ongoing series thus far, as it demonstrates why Atlas is at its best when allowed to dwell in its own fringe corner of the Marvel Universe.  With no Dark Reign, Captain America, New Avengers, or Hulk in sight, this issue is nothing but the sort of unrestrained, pulpy, sci-fi retro chaos that we should be getting from the Agents of Atlas

A key example of this is the scene with Dr. Zu, the mad scientist responsible for many of the Menacer robots.  It’s total mad scientist territory here, with rows of dormant robots and crackling Tesla coils.  It’s a perfect blend of kooky 60s sci-fi and classic matinee horror that reminds us of what this series is capable of.

I also really liked how Parkman paced this series, dividing the book into separate little scenes/ vignettes, each one or two page sequence getting its own title.  It only added to the comic’s already dynamic feel.

While all the characters were flawlessly written this month, Temugin was done exceptionally well.  Early on, he’s called out for his idiotic, arrogant bravado, but later, his arrogance actually leads to him sounding and acting like a hero in some very well-played outrage.  It certainly helps that he also finally comes off as the legit badass that he is.

Perhaps boosting this issue the most, however, is Gabriel Hardman.  I’ve made no secret of my belief that Hardman is far and away the best fit for this series and also one of the best artists on Marvel’s roster.  Once again, he brings that retro, pulpy vibe that almost makes the comic feel like newsprint, in a good way.  Hardman is just so perfect for this book and everything looks grimy and old school, yet detailed and characterful.

Overall, this book is just pure fun, the sort of fun that is perhaps best encapsulated by its ludicrously awesome final image, which I won’t spoil.

What’s Not SoGood: Unfortunately, Hardman had some help on the art from Paul Rivoche and the frames which see Rivoche’s assistance are occasionally pretty glaring, particularly when they involve close-ups.  It’s not bad or anything, just a bit off-putting at times to see facial features being drawn differently in a couple of frames.

Also, while it’s by no means a major focus, Parker’s hinting and foreshadowing Atlas’ upcoming second feature in Incredible Hercules is a little irritating given that the plot has absolutely nothing with the Great Wall or Jade Claw.  It’s poorly placed self-promotion that feels a bit digressive.

Finally, a minor quibble, but where the hell is Khanata?  We get one image of him getting a massage, and then he disappears.  Even when the team goes to battle, he’s not there.  Did I miss something?

Conclusion: Excellent characterization, atmosphere, and a little bit of good old action make for some of the best Atlas we’ve gotten in some time, proving that Atlas is at its best when allowed to do its own thing.

Grade:  A-

-Alex Evans