Or – “Goodbye, Yellow Claw Road…”

aa9.jpgreviewbubble.jpgWow, that’s a really terrible play on words, even for me. Sorry ’bout that. In the previous five issues of Agents of Atlas, we’ve seen everything but the kitchen sink: erstwhile gods, apes with guns, resurrections, insurrections, lost princesses of undersea kingdoms, evil corporate entities, even automotons with death rays, and each issue has been consistently excellent. Mostly shunning the industry-wide shift towards decompression, Agents of Atlas has been a high-speed tilt-a-whirl ride which takes all the old pulp and movie serial elements and put them together in a whole new matrix of awesome. But, does issue six uphold the standard of excellence?

aa1.jpgI’d say it actually ups the ante, which is mightily impressive. In the last five issues we’ve discovered the real story behind Venus, behind Marvel Boy/Bob Grayson, behind the supposed death of Namora of Atlantis. Three more origins are on tap this time around, including the one you NEVER expected to see. Last issue ended with the G-Men, at last, discovering the key to the hidden lair of Atlas, hidden in the video recordings made by M-11 The Human Robot (Best. Name. Ever.)

This issue begins 24 hours later, with agent Derek Khanata of SHIELD giving the report on how the Agents of Atlas died. (I know, I know, stay with me here! More explanation is coming, I promise.) Derek tells Dum Dum Dugan and his tribunal that a careful analysis of the footage revealed the magic word that allows entrance to the Temple of Atlas beneath the streets of San Francisco. Knowing they can now finally face their mysterious foe, how does the team respond?

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By walking in unison towards the camera, the true sign of greatness in any team. I mentioned the “movie serial” feel of the book earlier, and this panel is a beautiful example of how the cinematic visuals really make the book sing. It’s also nice to see Bob Grayson make a nod to super-hero couture by donning his ceremonial cape. Once they reach the gateway, Jimmy finds that the old entry word, doesn’t work. He thinks for a moment, then it comes to him. “Master Plan,” says Jimmy, and the team is suddenly racing down the world’s oldest elevator. Back in the future, Derek explains to his bosses that they were (like the squad before them) suddenly attacked by a mystical flame, and that only he was able to dodge free and escape…

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The SHIELD brass accepts this story, and lists the Agents as deceased, even honoring Jimmy Woo and Ken Hale (Gorilla Man) posthumous honors. Derek then heads home for Wakanda, while remembering the REAL story. I told you there’s more than it seems.

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Very cool use of an old-school force field by the Robot, and our heroes are saved, as you probably figured they would have been. Throughout the series, there have been references to the mysterious Mr. Lao, mastermind behind the marketing juggernaut of Atlas. Mr. Lao even appeared on Marvel’s website as part of a viral marketing campaign for Agents of Atlas, hosting games and scavenger hunts to promote the book. I’m sure even the Agents have wondered why he’s so secretive, and what he really looks like…

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Oh, dear. I cast Magic Missile and put up my +7 shield! What? They’re in a dungeon, and he IS… what he is. You can’t tell me that I’m the only geek here. Not only is Lao the mind behind Atlas and all it’s myriad tentacles, he’s apparently been busy all over the place.

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“Did you not become immortal?” queries Mr. Lao. “Yeah. As well as a gorilla!” replies Ken. You don’t see plots like these on ER, folks… Mr. Lao has spent years trapped in a lamp after defeating a genie in the Atlas mountains of Morocco (also giving him the name for their various nefarious pursuits), and has been under the control of the Yellow/Golden Claw for centuries. The Golden Claw has used the organization to maintain the lineage of the lost Mongol empire, the glorious bloodline of the Khans.

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I love that line. Something about it just gives the immortal dragon a perfect air of “yes, yes, you’re a clever doggie, blah blah blah.” Suddenly, the story takes a turn I did NOT expect, and shows us the true origins of the man known pejoratively as the Yellow Claw. The reason that the Claw has been such a larger-than-life pain inna butt for all these years? To make Jimmy Woo a legend. His plan was to provide a foil so evil, so enormous, that it would make Jimmy a big-damn hero. After all, every protagonist is only as good as his evil mastermind.

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The plan didn’t work, as you can probably tell, but it’s finally time for The Golden Claw, aka Master Plan Chu, to pass on the leadership to a new Khan. The planned Khan? None other than Woo Yen Jet, also known as James Woo. He’s spent decades trying to kill you, to make you tough enough to take his place? That’s some serious tough-love, there. After a very literal passing of the torch, Golden Claw does what all Khans do after choosing their successor…

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…he gets eaten by a freakin’ dragon! “I believe I am the only man on the planet to ever say this with any degree of certainty. We have seen the last of the man once called Yellow Claw.” Word, Derek. We’ll see how long Marvel lets such a villain stay dead. On the one hand, he’s a vaguely archaic racist archetype, but on the other, it’s Marvel. Nobody stays dead at Marvel. *coughMar-Vellcough* The Agents of Atlas decide to stay together as a unit, and are left settle into their new digs, examining the underground castle, and celebrating. All except M-11, that is, who simply stands motionless on the sidelines. “I wonder what goes on in that metal brain of his,” muses the newly-minted Khan Woo Yen Jet. With the magic of storytelling, we finally get to see what Jimmy can’t, and I was really touched by what’s running through that titanium melon… His own secret origin, and the final explanation of what it truly means to be a HUMAN robot.

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It’s a heartfelt moment, echoing the creation of Aaron Stack decades later (and wouldn’t an Agents of Atlas/Nextwave crossover make your head spin?), and puts the capstone on a miniseries that has revitalized some of the oldest characters in Marvel’s aresenal. Issue six is chock-full of goodness, and ranks among the most satisfying books I’ve ever read. I love when expectations are turned on their head, and this issue’s revelation that the big fight was actually going to be a conversation, a coronation, and cuisine for a dragon really hit the spot amid the senseless carnage of comics right now.

I’m sure this will be in trade paperback form within a half-hour or so, and I’ll tell you right now, if you don’t have the issues, you’d do well to hit your friendly local comic shop for a copy. It’s got beautiful art, cool dialogue, gorillas with guns, and some truly beautiful moments. The series and this issue are the total package and score a truly impressive 4 and a half outta five stars.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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