(Beginning a new installment of a new column which is, apparently and unfortunately, necessary . . .)
So Atlas is done, and cue the wailing an gnashing of teeth amongst the comics intelligentsia about how we can't have nice things like Atlas/S.W.O.R.D./Captain Britain & M.I. 13 because those stupid-ass readers keep buying their Deadpool comics and ruining it for everyone. This is commonly referred to here as the Hive Mind Fallacy.
Because it's always someone else's fault, of course. It couldn't be, for instance, that all of these books were extreme niche products that, however good they were, were never going to find the mass audience necessary to justify their existence as an ongoing series. It was always going to be a niche product in an audience that has contracted to such appalling levels there are no room for niches anymore.
Atlas is a great example of what tries to happen when you try numerous things in the name of addressing this essential and frankly insurmountable. The first miniseries, which I reviewed here and if you'll remember, I liked very much. It took obscure characters that were very much continuity backwaters and set them up with an interesting raison d'etre, and I was interested to read more.
I did, however, assume it would be another limited series, as something this niche would easily support. Lord knows Marvel isn't shy about running yearly mini-series of characters that can't support an ongoing book--witness Pet Avengers--and can be enjoyed partially because they're not around long enough to wear out their welcome.
Instead, Agents of Atlas gets an ongoing book that for the first eight issues or so ties into the Big Event of the time, Dark Reign. And, of course, it fell into the same trap that every Dark Reign crossover (well, any issue of Dark Reign, really--I mean, nothing happened in that damn thing after the initial establishment of the premise, did it?) Character(s) of book swears to bring Norman Osborn down and never get anywhere, Norman Osborn shows up and acts like a jackass, lather, rinse, repeat.
So now you have a book that has an utterly meaningless tie-in (because nothing in Agents of Atlas impacts Dark Reign) and so much time is spent tying into this that the characters can't work in their own milieu for having to plod through this idiot crossover. Result: No one's happy, because Dark Reign was the first crossover in which every issue was a red skies issue and the stuff that was set up in the mini can't be played out because Norman Osborn, who really never credibly should have been in any position of power, is outfoxing them like he'd Grand Admiral Thrawn or some shit. Which makes the main characters of the books look like incompetent buffoons in the bargain, and do you want to read about stupid people?
So they shuffle Atlas into a backup features with Hercules for awhile and do a few mini-series teaming with the X-Men or whatever and then, with a new trade dress to stick on the cover, they re-launch it again as just plain Atlas.
One could hardly say they didn't learn their lesson from last time. Whatever flaws the initial ongoing series had, this version at least led with a story that was germane to the characters. Tragically, it wasn't an interesting story as yet again the 3-D Man gets shoehorned in and drags an uninteresting, impenetrable, and hopelessly contradictory backstory--not that I would have minded having a newer backstory for the 3-D Man, I just wanted it to be, y'know, good--with him. Oh yes, and the art's muddled and dark, so much so it's difficult to pick out what's supposed to be happening at any given time.
Oh, and it's $4 apiece for 5 issues wherein the plot moves at a crawl. Under the circumstances, I can't imagine why it tanked.
Back in the day, of course, none of this would be a problem. Atlas is a middling little cult hit? Well, we'll run a few mini-series, and hope it builds an audience for itself. If it doesn't, well, the fans of it have a couple of great stories out of it and it can be looked back fondly upon as this strange little thing. If it builds an audience, well, great. We'll do a bimonthly or monthly comic and it can be this slow and steady mid-list hit (like Power Man and Iron Fist, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-In-One, or Defenders--this was far enough back when the comics readership was big enough to have a mid-list) that lasts for a few years, then we can rest it and bring it back in a few years.
However, with news that comic sales are tanking even more than the last time everyone went into ball-freezing terror because sales were so far down, (which was last month) the comics companies have no choice but to con as many people as possible into buying as much as possible (making them as expensive as possible too) by perpetrating and perpetuating the twin lies that Everything Counts and You Have To Read All Of It.
I mean, what else can you do? Grow the audience? Well, it appears everyone has forgotten how to do that, even with the gimmie of major comic movies every year or so now--yes, even with the free fucking publicity of a movie, or a cartoon series, or what have you comic companies can not seem to work out how to get people to read comics. I cannot think of a more damning indictment than that.
And that is the problem, ultimately. Superheroes have gotten stupid because the continual contraction the market and the equal continuous soaking of the poor lost souls that are left for every dime that can still be shaken out of their pockets. Don't ask them to support your comic you think is this hip take on superheroes and then rain scorn on them when it doesn't happen, blame the forces that led to such a pitiful market in the first place that no longer has room for a book like this, nor the patience to reach out to newer audiences. The fish stinks from the head, after all.