Wednesday, November 20, 2013

365 Comics...323: Phoenix...The Protector #4 (1975)

This would be the last comic book out the door for Atlas Comics, one of only six series to make it to a fourth issue (that's out of 28 total titles to debut in 1975).  That same, increasingly sad-sack Letter From Larry Lieber from four months previous appears on the back page, "What's Happening With Atlas" still touting a bunch of issues that have already come and gone.

The letters column is revealing in the amount of praise for there being a third publisher option, but at the same time not a lot of actual appreciation for the product.  A fan asks for them to change the color scheme of Phoenix's costume and Larry Lieber writes: "Why just change colors?  Gerry Conway's not one to do things half way.  He went ahead and gave the Phoenix a whole new costume."  This traces back to what I was saying previously about Lieber being overworked.  Gerry Friedrich wrote this issue in which Phoenix gets a new costume, not Gerry Conway.

But not only does the Phoenix get a new costume, but a new alias - The Protector - new powers, a new face, a new origin.  Basically, this was a hard relaunch 4-issues-in.  I mentioned before about the 3rd issue switches (365 #321) but this was ridiculous.  Ed Tyler, enraged with how his behavior as the Phoenix has essentially cost the lives of millions and the destruction of Iceland's capital city and New York, is all set to kill himself.  Seriously.  He's depressed, thinking he's ineffectual as a hero (and he is right, to be sure), and he's all set to let the aliens destroy the world.  He carves a tombstone for the Earth in some rock, and plans to rocket into space so fast he burns up in the atmosphere.  But another group of aliens blast him unconscious mid flight and save him.  Recalling very much the same events of issue #1, when Tyler awakens he freaks his shit out and starts attacking his saviors.  These guys shut that shit down quick though, and manage to convince him that they're the good guys.  They tell him humanity is a vile, destructive species, but that they also have the capacity for change, and their continued survival all rests upon Ed Tyler proving them right... with a new face, new superpowers and showdown with a mammoth four-armed cyclops to test them all out.

This is virtually the same breakdown as the first issue, but almost like the publishers are telling the new writer "do it right this time, make it like Marvel, quit destroying the world".  With this being the last issue of the entire line, it would have been far more fitting if The Phoenix really did give up on himself and the world, killed himself in the first few pages, and the remaining pages were the world burning.  But then the Atlas universe wasn't a shared universe.  The characters did not cross over and generally the worlds the characters inhabited were their own.

There's an incredible Atlas resource on-line, the Atlas Archives, which has a rundown of all the comics Atlas/Seaboard published, as well as an extensive collection of articles, interviews, and reviews both from back in the day and retrospective.  It's all fairly interesting reading, particularly the Vengeance Incorporated article from Comic Book Artist #16.

Though I'm sure there might be some folks who have affection for these things as a piece of their childhood, or, like me, appreciate them as a curiosity from the past, a "what could have been" alternative to Marvel and DC, mostly they're a collection of fairly substandard comics and derivative characters who were not given any chance to come into their own, nor did they really deserve to.  It's a collective 72 Comics and Magazines maybe not left forgotten, but certainly not worth bemoaning their loss.  Would anyone really be clamoring for their return...?

No, but it happened anyway...

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