Review: Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Heroes, Vol. 1

Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Heroes, Vol. 1
Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Heroes, Vol. 1 by Bill Everett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know a lot of folks have reviewed this and not exactly been kind with most of the stories in it, but I found this Marvel Masterworks a fun read. It’s hard to go wrong with so much Bill Everett artwork and story. He plays up his “goofy” art style to the hilt here, as sort of a modern Basil Wolverton.

True, the whole book is violently jingoistic; there are now Communists behind every problem, even a lot of the simple crimes. But you’ve got to read these while considering the era they were written in. Five years earlier, you would’ve followed the adventures of “Jap-busters” and the various inhuman depictions of Asians in the name of war propaganda.

The Marvel Boy/Astonishing stories are all over the place. It is kind of hard to believe Bob Grayson could take the mundane job of insurance investigator when he’s probably the smartest person on the planet at the time. His adventures either have him helping stop major invasions by aliens or exposing insurance fraud. I do like how the entire comics were reprinted, including the non-Marvel Boy and text features. That was definitely a breath of fresh air.

The reprints of Young Men are pretty indicative of why super-heroes were fading as a genre: No proper attention to continuity and not much care given to the stories themselves. Everett’s Sub-Mariner tales are excellent, But Carl Burgo’s Human Torch stories (even with the assist by Russ Heath on the first one), and John Romita’s Captain America tales are sorely lacking. Far too much “Red menace” and far too little trying to keep things straight. Cap apparently rejoins the Army between issues, I guess to help with the “spy-busting” storylines. The problem with both is that most of the stories start in the middle of a fight and we’re left to pick up the story threads as we go; usually easy but sometimes you don’t even care. I will give Burgos and co. props for having a villain (the Vulture) who carries over between two stories. I can’t think of many actual Torch villains, other than Hitler (who we do see getting canonically ‘torched’) and the Asbestos Lady, of course.

I’m seriously thinking about getting the other two volumes in the Atlas Era Heroes series of Marvel Masterworks. I’d like to see if these stories improved or not, and I’m sure just the Bill Everett artwork on Sub-Mariner will make them worth whatever discount price I can find them at on Amazon or eBay.

I don’t think this book is a good fit for the average, modern comic book fan. You’ll get yourself too up in arms over the Commie-baiting, the artwork and the weird storylines. This is one of those books for the old school fan. If you like comic books as a medium and enjoy golden age super-heroes, then you should give this book a read. Just remember this is spawned from the age of McCarthyism, and has similar attitudes.

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