Atlas At War!
Edited and Introduction by Dr. Michael J. Vassallo.
Art Restoration by Allan Harvey.
Published by Dead Reckoning and Marvel.
260 pages – oversized hardback – $65/£47.
Available from Amazon in the US here and in the UK here.
‘Atlas at War!‘ collects fifty hard-hitting stories from Atlas Comics, the company that became Marvel Comics and published more war titles than anyone in the industry between the years 1951 and 1960.
Comics historian Dr. Michael J. Vassallo has chosen the best of the best, many of which are coming back into print for the first time, from sixteen different Atlas war titles and featuring the artwork of twenty different artists – giants of the genre, including Russ Heath, John Severin, Bernie Krigstein, Joe Maneely, Jerry Robinson, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby.
Each page has been meticulously restored from its first printing by comic art restorer Allan Harvey. Atlas at War! covers the brutal pre-code period where graphic depictions of war action were rendered by artists who were World War II veterans themselves, as well as the post-code period, where code restrictions forced creators to tell stories without graphic violence but produced some of the most beautiful comic art of the genre. In addition to the artists, stories cover all aspects of war – from famous campaigns, weaponry, and personal soldier stories to political topics, Nazi atrocities, and even one story tinged with pre-code horror!
Often overlooked in favor of its competitors, Atlas at War! will finally show that Atlas’ war titles were second to no one.’
From one of those lucky coincidences that social media sadly only rarely supplies I’ve been chatting to Allan Harvey and watching some of his comic page restoration process. He has a seemingly magical ability to transform a browning and tatty looking page into something fresh off the newsstand. (I am now in the process of cyber stalking him and being terribly bothersome to get him on the podcast to talk about how he does what he does.) But during one of our conversations he asked if I had seen Atlas At War! I had not and he kindly sent me a copy that arrived yesterday afternoon.
The restoration process itself is excellent. Every page is a triumph of sharp clarity and tone perfect colouring. Too long we have suffered under the cosh of underrealized and badly presented reprints of the Golden and Silver Age. But not here. These feel fresh, like I’ve just been bought them as a kid. A trip over to Allan’s website also reveals that he is a master at this and his restorations are not limited to US comics. There are some great examples of work he has carried out on comics such as Vulcan, Tornado, Misty, Captain Britain Weekly, and more. He is currently working on Colleen Doran’s ‘A Distant Soil’. He’s also worked his magic on some Dell war comics that are well worth a click over to.
I spent a good few hours reading these fifty shorts and they are all totally enthralling. I’m sure that I’m getting on Allan’s nerves with my messages about this book! The sheer amount of comics mastery in the pages of this volume is breathtaking. In sitting down to write this review I thought I would pick out some of my favourites but in all honesty they are all classics and I’m reminded of both how skilled the writing and art was but also how accessible they remain now, some seventy-six years since the end of World War II.
I urge you to just get yourself a copy and open it on any page and drink in each tale. From ‘Gas!‘ with art by John Severin, to ‘The Dead Men!’ with art by Joe Sinnott to ‘The Hidden Doom!‘ with art by Steve Ditko to ‘A Tank Knows No Mercy!‘ with art by Jack Kirby and inks by Steve Ditko every single exclamation marked story is solid fucking gold!
Dr. Michael J. Vassallo charts the history of the creation of this volume as well as the names and backgrounds of those involved in an interesting introduction. He notes that most of the authors and artists had service experience in WWII and that experience shows in the detail on the page. Sometimes you really do have to fight a bull to be able to talk about it with any detail and credibility?
It is also interesting the point that Vassallo makes about the parallel history between war and comics. The Golden Age of Comics had barely begun when the Second Word War broke out in Europe and was then in full swing by the time the US joined the allies. In the UK war comics took their own path and whilst in a weekly format they likewise had their own moments of action, danger and pathos. In Atlas At War! you feel the dirt and blood on the battlefield from Joe Maneely, Jerry Robinson, Gene Colan, Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Don Heck and the rest. The absolute mastery on the page in every changing styles is worth ten times the reasonable price you pay (a price also currently heavily discounted on Amazon dear reader!)
I genuinely can’t recommend this more. It is so good it made me fucking weep! I’m hugely grateful to the creators who put so much work into bringing these stories back to life. And again thanks to Allan who sent me a copy.
Dr. Michael J. Vassallo is a noted comics historian and a world-renowned authority on the Timely/Atlas period of Marvel’s history. He is the co-author of The Secret History of Marvel Comics and has written twenty introductions to Marvel’s Timely and Atlas Age Masterworks volumes. A frequent contributor to comic history publications, Dr. Vassallo has provided writing and editorial support to Taschen Publishing (75 Years of Marvel, The Stan Lee Story) and maintains his own Timely-Atlas-Comics blog. A Manhattan dentist, he resides in Westchester County, New York, with his wife, Maggie, and their children, Michelle and Jason. He is currently researching and writing an art biography of Atlas giant, Joe Maneely.
You can find Dr Michael J. Vassallo over at his Marvel centric blog here Timely-Atlas-Comics (timely-atlas-comics.blogspot.com).
Welsh graphic artist Allan Harvey specializes in digital restoration, breathing new life into vintage comic artwork. Previous restoration projects include Colleen Doran’s A Distant Soil, Stan Lee’s Amazing Fantastic Incredible, and a host of Sam Glanzman war comic reprints for It’s Alive Press.
You can follow Allan over on Twitter here and head over to his comics restoration site here.
Dead Reckoning is an imprint of Naval Institute Press which is the book publishing division of the U.S. Naval Institute – a non-profit organisation. You can find their website and their comics here.
Many thanks for reading.