6 Writers: Jeff Parker

July 14th, 2010 by | Tags: , , ,

Well, isn’t this perfect timing, what with Jeff Parker’s latest volume of Atlas just being officially announced as cancelled with its fifth issue?

You ever suddenly notice someone’s work? It’s clear that they’ve been working for years, but one day you just wake up, roll out of bed, and go “Oh! That guy!” That was me with Jeff Parker. I’d read a few issues of his Marvel Adventures work and thought they were pretty good. I thought his “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santron” story was pretty clever, the kind of story that quickly becomes a Thing On The Internet. I liked what I read of X-Men: First Class, too.

What really caught my eye, though, was his Agents of Atlas. It was the closest Marvel has come to doing DC-style comics in years. He dusted off an old What If idea and ran with it. Somehow, someway, Agents of Atlas ended up being a pretty good comic that avoided continuity porn and instead told a really solid story with a strong cast of characters.

Your average team book these days, your Avengers, X-Men, JLA, those kind of books, are coasting. They star characters we’ve been reading about for years and we fill in the blanks ourselves. They’re pre-fab comics, with all of the motivations and relationships built in. Have Wolverine talk about how he doesn’t have to follow your rules, bub, and make Spider-Man a whiny little shell of a man and you’re good to go.

Parker, though. He puts in work. If you didn’t believe in Jimmy Woo, smooth secret agent, before Agents of Atlas, you will after. Same for Marvel Boy, Namora, Gorilla Man, and whoever you care to name. A steady stream of banter, particularly out of Gorilla Man, keeps the fights moving along at a quick pace. In the downtime, the team bickers, argues, and reminisces about the old days. They make plans. They explore their world, and in doing so, make you believe in their world.

Team books require a deft touch, but Parker is one of those guys who knocks out team books like it’s nothing. The most important aspect of building a team is building the relationships between the characters. You can have James Bond, Catwoman, and Tarzan on a team together, but that thrill fades when you realize they don’t mesh at all. “Wouldn’t it be neat if…” only goes so far.

Your leader needs to serve a purpose that the other people on the team cannot. Each team member needs a gimmick, but if it’s cheap, it doesn’t work. Each character needs a point, and stereotypes aren’t good enough any more. We’ve read about rebels and sticks in the mud forever. Rebels are boring. Wolverine is boring. Atlas doesn’t have a Wolverine, and it doesn’t need one. Instead, it has a death robot that’s hiding a few secrets. It has a temperamental Atlantean princess. It has a goddess who should probably work on the friendly fire some.

I can think of a fistful of team comics Parker has written that were worth reading. Exiles put a new twist on an old series and made it interesting again. He played around with off-kilter versions of heroes we already know and used the fact that they were different to play around with what we expected to see happen. This was another series that was here and then it wasn’t, but I liked what I read. It was equal parts funny and fun, the sort of comic that fans claim they want and then do not buy because Spider-Man isn’t in it.

Thunderbolts is off to a rip-roaring start, simultaneously subverting our expectations for characters and plots and reconnecting us with old favorites like it was a comic book family reunion. This is just the latest example of Parker pulling strings on a tattered and beat up old idea and finding something new and interesting to do with it.

The new Atlas shuffles the story around some and comes up with a 1950s paranoia-inspired take on the team. It pushes the creepiness of the team, this kind of vague fifth column uneasiness that has been circling in the background, right to the forefront. These are powerful people who do not necessarily have what we would consider our best interests at heart. Jimmy Woo inherited an ancient organization that had been used for crime for quite some time. He wants to do good, but inertia is a tough thing to counter.

I eat this stuff up. It’s always nice to find someone new to follow, and it’s even nicer when they rarely ever let you down. Parker is a guy I watch because his sensibilities and style of writing click so well with what I want out of comic books. He likes making the old new again, and not just by slinging references in your face or bringing it back to 1985. It feels fresh. The latest stab at Atlas is gone, or will be soon, but his next project is Hulk with Gabriel Hardman and Elizabeth Breitweiser. Hopefully this gets him the name recognition that’ll let him write whatever he wants without fear of cancellation. This stutter step stuff is for the birds.

(This is the third writer in a row I’ve written about who is also an artist.)

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5 comments to “6 Writers: Jeff Parker”

  1. I was cheering (silently to myself) for Parker to write for Marvel after I read his Interman OGN. Good, good stuff. While I don’t follow everything he does, I loved the idea of Atlas and am sad to see it go (again). Hopefully, like you said, he’ll get some notice on the higher profile Hulk.

  2. Regarding your last point, I had simply assumed based on your previous two entries that you were going to make this a cartoonist column. If you wrote articles about Darwyn Cooke and David Mazzucchelli, it’d be a pretty seamless transition.

  3. His Mysterious the Unfathomable with Tom Fowler isn’t too bad either. I’ve got his Underground sitting in my pile, waiting to be read.

  4. I’ve got both Mysterious and Underground on my Buy Sometime list. If for no other reason then I want to encourage talented people to stay the fuck away from Marvel and DC and write their own shit…

  5. I had no idea that the series had been cancelled. That saddens me. It almost makes me want to start buying a bunch of copies of under-appreciated books that I like and giving them away or something. Of course, without a concerted effort, this would not make any difference at all.