Atari Force #1 – Reviews Of Old Comics
When I decided on this comic for review, I realized shortly thereafter that is was from the same year, and only a month away from the previous Reviews of Old Comics article. So what makes 1984 so ripe for memorable comics to review?
Yes, I know that technically, this and the previous comics were actually from late 1983, but in the zeitgeist, if the cover is dated 1984, we tend to view it as being from 1984.
This was the year that brought us the first Secret Wars and DC’s Super Powers, which were some of the first big crossover comics with toy lines. Alan Moore’s first issues of Saga of the Swamp Thing are from this year, a definite turning point in comic books for more mature readers. This year also saw the debut of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which vitalized an independent comics market with hope that a small book could become vastly popular with fans. It also saw DC Comics launch its prestige format Baxter line, available only through comic shops, which probably marked the beginning of comic book shops becoming a destination for fans of comics, eventually supplanting the newsstand as the preferred outlet for new comic books. 1984 was a benchmark year, as it saw significant change in the comic book market and industry.
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciller: José Luis García-López
Inker: Ricardo Villagran
Colorist: Tom Zuiko
Letterer: Bob Lappan
Cover Artist: José Luis García-López
There’s a brawl at Keno’s Yintak Parlor, caused when two mercenaries, Dart and Blackjak have come to collect payment from General Ki they’ve been stiffed on. Dart gets a psychic flash of cops arriving to arrest them. In fleeing, Dart blows a hole in the back wall and the two jump out, only to realize that the parlor overlooks a cliff. With a grappling hook, Dart saves them both from certain death.
Meanwhile, General Ki skulks his way out past the cops, where he encounters Kargg and his fearsome master. The master tells Ki he was supposed to deliver Dart, but by cheating them of their fee, he made her and Blackjak suspicious. Since Ki has served his usefulness, the master drops Ki into one of the planet’s highly acidic rivers, killing him in sixteen seconds. The Master tells Kargg that he wants Dart, that she and her family must be destroyed.
A merchant ship lands on the planet Egg, which records tell has nothing of value. The Captain tells his first mate the inhabitants are special, as when they reach puberty, they harden and become mountains. The Captain then lures one of the mobile young ones into the ship with candy. The child cries as it’s locked in the hold and taken from its homeworld as a slave.
At A.T.A.R.I. Headquarters, in orbit above New Earth, a young man called Tempest is being observed by Professsor Venture and her staff navigating a maze with deadly robots chasing him. He uses his unique abilities to open a portal when cornered to get past a robot. He opens a portal to get to the hidden exit, only to be pulled back through by a robot. He uses his ability to reach inside the robot and cause it to explode.He portals into the observation room where the professor is very proud of how he’s mastering his ability. She introduces him to a new addition to the staff, a tall, thin green alien named Morphea, who realizes he’s the son of the original Atari Force commander Martin Champion. This upsets Tempest a bit and after he leaves to meet a waiting girlfriend, Professor Venture explains that Martin Champion has abandoned his son Chris since Chris’s mother died in childbirth.
In talking to his girlfriend, Chris’s thoughts go to Dart, who’s always been like a big sister to him, able to knock him out of these moods. He wonders where she is.Elsewhere a rodent-like thief called Pakrat is caught and cornered, but attacks them and escapes, convinced it’s time to relocate to New Earth.
Dart and Blackjak climb back through the hole in the back of the parlor, which is now empty. Dart frets about being light years away from New Earth, broke, and hunted by the authorities. Blackjak cheers her up and the two share a romantic interlude, unaware that General Ki’s body is being eaten away where he was dropped into an acid river not far away by a mysterious master that wants Dart for some reason.
The story is amazingly good for a comic based not on a video game, but a video game company. The original series was packed in with video games and tied loosely into the video games they were packaged with. For the record, those games were Defender, Berzerk, Star Raiders, Phoenix, and Galaxian. This series is even more loosely based on Atari properties. As a matter of fact, the only character tied in any way with an Atari game is Tempest, and he only shares a name with an Atari game. Gerry Conway crafts in just over twenty pages a believable universe for all of the characters to live in. He even manages to begin to tie them together, present the distant threat, and practically set the stage for Tempest and Dart to share the lead role in a heroic journey to make Joseph Campbell proud.
The artwork by José Luis García-López is masterful. We’ve covered his work later on the Twilight limited series and the work he did on the DC Style Guide. This man set the artistic look for most of DC comics in the 1980s. Here, he shows a mastery of craft, capable of drawing almost anything believably. His aliens are humanoid enough to be recognizable, but alien enough to creep past the uncanny valley that makes them subconsciously repulsive. His panel choices here are not so severe as to break the traditional rules of page flow, like his later work does, but it’s varied enough to let your eye roam across the page the way he wants it to.
These issues have not yet been collected by Dynamite, who currently has the rights to it, and it has yet to be made available digitally. If you want a physical copy, you shouldn’t need to pay too much, and can probably find one in a bargain box, possibly for less than a dollar.
FINAL RATING: 9.5 (out of a possible 10) This is a good example of how to start a good science-fiction story. Like I mentioned, it seems like Gerry Conway is crafting a Joseph Campbell-like story, but with multiple protagonists. After this series of issues is finished, the series kind of flounders for a while before it ends, with the original creative team nowhere near the book. However, this team of Gerry Conway and José Luis García-López are a dream to read. I have memories of being fascinated by these stories in 1984, and there was an awful lot to be fascinated by.