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Atlantis Attacks: The Original Epic
Marvel Comics

Comic Books

‘Atlantis Attacks: The Original Epic’ is a time capsule from an age of transition

A great window into Marvel on the cusp of the ’90s; you see all the elements of the subsequent decade, for better or worse.

You have got to hand it to Marvel: when it comes to keeping their back catalogue in print, they continue to dig into odd corners of their lore to put on the shelf. As 2021 comes to an end, we are treated to a catacomb of a trade collecting the entire 1989 crossover Atlantis Attacks. It’s hefty, convoluted, weird and not really worth reading in its entirety. However, while the crossover does not hold up in a narrative or artistic sense, especially when compared to other arcs from the era, there are still moments of joy to glean from this massive trade paperback.  

Let’s see how succinctly I can sum up the plot: Attuma and the Atlanteans are used as an invading force to conquer the surface world on behalf of Ghar of the Deviants and Llyra of Lemuria, all with the intention of bringing back Set, the seven-headed serpent god. Eventually, when the invasion fails, Ghaur attempts to kidnap seven super-heroines to offer to Set. It’s comical when the plot is laid bare, but it really doesn’t matter, as the entire story is just an excuse to get Marvel’s various superheroes to come together and engage in massive battles with their undersea foes. In the book’s defense, its premise is no sillier than dozens of other arcs that are well loved by fans. Unfortunately, Atlantis Attacks falls short in its execution, exposing its plot deficits.

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Atlantis Attacks: The Original Epic
Marvel

At this time, Marvel and DC would often use their compulsory oversized Annual issues to engage in inconsequential crossovers. It’s an odd storytelling strategy; as a young comic reader at this time, I often enjoyed the Annuals since it was difficult to pick up every issue of a monthly series due to the remoteness of my hometown. It was normal to miss frequent issues of a monthly book, so the ongoing story would be delivered in fits and spurts. The Annuals allowed readers to get a single, self-contained issue that sanctioned creators additional space to develop their characters, without needing to follow the title closely. But with a crossover like Atlantis Attacks, each Annual printed that year fits specifically into this larger event, requiring at least some knowledge of the connected issues to appreciate the tale. Thankfully, the plot is just janky window-dressing for a series of fight scenes, which at least allows uninitiated readers a way to enjoy the single issues connected to their desired titles. 

1989 was an interesting year for comics. The comic book boom was just beginning to materialize, with the ’90s tone and ethos revealing its bloated head. You have issues like Avengers Annual #18, written by Michael Higgins and penciled by Ron Wilson, which feels very much a remnant of the Bronze Age in its plotting and visual design. Contrast this with Amazing Spider-Man Annual #23 and New Mutants Annual #5, which feature Rob Liefeld’s pencils in all their wanton glory. Reading a crossover with this many creative talents contributing is often bewildering, but especially so when reading a collection of books from Marvel in 1989. Add to that the clearly overwritten script, where the guiding editors are feverishly trying to make the plot make sense in each disparate issue, and it feels like a time capsule from an age of foundational transition. 

Atlantis Attacks: The Original Epic
Marvel

It’s not a terrible collection, and I must note that my personal nostalgia for this era likely gives Atlantis Attacks a bump up in my appreciation for these issues. 1989 was the year I discovered comics, and I fell in love with the shared universe Marvel created. I surely didn’t read all these issues upon their initial release, but it was exciting to know that all these characters were connected. It made this fictional universe feel big and worthy of exploring, and I can thank Atlantis Attacks for helping instill that love for continuity in my young mind. Rob Liefeld might be a punching bag to many in our industry at this point, but it’s clear why I was attracted to his art after reviewing these issues. His pages are big and splashy, with ample energy coming from each contorted physical form engaged in combat. His designs are rather restrained when compared to his later work, and truth be told, his work is some of my favorite in this book full of admirable innovative forces. 

In additional to its general convoluted structure, it should be noted that not all the plot has aged well. There is an implied desire to take advantage of the super-heroines being kidnapped by Attuma, that while a common comic trope, feels inappropriate reading it now. For example, X-Factor Annual #4, beautifully rendered by John Bryne, does imply the villain’s attempt to abuse Jean Grey. While recognizing that it’s foolish to critique work from a bygone era based on the social norms of today, it would be imprudent to omit this aspect of the plot when discussing the current publication of the arc. 

One of the best aspects of this collection is the way the backup shorts from each Annual is compiled at the end of the trade. Marvel historian Peter Sanderson and artist Mark Bagley do an admirable job delving deep into the Marvel lore, ruminating on the edges of the arc’s main storyline. Comic publishers seem to have forgone this use of backup stories in our internet age, but they effectively give much-needed insight (maybe even too much) of the diverse characters and their relationships. These backups, called Saga of the Serpent Crown, show how much love folks in the Marvel office had for the company’s chronology. 

The collection ends with a few sketches, pinups, as well as a text description of Set and his role in the Marvel Universe. While not likely to entice fence sitters to purchase this trade, these are the types of supplementals we have come to expect from a collection of this nature and are welcome additions.

Overall, Atlantis Attacks: The Original Epic is a great window into Marvel on the cusp of the ’90s; you see all the elements of the subsequent decade, for better or worse, on display in this epic arc. While ultimately forgettable, it’s a respectable collection that might interest those looking to venture into this epoch of comic crossovers. 

Atlantis Attacks: The Original Epic
‘Atlantis Attacks: The Original Epic’ is a time capsule from an age of transition
Atlantis Attacks: The Original Epic
Overall, Atlantis Attacks: The Original Epic is a great window into Marvel on the cusp of the '90s; you see all the elements of the subsequent decade, for better or worse, on display in this epic arc.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
You get a massive introduction to dozens of creators working at Marvel in the late '80s.
Some fine art and covers still look great today.
Editorial care has been given to collecting this convoluted narrative in a comprehensible manner.
It's truly a mess as a single narrative. Some of these issues read fine as individual stories connecting to the larger arc, but the entire story is a bit of a dud.
Some of the plot elements, specifically the implied attempts to abuse the kidnapped heroines, have not aged well.
5
Average

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