I just bought it last night, but I'm pretty sure that Atlas #1 is the ugliest comic book I own. Only the cover, a sensitive piece by Anders Nilson featuring the titular hero holding a charred corpse while floating in a smoggy yellow haze, is aesthetically pleasing.
But flip past the cover, and the rest of this book is ugly as sin: the coloring is garish and sloppy, the art style is childlike and aggressive, and the writing is opportunistic and so drenched in irony that it's impossible to tell if it's a joke, or a joke about a joke, or if it's supposed to be taken entirely straight. But the worst part of this ugly book is that it's published by a press that makes some of the world's most beautiful books — Seattle's own Fantagraphics Books.
Atlas is part of Fantagraphics' All Time Comics initiative, a nostalgia line intended to evoke the Marvel and DC Comics of the mid-1980s. All Time has even hired many of the creators from that time and put them back to work drawing books. Even the "ads" for Atari 2600-style video games on the back cover look like they were originally published in the 80s.
But the book is positively dripping with contempt. Is it contempt for the audience? For the mainstream comics that inspired the All Time line? For the superhero-infested popular culture around all of us at all times? Unclear. The contempt seems to fly in all directions. Nobody is clean.
There's no point trying to explain the plot of Atlas. A superhero strikes a congressman in public and is then sent to jail. Meanwhile Atlas's friends are being burned alive. Somebody has to pay. Atlas pretends to be the center chapter in a long, ongoing superhero story, with an imaginary continuity stretching back decades.
But the truth is, none of that matters. The only noteworthy thing about Atlas #1 is how ugly it is — how offensive it is to the eye. Everyone's anatomy is misshapen. Panels frame grimacing close-ups and the dialogue strains against itself on every page:
Tobey! No!! You stupid kid!! What have you done?! I can't protect you in this godforsaken place! I can't even help myself right now! Tobey could DIE here! ANYTHING could happen. He doesn't know WHAT kinds of MONSTERS we're locked up with!
It's all like that: clunky and hammy and willfully dumb. I can't imagine the circumstances that would allow someone to enjoy this kind of thing. Sometimes Fantagraphics' reach exceeds its grasp, but this is the first out-and-out failure I've seen from them in over a decade.