Tuesday 24 July 2012

Atlas Comics' Morlock 2001 #1.

Atlas Comics, Morlock #1, our hero looks on as a woman is attacked by a giant killer tree
As I roam the dense forests of Tinsley, people often say to me, "Steve. The trees. Look at all those trees. Who's your favourite super-hero who can turn into a man-eating tree?"

Well, there's a lot of competition for that title but, after much thought on the matter, I can only go for Atlas Comics' very own plant man Morlock.

I am tempted to call him Adam Morlock but I'm sure the fact that both he and the similarly named Marvel character were born from pods is pure coincidence.

Sadly, like all Atlas characters, Morlock's run was to prove short-lived but it was certainly hard to forget.

In a future dictatorship, a scientist's gunned down for owning books and doing forbidden plant experiments.

The authorities who killed him soon discover he'd been working on creating a man who's part human, part vegetable. Upon his emergence from his giant pea pod, they name this man Morlock and, upon discovering he can turn people to plants just by touching them, use him as their enforcer.

Atlas Comics, Morlock 2001 #1, dead scientist

Well, Morlock might be a plant but he's no stooge and he soon rebels against his corrupt paymasters - but not before discovering that, when he gets a mad, he turns into a man-eating tree.

Atlas Comics, Morlock 2001 #1, killer tree attack

I wouldn't want to cast aspersions on writer Michael ("The Spectre") Fleisher but, what with The Brute and The Tarantula, this is at least the third cannibal super-hero I can think of that he contributed to the Atlas cause. Some might start to find this worrying.

It also has to be said you can spot from a mile away where all his ideas are stolen from. There's a touch of Warlock to it, a touch of The Time Machine, a touch of the Hulk, a touch of 1984, a touch of Fahrenheit 451, a touch of Frankenstein - and probably a whole bunch of other things I've missed out.

Atlas Comics, Morlock 2001 #1, topiary
Concerns about cannibalism and plagiarism aside, the thing actually works, mostly because there's a strong visceral appeal to the strip.

That's not to say Fleisher's story-telling here's any more than rudimentary but it's a great concept in that it allows artist Al Milgrom to let loose with the imagery. It's hard to comment on the quality of his draftsmanship, because he's inked by Jack Abel who, to my eyes at least, makes every artist look like Jack Abel. If I was a big fan of Abel's inking style, that wouldn't be a problem but he was always one of my least favourite inkers.

Regardless of that, Milgrom serves up some wonderfully nightmarish images and composition in the tale, the chief ones being the transformation of a government lackey into topiary, and Morlock's murder of the female agent who'd been manipulating him.

It might seem unlikely, given how obvious its roots are but, on the strength of issue #1 at least, Morlock was one of the few Atlas strips that actually had potential to work.


Dougie said...

70s comics fielded a lot of ambiguous heroes: suicidal paranoid Warlock; thief, pirate and mercenary Conan; computerised corpse Deathlok; existential narcissist Kull; and the daughters of the Devil and Dracula. But a plant man who eats little blind girls isn't going to win our sympathy. Even if they played the Lonely Man Theme every time he chomped on a moppet.

pete doree said...

Been re-reading a lot of Atlas lately, and I'd forgotten quite how all-out weird they were.
I mean, 'The Tarantula'? I remember even as a kid thinking, why would I wanna read something as ugly as that?
It all feels like someone should've taken Fleisher to one side and asked him if he was having any problems at home.

I always thought The Destructor, Tiger-Man, The Grim Ghost and maybe Wulf could've had futures, but Moorlock?
Nah, maybe as a serial in a Warren mag, but not in a colour book. I'm not even sure it's what you'd call a good comic at all, but it sure does stick in the memory!

Boston Bill said...

I've always had a curiosity about Atlas. I guess they figured that Marvel beat DC by upping the ante, so they should do the same. But a hero who devours blind women?

Eventually, Marvel and DC would up the ante with comics like 'The Dark Knight Returns'; but they'd do it right.

Has the Atlas stuff ever been collected? I don't think it lasted very long.

Steve W. said...

Sadly, I don't think the Atlas stuff's ever been collected. I wonder if the human psyche could survive a TPB packed with such a string of anti-social, murderous and cannibalistic heroes.

R. W. Watkins said...

Of the titles I've actually read, I always thought that Morlock 2001 was the best of Atlas's superhero bunch. The third and final issue features the inimitable Steve Ditko's pencils and Bernie Wrightson's inks, which only add to the strip's paranoid intensity.

southfolkman said...

"how obvious it's roots were..."?

ouch. ouch. ouch.

Steve W. said...

No one's ever accused me of subtlety. :)

Doc Thompson said...

If ever there was comic i felt was 22 pages too long,not worthe the paper,it was printed on and not even worthy to be used as toilet paper,it was Morlock 2001,The book,made as much sence as a submarine with screendoors.