My love for Atari Force is no secret. What began as a fairly mediocre bit of intramural cross-promotion ended up becoming one the few bright spots in DC’s roster of early 1980s offerings.
Though DC made a score of attempts to mimic Marvel’s big-selling licensed Star Wars comic. only Atari Force came close to capturing that epic space opera vibe. In truth, the series owed as much an inspirational debt to the Chris Claremont’s X-Men than it did to either George Lucas’s cinematic universe or the videogames which lent Atari Force its licensed brand.
Set a couple of decades after the introductory run of came-with-the-cartridge pack-in stories, the series featured an embittered and widowed Martin Champion gathering together a rag-tag crew consisting of offspring of the original Atari Force and assorted hangers-on. After swiping the mothballed Scanner One trans-dimensional spacecraft from the New Earth government, they set off to thwart the schemes of Champion’s old enemy, the nefarious Dark Destroyer.
Yeah, it doesn’t sound particularly inspired when summarized, but the beauty was in the details — especially when rendered by José Luis García-López’s expert hand and given voice by a top-of-his-form Gerry Conway. New Teen Titans may have been described as DC’s answer to the X-Men, but Atari Force — with its melodrama, love of affectedly exotic speech patterns, and semi-subtle bouts of psycho-sexual weirdness — hewed much closer to the familiar stable of Claremontean tropes.
As great as it was, Atari Force wasn’t without its share of problems. The resolution of the primary story arc led to a shift in creative teams, with Mike Baron and Eduardo Barreto taking over for Conway and JLGL and trying their level best to maintain momentum despite the obvious sense that there was a whole lot of wheelspinning going on.
The series wrapped up rather abruptly with issue #20. DC editorial insisted it was because they had “told the story they wanted to tell,” but savvier souls couldn’t help noticing that the cancellation coincided with Warners’ efforts to divest themselves of the cash-hemorrhaging albatross Atari had become.
Even when the series was at its best there were a few bum notes, and none bummier or less noteworthy than the tempermental Tempest…
…Martin Champion’s estranged headband-rocking, dimension-popping son.
Tempest’s mom — a member of the original Atari Force — died giving birth to him, kindling a lingering resentment in his old man. As a result, Tempest grew up to be an angry, self-pitying jerk whose long blond locks, plug-tastic code name and rude and ‘tudey ways destined him for a role as the series’ male lead.
Yet it didn’t turn out that way, either because Gerry Conway wanted to subvert genre conventions or simply realized that Tempest’s precognitive, multiracial mercenary foster sister Dart was a far more compelling character.
While she got to exhibit act after act of bona fide badassery, Tempest was left chasing down side plots that invariably left him beat up, betrayed, and imprisoned for significant portions of the series. His eventual return and reconciliation with his dad became just another quick hit in a bundle of hastily resolved plot threads.
While sidelining Tempest ultimately benefited Atari Force’s narrative, his utterly extraneous combo of “video game reference” and “daddy issues” made it clear that even the series’ creative team viewed the proto-emo prettyboy as Nobody’s Favorite.