When contemplating a new superhero campaign, the choice is usually between creating an original setting or playing in an established comic book universe. It occurs to me another option be playing in a failed or defunct superhero universe: you get the advantage of having some established elements to pull from (not to mention art), but few people will have strong enough attachments to it and the worlds are unlikely to have last long enough to really constrain you with canon. You get to build your own house but with a foundation and all the building materials supplied.
No has-been or never-was universe became so as spectacularly and quickly as 70s Atlas Comics (or Atlas/Seaboard). I won’t delve into the history (you can read it here) but suffice to say despite prestigious talent and money no Atlas title lasted more than 4 issues. Conventional wisdom would hold that this failure was because the Atlas characters weren’t very good and their stories possibly worse. I would submit, however, that uninspiring or mediocre comic book characters are pretty much the stock and trade of supers rpgs. Game characters don’t need concepts that swing for the fences, they just need to get on base. That’s why Marvel and DC B and C-listers are the sweet spot for using as game characters—and Atlas’s “superstars” are pretty much at that level. Let’s look at the standouts in turns of gameability:
Not exactly the “new house of ideas,” but not that bad, either. Well, most of these characters got a big shift in the last issue, so the thought would be: take the first issue or two as “canon”, then build your own universe from there, using things from later stories as fodder for inspiration. PCs could have latitude in how to develop their characters further from their comic roots, perhaps doing some “retcons” to the backstory over time, just as would likely have happened had the comics kept being published.
There are other Atlas characters, some that could be good PC material with a “bold new direction” here or there. There are also several barbarians, a few horror characters, tough cops, and two future dystopias that can help fill out the universe and inspire further development.
What crashed and burned in the world of comics publishing may soar in gaming. The Atlas Age just might be here!