The Atomic Knights

“The Atomic Knights” was a science fiction adventure series that was originally published in 15 issues of Strange Adventures between 1960 and 1964.

The Atomic Knights
The Atomic Knights
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In the future of 1986, a 20-day (later 18-day) atomic war has taken place, destroying all plant life and most civilization. Gardner Grayle, former soldier and average man, meets schoolteacher Douglas Herald, and the two men discover that ancient suits of armor will protect them against “raguns”, the radiation blasters used as weapons. They’re joined by the Hobard brothers, twins who were former farmers, and the scientist Bryndon. The last suit, “too small for a grown man”, is worn by Marene, Douglas’ outspoken and beautiful sister. They name themselves the Atomic Knights and vow to “represent law and order and the forces of justice” and serve as symbols for an otherwise lawless era.

In their first mission, they fight a despot who’s gained local power by hoarding food. The nemeses in later stories follow a science fiction range, from a radiation-spawned crystalline salt monster, to devolved prehistoric-like cavemen in a deserted New York City, actual space aliens, and underground mole people. Others are a bit more ridiculous (the return through time of Atlantis or walking telepathic plants) or down-to-earth, such as the local villains who set themselves up as rulers.

I liked these stories because they were pleasantly old-fashioned in their optimism and belief in democracy and hard work to reestablish civilization. There are fun science facts and a 50s belief in knowledge and determination to make things happen. The Knights don’t just battle monsters and bad guys, but also spend time farming and re-inventing (cars and gliders and TV) and setting a good example and solving community problems. These stories were fun to read for more reasons than just the out-of-time nostalgia — I really began to like the characters and enjoy sharing their adventures.

I appreciated that the Knights had a female member, and most of the time, she was allowed to help out the same way as the others. She even sometimes saved the day, as when she grabs seeds from the re-disappearing island of Atlantis in order to repopulate plant life. That allowed me to overlook the occasional line like “Sorry, Gardner! I would act like a — woman! But I’m all right now…” after Marene burst into tears at seeing the destruction of Paris. When they would leave her behind, she was in charge of the town (not a bad second prize). And the last story focuses on her, as she goes undercover to infiltrate a gang of “wild boys”, teens gone feral.

The stories don’t have an ending, simply stopping with that last mission. Some of the team later reappeared in the 70s Hercules Unbound. In 2007, DC solicited a Showcase black-and-white book containing these stories and a bunch of others, but it was cancelled before release. Personally, I prefer the stories in color, but I would also have liked to have seen what happened to the characters afterwards, especially if Gardner and Marene finally get together.

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6 Responses to “The Atomic Knights”

  1. chasdom Says:

    This message board thread reprints the relevant letter columns from this series, and gives some context to the series:
    http://marvelmasterworksfansite.yuku.com/topic/13899

    I agree that it would be nice to see the Hercules appearances, but where the series finally received closure is in an issue of DC Comics Presents. Unfortunately, The issue was not a happy one for pre-existing fans, involving retcons that were not in the spirit of the original series, to say the least (as briefly described in the Wikipedia entry that you linked to).

  2. Johanna Says:

    Oh, darn, is that the “it was all a dream” I heard about? I hate that. Thanks for sharing the link for further discussion.

  3. Mike Says:

    It gets worse.

    The original Knights showed up in grim ‘n’ gritty versions of their old armor in “Final Crisis” where Marene is ripped in half by Evil Mary Marvel. Yay, comics.

    At least we still have the original stories, and I’m glad they’ve been reprinted in color, although Murphy Anderson’s art is mighty pretty even in black and white, and his work on this series is among the best he ever did.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Oh, sigh. I think I’ll stick with the original. So sad to hear every time DC descends to stupid shock storytelling of that type.

  5. Ed Catto Says:

    And I think this series showcases some of Murphy’s artwork at it’s peak. So fine, so planned and so tight. Just wonderful stuff from a wonderful guy.

  6. Atomic Knights! « stefan poag Says:

    [...] finally got my copy of the reprints of “Atomic Knights” comics in the mail… and I can’t wait to sit down and crack it [...]

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