© DC Comics, Inc.
As I’ve said here, I usually don’t reread old comics, perhaps in fear of disappointment, but I’ve made another exception for this collection. The Atomic Knights was a favorite feature in a favorite comic, STRANGE ADVENTURES, and while I didn’t find all these stories in their original 1960-64 release, I had many of them. Post atomic war stories were fairly common at the time, in the midst of the cold war and the arms race, but writer John Broome found ways to make the nightmarish fears of that subject almost fun, with his characters clad in mediaeval armor, riding giant dalmations, and having some thrilling adventures. Artist Murphy Anderson did a wonderful job bringing realism to the sometimes outlandish ideas, and as one of the first DC artists allowed to put his name on the work (at least some of the time), he became a favorite, too. Getting to know Murphy later, when I started working for DC, I often told him how much I enjoyed these stories. So, how would they hold up to rereading?
The first story holds up extremely well, it sets up the concept quickly as ex-soldier Gardner Grayle, on the run in a destroyed landscape, and suffering from amnesia, tries to piece together what happened to our world. Falling foul of a local militia and their tin-hat dictator, he gathers some kindred souls in resistance. The armor they find in a museum helps them stand up to the militia, and the Atomic Knights are born. Later stories are a mixed bag, some reading better than others. I liked the one based loosely on John Wyndham’s “Day of the Triffids,” about sentient and hostile plants, and the giant Dalmations are still cool. Several stories are travelogues, visiting various parts of destroyed America, while others are clearly written around a cool visual monster or menace. With today’s knowledge, the handling of radiation and its dangers is laughable at times, and perhaps the weakest element of the concept. Broome’s ideas about women are not far behind, with the lone female Knight usually given babysitting or homemaking tasks, when she isn’t mooning over Gardner Grayle.
As a book, this one has the some of the same poor design and terrible font choices of THE CREEPER hardcover I discussed here a while back. I wish someone in DC’s design department had a clue about using comic book fonts (and how NOT to use them). On the whole, though, this is still a fun series, and one I can recommend. I’m quite happy about that!