This is the 14th in my series of Forgotten Books
I love books. I think those who read this column know this. I especially love books that stretch the established boundaries. I don’t always know what the boundaries are or who established them but I can tell when they are being pushed back. At MISSIONS UNKNOWN we like a lot of things – books, films, music, art, books, conventions, books. You get the picture.
So this week I want to push the boundaries again. Last week I included an illustrated book (theoretically) designed for children. This week is a science fiction themed graphic collection. It’s not really a Forgotten Book as it is one which might have been overlooked by many folks, like the Spider novels I reviewed a few weeks back. New, but not known.
The Atomic Knights were the creation of John Broome and Murphy Anderson for STRANGE ADVENTURES comics in 1960 under the editorial guidance of Julius Schwartz. Julie, as he was known, was well versed in science fiction and comics, having been at various points, the agent for HP Lovecraft, close personal friend of Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison, and an editor for DC Comics for many, many years. He loved science fiction and shepherded several SF related comics for DC. He was responsible for Adam Strange and the revivals of the Atom and Hawkman and the Justice League of America.
But for me, the Atomic Knights were among the most fun series DC ever did. They appeared irregularly in STRANGE ADVENTURES beginning in 1960 with issue 117. They appeared in 15 issues over the next 3+ years, in every third issue (except issue 159 which they did not appear in, though their final appearance was in issue 160).
The story is basic. Earth has had an atomic war. It lasted just a few days. 20 days. Mankind is struggling for food and to survive. Gardner Grayle, ex-soldier, finds a group of men beating a man in the street. He rescues Douglas Herald, a former school teacher, who was being beaten because he had a can of food. The war killed most plant and animal life and food is a scarce commodity. Gardner suffered amnesia after war and had wandered. Now he finds small “baronies” have been established with powerful men preying on the weak. One such is the Black Baron who ray gunned anyone in his way. The two men are attacked with a radiation grenade. They hide behind some suits of armor and are amazed when they are not affected. They infer that the armor must have protected them, that “through the centuries the armor had hardened into a peculiar molecular structure capable of acting as a shield against nuclear radiation.” God, you have to love a rational mind. They have six suits of armor, so they enlist the aid of Hollis and Wayne Hobard, a pair of brothers, and Bryndon, a scientist. The final suit is too small for the men of the area but it is perfect for Herald’s sister, Marlene.
These six individual try to bring back civilization and culture to a devastated world. They find mutated Dalmatians that serve as horses for the group. There are a few radios. They face off against villains, human and otherwise.
The stories are generally intelligent. John Broome was a writer in the 1930’s for various pulps. His agent was Julius Schwartz. He did some comic work for Fawcett publications, including Captain Marvel but World War II interrupted that. After the war, he found work at DC for Julius Schwartz and crafted stories there for more than 20 years. He is especially noted for his work on the revival of The Green Lantern comic.
What really appealed to me, though, was the artwork. Murphy Anderson is one of the most talented of all the Golden and Silver Age artists, either alone or in collaboration with Carmine Infantino or Gil Kane. He started working in comics in 1944 and worked in the daily Buck Rogers strip in 1947. Among his best work are The Atomic Knights, Hawkman, and The Spectre. He also worked on most major DC heroes including Superman and Batman. Anderson’s lines were clean and pure. His figures were well defined. The Hawkman work with the many feathers and the work on the Atomic Knights’ armor are clean and crisp.
The Atomic Knights only appeared on the cover of one STRANGE ADVENTURES issue during their original run. They were reprinted some in the 1970’s and 80’s, but this is the first complete collection of their tales. It’s a short run, only 15 issues, 180 or so pages. But for nearly 50 years they have stayed in my mind. Give them a chance, you might like it.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.