If you are reading this, then the Mayans were wrong, and the world
didn’t end with a great disaster in 2012.
It’s also not the first time someone predicted the end of the
world and it didn’t happen.
A man goes to sleep…and wakes up in a world devastated by an
apocalypse. No, it isn’t Rick Grimes from the Walking Dead
but Sgt. Gardner Grayle from the Atomic Knights! The original
After all, the world didn’t end on October 9-29, 1986 with World
War III (the Hydrogen War), leaving the Earth devastated, with only
lonely scavengers hunting all over the world, looking for canned
food, and fighting other groups of survivors, as well as mutated
Strange Adventures After World War II
Well, that was the world according to Strange Adventures
(June 1960) with “The Rise of the Atomic Knights”
(by writer John Broome
and artist Murphy Anderson
all of the original adventures of the Atomic Knights were done by
). Perfectly average soldier Gardner
Grayle found himself in a changed world…destroyed by nuclear bombs,
chased by angry mobs, amnesiac to start, and would have to band
together with other survivors (like teacher Douglas Herald, scientist
Bryndon Smith, soldiers Wayne and Hollis Hobard, and Douglas’
sister Marene) to battle mutated monsters, alien menaces, dwindling
supplies and other survivors. In this first adventure, Gardner and
Douglas find the six suits of armor that are impervious to radiation
and fight with the Black Baron to get the food he has stored and
won’t share with others.
In Strange Adventures #120
“The Menace of the Water-Raider”, the Knights fight a
salt-crystalline creature that is stealing water from local
survivors, with a first page splash page that was used later....
....but again, the Atomic Knights don't make the cover of the issue!
Strange Adventures #123
(December, 1960) has the
Knights meet “The Cavemen of New York”, devolved NYC inhabitants,
while looking for stored food for their own town of Durvale.
Again, like most of their tales, the Knights aren't on the cover!
With Strange Adventures #126
the Atomic Knights go coastal and take gliders out across the vastly
changed United States to “The Lost City of Los Angeles”, with the Knights feeling very much in charge of their brave new world...
....at least for now.
Still not making a cover appearance!
In Strange Adventures #129
(June, 1961), the Knights
face ancient Atlanteans who had been transported across the ages into
1990, and face off against their ruler, Khagan (NOT Negan, but still, a relentless opponent), who wants the Knights
and their armor to pass through a radiation belt around the Atlantean
city in "World Out Of Time".
Strange Adventures #132
celebrates “Thanksgiving Day — 1990″ as the citizens of Durvale
celebrate with fresh vegetables grown from seeds gotten from the
Atlanteans, and face off against Khagan’s troops, as Khagan and his army continue to cause trouble for the Atomic Knights!
Not making a cover (and one has to wonder how the Earth got so bad....).
Strange Adventures #135
(January, 1962) sees Khagan plan to destroy Durvale and the Atomic Knights with a weapon the
Atlantean got in our nation’s capitol, with a “War In
Washington”. Getting to our nation's capital didn't solve the problems of the Atomic Knights, but was an important adventure for the team, and letting them know where things stood.
Strange Adventures #138
(March, 1962) has the
Knights’ final battle with Khagan and his forces, as the team also
gains two giant dalmatians in “The Attack Of The Giant Dogs”. This also added a change to the series, with the team getting pets/steeds of giant dalmatians; having a distinctive pet is a part of any great Kingdom!
Strange Adventures #141
(June, 1962) sees the
Atomic Knights fighting aliens, including Ki-Ling, who want their
atomic-proof armor in the “Menace of the Metal-Looters”.
Still, the team didn't make the cover, but that would change soon...
Strange Adventures #144
features the Atomic Knights in their only original run cover, and
reveals the Mole People (and how they started World War III!) “When
the Earth Blacked Out”.
It was the Mole People that helped life on Earth, not us (well, humans did help).
In Strange Adventures #147
(December, 1962), the
Knights go to Louisiana and face King Touro and his lack of love for
jazz in “The King of New Orleans”.
Seems New Orleans can survive even the Great Disaster!
Strange Adventures #150
(March, 1963) see the
Knights facing off against mobile mutated flora, and they are a
little mad, as they are “The Plant That Hated Humans”.
Seems the world of the future has problems with vegans....as these plants fight back!
With Strange Adventures #153
Gardner and his crew being the climb back to civilization (as well as
Gardner’s interest in Marene) as they battle organizer Kadey and
his Blue Belts trying to get the first new car to roll off the
assembly line since the disaster in “Danger In Detroit” (and a cover featuring a future Forgotten Villain, the Faceless Hunter From Saturn!).
Strange Adventures #156
(September, 1963) see the
Knights save a mutated woman from villagers in the “Threat of the
It also felt like the covers were making Saturn responsible for the trouble (though the Atomic Knights didn't crossover with any other features in Strange Adventures
at the time).
In their last original recorded adventure, Strange
(January, 1964), “Here Come The Wild
Ones” the Knights face off against the Wild Ones – a group of
youngsters who have abandoned adults...
..and Kadey returns to enact revenge on the Knights, with a new device
that can induce trances in others.
This series was a great example of the idea of “duck and cover”
that prevailed in the 1960s…
...the idea that humanity could survive a
nuclear war relatively unscathed.
Still, it’s an interesting look
back at how people from that era saw the future, and that we have the belief we can survive any danger, so long as we work together.
The adventure didn’t end with Strange Adventures #160
, as the Atomic Knights just don't give up!
Return Of The Atomic Knights
The Atomic Knights had most of their stories reprinted in Strange
in the 1970s.
This run supplied them more
covers than in their original run, with #219
relating to the Atomic Knights and drawn by Joe Kubert
, and #223
also featuring them, drawn by Murphy Anderson
The team even got a couple of new appearances in Hercules
in 1977 (by Cary Bates
and Bob Layton
) as their post-apocalyptic world
was tied in with that of Hercules (and Kamandi and OMAC as
..though there were some inconsistencies as none of these
worlds were originally planned to be part of a shared universe).
But, an even bigger disaster befell the Atomic Knights…that of
As we approached the 1980s, the threat of nuclear war waned for a
time (though it never really went away), and the response to it grew
beyond that of fantasy…and much more than the average man (or
average soldier) could deal with.
DC Comics Presents #57
(May 1983, by Dan Mishkin
and Alex Saviuk
) had the world of the Atomic
Knights revealed to be a hoax…all a computer simulation dreamed up
by average soldier, Gardner Grayle, who was trapped in a computer,
and almost plunged the world into nuclear war to make his fantasy
world come true…
...if not for Superman and Marene Herald (with a little secret about her as well).
Thing is, Superman then met OMAC in DC Comics Presents #61
Kamandi in DC Comics Presents #64
…so maybe Gardner
Grayle’s Atomic War of 1986 existed somewhere…or somewhen…else).
This also left Gardner Grayle in the here and now, and available
for use by others, and they made use of him!
Gardner Grayle stuck around, getting a fancy new suit of armor in
Wonder Woman #324-325
in 1985, and the ability
of precognition…and he planned on using these abilities to stop the
end of civilization. The Atomic Knight worked with the Forgotten
Heroes in Crisis on Infinite Earths
, and even joined
the Outsiders for a time…and reformed the Atomic Knights just after
the Infinite Crisis
to deal with the Crisis
Aftermath: The Battle For Bludhaven.
The Knights even appeared in the Final Crisis
, and a
world that was ravaged by a great disaster (and encompassed OMAC,
Kamandi and Hercules Unbound as well), becoming known as Earth-17, and is still
out there somewhere in the DC Universe fighting to keep humanity alive on their own Earth....
...with the entire original
run by John Broome
and Murphy Anderson
being collected in a hardcover graphic novel in
So, it seems Gardner Grayle and the Atomic Knights are still great
survivors, as they have battled a few would be dictators, made it through a few different Crises...
well as the Great Disaster!
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