Who's the Atomic Knight?

Who's This? A dalmatian rider.
The facts: The Atomic Knights (yes, plural) appeared in every third issue of Strange Adventures in the early 1960s, beginning with #117 (June 1960) and running through #160 (January 1964). In all there were 15 early-1960s Atomic Knights stories by writer John Broome and artist Murphy Anderson. They were essentially a band of heroes living in the post-apocalyptic future of 1992. Stupid Hydrogen War of 1986! Gardner Grayle was the Knights' biggest hero. They were taken out of mothballs in the '70s when Carey Bates decided to make them part of his Great Disaster stories in Hercules Unbound (which also included Kamandi in this reality), then DC Comics Presents #57 retconned it all as a dream Grayle was having in suspended animation, which accounts for his solo entry in Who's Who. He would later join the Outsiders, get a horrendous armor redesign, and post-Infinite Crisis, get revamped in The Battle of Blüdhaven so as to recreate a version of his Silver Age adventures in THAT post-apocalyptic setting. Those Knights appear in Final Crisis as well, where they are all killed.
How you could have heard of him: Not quite the Atomic Knight, but Gardner Grayle is a recurring character on the Black Lightning TV series, adding to the commonly-held belief that everyone in the DC Universe will eventually make it into live action.
Example story: Strange Adventures #138 (March 1962) "The Attack of the Giant Dog!" by John Broome and Murphy Anderson
One of the best remembered things about the Atomic Knights is the fact that they ride giant dalmatians. It's an amazing visual, but one that only cropped up mid-stream. Today we're looking at the origin of those spotted icons, in what is actually the eighth Atomic Knights story. But first, I did tell you it wasn't all about Gardner Grayle in the Silver Age, so here's your cast of characters:
Called to a corn field damaged by SOMEthing running through it, the Knights follow giant paw prints back to a rusted old rocket. It's pretty mysterious because, sorry animal lovers, ALL ANIMALS HAVE BEEN KILLED in the nuclear holocaust of 1986. Despite what the splash panel might have spoiled! But Bryndon, the grizzled scientist, remembers this rocket...
It would seem that MR 1909 was sent to the North Pole before the war to test whether a certain kind of polar radiation was hazardous to life, and they put two dalmatians in there, but surely (despite the splash panel spoiler), those dogs couldn't have 1) survived, and 2) made those enormous tracks. Well, to everyone's surprise (okay, maybe not the readers), the Knights spy a couple of dogs as big as horses, and race after them.
One Silver Age explanation later (in short: radiation and feasting on lichens to survive, as dogs do, y'know?) and the Knights bring the dogs back to the farming community. Well, the farmers don't want dogs they can't feed, so our heroes inherit them. Cue Marene. She's not a knight per se, I guess she's their Guinevere, a romantic interest for Grayle, but also uniquely suited to take care of giant doggos.
You know what dogs are good at? Interrupting marriage proposals with their howls. They smell danger and the Knights jump into action. Seems the town is being attacked by (wait, let me get this right) the Khagan and his Atlantides, armed with crossbows. And the Knights have no defense!
Well, I guess breast plates, but with only one "ragun" with a single charge between them, the Round Table Regulars don't stand a chance in an extended fight. Grayle bluffs them and the Atlantides retreat... for now. But Grayle thinks that maybe the giant dogs can be used as sniffers back to their camp, and mounts that could more easily close the distance before the bad guys can get too many shots off. He's right.
And from that time forward, the Atomic Knights would ride (and breed, there's a little of puppies at the end) giant dalmatians, and the townsfolk of Durvale would feed them happily. They're the real heroes here, when you think about it. And it's lucky the radiation mutated the canine craving for meat, or they'd all be on the menu. Come to think of it, whatever DID happen to the Atlantides?

Between the Camelot theme and the giant dogs, it's not difficult to see why a writer in the '80s, failing to see World War III on the horizon, decided to make it all a dream. Gardner Grayle ate something he shouldn't have and stepped into a stasis chamber. But that approach only makes the DC Universe poorer, not richer...

Who's Next? My bizarro namesake.


Martin Gray said...

Thanks for the reminder of one of DC’s best concepts.

You’re right about the regular folk being the real heroes, Just Imagine... filling their doggie bags.


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