Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Lonely Days, Dreary Knights

DC's recently-released Battle for Bludhaven #1 featured the return of the Atomic Knights. Or, to be more precise, the resurrection of the name "Atomic Knights" for a lackluster group of armored characters with nuclear abilities, I presume. But for those of us who know, these are not the Atomic Knights.

The real Atomic Knights appeared in DC's sf title Strange Adventures between 1960 and late 1963 (their last issue was dated January '64, but it would have appeared in November of the previous year, 'cuz that's the way comics dating works). The characters were noble warriors in a post-apocalyptic future world; their armor protected them from the hazards of their post-nuclear-war environment. They strove to bring order and justice to a future in which the nuclear war had thrust society backwards technologically; later on in their exploits, they rode about on oversized dalmations (the dogs were, of course, mutated by the holocaust) and basically fought to make the quasi-feadal world right.

John Broome was the mastermind behind the Knights, while Murphy Anderson supplied the visuals. The story set in the then-distant future of the 1980s, was both fascinating and thought-provoking in a distinctive way. This was a grim world, a post-nuclear-war wasteland--but even here, the indomitable human spirit rose above the devastation. And the stories had a marvelous adventure edge, blending chivalrous drama and science fiction in a fresh way.

The Knights never did graduate to their own series; as the superhero era began in earnest in the mid-1960s, the Atomic Knights fell by the wayside.

And ever since then, people who have resurrected the concept have done so with the intention of throwing away everything that made the series distinctive. The post-apocalyptic angle? A dream, according to one reboot of the series. And now, we have characters who have nothing in common with the original concept.

I've yet to figure out why writers will take a memorable concept, strip away everything distinctive, and then stick the name on a weak concept with no links to the original. But that's what's happened here... and the sad thing is, it prevents us from seeing a legitimate Atomic Knights relaunch for several more years, until the bad taste of this launch is forgotten.

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