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A Brief History of the Atomic Knights, Part II

Welcome, Nerds! Welcome to the second part in the Nerds On Earth History of the Atomic Knights!

A Brief History of the Atomic Knights, Part II: And Then It Went Crazy

When we last left our heroes (Part 1), they had discovered nuke-proof armor, overthrown the local warlord, and banded together to be a force for law and order and an unlawful post-apocalyptic society. Unfortunately for the Atomic Knights, “law and order” in this context means less giving out parking tickets and more dealing with giant crystal monsters…

No one was prepared for the day the Epcot Center attacked.

A band of de-evolved humans in a New York City bomb shelter…

For all the stuff it gets wrong, this comic nailed a few predictions about the future. Case in point: New York City, circa 1986.

A bunch of psychic Id monsters…

Oops, I guess I kinda spoiled the ending on this one.

Actual, literal Atlanteans from actual, literal Atlantis…

“We have no idea who these people are, Knights–but that won’t stop us from punching them!”

Space invaders out to steal Earth’s metal…

I can’t get over how happy that dog looks.

Mole people intent on blacking out the sun…

The three-eyed Jack o’ Lantern raises enough questions for its own article.

A bunch of walking, telepathic plants that throw explosive berries…

To be fair, they’re peas, but who do I look like, Gregor Mendel?

Post-apocalyptic Hitler…

The Organizer and his Radiation Box aren’t the threat here; the real danger is Bluehat Footloose back there, warming up his dance routine.

And my personal favorite, the King of New Orleans.

I’ve never been to New Orleans, but I have no problem believing it’s just like this.

What’s actually pretty astounding about Atomic Knights is not just the sheer variety of the villains, or even the crazy, inventive ways the Knights go about fighting them: it’s also a clinic on world building. Atomic Knights has a grip on its own internal canon that other, more well-known comics could only dream of. For example, take the most iconic part of the series: the suits of armor. The suits are vital, both within the story and without. If the knights didn’t have the armor, they’re just some dudes slowly dying of radiation sickness. With them, they can be heroes. But as the series goes on, you see the Knights wearing fewer pieces of the armor. They’ve lost a greave here, or a gauntlet there. You really believe that these people are going around the country having these dangerous adventures.

Or look elsewhere. Remember those ambulatory plant people? Well, turns out they’re called the Trefoils, and this dude named Henderson decided to cultivate them, presumably because what the hell else is there to do? Anyway, Henderson shows off his floral monstrosity to Bryndon, who’s so psyched he runs back to tell Gardner. Then Gardner lays down one of my favorite moments of the entire series:

Don't read anything into that caption, Internet.
Don’t read anything into that caption, Internet.

That “strange incident” that Gardner didn’t think was important? Yeah, this is it:

Would it be bad if I said the plant was "articulate?" Is that florist?
Would it be bad if I said the plant was “articulate?” Is that florist?

Walk through this one with me, Nerds. Gardner Grayle, de facto leader of this little community, professional soldier, heard about a giant plant attacking a farmer, and DIDN’T THINK IT WAS IMPORTANT. That kills me every time. The crazy thing? Or, sorry, the crazier thing? It makes perfect sense. Earlier in the series, you’d get the Knights leaping into action at the first sign of trouble. “A note on a kite? Might be a crystal monster!” “A weird new continent? Well that bears checking out!” But by the middle of the run, they’re so much more jaded. “Walking plants? Let me know when something actually important happens.” There’s a point where one of those psychic Id monsters shoots radiation bolts at Doug Herald, and he just keeps it to himself.

But that’s only the first part of this series’ incredible consistency. Because those plants? They show up again.

Fun Fact: "Gimme the Jim Jams" was Method Man's best-selling single in 1994.
Fun Fact: “Gimme the Jim Jams” was Method Man’s best-selling single in 1994.

And again.

You are now hearing "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" right now.
You are now hearing “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” right now.

What you’re seeing here is Broome and Anderson meticulously crafting a world that always, always, always follows its own rules, even if those rules are psychotic. For example, those giant Dalmatians?

All of this science checks out.

Nothing in that passage is any more or less fantastic than anything in this comic, and that’s a feat. Broome and Anderson have essentially created a comic that lays all its cards on the table from the start. If you’re willing to believe any part of the world they’ve built, you’ll be able to believe all of it. And that means they get to go nuts.

For example, a lot of the threats the Knights face aren’t exactly punchable; sure, the Atlanteans are good for a brawl or two, and those Trefoils are always down for a scrap, but the Crystal Monster? The Id monsters? Those require a more cerebral approach. Which leads to great scenes like this one, where the Knights use the CM’s greed against it:

"CM" here refers to the Crystal Monster, but wouldn't it be awesome if CM Punk survived the apocalypse and just stole water from everybody?
“CM” here refers to the Crystal Monster, but wouldn’t it be awesome if CM Punk survived the apocalypse and just stole water from everybody?

Or you get scenes like during the episode in New Orleans, where the Knights find out a King has brainwashed a staff of doctors (doctors, obviously, having great worth in post-apocalyptic America). Imagine you’re John Broome. You have to figure out a way to get your characters to free a city full of mind-controlled surgeons. What are you going to do?

This all somehow makes sense in context.
This all somehow makes sense in context.

If you answered “smooth jazz,” you are either John Broome or you’re lying.

Atomic Knights might just be a curiosity now, another product of DC’s Silver Age, but trust me on this–it’s a comic that wasn’t afraid to go places that other comics wouldn’t dare to go, and it very few comics have gone  there since. It’s pure fun. And, as we’ll see in the coming weeks, it’s the fodder for some pretty classic stories in their own right.

That’s all the time we have for today, Nerds, but remember: it’s a dangerous world out there. Watch out for mole people, and remember:


They shall not pass!


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