A Tribute to the of

It occurred to me recently that July 9th would have been the 95th birthday of the great Murphy Anderson, one of the great stalwarts of DC’s Silver Age. I did, of course, get the wonderful opportunity to interview [Sage #200] Murphy and even though I was mildly frustrated that his favorite topics were his time in the Navy and living in Chicago, it was still a tremendous honor to speak with the man who did superlative inking for DC for over 50 years.

I can’t think of a thing Murph touched that didn’t turn to gold, despite Carmine Infantino’s assertion that Anderson was not his favorite inker over his pencils. Whether it was Buck Rogers, Hawkman, Adam Strange or any of a number of Golden Age characters, like Green Lantern, Hourman, Starman, Black Canary and Doctor Fate, never mind the famed “Swanderson” work on Superman, just for starters, Murphy was the man.

With that in mind, how about another visit to a team that Muph both penciled and inked for 15 consecutive stories? I refer to the Atomic Knights, led by Gardner Grayle (a character named in honor of Gardner Fox) in the far-flung post-apocalyptic future earth of 1992. The Knights appeared in the Strange Adventures title on a quarterly basis beginning in June of 1960 and issue #117 through issue #160 in January of 1964. I’ve chosen the sole issue where they made the cover for this edition of the Silver Age Sage. It’s #144 from September of 1962 with an on-sale date of July 26th of that splendid year. Julie Schwartz is our editor and the cover is by Murphy with Ira Schnapp letters while Mr. Anderson also does interiors under the John Broome scripted “When the Earth Blacked Out!

As you can see by both the cover and splash page, the Atomic Knights, in their medieval armor, (Gardner Grayle, Douglas Herald, Marlene Herald, Doug’s sister, Bryndon the scientist and brothers Wayne and Hollis Hobard) are up against mole people for dominant species on the Earth.

The tale begins with a grim synopsis of where things are now, citing the atomic war of October 9, 1986 that began World War III and led to the catastrophic destruction of nearly the entire planet and its inhabitants. Now in 1991, Douglas Herald is trying to piece together the series of events that led to the disaster. Herald has determined that every nation involved in the war believed it was under attack while Grayle only recalls being the sole survivor of his unit while serving as a soldier in an underground bunker. He suggests consulting Bryndon, who has been at a meeting of other surviving scientists when they get word that Bryndon has been hurt. The duo rush to the infirmary to investigate.

Finding Bryndon in a hospital bed, weak from blood loss, they hear his story. He’d been making his way back to Durvale astride a giant Dalmatian mount when he noticed it getting darker and darker, despite being in the daytime. He also noted some strange plants giving off an unusual vapor. The scientist soon discovers that the plants are creating a black cloud, causing the darkness and that a remote-controlled vehicle was being utilized to care for the plants.

Ultimately, he spots some creatures in the distance, but when he lights up a makeshift torch, they are revealed to be anthropomorphic moles. One of them fired on Bryndon, spooking his mount, but the Dalmatian successfully got the scientist home. Gardner immediately calls for action and four Atomic Knights suit up and ride double on the giant Dalmatians to investigate the mole creatures.

Soon they encounter the darkness that is working its way to Durvale, along with the offending plants producing it. With a quickly prepared torch, they discover the plants will burn, but then the mole people approach and attack. Their energy weapons pack a punch, but the irradiated armor protects them from anything worse than the concussion of the blasts and Grayle managed to capture one Mole Man and to relieve him of his weapon, which quickly makes the others retreat.

Rather than press the attack, the Knights decide to take their prisoner back to base and try to communicate. They are stunned in the next moment when the Mole Man addresses them in their own tongue, closing out the first chapter of this adventure.

Chapter Two had the knights interrogating the mole man and learning that they came from beneath the Earth with plans of conquest. The creature explains that the Ki-Moli, or darkness creating plants will soon cover the Earth and make it ideal for their kind. Our heroes feel that light is their best weapon, but how to deploy it?

Abruptly, Bryndon hatches a plan when he spots fireflies. “Do you see? Exactly what we need to beat those mole creatures—is a form of light that doesn’t give off heat—that they can’t detect! And firefly light is cold light!

Soon every citizen of Durvale is enlisted to capture fireflies and bring them to the Knights, who proceed to place them into Jack O’ Lanterns from their vegetable garden. Plans are laid for the next day to go on the offensive and soon the Atomic Knights, armed with the light-emitting pumpkins, are approaching the Mole base.

They use the element of surprise to roll the pumpkins down a hillside toward the mole creatures, who are caught completely unaware. The light stuns the creatures and pandemonium soon erupts as the knights charge and go hand to hand with the moles. The light proves to be too much for the mole men and they surrender. The creatures are escorted to the rift in the Earth where they originally emerged and then the Atomic Knights go on a burning spree of the plants in order to banish the darkness.

As an epilogue, Douglas Herald reveals some intelligence he gathered from his questioning of their prisoner. It seems that five years prior, the mole creatures had fired off a powerful energy pulse up from their subterranean lair. It seems the energy packet hit a button in a secret war room, triggering scores of H-missiles all over the earth and starting World War III.

Then it was the mole-creatures who started World War III—and not any one of the nations on Earth?” “That’s right, Gardner! But we humans still cannot escape responsibility! We made the surface of the Earth an armed camp—a global tinder box! The mole creatures provided only the spark that set off the dreadful holocaust!

So, the Atomic Knights live to fight another day and learn the sad truth of their post-apocalyptic world in the bargain. To quote the many, many war comics of the day, many under the artwork of the wonderful Joe Kubert, “Make War No More!

Murphy Anderson’s talents were on full display in these Atomic Knight tales. The moody inking as a perfect complement to his figure work make it a visual treat. If you’ve not enjoyed this series before, by all means, do yourself a favor and check it out. The science fiction fan in me loves them, as does the admirer of the art of Murphy Anderson and of course DC’s Silver Age. A true tour de force of enjoyment. I give this series a 10 on the 10-point scale. It may not be superheroes, but it’s great entertainment!

A Gardner Fox story illustrated by Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella fills the back up slot.

That wraps up July, dear readers, so look for the latest right here on the 1st of August and as always, thanks for your time and interest. If you have a comment, suggestion or question, feel free to let us know. I can always be reached at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you in about two weeks and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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