Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

DC Comics Presents #57

DC Comics Presents #57

Cover date: May 1983

"Days of Future Past"

Writer: Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn
Penciller: Alex Saviuk
Inker: F. McLaughlin

Reviewed by: Tom-EL

Click to enlarge

The story opens with a long bearded Superman in the midst of what appears to be a Metropolis that has been totally ravaged by nuclear war. He has no idea what happened or how the city came to this. A moment later he is joined by a small group of men in suits of armor. Asking them what happened, he is told by the leader about the great atomic war of 1986. One of the knights recognizes who they are talking to and tells the leader of the group that this is Superman. Superman was then questioned as to where he had been and why he didn't stop the bombings. The knights questions turn into ghostly cries of "Why did you let us die...?" At that point, Clark wakes up from his nightmare, the same one he had the night before, and a sure feeling this would not be the end of it.

The next day, news anchor Clark Kent prepares for his nightly newscast. The evening's top story focuses on an errant computer signal in the US military's early warning system that nearly sparked an American pre-emptive attack and a Soviet response. Fortunately, a Hot-Line call with full explanation was able to avert military actions on both sides. Clark ended his commentary noting there were still concerns as to what might happen if a similar situation were to arise. Believing that today's close call and his recent dreams could possibly be connected in some way, Superman flies to his Fortress. Arriving there, he dons a headset connected to the Fortress computer to monitor signals from both the Pentagon and the Kremlin. No sooner does he flip the switch on when a powerful electronic surge knocks him out of his chair. He gets up after a dazed moment and finds himself not in the Fortress, but in a place called Durvale with four men and a woman, and the men are wearing medieval knight's armor. The leader says they've been rebuilding in the six years since the war, and introduces himself as Gardner Grayle, leader of the Atomic Knights. A second later, Hercules, a friend of the knights shows up. Superman ponders whether or not this is the real future or if he is dreaming again. He notes that this Hercules is different from the one he met in the past.

A boy comes running up with a message about a radiation monster in New York City, so Superman and the Atomic Knights proceed to NYC to investigate. In New York, the radiation monster is terrorizing the city, but Superman thinks, "I've handled bigger and worse in my time." He flis in for a strike, but the creature hits him with a blast of Kryptonite breath. He falls to the ground, while the knights move in, riding their big mutated Dalmatian dogs. The Knights distract the monster while Hercules moves in and fells the monster with one blow. Superman recovers, then confronts Grayle regarding the fact that for a post-nuclear world that went through a very destructive war, all he sees are giant dogs and a radiation monster. There's no sign of war damage, debilitating diseases or even one hospital. An angry Grayle snaps back that these are brave people trying to reestablish civilization, saying, "They're the real heroes, not costumed crusaders like you!" With that Grayle grabs Superman, lifts him up and throws him some distance away, shouting, "You can just get out of my world!" When Superman recovers, he finds himself on the floor of the computer room in the Fortress. He ponders over whether or not this "fantasy world" was his fantasy or someone else's, and might it possibly foretell the fate of the world?

Superman decides to visit S.T.A.R Labs to see Dr. Marlene Herald, a psychologist who looks just like the female member of the Atomic Knight's team, whose name was also Marlene. Dr. Herald told Superman she had no memory of ever hearing anything about the Atomic Knights or a man named Gardner Grayle. Then he reminds her that once she had done a Defense Department study on the psyche of average soldiers and her case study was of a Sgt. Gardner Grayle. She remembers him, but that was before he had been chosen for a special experiment by the government to evaluate how average soldiers might react in post-nuclear war scenarios. He was placed in a sensory depravation tank and hooked up to a computer that placed him in a virtual reality world. Superman and Dr. Herald go to the abandoned military installation where the original VR experiment had taken place. The Man of Steel has to literally rip the giant metal door off to go in, but once inside, they discover Grayle still in the tank, his mind connected to a huge monitor that shows him and the other Knights fighting the radiation monster. Superman suggests that surely the original simulations were not projected to have soldiers become medieval knights fighting off monsters. Dr. Herald offers the theory that under mind depravation, the total devastation of a holocaust was too ghastly to comprehend, causing Grayle's mind to plug into latent potential mental abilities that allowed him to totally remake the scenario into a world of great adventure and heroism.

That bit of information helps Superman put it all together. When Gardner Grayle was able to reprogram the computer, it didn't stop with only that one computer. He effectively broke through the firewalls to more computers, including the Pentagon, the Kremlin, and even his own super-computer at the Fortress. Grayle's subconscious wants to make his version of the post-nuclear world into a reality. However, the other part of his mind is reaching out to Superman through his dreams, in the hope that he could prevent a possible World War 3. Superman moves to pull the plug on this simulation, but is stopped by four large Knight robots, the leader having Grayle's voice. Dr. Herald informs Superman that Grayle has been aware of the robot project, and his love of the legend of King Arthur apparently must have inspired his Atomic Knight dreams. The four robots, now under Grayle's mental control, team up to stop Superman. He puts up a fight, but one robot hits with a blast of red-sun vision. The fight turns into a stand-off, with Dr. Herald attempting to totally shut down the computer. One of the robots grabs her to stop her, then Superman yells out to the Grayle robot "He's going to MURDER the woman you love!" The Grayle robot then moves to fight the other robot who it turns out is the personification of team member Doug Herald. Dr. Herald shouts out, "Douglas Herald is not my brother... he's my husband!" That stops the Grayle robot in his tracks, a moment later, a ten-second countdown begins. Superman realizes he has 10 seconds to stop the third world war from becoming reality. His fingers race at super-speed across the computer console to stop the countdown and avoid the launch. At minus 1 second... the countdown stops.

Superman and Marlene together are able to open the tank and revive Gardner Grayle, who asks "What's going on, is the war over?" Realizing that he very nearly caused a world war, Dr. Herald reassures him that it wasn't his fault, he was only a pawn. Grayle however, is not as easy on himself. He reasons that the entire project was misguided from the beginning. The project should never have been about theories on how to survive a post-atomic world, but rather working to see that a war that might cause an atomic holocaust world is never allowed to start. And, he further says, "the countdown is on."

4Story - 4: Mishkin and Cohn generally worked together as a writing team on their stories, and are probably best know as the creators of the DC characters Amethyst and Blue Devil. Before I reviewed this story, I researched what I could find on "The Atomic Knights". They were written by writer John Broome and appeared in every third issue of Strange Adventures, from issues #117-160 between 1960 to 1964. In their continuity, the Earth went through World War III, a Hydrogen war during the year 1986. The stories took place in the early 90s. Army Sgt. Gardner Grayle and the Atomic Knights wore medieval suits of armor that were impervious to the post war radiation as well as their enemy, the Black Baron's energy weapons. Aside from the original Strange Adventures stories, this story presents the idea that there is an Earth-1 Gardner Grayle, and those Atomic Knight stories in his case were virtual reality dreams from a STAR Labs experiment that went south, rather than a story that had Superman crossing into a parallel universe where the knights actually existed. However, the story does at one place connect to the original silver-age version. While in New York City, Superman remembered Gardner Grayle telling him that once before in New York the knights had encountered people who, due to radiation, had devolved into cavemen. This is a direct reference to the AK story in Strange Adventures #123 (12/60) "The Cavemen of New York". They were really reaching back into the DC archives to come up with the Atomic Knights, so I guess it made more sense to do the story this way and it did have a sort of science-fictiony feel to it. It rated only a 4 with me because I thought the Kryptonite breath and Red-Sun vision angles were a little hokey, and Grayle's anti atomic war speech at the end, while well meaning, was a little preachy. Otherwise it was an interesting story.

4Art - 4: To be honest, I have not read that many DC stories where Alex Saviuk was the artist, but I wish I had. I understand after a few years with DC, he ended up spending more time at Marvel doing the art for Spider-man stories. Having very little exposure to his work, I can say that he did a fine job on this story. The penciling of the characters and backgrounds is very good, but good in a way that tends to remind me of other good DC artists, as opposed to seeing it as his distinctive style as I would if it was Swan, or Anderson, or Carmine Infantino. It gets a 4 only because (IMHO), the inking lacked in certain places. Now it very well might be because of the way the inker wanted the light to appear, it might have been intentional, but it didn't look quite right to me.

5Cover Art - 5: Alex Saviuk, either on his own or in collaboration with Curt Swan, also did several DCCP covers. On this cover, the best thing about it is his excellent Superman which to me looks like a mix of Swan and Neal Adams.

Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews



  • Superman #76 (May/June 1952) - “The Mightiest Team in the World”
  • Superman #80 (January/February 1953) - “Superman's Lost Brother”
  • Superman 3D (1953) - “The Man Who Stole the Sun”, “Origin of Superman” and “The Man Who Bossed Superman”
  • Superman #87 (February 1954) - “The Prankster's Greatest Role”
  • Superman #88 (March 1954) - “The Terrible Trio”
  • Superman #89 (May 1954) - “Captain Kent the Terrible”, “Superman of Skid Row”, and “One Hour to Doom!”
  • Superman #91 (August 1954) - “The Superman Stamp” and “Great Caesar's Ghost”
  • World's Finest #88 (May/June 1957) - “Superman and Batman's Greatest Foes”
  • Superman #115 (August 1957) - “The Midget Superman!”
  • Superboy #65 (May/June 1958) - “The Amazing Adventures of Krypto Mouse”
  • Action Comics #242 (July 1958) - “The Super-Duel in Space”
  • Superman #123 (August 1958) - “The Girl of Steel”
  • Superman #127 (February 1959) - “Titano the Super Ape”
  • Action Comics #252 (May 1959) - “The Menace of Metallo” and “The Supergirl From Krypton”
  • Superman #129 (May 1959) - “The Girl in Superman's Past”
  • Superman #130 (July 1959) - “The Curse of Kryptonite!”, “The Super-Servant of Crime!”, and “The Town that Hated Superman!”
  • Jimmy Olsen #40 (October 1959) - “Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl's Pal”




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