This is not a review but a discussion. I hosted a Kamandi discussion once before, but enough time has passed that another one is in order. The Kamandi Omnibus reprints issues #1-20 (the first of two reprinting Kirby’s entire run) and is a great value in comparison to the two previous “archive” editions which reprinted the same issues. Plus, the art is much, much better suited to this non-glossy stock, my favorite format. And, this volume contain three of my four favorite Kamandi stories ever.

From what I have read (somewhere), supposedly Jack Kirby had not seen Planet of the Apes by the time he started this series, but I find it hard to believe that someone associated with it had not. It’s not just the ruins of the Statue of Liberty on the cover (and the double-page splash on pages 2-3) which makes me say so; it’s also that a group of leopards in issue number one worship an atomic bomb. That similarity to Beneath Planet of the Apes is too spot-on to be entirely coincidental (not to mention that one of the tigers is named “Caesar“).

The new POTA movie and comic book and prose novel have all put me in the proper frame of mind to re-read Kamandi at this time. Kamandi is not POTA, but it is (as they say) “an incredible simulation.” One could almost imagine Kamandi to be POTA by pretending the various animal species are all various tribes of apes. They’re not, b ut it’s fun to imagine Kirby doing 40 issues of POTA continuity! It could almost fit… almost.

The splash page explains: “HIS NAME IS KAMADI! It may seem like a strange name to you--but actually it is a sort of dramatic tribute to the people who once populated Command “D”, the last section of a large underground bunker complex!” Because Kamandi later returns to this bunker complex and one of the doors is plainly labeled “Command D”, I would have preferred it if Kirby hadn’t decided to make the significance of Kamandi’s name so explicit.

The first issue introduces species of intelligent wolves, tigers, leopards and dogs (as well as feral humans). Main characters include Caesar (a tiger), Dr. Canus (a dog), and Ben Boxer (a mutant human). It helps if one doesn’t think too hard about Ben Boxer’s body chemistry. He is “radioactive” (also described as a “natural atomic pile”) and has a “cyclo-heart” (also described as an “atom smasher”). A disc on the chest of his uniform acts as a “damper rod” which he must continually press in order to “control radiation leakage.”

Finally, the issue ends with a map of North and South America, indicating where Kirby intends to take the series in the future.

On a personal note, I have to be very careful where I’m situated in the room relative to my wife when I read this volume. I remove the book’s dust jacket when I read, and the front cover of the book itself features a head-shot of Kamandi. If there’s one character Tracy hate the very look of more than Archie Andrews, it’s Kamandi.

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I thought Sultin was going to be a major character but he disappeared quickly. When I saw him smoking a cigar, I thought wouldn't been great if Kirby drew him with an eyepatch like a leonine Nick Fury!

As for Flower, I was surprised that Kirby wasn't told to draw bikini lines on her. But man she must have glued her hair to her chest. Too bad she was stuck with Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth who doesn't know about the Birds and the Bees. But then, the Birds and the Bees could have told him.....

I picked up quite a few Kamandi comics from my LCS’ 50c bin recently, and thanks to this thread, I’ve started to read them.  I’ve also started Silver Star recently, and just now finished Essential Thor vol III, so I’m on a bit of a Kirby Kick these days.

 

Henry said:

 

That aside, I read the novel back in the late 60's and have always felt the movies-- INCLUDING the 1st one, which so many consider a "classic", as vastly inferior to the novel. The main thing is, it's TOO DAMN DOWNBEAT, DEPRESSING and HOPELESS.

I'll take Kirby any day.

 

I have to say, Kamandi is pretty downbeat, depressing and hopeless itself.  It’s the whacked-out comicbook version of Cormac MacCArthy’s The Road!  Human civilisation has collapsed, and not even through anything human’s did themselves, but just some natural disaster that snuck up on everybody.  Humans in this saga are grunting beasts, and those animals that have climbed the evolutionary tree to take our place, may display animalistic ferocity and primitive territorial instincts, but those traits aren’t far from what our own human history presents.  Kirby is holding a mirror up to humanity in every frame of this comic, and it aint pretty.

 

The Rats and the Tigers behave no differently to human gangsters, thugs and warlords of our own recent history.

 

Kamandi’s is a desperate daily struggle to stay alive.  Unlike his superhero stablemates, Kamandi has to kill or be killed all too often and he hates it.  How many other first issues end with the hero trying to blow up himself and a whole civilisation up in a nuclear explosion?

 

Again and again, we get to see what human behaviour and the mighty Western Civilisation looks like from the other side of the fence.  What does it feel like to be labeled less than human, or forced into slavery or to see your loved ones killed by people who only see your value in terms of market prices.  Kamandi experiences it all. 

 

I’ve just read issue 6, where poor Flower dies.  (That’s the heroes sweet, innocent little friend – DIES!)  I don’t know if it was Kirby’s intent or not, but that issue says as much about how we treat our animal charges as any issue of Morrison’s Animal Man.

 

Humans don’t come out at all well in this series.  Further, the fact that it was set up to be open-ended means that there is no fine destiny for the human race for Kamandi to lead them to.  It’s just one meaningless and violent episode after another.

 

I can’t help but see the despair and desolation in the Kamandi concept as a kind of reaction to the cancellation of the New Gods books.  The New Gods were about constructing a meaningful framework for the struggles of humanity.  Maybe the existentialists are right and we’re just here as a cosmic accident and there is no great destiny for us, but Kirby’s Fourth World  was from a long tradition of storytelling that constructs profound meaning out of this life of ours. 

 

With the New Gods gone, despair is all we have left, and an existential dog-eat-dog struggle to live through the day.  Far from being meaningful, the world we’re shown is one where cruelty, absurdity and strangeness pile on top of each other.  Neither we nor Kamandi have any idea what wild and whacky events are around the corner.  There’s no meaning in Kamandi’s world.  Even our ascendency to mastery of the planet was just an accident that these stories imply could have happened to any species, and then our pre-imminent position was taken from us with a cosmic click of the fingers.

 

No, Kamandi is a kind of horror tale, truth be told.  Perhaps an entertaining one, but still a horror story.

Yeah, that kinda thing was very popular in the early 70's. I usually lay the blame on PLANET OF THE APES. Everybody kept trying to do something like that. After awhile, the whole science-fiction genre seemed poisoned.

 

I always figured that was a big reason STAR WARS took off the way it did!  "Enough, already!!!"


You might be accusing the tail of wagging the dog there.  I've just read through most of the first volume of Swamp Thing.

 

Completely unrelated to dystopic end-of-the-world sci-fi futures, many of the plotlines there involved people preparing for the end of the world, or the collapse of civilisation, or alternately plotting to bring it about in order to weed out the righteous or start over again with a clean slate.

 

There was something in the times.  As if the culture could sense Watergate, the end of the Vietnam war and the oil crises just around the corner.  It was a crisis in the culture, rather than the imminent end of the world.

 

Ironically, nowadays we really do seem to be heading towards some kind of financial, cultural, and/or ecological collapse and our pop culture is blissfully uninterested in exploring that.  Comics are pointedly apolitical (apart from some broad-brush satiric swipes at Bush from Bendis) and the new Dr Who, for instance, determinedly won't look any further than the 2012 olympics to the kind of society we are all going to have to live in after that date. 

Ironic that Kirby's least ambitious (by his standards) DC series of the '70s had the longest run. It's assumed the children bought the book for the animals.

I can see why it had a longer life, given the newstand sales model.  You only have to look at the cover and/or the first page of a Kamandi comic to know what was happening.  Last boy on Earth on a world ruled by animals.  There you have it.  Each issue could have been issue #2, as far as accessibility new readers were concerned.

 

New Gods was a much different beast.  Each issue was a chapter in a grand narrative that built on what had gone before and led towards a final conclusion.  The four series were subtly inter-related and really you had to buy the 'Trilogy' (as they call it in the Kamandi letters pages) to get the most out of the series.*

 

As time went on, in much the same way that 'standard attrition' wears down the numbers of a modern ongoing comic, later issues of the Fourth World books became less and less inviting for new readers, so perhaps the numbers had begun to fall.

 

It took DC another couple of decades to realise that for an involving and complex series like New Gods to have a chance in the longer term, then possible new readers needed access to the early chapters in collected form.  That was standard operating procedure from the late-eighties or so.  (Perhaps the early tpbs of Sandman were what really kicked it off.  That sales model of the tpbs and monthlies boosting each others sales worked really well.)

 

Of course no-one could see that then - and I'm not sure I would have myself, but I really hold it against the comics companies that they couldn't figure it out, or something like it at the time.  That was their job, to grow the market and try to find ways of sustaining the industry and artform.

 

The second phase of the Fourth World could have had a shot in the arm if DC had been able to put 4 collected editions of the first 6 issues of each series in bookshops after the first year or whatever. 

 

Only Kirby, it would seem, could envisage that comics could be sold like that, but no-one in the publishing side of the industry had his faith and vision for the artform.  They couldn't see beyond disposable trash that would only be good for pulping in a few months time. 

 

With Kamandi, Kirby is largely writing down to that level. 

 

On the letters pages they do admit that Kamandi is an attempt to make entertainment for a wide range of reading ages.  It's 'not Ulysses' they write...

 

Actually the letters pages address a lot of the topics mentioned so far.

 

The Demon comic may have come form a box of old comics that was then a feature of certain bookshops, so the Disaster could have been any time in the decades after The Demon #1 came out.

 

Someone asks how Kamandi fit into the Legion timeline.  You can almost see the eyeballs rolling in their answer to that.

 

One of the letter pages states that Kirby had only watched the first 45 minutes of POTA up to that point.

 

*The Micronauts - a series with many similarities to Kirby's Fourth World, suffered in the same way.  For years I was put off picking up random back issues of it, because all of them seemed to start bewilderingly in the middle of what was obviously a long ongoing story.  I'm sure possible new readers felt the same way looking at later issues of the series on the stands.  The reprinting of the first 12 issues late in the run of the series was at least some attempt to address that problem, even if they didn't manage to invent the trade paperback collection. 

Figserello said:
I can’t help but see the despair and desolation in the Kamandi concept as a kind of reaction to the cancellation of the New Gods books.

I agree.

George said:
Ironic that Kirby's least ambitious (by his standards) DC series of the '70s had the longest run.

I agree.

Figserello said:
With Kamandi, Kirby is largely writing down to that level.

I agree.

Figserello said:
Actually the letters pages address a lot of the topics mentioned so far.

Which leads me to my first post (of what I hope will be two) to this thread today.

Some time ago I vowed to myself that I would no longer let my posting schedule dictate reading schedule, and I’ve kept that vow for the most part. I’ve really slowed down on my Kamandi reading, however (because I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself), until I find the time to post. Part of the reason why stems from a desire to address the point of which animals evolved, which didn’t, and why. Kirby’s essay (in response to multiple reader letters) appeared in issue #17, and I’ve been trying to make time to transcribe it verbatim. While I was looking for it, I ran across the LOC page discussions mentioned by Figs above, so thanks for keeping the discussion going in my “absence.”

I’ve also read through issue #14, so please bear with me.
Jeff of Earth-J said:
IIRC, my favorite of issues #9 and #10 was #10, but I picked them both because it was a two-part story, yet all of the beats I remembered were from issue #9.

As it turns out, I didn’t “RC” (but that’s not much of a surprise). The introduction of all of the quirky stuff that attracted to me to this two-parter is in part one; I just included #10 in my list of favorite stories because it is a two-parter. Here’s a quick run through #11-14 before I turn the rest of this post over to The King himself.

ISSUE #11: Kirby introduces the race of intelligent Leopards this issue, including new character Captain Bli, in command of a sort of ocean-going paddle-wheeler for Sacker’s Department Store. In contradiction to the map from issue #1, (what used to be) the Gulf of Mexico is now a craterous mountain range, and the “Tracking Sight” is in southern America rather than South America (probably Houston, which would make sense). This discrepancy isn’t too big of an issue for me; A.D. map-making skills probably aren’t what they used to be, and any story evidence overrides the map, anyway, AFAIAC. Kamandi is separated once again from Ben, Steve and Renzi early on. The giant, tarp-wrapped “Devil” carried in the ship’s hold is revealed to be a giant, mutated grasshopper!

ISSUE #12: New characters: 1) Sacker, a giant, intelligent snake, owner of Sacker’s Department Store; Spirit, Flower’s identical twin sister; 3) Bull Bantam, one of Sacker’s prized humans, he drove Flower away and desires Spirit. The giant grasshopper bonds with Kamandi, and Kamandi names it “Kliklak” after the sound it makes. Sacker also runs gladiatorial races at Hialeah.

ISSUE #13: Introduces “tweelers” (i.e., two-wheelers). Kamandi and Kliklak are pitted against Bull Bantam and his buffalo with Spirit as the prize.

ISSUE #14: Bantam cheats, but the newly arrived Prince Tuftan intervenes and saves Kamandi’s life. The race is hard fought. Kamandi wins, but Kliklak is mortally wounded and Kamandi has to put him down. Dr. Canus later saves Kamandi from the gas chamber (he was going to be euthanized for his wild behavior).

All right. Those are the highlights. Now for Jack Kirby’s own explanation of why some species evolved whereas others didn’t.

SUBJECT: ANIMALS THAT STAND ERECT
USURPER-IN-RESIDENCE: JACK KIRBY
REASON: CONTINUOUS DRUM-BEATING BY MAUDLIN PARTISANS OF SPECIFIC SPECIES, SUCH AS HORSES, COWS, CHICKENS AND WOMBATS

Yes, dear readers, I do peruse the letters we receive. And I must say that between the compliments and brickbats there runs an insidious and recurrent allusion to my faulty views on the equality of animals. I find this shocking, of course, considering my unabashed surrender to my daughter’s concern for all organic life and ecological balance. Believe me, when I say that this kind of icky reformation is a bitter pill for one who must now politely doff his hat to a passing scorpion or run to the aid of an ant who is stupidly enroute to drowning.

Then why, in the world of Kamandi, do I discriminate among the animals, giving some the intelligence of Man and others less sentient awareness? Why must the stately horse still serve as transportation for a smelly old gorilla? Why must the bird remain a beautiful dum-dum? And, my answer must be that they don’t have to. My personal theory is that all animals have a common link, Thus, if given time and proper circumstance, it’s possible for all species to achieve the status or near status of Man.

However, that’s a sweeping generalization and I can easily be assailed from any quarterby equal counter-logic.

Still, I base my Kamandi premise on a variety of authoritative articles written by qualified men who have speculated on the form life must take in order to acquire intelligence as we know it. Their conclusions are that skeletal structure dictates this phenomenon and the ability to stand erect is a sort of first rung on the I.Q. ladder.

I bought that. I ruminated on its possibilities and strung it all out in the World of Kamandi. It’s my job. And its fascinating to work out this logic in graphic terms.

Think of all the animals that can stand erect and walk like a man and you’ll come up with the same characters I have. Think of time and mutational changes that can further enhance the beastly foot and spine so that the adaptation to erectness becomes permanent. Who, but the lowly ape, the dog, the cat, the rat and its cousins are more likely candidates for making an effortless transition? There is left field, of course. There’s something always going on out there. Destiny holds continual surprises. And, to be frank, I’m not eagerly awaiting any.

To my mind, the hooved animals and our feathered friends would have to undergo changes too extreme in nature in order to reach civilized statehood. It would pain me to know that a wonderful animal like the horse had endured a millennium of back-aches in order to sit in a chair and drink his coffee at the television set. I would crack upand roll on the floor if a sincere and intelligent turkey were to run for Congress. This reaction would occur despite the fact that he’d probably get my vote.

No, dear friends, I’m attempting to portray my animal-people as logically and objectively as I can. In a few instances, I will dable with variations such as Kliklak, the giant insect who has broken the biological size-barrier. With that premise in mmind, I visualized him with less legs and a more herd-like instinct, like the horse.

As for old man Sacker, the Snake, he was part possibility and part satire. He will be followed by new variations. The aim is to maintain your interest and to slug it out with your pugnacious combativeness. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep nit-picking. There’s no harm in proving that the human brain works.

Jack Kirby

P.S.—This is just a passing thought on the meaning of Kamandi’s World. In developing my animal characters, I find myself relating to them with astonishing ease. Once they have acquired human qualities and names, they become real people, friends and enemies, some to be scorned and others to be respected. It seems to me that all of us have been doing this for centuries, forgetting that these creatures are merely animals. From the largest to the smallest, they seek only to survive as best they can. In the scale of things, they are as important to our well being as we can be to theirs. Let’s not make them the Kamandis of our world. If you feel like arguing this point, my address is…
ISSUE #15: It turns out that Sacker’s terms for freeing Kamandi in the previous issue include Tuftan trekking to Washington to uncover the Watergate tapes. This entire issue (especially the last page) consists of (not too deep, but bizarre) political commentary as seen through a Kirby-colored lens. The story is dated today, but would have been quite topical at the time of its initial release. In a way, this issue is something of a parody of Beneath Planet of the Apes, but instead of apes attacking mutant humans in the ruins of New York City, tigers attack apes in the ruin of Washington DC. It also occurs to me that humans are treated less as pets or animals throughout the course of this series as they are slaves. A humorous scene involves Kamandi taking a bath while singing “Yellow Submarine” which, he explains to Dr. Canus, his grandfather told him was written by a group of Beetles.

I just read #9-10 last night.  That's a great two-parter. Really fun idea of the astronauts having a 'culture'.   They have half-remembered rituals that actually had a meaning in the C20th, but which have been reduced to a hollow pantomime in the future.  It is perhaps a foreshadow of what Kirby will do in The Eternals where real events in the distant past are only vaguely remembered as myths and legends in our time.

 

The Bats are a great savage unreasoning mob of enemies and the whole two issues feels like a John Carpenter movie with everyone trapped in one location as the enemy closes in on them.  (It's very like a John Carpenter script now that I think of it, down to the psycho infiltrating the good guys.)

 

Enjoying reading these, I have to say.  I was worried I might be overdosing on Kirby, but it doesn't seem to be happening yet.

"Really fun idea of the astronauts having a 'culture'.   They have half-remembered rituals that actually had a meaning in the C20th, but which have been reduced to a hollow pantomime in the future."

 

This description reminds me of what Chris Boucher did in the DOCTOR WHO story, "The Face Of Evil", where relics of a scientific mission are treated as religious artifacts by the near-cavemen who descended from from, with no idea that their ancestors were astronauts from Earth!

Figserello said:
It is perhaps a foreshadow of what Kirby will do in The Eternals where real events in the distant past are only vaguely remembered as myths and legends in our time… (It's very like a John Carpenter script now that I think of it, down to the psycho infiltrating the good guys.)

Interesting takes.

[SPOILERS for Rise of the Planet of the Apes]

ISSUE #16: This issue comes very close to telling the story behind the premise of the series. First, a partial date on the notes of a human scientist clearly place the Great Disaster sometime in the 20th century. Second (and more importantly), this story reveals how (some) animals gained intelligence. Still in the Washington DC area after the events of last issue, Kamandi meets up with ape scientist Hanuman (whose name evokes both “H-uman” and “A-Nu-Man”) who is following the notes of pre-Disaster scientist Dr. Michael Grant in an effort to create “Cortexin,” described both as a “brain stimulant” as well as “liquid shock therapy.”

As the story progresses, Grant’s hand-written notes of his experimental test subject “Whiz Kid” parallel the experiences of Hanuman and Kamandi in the present and serve as narration. Grant’s experiments with Cortexin occurred simultaneously with the Great Disaster, and led directly to animals gaining intelligence. Similarly, this adventure leads to the distinctly implied possibility of humans regaining the cognitive abilities they have lost. This explanation is very like that of the recent movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes. “Art imitates art.”

I am going to have to reevaluate my favorite issues of this series, because #16 certainly deserves to be counted among them.

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