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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"Hanuman" is also the name of a Hindu god who was a general among the Vānaras a group of ape-like humanoids in the Hindu epic Ramayana who were brave and inquisitive by nature.
Kirby would have know that; I wouldn't. Thanks!

"This explanation is very like that of the recent movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes. “Art imitates art.”"

 

Why not?  As several people pointed out to me, Pierre Boulle's novel was somewhat similar to a story Kirby did several years earlier.

 

I should really compile a list of all the (AHEM) "coincidences" where something in movies was almost IDENTICAL to something Kirby did YEARS earlier.

#16 was a great issue and it showed whoever the dominant species on Earth is that nothing is guaranteed. It also gives hope to mankind and, more importantly, Kamandi that humanity may rise again. OTOH, it's a perfect example of the Frankenstein Theory in action that any science can be turned against its creators.

BTW, in World's Finest #259 (N'79), an Earth-S version of cortexin was retconned into the origin of Mister Tawky Tawny, the Talking Tiger! Another late 70s appropiation of a Kirby Koncept!

While I was transcribing Kirby’s essay from issue #17 the other day, I took the time to copy his introductory essay (from issue #2) as well. I was going to save it to post later, but it ties in quite well to what Philip just posted, so here it is, a few days ahead of schedule. Enjoy!

“THE GREAT EARTH CATACLYSM SYNDROME”

Remember the “Big Bang” theory? Well, the scientists who believe it regard it as a natural process in the creation of our universe. The required elements contract, fission and WHAM! Molten substance is spewed all over space, forms some sort of orbital balance and you’ve got a firmament filled with cosmic bodies in an expanding harmonious design.

This is one of many speculations which continually plague our modern Newtons and Galileos, who with every technical advance, strive to bring the ‘true’ origin of the picture into sharper focus. However, the key words in every theory seem to be ‘natural process.’ It’s this intriguing thought which constitutes the fabric, woven on a much smaller scale, concerning the supposed periodic spasm experienced by our very own planet.

Does the Earth flip its lid every ten thousand years or thereabouts? Is planetary cataclysm part of some kind of continual “adjustment” Earth must make in its endless swing around the sun? Based on evidence gathered by authoritative representatives of our varied sciences, we could be due for another upheaval, the latest of a great cycle of upheavals which, it is speculated, our planet is prone to.

If this is true, it seems to me that the premise of “Kamandi” may not be that much of a far-out nail to hang one’s hat on. All signs point to natural disaster as being and ever-present facet of darkness in the history of man.

How many New Yorks and Chicagos have gone down the drain in the remote and unrecorded past? How many times has man been “downed” by some great jolt, made his comeback—and been “put down” again?

It would indeed be interesting—and frightening if the cataclysm theory was suddenly to attain an incontestable validity. The future would begin to shape itself into a meaningful test of man’s imagination and courage. He would try to pinpoint the “moment.” And, perhaps, sections of humanity would prepare for it in ways unique to their own regional life style and environment.

There may be other consequences, too. Man, in his feverish attempt to save man, may overlook nature’s regard for the other species. If there’ve been previous “jolts” the lesser beasts have survived them, too.

All life on Earth is subject to the rumbles and rockings of the parent structure which has no control over the disastrous effects of its stresses and strains on whatever thrives on its surface. The ambitions and dreams of men are irrelevant to this planetary giant which pursues its own way in its own manner. Man is its child, tenant and still, to this date, its captive. Although his rockets have begun to fly from the Earth’s surface, man as a species is in no position, as yet, to feel secure from his planet’s destructive aches and pains.

Recorded history, as we know it, is littered with debris of monuments once thought to be miracles of invulnerability. But they’ve been buried by common mud. The sea hides them in number from our eyes. And others stand tilted and broken where tourists gather round them like flies. Somewhere, at some time, the Earth “burped” and put man in his place.

We weren’t there. It wasn’t our experience. The evidence must mount still further before we pause from doing our thing and give serious thought to what Mother Earth is really like.

How will the next ball game be played should another shakeup strike us? Will it end with the same old score? Will man win the big series again? Will the other species wait for the next try at the plate? Suppose they don’t? Suppose they get the time to practice man’s game and to sharpen up? Interesting thought, eh?

At present the horizon is empty of any serious competition to man’s mastery of all he surveys. Tomorrow, the big league could be crowded with new teams—aggressive and eager to send everyone else to the showers. Who the victor may be in such an event may matter only to us. The point is that all it would take is one good jolt from Mother Earth to liven things up in the ball park.

In the world of Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth, these questions find answers. What could happen—happens! And the reader gets a great seat to what could be the wildest series ever. Man must fight to regain his rightful place. But he must have all the stuff in him that made him top dog in the first place.

Thank you,
Jack Kirby
ISSUE #17: Kamandi is still in Washington, D.C. as the story opens, but he is soon captured by apes, separated from Prince Tuftan and Dr. Canus, and taken to Ohio where he encounters the “gopher people,” not animals, but a race of mutated dwarves who live under ground and bedevil the apes and steal their supplies. The apes try to flush out the gopher people with water and poison gas, and ultimately send an unknowingly booby-trapped Kamandi after them with a basket of bombs strapped to his back. The gopher people have limited intellect and know only the words “good” and “bad,” but they do manage to thwart the apes’ intent and befriend Kamandi. Wandering about the gopher people’s system of caves, Kamandi discover a giant machine which the dwarves maintain. But there’s only so much story even Jack Kirby can pack into a single issue, so the mystery of the machine will have to wait until next issue.

INKERS: I need to back up a little bit here. The last couple of issue have been inked by D. Bruce Berry (with a much finer line that that used by Mike Royer). The credits for issue #16 read: “Inked by mountain-climbing Mike Royer with a helping hand from D. Bruce Berry” and represent Royer’s last work on Kamandi in Omnibus Vol. 1. In his introduction, Royer writes: “Back then I had to letter a complete book in less than two days and ink three pages a day! I would guess that I hold the record as an inker for keeping up with Kirby’s prolific creative output, though of course I could not sustain this level indefinitely. A hint of the toll that working to Kirby’s pace demanded can be found on page 349, in the credits for issue #16… ‘Mountain-climbing’ Mike Royer, after eight days in the wilderness, stood almost 15,000 feet high atop majestic Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Nevada range, filled his lungs with crisp, icy air and said, ‘Do I really need to be wotking this hard?’”

ISSUE #18: This issue begins with an action sequence: Kamandi, chased by gorillas, escapes down a chute and reunites with the Gofer People. It turns out that Kamandi was providing a distraction so his new friends could loot the gorillas’ camp. The machine maintained by the Gopher People (which Kamandi discovered at the end of last issue) serves no apparent purpose… until it suddenly breaks down and a giant worm attacks! It’s always fun to guess at Kirby’s inspirations. By all accounts he was a voracious reader, but he also evidently watched a certain amount of television. I see equal measure of Dune’s Sandworms and Star Trek’s Horta in this issue’s giant worm.

Meanwhile, the Apes have set an explosive trap for the Gopher People, and Kamandi inadvertently leads the giant worm right into it. It eats the ammo and explodes, and Kamandi steals a land rover from Sgt. Ugash, the leader of the Ape troops. Earlier in this discussion I wondered what a Kirby Planet of the Apes might look like. I think these "all-ape" issues are pretty much it.


ISSUE #19: The Apes pursue Kamandi to the city of Chicago, which has miraculously survived the Great disaster. Once there he is met by a group of human gangsters who take him to a roaring ‘20s-style speakeasy. They decide to “bump him off,” and he flees right into the hands of the Apes. Caught in a crossfire between Ugash and a gangster named Gentelman George, Kamandi escapes harm, but Ugash shoots Gentleman George in the face. Much to the surprise of both Kamandi and Ugash, the ganster rises…

Cliffhanger: …and is revealed to be an android robot!

Speaking of Kirby’s sources of inspiration, I’ve got to believe he must have been watching syndicated Star Trek reruns around the time he was putting together this issue and last. #18 seems based in part on “Devil in the Dark” and “Chicago Saga” in #19-20 seems equal parts “A Piece of the Action” and “Shore Leave.” I’ve got to admit I didn’t fully appreciate the weirdness of “apes vs, gangsters in Prohibition-era Chicago” when I first read these stories a few short years ago.

Digression: I remember the cover to this issue very well from when I was a kid. I didn’t buy it, but I’m sure I saw it on the spinner rack of the Droste Drug store. The cover was featured in a house ad that month, so I might remember it from another comic I bought that month, but I remember seeing it in the drug store specifically (as opposed to Ahmann’s Newstand).

ISSUE #20: Kirby gives Ugash the line, “Get your paws off of me you… ANIMALS,” before the robotic cops go all Rodney King upside his head. Kamandi and Ugash later escape their cell, only to find the entire city of automatons frozen in their tracks. They all suddenly come to life when the unlikely pair enters a courtroom. Kamandi ditches Ugash, but later finds him again as he is being taken to be executed by electric chair. Kamandi doesn’t think it’s right that even Ugash should be killed by robots run amok, so he lifts a gun and fires it to attract the attention of Ugash’s troops, who have been searching for him.

In the confusion, Kanandi makes his way “behind the scenes” and discovers the computer running the whole mechanical works. As he leaves, he passes a sign which reads: “You are leaving CHICAGO-LAND, the fully automated LIVING MUSEUM.” The final full-page panel shows Kamandi overlooking “Monster Lake”(from the map in issue #1), under which the real city of Chicago lies submerged. And that’s a good place to end this volume (and this discussion0 until the release of Kamandi Omnibus Vol. 2.

 I’ve got to admit I didn’t fully appreciate the weirdness of “apes vs, gangsters in Prohibition-era Chicago” when I first read these stories a few short years ago.

I doubt it's humanly possible to fully appreciate that level of weirdness.

#20 sounds like there might have been some WESTWORLD influence in there (which came out first?).

Jeff said:

 

And that’s a good place to end this volume (and this discussion) until the release of Kamandi Omnibus Vol. 2.

 

Well, if you don’t mind me flogging the horse a bit more...

 

Issues 11-15

 

I don’t have all of these, but it looks like the plot is quite repetitive in each issue as Kamandi escapes, goes on a rampage and is brought back ‘to heel’.  It makes you wonder why Sacker gives him so much freedom after he does it the first time, even when Kamandi refuses to agree to Sacker’s terms.  Of course, Sacker probably needs the best candidates for the race itself, which is obviously an unusual event.  The idea of the participants bringing sidearms along makes it a pretty ludicrous race too.

 

But on the score of Sacker’s illogical leniency, I was satisfied with that shock ending to issue 15.  Sacker just wanted Kamandi to run in the race, and was well aware that he was too ‘untamed’ to be useful beyond that.  The ending was artistically satisfying, but also horrifically chilling.  Not just that our intrepid young hero came so close to being humanely destroyed, but also with the deliberate nod to what had been done in the Nazi concentration camps.  Kirby does manage to inject these ice-cold doses of reality into his whacked out fantasies.

 

There doesn’t seem to have been a lot of event for 4 issues, but I think the series benefitted from the space the readers got to see Kamandi interact with a steady cast for a while.  Bull Bantam is a great name.  At once the tough Alpha Male, and also a preening, crowing midget rooster.  Wiki tells me Bantam denotes breeds of chicken which are bred to be 1/5 to a ¼ of the size of their normal counterparts!

 

There is some kind of despair running through this series, sometimes manifested in a refusal to let writerly sentiment interfere with what would realistically happen to people in a world like this.  Both Flower and Klikklak were loyal and innocent victims of the cruelty and barbarity of Earth AD.  I hated seeing Klikklak die here.

 

Because of the kind of post-apocalyptic adventure tale this is, we get recurring characters to protect and help the hero along the way, but within the terms of that, Kamandi is alone.  He loses Tuftan to run into Ben’s team and then is on his own for a while and then meets Tuftan again.  In comics terms, that’s the equivalent of being despairingly alone...

 

The King said:

 

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.

 

Perhaps this aspect of Kamandi only snuck up on Kirby as he became more immersed in the story he was telling, but these tales turned out to be a powerful means of putting us in the shoes of the animals we so horribly mistreat all the time. 

 

From the largest to the smallest, they seek only to survive as best they can.’  Kirby had a big heart, full of empathy.

 

Jeff said:

 

It also occurs to me that humans are treated less as pets or animals throughout the course of this series as they are slaves.

 

I knew when I read the start of that sentence that I was about to read something insightful, and this is!  How the animals treat the humans is very like how slavery has often been justified and rationalised by those benefitting from it.  (It’s the same kind of thinking that stated that women had no souls.  How can something you own have a soul?) One letters page says that what we read as sentences that Kamandi hears the humans speaking, only comes across as meaningless grunting to their captors.  None so deaf as those that will not hear...  Note that the cleverer animals Kamandi meets take it in their stride that he can talk.  It’s not that big a shock to them.

 

Issue 15

 

The Watergate Tapes.  Sometimes Kirby is so out there that there’s just nothing to be said.  I must read this one again soon.

 

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.

 

It’s funny how my comics reading and ‘real life' intersect sometimes.  Just this morning, I was playing some video clips of ‘Yellow Submarine’ on You-tube for my two year old, and then this afternoon we were listening to the radio and different Beatles songs came on.  I told her that it was the same band playing that sang Yellow Submarine

 

That’s the Beatles!” I told her.

 

She laughed as she responded: “That’s not Beetles playing music!!

 

Issue 16

 

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

 

I’d agree.  Great issue.  Even without the important insights into the backstory, this is a powerful stuff, well told.  The parallel narratives trick is clever, and works really well. 

 

It’s very cinematic.  I haven’t seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes yet, but I’d imagine the more they lifted from this issue, the more powerful the movie would be!

I doubt it's humanly possible to fully appreciate that level of weirdness.

ROFL!

#20 sounds like there might have been some WESTWORLD influence in there.

Oh, yes… good call!

Which came out first?

Westworld came out in 1973; Kamandi #19 was cover-dated July, 1974.

Well, if you don’t mind me flogging the horse a bit more…

Not at all. Proceed!

I knew when I read the start of that sentence that I was about to read something insightful, and this is!

Shucks! It’s like Mark Evanier said in his introduction to the 1998 reprint of Kirby’s New Gods: “Come back to this book in a few months and read it again. Then read it again a few months later and over and over, as many times as you like. I’ll bet that with every visit you find something that wasn’t there the time before. But remember it isn’t the book that’s changing, It’s you.”

For a so-called kids comic, Kirby keeps the horrors coming.  In issue 17, we see that some humans have devolved into troglodytic little mole-men who only understand the words 'good' and 'bad'. 

 

The real horror is in issue 20, when Ugash is about to be executed in the electric chair.  He's not a nice gorilla - not that there seem to be many nice Gorillas in Earth AD - but what happens to him is just horrible.  It's chilling that he doesn't know why the automatons are trying to put him in the chair, but we do.  And then it's worse when he realises that his life is about to be snuffed out like a light.  Kirby put real feeling into that sequence.  The fact that Ugash is such an unlikeable brute, but we are still aghast at what might happen to him says much for Kirby's craft, and for the real engagement he must have had with the subject.  There seems to be an attitude to capital punishment coming through.  A state kills people with the same heartlessness and lack of feeling that the automatons try to do here. 

 

The stark cold way Kirby presents the horror of it is an echo of what almost happened to Kamandi in the gas chamber.  It's the inhumanity of it Kirby conveys so well.  Treating humans like objects or just animals.  Looking at the gas chamber sequence in issue 14 again, Kirby seems to have modeled the inside of the room on what the dormitorys of the concentration camps were like, with the rough wooden bunkbeds on top of each other like that.

 

Kamandi seems pretty unrelenting, doesn't it?

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