Here he goes again! I’m sure many readers are wondering why I insist on pulling out the some of the most obscure characters to devote my Near Mint Memories time to. Quite simply, I find it boring to write about characters and series that have been chronicled, cataloged, and reviewed, ad infinitum. Kamandi along with other recent NMM subjects like The Warlord, Jon Sable, Master of Kung Fu, and Deadman all had one major thing in common: a relatively stable creative situation that allowed for a story to develop without, jumps, fits, and (or) starts.
While it wasn’t planned, it’s fitting that a Kamandi feature follows an Etrigan / Demon NMM piece since both are 1970’s DC creations by THE Comics King: Jack Kirby! Chris is the best partner to write NMMs with! Sometimes it feels like we can read each other’s minds. – Babos
I’ve always found books that maintained a strong creative freedom or allowed for actual character development (not the comic cop-out of “seeming change”) were the most satisfying reads, especially in the long run. Sure, the more mainstream titles read quite well the first time, but often not as well the second and so on. What’s worse is to try and read multiple issues of the big-name superhero books in one sitting. The formula and blatant lack of progression simply smacks you in the face, especially if you sit down with a lengthy run of fifty or more issues.
I’m not trying to single out any particular title or even specific characters; I’m not even trying to say those books are bad. I love many of the highly marketable characters as much as the next comic reader. These ancillary books may not always be better or have stronger characters, but it all comes down to the fact that an actual story with some real advancement is occurring within these books. My favorite superhero comics, The Flash and Savage Dragon have had very character advancement unmatched by most other modern comics. Another good example would be Green Lantern, which had been successful in this for approximately a decade. That is until the impending return to the status quo of twenty or thirty years ago that will reach us in October’s Green Lantern: Rebirth.
Television shows seem to be offering character growth and genuine plot advancement more and more. While the comic market seems content to hark back to decades old formulas and watch as any potential youth audience is lost forever.
Ah well. I’ve rambled on enough. Let’s get to it!
The Last Boy on Earth
Comic’s legend Jack Kirby created Kamandi in 1972 and held almost complete creative control over the book for nearly three years. While the basic concept of Kamandi was similar to many comics, books, TV shows, and films that came before and after, it also broke new ground in a genre (post-apocalyptic Earth) that tends to get very tired. As the series wore on, and Kirby’s influence began to wane, the series, as many others have, got further from the original vision. Jack Kirby’s brilliance was quite evident on Kamandi, and all was good. Following “King” Kirby’s departure, Kamandi wasn’t so fresh anymore. It lost its bearings, thus becoming a tired, rote, regurgitation of the worst that this genre could possibly offer. Certainly a case where early cancellation would have been far better than the fate that befell poor Kamandi.
Jack Kirby’s influence went beyond just being the creator. He was the writer, penciler, and editor of Kamandi. During the early part of the series he was joined by Mike Royer, who did the inking and lettering. While the series could be silly at times, it remained creatively pure, offered interesting social commentary, and was astoundingly entertaining while Kirby was involved.
Kamandi is set in the distant future. A future that has been rocked by an apocalypse that left anthropomorphic animals and mutants as the higher life form. The first issue begins in an old military bunker known as “Command D,” where an old man and his grandson are attacked by wolf-men. The old man is killed, but the sixteen-year-old boy, Kamandi, escaped his pursuers and experienced the outside world for the first time in his life. Kamandi is in a clearly recognizable version of New York City, albeit a NYC that had fallen victim to a cataclysm known as “The Great Disaster.”
While the wolf-men are killed, Kamandi doesn’t live free for long. He’s quickly captured by Great Caesar and his army of tigers. In a very similar scenario to the original Planet of the Apes film, Kamandi is found to be a thinking creature by Great Caesar’s top scientist Dr. Canus (as the name implies he’s a bi-ped dog). Dr. Canus shows sympathy for Kamandi and the pair escape along with a mutant named Ben Boxer. Although Boxer looks like a human, he’s actually a mutant with nuclear capabilities that enable him to turn into a powerful metallic substance. As the first issue closed out the three new “friends” set out on a journey of discovery across the ravaged Earth. The “why” is not explained, but the first issue introduced us to this new world and even included a map, so you could extrapolate where Kamandi would be down the line.
Tuftan, Flower, and further developments…
During the early issues of the series, Kamandi met up with rat-men, gorilla-men, and encountered Great Caesar once more. During the second confrontation with Caesar, Kamandi met another character that would remain a regular supporting player from this point on. Great Caesar’s son Tuftan became one of Kamandi’s strongest allies. The additions of Canus and Tuftan as frequent traveling companions allowed the opportunity for Kamandi to see the perspective of the animals and also get a better idea of varying situations they encountered. This smacks of Planet of the Apes, but a lot of different ground is covered.
Kirby was in major creation-mode with the early issues. Instead of having Kamandi move about and meet all-new characters each issue, more supporting players that would either be fast-friends or dog Kamandi’s tail were introduced. Ben Boxer’s friends, and the similarly powered, Renzi and Steve debuted.
Even more importantly was Kamandi’s true love, Flower. Flower was introduced in issue #5 and in a rather quirky move died at the (paws) of the puma-men in issue #6. After just six issues, Kamandi had seen his grandfather killed, been separated from Ben Boxer and Dr. Canus, and watched his lady-love die. Jack Kirby may have borrowed some of the tone and situations from popular sci-fi, but he certainly was taking his characters and situations into areas rarely explored (especially in comics) in that day. Kamandi was not living high and certainly wasn’t enjoying life all that much. Things would get better, but not quickly.
Trouble comes as Kirby goes
As time wore on, Kirby’s multi-tasking lessened on Kamandi. Issue #33 was the last that Kirby edited (giving way to Gerry Conway), #37 was the final issue that Kirby wrote (once again taken over by Conway), and #40 would be the final story penciled by Kirby (Chic Stone was the new man in town). As Kirby’s influence faded, the series took a nosedive. The series moved away from the tongue-in-cheek morality play that Kirby most often produced, and went for straight up sci-fantasy.
Many talented men plied their trade on Kamandi over the next few years. The list included writers: Denny O’Neil, Jack C. Harris, Paul Levitz, Elliot S. Maggin, and Steve Englehart. Dick Ayers penciled the majority of the issues following Kirby’s departure, but there were a few fill-ins by soon-to-be superstar Keith Giffen. None of these men were successful in the grand-Kirby style and sales got progressively worse. Eventually the title went to a bi-monthly format, and then it was cancelled (with issue #59) as a part of the “DC Implosion” of 1978. Issues #60 and #61 were completed, but only saw the light of day in ultra-limited quantities (really just photocopies) as part of the Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, which DC printed so they could maintain certain copyrights on the work.
For a moment, I’d like to step back to the time soon after Jack Kirby left Kamandi. Issue #50 brought answers in the long-gestating secret of who Kamandi’s grandfather was. While it was hinted at from the start, down the line, we learned that Kamandi’s grandfather was actually another Kirby-creation, OMAC (One Man Army Corps). The only other exposure that I have had to OMAC over the years was with his backups in some Warlord issues. Not a particularly cool character, but a nice little Kirby-connection.
Following Kamandi‘s visit by the “Cancellation Fairy” in 1978 his only appearances were in The Brave and the Bold #157 and DC Comics Presents #64. That is until 1985 when Kamandi played a major role in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. One of the Anti-Monitor’s extinction devices made its way to Kamandi’s future, thus embroiling “The Last Boy on Earth” in some of the prime issues of the series. As a young comic fan this was my only exposure to the character. As a wee lad my interest was piqued in the mid-’80s, but I had the focus of a fish, so it was many years later before I finally read more adventures that featured Kamandi.
Kamandi’s future-world beseeched by “The Great Disaster” posed a problem for a “Post-Crisis” DC Universe that was to be “reader friendly.” With one supposed clear trail of continuity to be followed from this point forward there was no way to explain Kamandi’s origins along with those occurring in the further future of The Legion of Super-Heroes. So, Kamandi was sacrificed. Not killed mind you, but after the victory by the “good-guys” his future was voided. With this Kamandi was reborn as an intergalactic hero named Tommy Tomorrow.
Oh, by the way, the fact that Kamandi… err… Tommy escaped “Command D” at the close of Crisis has largely been forgotten. Let’s just forget about the travesty that became of Kamandi post-Crisis. After all, if DC can. So can we!
Kamandi finally returned in his own miniseries in 1993. Unfortunately, Kamandi: At Earth’s End showed absolutely no respect for the original source material. This weak Elseworlds miniseries tried to reinvent the character using early 1990’s comic-sensibilities, namely: overwrought machismo, mindless action, and generally-inane nonsense. The result was a boring, poorly-plotted mess. Series writer Tom Veitch clearly had no clue what he was doing with the character. Of course, he had a similar problem with his recently-concluded run on Aquaman. Not good stuff at all. Avoid this like the plague!
Kamandi’s most-recent appearance is, by far, the best translation of the Jack Kirby creation since the “King” departed the original series nearly thirty years ago. In 2004, the TV tie-in title JLA Adventures #30 brought the Flash to the world of Kamandi after the “The Great Disaster.” Clearly, writer Stuart Moore had some level of respect for Kamandi. Moore spun a fun story that featured appearances by Kamandi, Tuftan, and host of anthropomorphic animals in the Kirby-tradition. Flash ends up setting in motion the steps that reversed the “Great Disaster” and led Kamandi to a more positive future. The issue’s denouement sees Kamandi as a part of Animal / Human Rescue (complete with a Flash symbol as their logo). At least they didn’t change his name to Tommy Tomorrow again.
Kamandi will also appear in the upcoming “Absolute Power” arc in the pages of DC’s Superman/Batman series. “The Last Boy on Earth” actually adorns the cover of S/B #16 during that arc (solicited for a December 2004 release) that you get a peak at below. – Babos
The Reading Rack
Kamandi Archives: At the moment there are no collected editions of the 59 issue run of Kamandi. That will all change next year with the release of the first archive edition of Jack Kirby’s work on Kamandi.
We’ve reached the end of yet another column. My next installment of NMM will focus on the comic series that cemented my love of the DC Universe, Super Powers