Thursday, 23 February 2012

KAMANDI THE LAST BOY ON EARTH BY JACK KIRBY Volume One


The story of how I got the book: The short story is, my parents got it for me for Christmas. The long story is that my Dad likes to do online surveys and is rewarded by the companies that run them with vouchers that can be exchanged for credit at online shops. So it has become something of a Christmas tradition for my Dad to ask me to convert these virtual vouchers to Amazon credit and then tell me to order something for myself for Christmas up to the value of £20 and no more. Some might say that this process is sapping the spirit of gift giving out of the festival but I don’t mind. As long as I get something that I want.

Kamandi The Last Boy On Earth: As a boy, I loved Jack Kirby’s Silver Age artwork but always felt disappointed by the stuff he was doing during the seventies. I remember owning a couple of issues collected in this book at one time and feeling that his frequent use of the splash page and double-paged spread was at odds with everything else that was happening in mainstream comics at the time. How was I to know that this was all you were going to get from comics thirty years later? I was, of course, wrong to feel this way, and one of the pleasures I have as an adult is buying collections of his work from this period, such as the Captain America Omnibus and The Eternals, and being able to recognise how great it is.

The surface premise of Kamandi is often described as a cash-in on Planet Of The Apes which was hugely popular at the time that the comics were originally published. Kamandi is a disturbingly muscular boy, like those troubling images of children who take part in body building competitions that your mates post on Facebook from time to time, who surfaces from an underground bunker he’s lived in for all of his live one day to discover that nature’s order has gone topsy-turvy. Humans are now stupid beasts and the animals are vertical, articulate and sophisticated people. There are communities of tiger-people and bat-people and dog-people and ape-people scattered across the shattered American landscape. Any animal you can think of is now evolved, except for horses for some reason, which every other creature rides around on.

The obvious narrative threads such as the animal-people never thinking of Kamandi as anything more than a beast beneath them despite him speaking their language and other demonstrations of intelligence are ever present throughout the twenty issues collected here. But Kirby’s thing is also to throw other back-of-the-brain elements into the mix such robot gangsters, nuclear men and mutant misfits. It makes this a conceit that could almost write itself into something that only Kirby could do. I’ve also grown to love Kirby’s story telling from this period where he drops us straight into the middle of the action from the start with a splash, elaborates with a double-paged spread and then makes fantastic sense of it all with oddly constructed narration.

The book production: I’m perfectly happy with the paper stock DC uses for these collections. It’s a low grade stock meant to represent the reproduction processes of the original comics. But I do know from talking to friends that not everyone is as laid back as I am about this and would prefer a glossier paper and so it’s something I thing DC should reconsider. I do, however, agree with the point of view that the binding of these books is too tight. It’s not just the double paged spreads where artwork is lost in the centre. Even single pages take a bit of spine cracking to read fully.

Final thought: I’m intrigued, when DC have flogged to death every other Jack Kirby creation from this period, such as The Fourth World, as to why Kamandi has seemingly been left untouched. The answer can’t be something as depressingly simple as it not being set in the DC Universe, can it.

10 comments:

  1. There was a 6 issue mini a while ago now and his appearance as one of the stories in Wednesday Comics, but relatively yeah, there is very little Kamandi old there. Possibly because the original series having reached 58 issues (37 by Kirby) this is his one series from this period that didn't get curtailed by poor sales and might actually have done what it set out to do? Or all it could... not that that would necessarily stop folk.

    The only reprints I am aware of were a couple of Archive editions which were impossible to get hold of at a decent price, so I was lucky that I managed to collect the originals.

    Errr all of which doesn't led nicely at all to what I was going to say, which was 70s Kirby is amongst the greatest comics ever. The Fourth World Saga (whatever its really called), is just brilliant and the rest is pretty damned fantastic, 2001 being a particular highlight. I much prefer this stuff to his classic 60s Marvel work. I think by this stage he just lets his imagination let rip fully and creates comics that are just impossible to imagine reproduced in any other media.

    While his dialogue might be a little heavy handed at times (ahem), I much prefer it to the stuff Stan Lee did over the stories they created together.

    This stuff is US comics at their very, very best.

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    1. Cheers Colin. I had forgotten about the Wednesday Comics thing. I beginning to agree with you re Kirby's 70s work. in my defence, I was just a little kid at the time.

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    2. Hi there.. am looking to see if anyone can help me. I have a framed, hand sketched (double) autographed Kamandi art piece by Kirby (possibly an original piece as I can't locate a comic cover that looks like it)... am trying to get a sense of it's worth as I would like to possibly sell it. If you have any thoughts, you can email me at charatappin@gmail.com - and I can send a pix I took of it...

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  2. I think Grant Morrison brought Kamandi back into the DCU -- and the modern day -- in Final Crisis, but all the recent DC megacrossovers tend to blur into one for me.

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    1. I have read Final Crisis but I can't remember Kamandi in there. It's a mad series, though.

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    2. Bear in mind this is from Wikipedia and so may not be accurate:
      Kamandi is seen in DC's Final Crisis limited series, a sequel to the earlier Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis. In the first issue he appears in what seems to be a time distortion, asking Anthro, the "first" boy on Earth, for the weapon the New God Metron gave him, a reference to the series' opening scene in which Anthro, like Prometheus, is given knowledge in the form of fire. He makes another appearance in the second issue as one of the captives of the evil New Gods (alongside Batman), warning the detective character Dan Turpin that they are making slaves of them. In the final issue, he appears on Earth-51 after it has been reconstructed.

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  3. I notice that Comixology have Kamandi issues 1-20 downloadable for $0.99c each at the moment, which is a tempting offer (for me).

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    1. You can probably buy the hardback which collects the first twenty issues for around the same price.

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    2. I didn't realise this book had twenty issues in it. In that case, it's going on my wish list. Kamandi appeals to me much more than the Fourth World stuff, although I do remember really enjoying all his Mister Miracle comics when I read them about 10 years ago, and I would definitely by a collection of those.

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  4. This looks pretty cool, I'll have to check it out. Nice page, I dig it.

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