Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Kamandi Archives Volume 1

Kamandi Archives, Volume 1 (Oct. 2005, DC Comics)
Written, Drawn, and Edited by Jack Kirby
Inked and Lettered by Mike Royer

Karen: This hardback archive edition collects the first ten issues of Jack Kirby's post-apocalyptic series that began in 1972. I had read two random Kamandi comics in the past but otherwise had little contact with the character, beyond his rare appearances in other books. I got the general concept -the last boy on Earth (well, not actually true), a world now ruled by intelligent, mutated animals. But I'd never really read the series and I was curious about it. Knowing it was at least slightly influenced by Planet of the Apes, one of my favorite film series, also encouraged me to look into it. Finally I saw this archive edition at a reasonable price and grabbed it. Instead of going over each issue I'll discuss my general impression of the series.

Karen: My overall impression is one of many ideas but little structure. As usual Kirby excels at coming up with new creations. He populates his new world with all sorts of animal-men, each with their own characteristics: the gorilla men are crude and brutal (not to mention ugly in a manner not unlike the Toho films' King Kong); the tiger men are aggressive conquerors; the lion-men are valiant conservationists who try to preserve mankind; and so on. In a twisted parallel to Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the only intelligent humans surviving on Earth don't worship atomic bombs -they are atomic bombs! These mutant humans  possess some sort of atomic power that allows them to change form into metallic supermen. They come from a place called 'Tracking Site' which for an unexplained reason resembles a miniature version of Earth floating somewhere above South America, and was apparently run by scientists and engineers from NASA before the Great Disaster struck. This Great Disaster is never spelled out, and actually as a mystery could serve to drive the story, but at least in these early issues, is relatively untouched. That's the maddening thing about it all: there's so much here that tantalizes, but never seems to really go anywhere.

Karen: I will say that the art is solid, with Kirby still producing some very strong work. I got the feeling he was enjoying himself creatively on these first ten issues. There are some wonderful epic vistas and imaginative character designs.Some of it definitely feels derivative though. Besides Planet of the Apes, Kirby also borrows from King Kong with a story involving a giant man ape ('Tiny') who becomes fond of Kamandi. Actually, Kirby recycles some of his own concepts if you think about it -the animal men have a lot in common with the New Men of the High Evolutionary from Thor back at Marvel, for example.

Karen: Kamandi himself is a cipher. He leaves his underground bunker (Command D -get it?) where he lived with his grandfather, to explore the world above, a world he had only known through stories and microfilm records. When he returns to his home he finds his grandfather killed by invading wolf-men. He decides to continue his explorations, but there never seems to be any rhyme or reason to his travels. He never expresses a personality beyond being something of a hot-head. There's no emotional life to the character. I'm not saying every comic character has to be a Peter Parker and cry in his beer every issue, but there has to be some sort of inner life, something going on that drives the protagonist and makes the reader take an interest in them. There's just nothing there with Kamandi. He's a blank slate. He seems to exist only as a vehicle to move from one place to another, from one idea to the next, so that different concepts can get shown off. He has no stake in anything.

Karen: At one point, he encounters an attractive girl, Flower, who can actually speak, even if only in rudimentary style. This should be huge, seeing as how humans  (other than the handful of mutated ones, who are all men) are all dumb animals. I expected Kamandi to be excited, to wonder where she came from, how she learned to talk, to  perhaps be attracted to her (especially considering she is topless), and so on. But none of this happened. In fact, he seemed to look upon her as a burden! Later, Flower is killed, and then Kamandi mourns her passing, but it rings hollow. His supporting cast is minimal and shifting -Ben Boxer, the radioactive mutant descendant of astronauts, bounces in and out of the book, along with his two buddies. Kamandi seems on the verge of developing a friendship with Tuftan, the teen son of tiger leader Caesar, but this is not advanced, at least not in these first ten issues. There are other characters that also seem ripe for development. But early on, Kamandi is such a wanderer, it's difficult to create any sort of supporting cast for the title.

It wouldn't be right to leave out this Kirby collage from issue 9
Karen: Despite all of this, I do find Kamandi oddly compelling. I'm even considering buying the second Archives edition. Part of it is just this desire to see if anything really evolves out of  this beginning. There's so much potential for story-telling. But without a central character to care about, it's just so much fluff. Kamandi (the book) is like a fast food snack when it could be a great four-course meal. It's kind of fun but ultimately it doesn't satisfy. I'm hoping that later in the series it turns around and gains some substance.


William said...

Never really got into Kamandi, but you gotta love that Kirby art.

Hoosier X said...

Over the last few years, I've accumulated about a third of the run and I can hardly praise it more. Kamandi #7 (with the King Kong homage) really stands out for me. It is INSANE and one of the most entertaining comics I've ever read.

Tony said...

I like that I live in "Dominion of the Devils"

Humanbelly said...

The first 10 issues are actually where the holes are in my run-- although I'm pretty sure I read most of them in my youth.

Karen, your take on the series as a whole is very similar to my experience of it throughout. Even though it's wildly flawed in several important ways, it still is somehow engaging and even addictive. Heh-- like "Are You Being Served?", say. It's clearly another book where Jack was captivated by his big picture and ideas and event, and kind of let things like realistic characterization and development languish. F'rinstance-- Kamandi NEVER GETS A SHIRT-!!! He travels the continents of Post Great Disaster Earth. . . is captured many times, joins various communities and is taken in and cared-for, even ends up in a "civilized" human community or two. . . and yet somehow never ever manages to score a change of clothing. It's the same shirtless, shredded daisy dukes, Beatle-bootsed ensemble year in and year out. (Can you even imagine trying to run in those stupid, slippery, fashionable leather boots??)

Many of those early supporting characters did return later on in the run. Ben. . . Boxer, was it?-- kind of held on for awhile, IIRC. And the late Flower turned out to have a twin sister whose name escapes, and we had her around for a bit. Flower, I confess, had a heck of a lot of appeal to my buddy and I. Our 12-year-old imaginations just about couldn't cope with what a passing wind or quick movement could do to that delicately-placed hair of hers. And yet the Last BOY On Earth was just maddeningly oblivious (such a gentleman).

I do remember also that DC's HERCULES series was set in the same milieu-- Post Great Disaster-- and it was kind of neat to see a broader universe being nurtured.

Jack seemed to be running out of steam by the time he left the book and went back to Marvel, but it still wasn't as good w/out him. Maybe it's just the intangible creator/creation connection that gave the title its own special, indefinable appeal, y'know?


Garett said...

I remember reading a few Kamandi comics as a kid and liking them. A few years ago I started reading them again and found them delightful, and started collecting them. Then a couple years ago I read the first Kamandi Omnibus straight through, and thought it was awesome! This title's a lot of fun, and Kirby can draw from ideas high and low in this futuristic world. I personally find Kamandi more enjoyable than the New Gods, and Kamandi as a character more relatable than say Omac.

Kirby draws from Planet of the Apes and multiplies it--why just apes, why not tigers etc too? I think the resolution to issue #5 with the slot machine is kind of bonkers but creative at the same time! There are creepy issues like #9-10 with the Misfit, and one story in the next 10 issues features Chicago gangsters, almost like A Piece of the Action episode of Star Trek.

The art here is still very good. Tuftan and other characters are also back in the next 10 issues Karen. I haven't read much of issues 20-40 yet, but I might get the second Omnibus now that I'm thinking about this imaginative series again.

mr. oyola said...

I have never read any Kamandi, but it is right in my wheelhouse of things I love. Post-Apocalyptic. Animal-Men. Changed World Map. Kirby Art.

Looks fantastic to me. . . Not sure if I will ever get around to collecting this. I do have the Devil Dinosaur run, which is one of my prized possessions - how would you compare this to that?

Karen said...

I can feel a lot of love for Kamandi here, and I do understand where you're coming from. The book has a wildness to it, a pure sense of abandon that is appealing. But I still feel that it's ultimately unsatisfying, because it's all spectacle and no substance. Kirby could have killed Kamandi off at any point and replaced him with Ben Boxer or anybody and I just wouldn't have cared, because there's no meat to the character, at least not in the ten issues I read.

I couldn't say that about any run of Spider-Man or Captain America or practically any Marvel comic I was following. The protagonist is essential to the book. His needs and motivations are what drive it. Kamandi just seems to be a little top, spinning around in this crazy playland that Kirby has built around him.

Edo Bosnar said...

I guess I'll be the more critical voice here. I read the entire Kirby run on the title, and I think Karen's criticisms pretty much sum up the entire series, as I recall it.
Yes, the whole thing is wildly inventive, and Kirby did some great world-building, but it never really lived up to its potential. I can't help thinking that this would have been much better if Kirby had collaborated on it with his old partner, Joe Simon.

Anonymous said...

Criticisms of Stab Lee aside, how might Kamandi have turned out if there would have been some way for Stan and Jack to have collaborated on him? Or as Edo mentioned, if Jack and Joe Simon had been together on him? A deeper character to go along with The King's awesome world, concept, and of course, art? Wow!

David from Wisconsin

Garett said...

I agree and disagree with you Karen, and maybe this gets to the heart of why I'm not only a Marvel fan, but an equal fan of Marvel, DC and Everyone Else. I'm a big fan of creators. When I read a Kirby comic like Kamandi, I get a feeling from it. It's not just the action depicted or what the characters are's the surge of creative power and personality that hits on every page. It's like the difference between reading a dry report or listening to a song...both use words, but one makes you get up and dance! The report may have more details and be more thorough, but you can sing along to the words of the song many times and never get tired of it. For me Kirby has released a rockin' song in Kamandi. And while any run of Spider-Man will include his personality, supporting cast...many of them don't have anywhere near the creative juice flowing here. I think great creators often have shortcomings in one area but make up for it big-time in another area, and end up transcending the run-of-the-mill work. Picasso was criticized for disrupting the usual space of a painting...but he made up for it by creating something more personal that has stood the test of time more than many more "correct" works of his period.

So does Kamandi have an Aunt May? No, but the comic still rocks! : )

Murray said...

Kamandi always had a major feeling of "been there, done that" to me. "Planet of the Apes", as you say, but I'll toss in Gold Key's "Samson" as a direct comic ancestor.

Maybe I had read too many post-apocalyptic novels, both wild and grim, to see anything fresh in a classic Kirby "shoot from the hip" story.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the "Gorilla Communes!"

Humanbelly said...

Y'know, I wonder if Kamandi's rather un-layered personality might not have been an accident of Jack's writing at all? That maybe there was a point to it? He is, after all, the Last Boy on Earth-- and the book was clearly aimed at probably 11-to-15 year olds. From the first issue, we discover and explore this strange new Earth right along with him-- seeing it through K's eyes. I wonder. . . maybe the whole point was never that Kamandi himself be an interesting, unique character himself, but rather that he would be so general that WE in effect BECOME Kamandi as we read the book. We're not emotionally invested in him because we're actually taking his place. His courage, his resiliance, his physical prowess under fire, his nose-thumbing at pretty much every force greater than him--- while broad traits, these are things that every adolescent boy could relate to and view as "really" being part of their own personality. WE were ALL Kamandi.

I think. . . I dunno. . . I wonder if I've hit on something, here? I mean, I'm not sure at all that this approach proved greatly successful-- but it almost makes more sense if it was a conscious choice. It kind of makes the whole title work better.



Garett said...

I'd agree with that HB. I remember in Scott McCloud's book Understanding Comics, he talked about Tintin being a rather undefined boy character on purpose, while the locations he traveled to were very specific--cities, costumes, rocket ships, submarines all had specific detail. In this way the reader could identify with Tintin and be on the adventures himself. McCloud went on to suggest that the more specifically define a character is, the more the reader sees him as "other". As an example he gave a Japanese comic where the hero was cartoonily rendered, while the villains were realistic and specific. Since Kamandi is in a fantastic futuristic world, it makes sense that he's a little less defined so we can explore this new world with him.

I'd also like to point out that he's not a blank character. He has a defiant spirit, can be hesitant and afraid, impulsive, sad, explosive and angry. I think it's an interesting choice that he doesn't get all google-eyed for Flower at first--that would've been a typical writing choice. He impulsively rescues her, then tries to ditch her to pursue a villain, and she chases him! He's a teenage boy who's never seen a girl, and is exploring a wild unknown world. I think some confusion on his part is appropriate. : ) Also I found the death of Flower to be touching, and disagree with Karen that it "rings hollow".

I also have to disagree about Kamandi being replaceable as the protagonist. His inexperience, small stature, yet fiesty nature makes him very different from Ben Boxer and the others. I'm glad Stan Lee didn't write this, or Kamandi would've been whining endlessly about his dead grandpa through the whole series. Instead we get a lightning bolt of adventurous storytelling by Kirby!

Anonymous said...

I loved Kamandi. It was just good ol' goofy fun.
So sayeth Leo IV, ruler of the pueblo-building Lion Folk.

Anonymous said...

This takes me back to Saturdays spent on base, I was reading by this time (Yeah public schools) instead of just looking at pictures.

There some to be some echoes of our assessment of Kirby's work in general and Kamandi in particular that are the flip side to Lucas' prequels. Or his Star Wars in their entirety.

Kirby was such a part of our childhood. We always view him with that spin. Even his later work is tempered with those memories. I recall the review of his work with Black Panther, it became formulaic(?) any hero could have been inserted yet we still Marvel (LOL) at the King's work.

Lucas, for many of us, came later. We're more critical of his work and way more bummed by how he totally fell off the tracks. (JAR JAR WTF!?!)

And Leo, BTW, we can't start playing post-apocalyptic Risk until Dy-no-Mike draws in Trinidad & Tobago.

The Prowler (still is Africa).

Anonymous said...

Dag Nabbit..... There seems to be some echo is how that sentence should read.

The Prowler (also learned to type in public schools).

Anonymous said...

Yeah I loved this series. This was definitely Kirby's homage to Planet of the Apes, where we get not only talking apes, but lions, tigers and dogs - but curiously no talking horses! Some issues depicted the animals riding regular horses. Maybe the mutation didn't affect horses, but more likely (as an astute letters writer noted) they probably reminded Kirby of Mr. Ed; he couldn't bring himself to draw them because he laughed too much!

I read the issue with Tiny years ago and that was all inspired by King Kong. Yes, the series meandered seemingly without direction, but I think this was by design. Kirby's strength was never in plotting, but rather in conceptualizing unique characters and of course the awesome artwork. If he had collaborated with a writer the series would have gone in a different direction for sure.

Kamandi was Kirby's guilty pleasure, his pet project. It enabled him to create a fresh new world populated with bizarre characters and crazy storylines. All this outside of the mainstream DC universe, so he didn't have to worry about dealing with those pesky superheroes and established history. If it got cancelled, he at least got the chance to flex his creative muscles. Thank you Mr. Kirby!

- Mike 'waiting for the prequel - Kamancee' from Trinidad & Tobago.

david_b said...

I'm with William here. I feel I'd love to just sit back some Sunday afternoon and read an Archive like this. Not so much for any story depth, but for pure Kirby love.

Nothing wrong with that at all.

Hey, POTA was big, so he drew something post-disasterish that was selling at the time, just making money off a trend. Again, nothing wrong with that at all.

But rip-off aside, it still feels like Kirby makes it his own.

I'm surprised Kirby couldn't talk Filmation into a Saturday morning cartoon on Kamandi, since Kirby was doing some consult work for the later '70s FF show with Herbie, and you already had the likes of Tarzan, Lone Ranger, and the POTA animated series..

Humanbelly said...

And in fact, about midway through Kirby's run, there was a rather melancholy issue that tied the book in to the mainstream DC universe. IIRC, it centered around the discovery (and worship?) of Superman's empty uniform. No in-depth explanation. . . but clearly the Man of Steel had existed on this particular Earth Pre-Disaster.


Karen said...

Well David, Kirby did do some work on Thundarr the Barbarian. Although that's really Steve Gerber's baby.

Did I just say 'Gerber Baby'? Must be getting tired...

Anonymous said...

To respond to Humanbelly, it's possible those talking gorillas just found a bunch of D.C comics and somebody's Halloween costume.
But, I like your interpretation better. It was left kinda vague, and as you say, melancholy. I remember Kamandi emotionally insisting at the end that "the great one" might someday return, despite having seen "the face of death" during the great cataclysm...
There were still an infinite amount of stories that could've been written about Earth A.D...

Graham said...

As a ten year old, I LOVED Kamandi. It was wall-to-wall action and excitement for me. The arc that included Mr. Sacker and Klik-Klak was a particular favorite.

I stuck with it pretty closely from around issue #9 to the late 20's, when my local store stopped carrying comic books, and picked up the occasional one after that, even a few after Kirby left.

Seems like it would have been a great Saturday morning least I thought so back then.

vancouver mark said...

Another hello from the Dominion of the Devils, greetings to my countryman Tony and any other DD dwellers out there. And hello once again to everybody at BAB. I haven't commented for a very long time (on any site, so please don't take it personally) but I read you every day and can't resist putting in my two cents on this one.

My take on Kamandi is that the book has to be seen in the context of its creation. Jack Kirby had produced brilliance with Stan Lee in the early mid-sixties, but had then grown increasingly frustrated for a variety of long-discussed reasons. Essentially he began to feel underpaid and ill-used, and was frustrated that his characters and storylines were changed against his ideas.

So he famously stopped creating anything new for Marvel and cranked out FF and Thor from 1967 to 1970, recycling villains and characters and taking story ideas from TV, handing in a certain number of pages every month.

Privately he kept on creating, new concepts and characters that became DC's Fourth World. He created a cast of memorable and moving characters with very distinctive motivations and personality, and an epic, meandering storyline that led all over the place but moved with purpose.
It was by all accounts his most personal work, the climax of his career.

But DC wanted more titles, and Kirby was asked to come up two more titles, one based on POTA and one a supernatural title.
That was why he created the first issues of Kamandi and the Demon, apparently with a clear understanding that the titles would then be taken over by other writers and artists.
Instead, DC told him that they were cancelling New Gods and Forever People and he'd be staying on Kamandi. He was assigned talking tigers and spook stories instead of his epic for the age.
And he was in his fifties now, and had years left on his contract with DC...

That first issue of Kamandi presented a post-apocalyptic world playground complete with a map full of future story ideas, and a character drawn in broad simple strokes, to let its creative team fill him in and flesh him out however they saw fit.
And I don't think the title ever really got past that, a pretty simplistic character running wild through a freaky world of high adventure. I don't think his heart was ever in it, but the art was sensational. I think in a real way at this time his heart was broken, and the fact that KTLBOE was as good as it was is a great testament to the King.

I was thirteen when I bought my first issue, "Flower," and I bought them all after that until he left the book.

Like Graham, my favorite was the Mister Sacker story, with arguably the noblest Canadian comic book character of all time, the legendary Kliklak (without checking I think that's how it was spelled).

Anonymous said...

A message to the Domain of the Devils from the Gorilla Communes:
Kneel before Grodd!

Anonymous said...

"Dominion" I mean, dang it.

f said...

I purchased both Omnibus hardcovers last year on Ironically I never read the title as a child. However I was fascinated by the art and what Kirby had to say. It looks like Kirby and DC had others artists and writers take over after he left. To read in the Kirby Collector how DC considered New Gods and his titles "failures" and then watching the company reboot and re-use the characters again....well it shows how the folds at DC didn't know what they had with Kirby.

It's astounding to me how Kirby survived this period because he was never truly compensated for his creations. The omnibus editions showed me that it was one of those comics that wasn't intended to be deep. It was one of those wild ride books that keep readers returning each week.

Comics fans can say what they want about the writing. The mixture of the bizarre and the brutal characters kept me interested in this saga. Too bad Kirby didn't have time to give us an ending to this saga or some sense of closure.

I truly didn't become a fan until Kirby's mid seventies run on Captain America. Purchasing each and every issue because I wanted to see what Kirby had to say during that bicentennial year. The villains and the King's WW II viewpoint kept my interest. I knew how Kirby fought in the war and wanted to see his world view of the Captain.

But I digress, back to Kamandi....

Like the first reviewer said, "you gotta love that Kirby art".....and that was what made me want to see this volume unedited with no ads.
Very soon after I purchased all four New Gods Omnibus paperbacks, The Demon hardcover and Omac all in one week. There are those that wanted to see him team up with Stan Lee again. However Kirby did fine on his own without Stan's editorial interference. It makes me wish that he could have stayed at Marvel and given them all these concepts.

I read ....perhaps it was in the Kirby Collector. that he intended the New Gods to be part of Thor's continuity. It would be a saga when the old gods are cast out and had to make room for the new ones.

In the post Kirby years Thor did meet The Eternals. I can only imagine how the New Gods would fit into that universe! Unfortunately we' ll never see it because Marvel and DC never gave him the chance to finish his work. They just kept declaring his work a failure and waiting for him to leave so they could re-boot the title under a set of different creative teams.

What is truly astounding is that Kirby helped create almost every character in the Marvel Universe. Both Marvel and DC treated him like a mere maker of pages. He had to wait until he went to the animation field to get the respect he deserved.

I didn't mean to go off on this tangent....however the characters and outrageous situations depicted by Kirby's version of Planet of the Apes kept me fascinated at the turn of every page.

Fred W. Hill said...

I only ever read a few issues of Kamandi - my younger (by 10 months) brother collected them. He preferred comics with wild fantasy adventures over the more angsty, soap-operaish Marvel comics that I was more into. It is curious that after helping create the very inter-connected Marvel universe, with many guest stars circa 1963-'65, Kirby's comics became ever more insular -- guest stars from other Marvel titles became pretty rare in the FF and Thor in the late '60s, and probably only due to Lee's prompting, as in FF #73, continuing from a Daredevil story and included Spider-Man and Thor as well. Over at DC, aside from the Jimmy Olsen stories, just about everything Kirby did could have been set in a different universe in which none of the other DC characters existed. Actually, I can easily understand this, as it gives Kirby more control over what happens in his tales without having to worry about what another writer may have done with one of his characters in another comic ("Whaddaya mean Wonder Woman gave Kamandi a crewcut and a new costume in last month's Justice League of America? Phooey, I'm still gonna do him my way!")

Unknown said...

To harken back to an earlier point about Kamandi being a blank slate for readers to project on to actually makes sense! I remember hearing in an interview with Stan The Man that when he and Ditko were designing Spider-Man they wanted to make sure that his face was always covered; that way Spider-Man could reflect any one of the readers under that mask. Maybe Kirby was going for a similar angle?

Karen said...

Maybe it's possible that Kamandi was intended to be some sort of 'blank slate' to represent the reader. But to be honest, I think that might be giving Kirby too much credit. Honestly, it seems to be something of a pattern with him, when looking over his solo work, to see a focus on the big picture, world building and design, and not on character development and personality.

Maybe if I had come to this title as a nine year old, I would look upon it with the same affection many of you do and not feel that it is missing something. But reading it now, so many years later, I can only appreciate it for its wild inventiveness and delightful artwork. I like it, but it seems more like a collection of ideas to me. By comparison, Kirby's work in FF and Thor seems far more meaningful and important. Is that due to the connections I felt to those characters, the stories behind them, the age I was when I first read them? And not to stir the pot again, but he did have a guy named Lee working with him on those. Whatever the case, I would have liked to see a Kamandi that had some of the depth of those old FF stories.

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