Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Kamandi Archives Vol.2

Kamandi Archives Volume 2
Written, drawn and edited by Jack Kirby
Inks by Mike Royer and Bruce Berry

Karen: I just couldn't help myself. After reading and reviewing Kamandi Archives Volume 1, I eventually caved in and picked up the second volume, which covers issues 11-20 of this Jack Kirby festival of whackadoo. As much as I was disappointed in the lack of depth to the main character in the previous go-round, I can't deny that there's something very appealing to the overall product, at least on the level of sheer goofiness. Since there's really no rhyme nor reason to anything, you can just sit back and wonder what you'll see next, and going in with that kind of attitude, it's a lot of fun to watch Kirby just pull stuff out of his hat.

Karen: There are five storylines featured in these ten issues. The first involves Kamandi being captured by leopard men for Sacker's department store. Mr. Sacker is, of course, a snake -the first time we've seen one in Kamandi's world, and a ruthless businessman, perhaps worse than any of the other animal men Kirby has portrayed to this point. Kamandi discovers another captive, a 'devil' -in reality, a huge mutated insect whom he befriends and names Kliklak. He and the creature are forced to compete in a race/battle, and poor Kliklak is mortally wounded. Kamandi ends the poor animal's suffering and it causes him great emotional distress. I felt like Kirby was focusing more on developing Kamandi in these ten issues, giving us more than just a hot-headed youth but a character who we could empathize with a bit more. Kamandi's old friend, Prince Tuftan (a tiger-man) buys his freedom by making a deal with Sacker. This spins off into the next storyline, the search for the Watergate tapes.

Karen: Yup, Kirby tries to bring in the whole Watergate affair, but this seemed the least interesting of the storylines in the book. Our group heads to the ruins of Washington to find the Watergate tapes -whatever those are -but encounter a band of gorillas who have formed a cult around the entire episode in American history. They throw around terms like "break-in," "bugs," "plumber's squad," etc., but it just seems forced and not particularly clever. Tuftan and his adviser, Dr. Canus, get kidnapped and put on trial by the apes, who plan to "indict" them. Kamandi and the rest of Tuftan's tiger troops track them down, and Kamandi saves them from a sound machine -it's the Watergate tapes amplified and projected at high speed! 

Karen: This leads into what I think is the best episode in this volume -the Hospital. While in ancient Washington D.C., Kamandi starts exploring and wanders off from his tiger friends. He finds a laboratory filled with humans in cages, and is soon taken captive himself by gorillas. He's brought to the scientist in charge, Professor Hanuman, who takes a special interest in him because of his intelligence. Hanuman has been developing a drug, cortexin, which can increase intelligence in animals. But he did not devise this drug on his own -he discovered a journal from before the "Great Disaster" which was from another doctor, long ago, who also experimented on animals, to increase their intelligence. As Hanuman works in the labs underground, the gorillas battle the tigers above. It seems like the world is coming to an end. He repeatedly consults the old journal -which seems to parallel his situation, as the writer was also facing the end of his world as he worked to develop cortexin. As the story goes along, Kirby intercuts captions from the journal, showing how things played out at the time of the Great Disaster. The battle between the tigers and gorillas comes to a head, and Kamandi leads an escape of the humans, at which point Hanuman releases his cortexin into a near-by river, mimicking the actions of his predecessor from centuries before. The released humans drinks form the river and begin to show signs of reasoning. Now we have an explanation for how the creatures in Kamandi's world came to be -and a darn good story too. Hanuman is perhaps the most well-rounded character yet in the whole series.

Karen: The next sequence follows Kamandi's escape- which is rather unsuccessful, as he is captured by gorillas and hauled off to Ohio, of all places. There, he encounters gopher-men, or maybe they are mutated humans who live underground...I'm not really sure. But they don't get along with the gorillas, and that's good enough for Kamandi. They team up when the gorillas toss Kamandi down a hole unwittingly carrying explosives. That really steams the last boy on Earth and he helps the mole people (or whatever they are) fight back for two issues. It's not tremendously exciting but at one point we do get a giant worm attacking everyone, so that's pretty fun. Kamandi makes an enemy of a gorilla sergeant named Ugash, who follows him right into the next adventure, which takes place in Chicago. It seems the Windy City has time warped back to the roaring 20s, because the mob has taken over. Kamandi is  highjacked by a bunch of gangsters and taken to see their boss. But Kamandi turns the tables and grabs a gun, and shoots his way out. He feels some pangs of regret over killing the men, but makes his escape -until the men all turn up behind him, just fine! 

Karen: Something's not right but Kamandi's not waiting around to figure it out. He hightails it out of there, but right into Ugash, who had tracked him there. The gorillas and the gangsters start shooting it out, and that's when both Kamandi and Ugash realize that their foes are not human beings at all, but robots! Holy Westworld. Ape and human become temporary allies. They are hauled off to jail . While Ugash rages, Kamandi begins to put together the picture. He makes his escape as Ugash stupidly attacks everyone in the court room. Kamandi figures that Ugash isn't his pal, he owes him nothing...but then he sees that the robots are going to electrocute the ape. He can't let that happen. He fires a pistol out the window to get the attention of Ugash's troops. It works. The apes flood the building and Kamandi is once again free. He makes his way down a set of stairs and finds a control room. He had assumed he would find someone in charge -a human being like himself. Instead, all he sees is a massive computer. He's filled with despair, and cries out. The computer answers him.It calmly asks him to follow a lighted path -which leads to a gift shop! Yes, just like Disney, at the end of the ride you are deposited into a store to spend all your money.  Kamandi is dismayed when he realizes he was never in Chicago, but just an amusement park. Man didn't survive after all -just his machines did. For the last page of this issue (and the Archive volume) Kirby draws a full page long shot of Kamandi standing, head in hands, on ruins over a lake far below, with the Chicago-Land Museum sign above. "I'm alone...alone once more," the youth says. This is one of the most effective scenes in the whole series thus far. It's hard to really ever feel Kamandi is alone, since he's surrounded by so many colorful characters, but that idea that he's desperate for human companionship is one that certainly can be appreciated.

Karen: Another interesting feature included in this volume is a page of text which was apparently part of issue 17. In it, Kirby explains why he chose to have some animals evolved and not others. His feeling is that hoofed animals and birds would have to undergo too many changes to achieve bipedal  existence. Although he admits he was just having some fun with Mr. Sacker...No map this issue, sadly. I would have liked to have seen some more details from Kamandi's world.

Karen: One of the things that strikes me about this second go-round is that for all of Kamandi's pining for other humans, when he does find them, he is contemptuous of them! During the Sacker story, he runs across a girl who is Flower's sister -identical twin, in fact. Yet, even though she throws herself all over him, he will have nothing to do with her. His disgust with his animal-like brethren is seen again in the hospital story. He may free them, but he doesn't want anything to do with them, much preferring the company of Tuftan and Dr. Canus. It's a predicament for him -his own kind are far below him in intelligence, and have little to offer him in companionship. Yet, he will never fit in with the animal-men. I'm curious if this will go anywhere in later issues -so yes, I may have to buy Kamandi Omnibus 2 (I don't think there is an Archive 3). 

Karen: Kirby's style still takes some getting used to. Ben Boxer and his pals are with Kamandi on the first couple of pages of issue 11, then they all get separated, and we don't see them again for the next nine issues! I can't tell if they're suppose to be supporting characters or what. The same with Tuftan and Canus -they pop up here and there but there's no consistency. I suppose you have to think of it as a "road" book -Kamandi is constantly on the move, so everything is fluid. People go in and out of his life and the book. In that sense, I do enjoy the different locations and creatures Kirby comes up with. Kliklak was fun, the Westworld-derivative mobsters less so.

Karen: But despite that, Kirby was still producing tremendous, dramatic visuals at times, and that's really what this book is all about. The huge racetrack where Kamandi and Kliklak fight for their lives, the underground world of the gopher men, the gigantic computer running Chicago-Land -it's all pure Kirby extravaganza at its finest.

Karen: This has probably become my favorite of Kirby's DC work. Although I enjoy the visuals of his New Gods work, it never really connected with me in any way. Kamandi  has an element of sheer fun that can't be denied. It's hit or miss, to be sure, but so far I am enjoying the ride enough to keep going. 


Garett said...

Thanks for the great review Karen! Yes the Hospital story is an interesting one for its content, and the style of storytelling through the notebook. The Kliklak stories are fun, and it's enjoyable to see the kind-of return of Flower in her sister Spirit. I also liked the mobster-robot story in Chicago at the end, and it makes me want to pick up Omnibus Vol 2.

I've heard mixed reviews of the later Kamandi stories from 20-40. Can anyone here give a review? It sounds like there are some good stories from 20-30, but Kirby loses interest after that.

Kamandi is my favorite of Kirby's work right now, for the energy, inventiveness, action and fun. I'd love to see a Kamandi movie!

Anonymous said...

I was a 100 per cent Marvel fan so I'd never even heard of this till a few years ago but anything by Kirby is worth a look - he produced some wacky stuff in the '70s for sure.

Edo Bosnar said...

Garett, it's been a while, but I have read the entire run of Kamandi while Kirby was on the title, and a few issues after.
And my general assessment would be that it's pretty much like the first 20 issues, i.e., full of all kinds of great characters and ideas, but spotty execution. However, if you're a really big, unquestioning fan of Kirby's art (which I'm not), then you'll probably like it well enough.

Otherwise, like I said in my comments to Karen's review of the first archives volume, I would have loved it if Kirby had collaborated with old partner Joe Simon on Kamandi. I think that would have really elevated the overall storytelling.

Garett said...

Ok thanks Edo. I think I'll pick up that second Omnibus. Kirby's art is doing it for me big time right now. I do like some Kirby titles better than others, but for me Kamandi is up at the top. I think more '70s collaborations with Joe Simon would've been sweet though.

Regarding Colin's comment-- I've heard a number of people here say they were all-Marvel fans. A question for all of you: was this because you tried a few DC titles and didn't like them, or did you just avoid DC altogether? I wonder if it's the timing as well. My prime comic reading years were 1979-86, and there were many exciting things happening at DC and the independents like Pacific and First Comics. Perhaps if your prime reading years were the early to mid '70s, DC put a bad taste in your mouth? Although there were still quality DC titles like Swamp Thing by Wein/Wrightson, Brave + Bold by Haney/Aparo, Batman by O'Neil/Adams, Warlord by Grell, Tarzan by Kubert, and the Kirby titles like Kamandi/New Gods/Omac/Demon.

Karen said...

I know Gerry Conway took over the scripting late in the run and I'm curious to see what those issues are like. I suspect it wouldn't be nearly as wild...

Anonymous said...

I thought this was a fun little comic. Pretty goofy, yeah, but quite enjoyable. I've got about ten or so issues of Kirby's run on this and I think I might have to sit down for an hour or so and re-read 'em one of these days.
Actually, one of the first comics I remember reading as a little kid (or looking at the pictures anyway) was the one where Kamandi and crew wind up in a Soviet space station, where there's this cosmonaut that survived and mutated into a weird elastic monster. Man, that creeped me out! Years later, I was delighted to score a new copy of that.
Great stuff. Just a fun comic. mp

Doug said...

Garett --

To answer your question, at least from my point of view, yes -- I think it matters greatly not only what you first started reading but definitely when you started reading it. As you suggested, to cut one's teeth on Bronze Age Marvel would have been much better (again, my opinion) than to have rested solely at DC. In fact, for my money, those DCs paled in comparison to the Marvels of that era.

However, as you also suggest, I would not make the same claim to Marvel's superiority once the mid-80s arrived. By then I was enjoying DC more than the former House of Ideas. But overall -- entire reading "career" considered -- I'd still place myself more in the Marvel camp simply due to the fact that their characters have had better personalities (one could certainly argue that for anyone's characters today, present versions bear little resemblance to those of our youths) through time than have DC's.


Anonymous said...

Hoo boy you guys sure picked a doozy to review! Count me in on the millions of fans of the King's artwork. Kamandi was one of those titles where you didn't know where the main character would end up, but you didn't mind because of the awesome artwork.

Sure, Kirby could meander aimlessly plotwise, but I felt this actually helped in keeping the reader guessing as to how the story would unfold.

- Mike 'last man on Earth who ... sleeps with a teddy bear' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Teresa said...

I cut my teeth on DC and the random Marvel. I lived 20 miles from Mt St Helens in the '70s, the woods. That meant poor distribution of Marvel.
I wasn't a fan of Kirby's art when it came to DC. I thought it was hideous.
But I was a kid and couldn't appreciate his amazing talent. I was accustom to Apparo, Adams, Grell, Swan and others in the DC stable.
Now I look at his art from a Bronze Middle Ager perspective.
I can appreciate it in all its mind blowing, insane glory. His genius is beyond me. Truly.

Thanks for the great review. I think I will pick up some Kamandi.

Edo Bosnar said...

Garett, to answer your question, I did and do consider myself more of a Marvel fan, but I back in my comics reading heyday (and later) I read DC titles pretty extensively. I just liked the Marvel heroes and the whole "feel" of the Marvel Universe better.
And Teresa, I hear you about poor distribution: I grew up in a somewhat rural area in Oregon (about 30 miles south of Portland). While not exactly "the woods," spotty distribution was nevertheless the bane of my childhood existence - and it applied across the board to both Marvel and DC.

Back to Kamandi: I've read quite a bit of Kirby's '70s output, i.e., the 4th World stuff, Omac and Demon, plus Eternals, and I would say Kamandi is probably the best of the lot.

pfgavigan said...

Strangely enough, while I believe this is the best of the Kirby solo work, it also highlights something that I believe came to plague the King in his later career. His choice of inkers, Royer and Berry, by their very faithfulness to his original pencils, highlighted the growing 'cartoonish' nature of his artwork.

I get a sense of Jack Davis from this era whenever I reread these works. And, unfortunately, it continued when he made his way back to Marvel. Outside of Frank Giacoia, who was many artists favorite inker based on his habit of fidelity to their pencils, those inkers who had worked with him during his previous tenure at the House of Ideas, namely Sinnott and Colletta, were relegated to the occasional cover.


Goldenrulecomics said...

Kamandi was among my favorites of Kirby's DC work at the time (tied with his really fun run on the Losers). I think it worked so well because Kirby loved to jump from idea to idea and you never knew what wild direction he would head into next. And that was perfect for a series like this. The book tried to keep his spirit once he left but it didn't really work.

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