When Jack Kirby came to work at DC after his long run at Marvel Comics in the seventies he had a lot of ideas he wanted to explore. Some of his endeavors would become iconic, such as “The Demon” and “The Fourth World”, whose denizens include Great Darkseid of Apokalips, Orion, Mister Miracle, Big Barda, the Forever People, Granny Goodness, and the New Gods of New Genesis. However, among his more esoteric projects is the oft overlooked gem, Kamandi: Last Boy on Earth. I have to admit that for the longest time I fell into the trap of not paying this series any mind. I’m not the biggest fan of post-apocalyptic storytelling. Often they are rather trite, and I tend to steer closer to Kirby’s work that was more in the superhero vein. What personally got me interested in Kamandi and OMAC, another of his lesser known masterpieces, was the weekly DC series Countdown to Final Crisis from 2007/2008. With the release of this Kamandi Omnibus, for the first time in years Kamandi is available (at a price) for those that wish to read it.
The premise of the series, as foreshadowed by the title, is that of a young man who grew up in a government bomb shelter emerging out onto a post-apocalyptic world as the “Last Boy on Earth.” His name, Kamandi, comes from the bunker in which he spent the entirety of his life thus far, Command-D. Educated on film reels housed in the bunker, he has a very comprehensive knowledge of the human world and human history up to the present of the reader’s perspective (mid to late 70’s). Upon emerging, however, he is shocked to find that human civilization as been replaced by nations, tribes, and bands of intelligent, upright animals. In the East lies the Tiger Nation, the Midwest is ruled by the Gorilla Communes, the Lion Tribes own the West Coast, Leopard pirates rule the seas, Rat gangs infest the old New York Subway systems. Its a world gone mad. However, not far into the series (so this ruins nothing) you see that the title is a misnomer. Running wild like herds of deer or buffalo, are human beings who in the aftermath of their world falling to pieces have become feral and bestial. In that respect, if you are a fan of the “Planet of the Apes” franchise, you will most certainly enjoy Kamandi, because they share similar concepts.
I would argue though that Kamandi has a much more comprehensive, intriguing premise. While it makes sense as far as sci-fi series go that a single species would dominate the world, a la “Planet of the Apes”, the way in which Kamandi has evolved apes, as well as feline species, rodents, etc, reveals a great deal about intrinsic natures. The Gorillas have certain characteristics, the Tigers have certain characteristics, as do the Lions. Its fascinating to read the stories and see what Kirby is saying about them, and how that relates to our own society. And he doesn’t demonize. I think that is what is so great about the series. There is conflict amongst all the races, but despite this, there are members of all the nations that, while sometimes stuck in their ways, are actually noble and redeemable in one way or the other. So again, while there may be topical differences, most of the animals are actually the same, also sharing a common heritage, a legendary Eden known as “The Washington Zuu.”
Kamandi is a phenomenal series by “The King of Comics” that is completely unbound by any constraints of the world in which it’s readers live. After the Great Disaster that changed the Earth the rules have been thrown out and anything under the sun is possible. The way in which Kirby frames his stories are very naturalistic, making everyday life as epic as Superman fighting Lex Luthor or Batman the Joker, and mere survival a stunning victory. For a series I avoided like the plague for so many years, reading twenty issues contained herein went by in a flash. This series is a masterpiece. Period.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
Kamandi #1: Art by Jack Kirby, Inked by Mike Royer
Kamandi #4: Art by Jack Kirby, Inked by Mike Royer
Kamandi #12: Art by Jack Kirby, Inked by Mike Royer