Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Kamandi - Unknown World!

In the sixteenth issue of Kamandi The Last Boy on Earth we finally learn something substantial about how this wild world of talking animals and feral humans came to be. Kamandi gets separated from his friends Tuftan and Canus (not unlike a true pet, Kamandi seems to constantly wander off on his own, he definitely needs a leash). Under the broken streets of what was once Washington DC he finds an underground lab belonging to the Apes.

One Ape in particular Professor Hanuman is trying to recreate the Cortexin experiments which in the days just before the Great Disaster succeeded in boosting the brain power of the animals when it got unleashed into the waters of the area. In a rather clever story Kamandi follows a parallel story which follows a journal of Michael Grant, the man who discovered Cortexin.

Kamandi finds himelf in the clutches of the Apes of Washington who are waging a ferocious battle against the Tigers of Tuftan who still look for Kamandi.

The Apes steal away with Kamandi as their prisoner into the relative wilds of Ohio where Kamandi escapes and eventually teams up with the weird gopher people who live under the mysterious mounds of that area. They are mutated humans and have limited intelligence but maintain an arcane machine which has a purpose Kamandi cannot really fathom.

While the Apes led by Sgt. Ugash search for their lost prize the Gopher People's machine is destroyed and its purpose is revealed when the giant worm it held at bay with its arcane noise rises up and attempts to consume everything in its path.

Kamandi is lucky to escape but many of the Apes and the Gopher People are not.

Heading on into what was once Chicago Kamandi finds himself waylaid by what appear to intelligent human beings, but humans who act and talk for all the world like gangsters from the early part of the 20th Century.

Ugash and his Apes come into conflict with these oddball humans too and the battle rages between the two groups.

In the twentieth issue the secret of the gangster society is revealed.

They are in fact merely elaborate machines who operate according to their programming maintained by a vast network of computers deep in the heart of what was apparently a museum of sorts built before The Great Disaster. Chicago itself is destroyed but its infamous legacy lives on in a way through the simulations. Kamandi is distraught that the human society is not in some sense real.

The tempo of the Kamandi stories really picks up. It had already quickened in the previous arc, but these stories fly by at a brisk and breathless pace as Kamandi is constantly swept up in one weird adventure and environment after another. Kirby's invention is on display, but you can also see he is parsing it out a bit more sporadically as the series seems assured of a long life. Also on display is Kirby's eccentric fascination with the gangster era of early America, specifically the Roaring Twenties and the Depression Era. These are clearly the characters of both pop culture and reality who made the greatest impression on  Kirby and he rarely passes up a chance to work them into his stories, even if that means some wicked contortions. That's certainly true here. I was much reminded of the Fantastic Four story featuring The Thing when he lands on a Skrull planet which likewise seems fascinated with the classic gangsters.

D. Bruce Berry becomes the regular inker and letterer on the series, which is a mark downward alas. Capturing the flavor of Kirby was a challenge, and Berry is adequate but lacks the depth supplied by Mike Royer for so long while Kirby worked at DC. Royer was exhausted keeping up with the King and needed a break. Berry stepped in and kept things looking pretty good, but you can see it's not quite the same.

More to come.

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  1. I recall buying this whole span. Jack did seem to up the weirdness quotient quite a bit at this point. I liked all these issues….I recall him going back to Marvel a few years later. He did a few Ka-Zar covers where it was hard to tell the two (Kamandi and Ka-Zar) apart…Colored with the yellow hair – even more so.

    1. Speaking of Ka-Zar I really liked the few issues of his series that Kirby did just before he bolted for DC. His clash with Kraven the Hunter was a natural. Overall, the Ka-Zar series of stories by a host of dandy talents was pretty darn entertaining.

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