Reading Old Comics: Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth Issue 1

As I’ve mentioned previously, I really enjoy being able to explore old comics through the digital platform provided by Comixology. I particularly seem drawn to classic DC titles (most especially those published under their Vertigo imprint) and my most recent old read comes from the Jack Kirby at DC era. Not that that had anything to do with my choice to check out this comic. No, I grabbed this one solely based on the title and cover art.

Kamandi_001_7239I mean seriously: “Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth!” is not the sort of thing a lover of the sensibilities of pulp and b-movies like myself could pass up. The fact that it was written and penciled by comics icon Jack Kirby (inked and lettered by his frequent collaborator Mike Royer) just turned out to be a bonus.

Upon reading I had two strong first impressions.

First, I loved the art. I’m a fan of this classic comics style and the colors were fantastic. It all really popped on my iPad. Unlike what sometimes happens with comics, the promise of the cover art was kept on the inside. In particular, it was realized in full on the two page single-image spread of pages 2-3 (or simply page 3 in the digital comic). Kamandi paddling his raft through the submerged New York City is really a great image. The final full-page spread of a map detailing Kamandi’s world also promises great potential for post-apocalyptic adventure fun in future issues.

Second, I almost immediately began to wonder – is this a rip-off of Planet of the Apes, or did that movie rip-off this comic? A quick check confirmed that the movie franchise was nearly half a decade older than the comic book. Wikipedia further explained that the comic was a response to DC’s failure to secure the comics rights to Planet of the Apes. The Wikipedia article did muddy the waters a bit though by claiming Kirby had never seen the movies (though was familiar with their general concept) and that he had previously written his own similar story, which itself predated the novel that the Apes movies were based on. Let that be a lesson to those who too often, and too quickly, raise claims of rip-off. Things are often more complicated than they first appear.

As for the story itself, I found it enjoyable, though it includes the kind of slap-dash, hand-wavy plot holes and classic comics tropes that are likely to be looked down upon by some. Of course, if you’re going to read a 1972 comic I think you really need to expect and accept such things.

A brief(ish) and spoiler filled rundown of the story:

Kamandi and his Grandfather are the last people living in a giant underground bunker complex. The people lived there because of a disaster of some sort involving radiation that occurred in the “dim past”. (First unexplained plot hole: what the heck happened to all the other people?) Kamandi is up exploring the surface world for the first time, sent by his grandfather to “reclaim” it, when he hears an explosion from the area of the bunker entrance. Kamandi himself had left booby traps to protect his grandfather from “armed looters” while he was away. (Second unexplained plot hole: how can Kamandi be shocked to see other people and worried by the “constant” threat of looters?) Inside, the last boy on Earth discovers that his grandfather has been killed by the surviving looters, a couple of anthropomorphic wolves! Kamandi manages to defeat them with cunning and karate (trope alert!).

Going forth into the world Kamandi learns that humans now act like (and are treated as) animals, while many animals have risen to a bipedal form, and human-like intelligence. Though not horses apparently. After all, what would the Great Cesar and his fellow tigers ride into battle otherwise?

After saving Great Cesar from a leopard sniper, he is claimed as a personal pet by the warlord. The status doesn’t last long. When Kamandi tries to destroy the nuclear missile worshiped by the tigers as “The Mighty Warhead” he is only saved by the intervention of Dr. Canus (Dr. Zira analog!).

At the end of this first issue (with three chapters in it!) we learn that while Kamandi might be the last boy on earth, he is not the only human-intelligence human left, though Ben Boxer might not qualify as completely human, thanks to an extra organ he possess – a cyclo-heart! Kamandi doesn’t care about the distinction, he’s just happy to not be alone facing this world where men act like beasts and beasts act like men.

So yeah, I had fun reading this comic, and I’ll probably pick up at least a few more issues to see how it develops. I wouldn’t put this on the quality level of some of my favorite old school comics, but if you’re looking for a fun, pulpy, post-apocalyptic romp this will definitely fill the need.

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