Friday, 18 November 2011
GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: KAMANDI THE LAST BOY ON EARTH by JACK KIRBY (DC, 2011)
I confess I’m not a great Jack Kirby fan. I understand and appreciate his historical importance to the super hero genre but I’ve found his storytelling to be both simplistic and overblown while admiring, on an aesthetic level at least, the vigour of his art.
After basically creating Marvel Comics with Stan Lee (okay, Steve Ditko and Gene Colan may have helped somewhat), he moved to DC at the beginning of the 70’s where he was pretty much given free rein to create his own line of comics. And what he did was create Kirby’s Fourth World which include the god-like villain Darkseid. If you think that name is bad, there’s always the hero Scott Free aka Mr Miracle, and others whose name are too painfully awful to mention. My objection to Darkseid is that he’s so powerful I could never be convinced by his being defeated by DC’s superheroes, not even Superman. DC have been mining Kirby’s legacy ever since and even Grant Morrison couldn’t convince me that Darkseid was a good character. His New Gods have also made some impact on the DC universe, Forever People less so.
Thankfully that wasn’t Kirby’s only legacy to DC. OMAC continues to make an impact and is currently revived by DC as part of the reinvention of the DC universe. As is Etrigan the Demon whom Alan Moore brought to vigorous life during his run on Swamp Thing, thereby sealing the character’s position in the DC universe. Mind you, Kirby’s original version was pretty good too. And also pretty good was Kamandi The Last Boy On Earth.
It’s a cheap and cheerful intentional rip off of Planet of the Apes. Kamandi has emerged from Command D, a government shelter where, presumably, generations of humans have lived since a nuclear war, only to find that humans are effectively animals and used as slaves by the variety of tribes of intelligent bipedal animals (lions, tigers, gorillas, etc) who live among the remains of what was, and unrecognised by them, human society. Kirby’s art is at its vigorous best and ably inked by Kirby’s own choice Mike Royer (who provides an introduction) for 20 issues included in this volume, plus a further 13 of the final 20 that Kirby would draw which we’ll hopeful see in a companion to this book next year.
Kamandi is a curious choice for a hero as he’s incredibly arrogant and super confident, convinced that he’s superior to the various animals who believe him to be inferior (like the rest of the humans). It may be a sly joke on the part of the Jewish Kirby to create such a blonde Aryan hero who is a conceited pain in the backside. His story is that of a journey of discovery as he explores this strange new world, having adventures, making friends and enemies and even, briefly, a girlfriend who can talk. There’s also Tiny a nifty version of King Kong who can talk and wants Kamandi as a pet –no, there isn’t a gay subtext- and suffers, you won’t be surprised, the same fate as the original. The animal tribes themselves, by their behaviour, are parodies of human society and there is some social comment here but I wouldn’t pay too much attention to that as Kirby is just here to have fun.
You will too.
At £37.99, Titan publishers’ edition (actually the US edition with a bar code sticker on the back cover) is a bit expensive even for 450 pages of prime Kirby. Amazon’s current price, however, is a much more appealing £22.99. The paper quality is similar to that of the original comic which is fine as that’s what the art and the colouring were designed for and it would look odd on anything else.
In the post from Amazon, another graphic novel by Osamu Tezuka –The Book of Human Insects which was created, I believe, around the same time as Kamandi.