The Lost Boy on Earth
Devil Dinosaur and artwork Copyright Marvel Entertainment Group
Kamandi and artwork Copyright DC Comics
Kamandi and artwork Copyright DC Comics
Note: I have tried to keep the use of artwork to within Fair Use for journalistic purposes.
I will, however, remove any artwork at the request of the copyright holders. I have also had to remove all footnotes. I apologize for any inconvenience or frustration this may cause.
I will, however, remove any artwork at the request of the copyright holders. I have also had to remove all footnotes. I apologize for any inconvenience or frustration this may cause.
If you’re quiet, and look carefully through the leaves and overhanging roots, you’ll see him—huddling for warmth—in a small cramped cave, just large enough to harbor this orphan from the storm. He--or, rather it--is not human, but an early species of our primate ancestors. His fur-covered body resembles Australopithecus Afarensis, but this primate is more evolved in his actions, speech, and emotions. No one knows when our primate ancestors developed profound feelings of loss, but looking at this forlorn and isolated creature it’s not hard to see the pain of separation, fear, and loneliness in its (his?) eyes.
Hours earlier he had been captured by aliens and taken aboard their space ship as a specimen. The aliens had arrived on earth amidst omens of such calamitous portent they rivaled the visions of Ezekiel. The double-page splash depicting the event is one of the most memorable in the Kirby canon. The terribilità of the image nearly overwhelms and is a worthy successor to the caves at Lascaux.
|copyright Marvel Comics|
|copyright Marvel comics|
A bolt of lightning startles him out of his reverie and he retreats back into his cave. The Evil Spirits who roam the darkness have spoken with grim finality leaving Moon-boy desolate in the dismal night. We leave him with his soulful thoughts: “Help me brother giant—Show yourself and rid me of this fear!” The pathos of his situation is genuinely felt.
Six years earlier, and several million years later, another lost boy suffered the near-friendless gloom of a lonesome road through a world that had abandoned him. His name is Kamandi, and his adventures would prove to be Kirby’s most commercially popular title at DC. Just as the relaxation of the Comics Code eventually led to The Demon, the box office success of Planet of the Apes (Schaffner, 1967) and its sequels evolved into Kamandi.
The similarities between Kamandi and Planet of the Apes end rather quickly, however. Though there is the iconic picture of the Statue of Liberty on the cover of the first issue and on the evocative double-page splash inside, and there is also the obvious reversal of fortune between humankind and the animal kingdom, thematically the two stories are vastly different. Kirby did not share the cynicism of the film, and there was no place for misanthropy in his post-disaster Earth. Man was down, but not because of his warlike tendencies or homicidal inclinations. Kamandi never falls to his knees like Charlton Heston cursing, “You blew it up! Damn you!” Kirby doesn’t specify what happened to the earth (although he does explain the sudden increase in animal intelligence and cognitive thinking coincidental to the disaster) other than to reference some form of massive natural irradiation, which is how it should be. Something happened, that’s explanation enough.4 Maybe somebody pushed the wrong button. Maybe the earth had just had enough. What’s important is the world we’re left with, and how we are to survive in it. Is this not point Hitchcock makes in the closing frames of The Birds (1963)?
The world has changed.
Deal with it.
The characters of Kamandi and Taylor do have one thing in common. They are both passive heroes. Unlike the super-hero, they are survivors not protectors or defenders. Their heroism comes from their ability to adapt and improvise in life-threatening situations. Their worlds are harsh and inhospitable to humans. They need to live by their wits, their courage, and their abilities to suppress their fears and emotions. Taylor—at least in the film version—is a more mature, practiced, and embittered man than Kamandi who is only starting out on the winding road to manhood. As all young people discover, the transition from childhood to adulthood is far more difficult and fraught with uncertainty than they tend to imagine or are led to believe. This is literally true for Kamandi, who leaves the security of the bunker where he was raised on microfilms of the Old World fully expecting to find human civilization but instead discovering a post-rapture world.
Youth, it strikes me (reflecting back and projecting forward), often sees itself as indestructible and the world as limitless in its opportunities. Like Prince Tuftan,5 we are all “Children of Caesar” eager to conquer our corner of our contextual empire. Youth neither expects to encounter mortality, nor does it tend to envision the predatory. Consequently, the disillusionment of youth can be more than the equal of its optimistic self-perceptions. In the character of Kamandi, youth finds its archetypal advocate and thematic champion. Kamandi’s long, unkempt hair is well-suited for his role as nonconformist and iconoclast as he continually rebels against the new rules and masters of his context. His rebellion against the prevailing attitudes of animal hierarchy--where humans are regarded as livestock or household pets--carries obvious reverberations of the Social Rights Movement, well advanced by the 1970s (but still only starting to work its way into the popular culture via films such as The French Connection (Friedkin, 1971) and the political comedy of black standups like Dick Gregory). More profound, perhaps, is the inversion of the Genesis story we find enacted in Kamandi’s world. In Genesis 1:26-30, after the creation of man and woman, God gives them dominion over every living thing that moves upon the earth, the fish, the birds, the “creeping things” and beasts. That has all changed. In Earth A.D. it is the fish and birds and insects and beasts that have dominion over humans. In the world of Kamandi, animals are indiscriminate when it comes to cruelty. All humans are equal in the misery to which they are subjected.
By inverting the Biblical story of creation Kirby compels a large inference vis-a-vis what he perceives to be another important truth about humanity. Eschewing the trappings of traditional religious interpretation, Kirby (inadvertently, I suspect) places humans within what I view as their proper evolutionary context. Despite the miracle of our brains and our cognitive capacities, we are still animals, a class of mammals called primates. Kirby implies (or I infer) that despite what religion at one extreme and the Humanists at the other have led us to believe, we are very much a part of the animal kingdom. The natural world is our world. We are beasts that think and create and discover and invent and learn and compile knowledge of the world in which we live, but we remain beasts nonetheless. This evidence seems irrefutable to me that we share kinship with every living plant and animal, fish and insect, insofar as we all share the same literal and metaphorical mother, this tiny fragile miracle of a planet able to sustain life against the greatest odds in the universe.
In Kamandi, Kirby places humans back at square one within the natural order of things. Yet again humanity finds itself struggling to survive, to stay warm, to find shelter, to eat and to avoid being eaten. It’s a mighty blow to the collective human ego and one Kamandi struggles with continually. He knows man’s former place in the world and wants desperately to return to it. His is the thematic voice of the dispossessed; the people robbed of their homeland, the archetypal clan driven from their territory. It is the largely muted and opposed voice of the last five hundred years of colonization, industrialization and globalization. If the X-men (Marvel Comics) came to epitomize those persecuted for being different, then Kamandi speaks with the voice of people dispossessed of either nationhood or political power, and of Ishi (1860-1916), the last man of the Yana people in California (and the last native American to live in the wild).
If it is true that in the world of the 1980s real men didn’t eat quiche and we were all, collectively and individually, looking out for number one, it’s worth remembering that ten years earlier, in the world of Kamandi, real boys cried, felt despair, suffered terrible loneliness, disappointment, and loss. They also displayed uncharacteristic courage in the face of the worst kind of social estrangement. They hunkered down and soldiered on. They lost hope only to find it again. There was, and is, a rather profound subtext at work in the pages of Kamandi: a rite of passage of which we were all partaking in 1973. The Baby Boom generation--and those of us, like me, who were born in the late 1950s--was being exiled from the security of our childhood bunkers into the world to fend for ourselves. Kamandi’s world provides the perfect metaphor for troubled youth wanting to rebel against authority while at the same time depending upon it for protection. Kamandi must reconcile himself to taking orders even when he’s certain he’s the one who should be giving them. He demands respect but his rank in the animal kingdom denies it to him. He wants to trust others but knows his life is ultimately of no consequence and will always be expendable. The first priority of the living is to look after the living. Worst of all, Ben Boxer, the one adult he meets and comes to trust, cannot be depended upon to be there when most needed. Adults in Earth A.D. vanish as quickly as they appear, and Kamandi finds himself abandoned, or separated from those he has come to rely on, as often as he is unexpectedly reunited with them.
The life lesson in Kamandi is as harsh as it gets, but there is another lesson as well: life is tenacious, and the will to survive cannot be extinguished. Like the blade of grass that pushes up out of a crack in the pavement, Kamandi continually picks himself up and stands defiantly with his face to the sunrise and his back to the sunset. Kamandi suffers despair but refuses to surrender to it (at least after the debut issue).
In 1967 Simon & Garfunkle sang “It’s all happening at the zoo.”6 Simon’s clever, childlike lyrics ascribe human behavior to each of the animals reflective of the day (including hamsters who “turn on frequently”). Five years later, Kamandi would inhabit that world quite literally as Kirby fictionalized the best and worst of human behavior in the animals of Earth A.D. Like the children in Nicholas Roeg’s film Walkabout (1971) Kamandi finds himself stranded in a world he was not prepared for. He must face the challenge of humankind’s last frontier, a stranger in a strange land that’s frighteningly all too familiar. And he would do it—as, eventually, we all must—alone.
Earth A.D. (After Despair)
Earth A.D. (After Despair)
|copyright DC Comics|
After the excitement of discovering The Demon #1, discovering Kamandi #1 was like some divine gift from the comic-book gods. Sure, the cover was an obvious rip-off of Planet of the Apes, but this was “A sensational DC Jack Kirby Blockbuster” and would no doubt prove to be as different from the Apes films as The Demon #1 was from every other horror comic out there. As it turns out I would be right, but my full appreciation for those differences would only come after many years of rereading, maturing, and walking a path very similar to that walked by the Last Boy On Earth.
Page one sets the scene and, as always, Kirby conveys information concisely and expediently. Although Kamandi is paddling an inflatable raft reminiscent of the one Charlton Heston captained in the first Apes flick, he is not on some unknown inland sea. He is paddling through an archipelago of architecture. The ruins of Manhattan’s skyscrapers jut out of the sea like deadheads in the shallows of a fresh water lake. Kirby makes no effort to disguise the fact that this is earth. It’s integral to his narrative that we know where we are and that we know immediately. The shock Kirby is hoping to deliver is not one of human destruction, but of natural disaster. Something has happened, something inevitable, unavoidable and irreversible: an extinction event comparable to the fabled asteroid that hastened the end of the dinosaurs.
After untold decades, and at least three generations of humans living and dying underground, the last surviving human, an old man, has sent the youngest surviving boy, his grandson, Kamandi, on a mission of reclamation. Kamandi is not ready for what he finds.
“Can this be the world that grandfather sent me to reclaim? --- Is this his dream of a joyous homecoming?”
The one thing readers were definitely not accustomed to in 1972 was having the rug pulled out from under the hero’s feet before he’d even gotten past page one of his debut issue, but that’s exactly what Kirby does. There is already a pervading sense of melancholy in that very first page as Kamandi navigates his raft through the ruins of New York. You can sense the eerie silence save for the lapping of the waves against the buildings. This is not the world Kamandi was either hoping or expecting to find. It is far worse.
Kirby tells us that Kamandi is named after the people who inhabited “Command ‘D’,” part of an underground complex of bunkers where presumably humankind’s survivors would toil until the earth would be deemed inhabitable again. In 1972 underground bunkers were still a large part of the intrinsic Cold War consciousness. The threat of nuclear annihilation was not as prevalent as it had been during the proliferation of the Hydrogen bomb in the 1950s, or the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, but films like Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964) and Sidney Lumet’s Fail Safe of the same year still had people digging more than rose beds in their gardens. It is from out the depths of that universal culture of fear that Kamandi has emerged. A natural holocaust has happened and its aftermath has outlasted the expectations of the finest scientific brains of Command ‘D’. The opening caption on page one tells us that Kamandi and his grandfather are the only two humans left alive in the complex. The bunker no longer affords them the safety and security of its original design. The time has come for Kamandi to venture forth to reclaim mankind’s heritage.
The somber double-page spread on pages two and three reveals the full extent of mankind’s disenfranchisement. Civilization, as represented by the drowned city of New York, is gone, and with it, the hopes and dreams of a huddled humanity. Kamandi registers both shock and dismay at the world he has encountered. The earth his grandfather thought would be waiting for them has moved on at an oblique historical angle. The films of the Old World that Kamandi viewed as he grew up in the bunker turn out to be but shadows whose magic has been dispelled by the harsh light of this new reality. The light from the Old World of human civilization was but the last light of a distant star that had died innumerable years before.
Kamandi’s trek takes him up the Hudson River. After meeting a heard of feral humans Kamandi continues home. Before he reaches the underground complex, an explosion rocks the bunker. Looters have tripped a series of booby-traps that Kamandi had set up to safeguard their meager supplies and his grandfather’s life. Kamandi quickly realizes that not all the looters were killed. He races down the corridor past Command ‘A’. As he approaches Command ‘D’ Kamandi’s alarm grows. There is panic in is thought balloon: “Oh, no! No!”
His worst fears are realized when he enters the centre and discovers his grandfather’s body tossed up against a pile of broken furniture, his frail bones, no more than kindling, added to the pyre. Kamandi reacts with savage grief gunning down the first looter he sees. I keenly felt Kamandi’s grief as he cradled his grandfather’s limp form in his arms and lamented:
“Forgive me, grandfather--! You needed me and I wasn’t there to help you.”
Kamandi’s first lesson in life is perhaps the cruelest: We are seldom there to help when truly needed, and those we love most, may sometimes die alone, unheard, yet calling out our names.
Kamandi has little for regrets as a second looter storms the room. The invader has kinship within the ranks of the dead as well, and is as eager to exact revenge as Kamandi. When they turn and confront each other they are each arrested by the revelation implicit in the fact of each other’s existence: both are seemingly impossible products of nature. Reason demands that neither should exist, but they do. They stand face-to-face, incontrovertibly: the impossible boy and the impossible wolf.
|copyright DC Comics|
Admittedly, the impact of the revelation that the looter is an anthropomorphized wolf is lessened by the fact that the reader has (most likely) anticipated the appearance of highly evolved and “human” animals. Kamandi’s horror, however, is fully realized even if the reader doesn’t necessarily share it (although I can’t speak for everyone). I remember seeing Planet of the Apes for the first time in the local movie-house in Simcoe—a small town (in 1967) in rural Southern Ontario where our family would spend the Victoria Day weekend (May 24). The sequence where the gorilla rides through the cornfield and reigns in his horse, turning to the camera for the big reveal, is one of Hollywood’s great moments: great because in that one moment, everything changed, and movies were never again the same.10 However, in the fall of 1972, the drama of Kirby’s bold reveal was wasted.11 The true drama lay in the boy’s reaction and in the aftermath of his grandfather’s death.
Kamandi kills the wolf and abandons the bunker for the second time in his brief life. This time, however, he will not be returning, and his eulogy is brief and appropriately unsentimental:
“Goodbye, grandfather! We did our best for each other! Now sleep peacefully in your world while I see the rest of mine.”
There is something of the primitive in Kamandi’s words and actions. Before humans evolved a sense of the spiritual (or divine), the dead were readily abandoned. There was no doubt grief at the loss of kin, but little time wasted dwelling on the dead. There was the matter of survival to attend to. Likewise, Kamandi does not tarry for either words or burial rites. He leaves the body where it lies and moves on. Kamandi needn’t concern himself with any other world, save the one he is in. Call it life lesson number two: mourning is a luxury: one few can afford in Earth A.D.
Mortality is a fork in the road where the quick and the dead figuratively shake hands and go their separate ways. Once violence has touched a place, its contamination spreads and it’s best to seek refuge elsewhere. So Kamandi buries his grief and helps himself to the wolves’ all-terrain vehicle and sets off to see the world. Like Taylor, Kamandi may not like what he finds, but he’s determined to find it anyway. Both of the worlds he’s known: that of the underground complex and that of the world his grandfather had hoped to reclaim, are gone. There’s only one world left to him now, and Kamandi’s got pluck enough to face it head on. As he’ll soon learn, Earth A.D. doesn’t wait for stragglers. If you don’t keep up you’re not likely to see the morrow. Hesitation in Kamandi’s world means separation from the pack. Life will not think twice before leaving you behind. Fortune can change in the blink of an eye and the turn of a page. It is Kamandi’s stoicism and courage that will see him through many a trial. Luckily his world offers constant new adventures to distract him. Kamandi has a long way to go, however, and his deadliest challenge lay just ahead. The threat will come not from the animals he meets, but from the despair he suppresses in his own heart.
Kamandi’s adventures move swiftly forward. He meets an army of imperialistically minded tigers led by none other than “Caesar” himself. Kamandi prevents an assassination of the leader, but instead of being rewarded with honor, he’s taken by the emperor as a prize pet. Kamandi soon finds himself in the kennels with other feral humans. He’s fed slop by, appropriately enough, a dog. As his fellow humans fight over the food, Kamandi philosophizes:
“It’s well that I’m the only one of my people left to see this.”
As the full implications of his world unfolds, the seeds of despair take root in the young boy’s mind. Kamandi resolves to escape or die. He attacks a guard and bolts the kennels. His attempt is haphazard, without timing or strategy. He’s quickly caught and forced to endure the derision of the tigers. As the series unfolds, Kamandi’s actions follow this pattern of impulsiveness, as he continually improvises from one situation to the next. His world affords him little time to think and, as a consequence, he’s forced to take whatever opportunity is ready-to-hand and run with it, often literally. Kamandi operates on instinct first and wits second. These tend to get him out of as many scrapes as they get him into.
Once apprehended, the tigers clean up Kamandi and dress him in the best of animal finery as befitting the prize pet of an emperor. Kamandi is presented at a ceremony presided over by Caesar. As in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), a nuclear missile rises from a silo as the tigers prostrate themselves before this time-honored symbol of late Twentieth Century power. Kamandi seizes both the moment and the laser weapon from Caesar’s belt. The caption tells us that Kamandi is filled with despair.14 He aims the laser at the missile and turns it’s power on full. Before he can kill himself and the tiger army together, he’s tackled by Doctor Canus, the empire’s chief scientist. Canus speaks first:
“Drop that weapon! You don’t know what you’re doing!”
“Yes, I do!”
“You young fool! This isn’t the only way out! This world still has alternatives for you!”
It would be easy to underestimate the importance of Kamandi’s “Yes I do!” This is a boy on the brink of utter desolation, who sees a life before him without options and, as a result he chooses the path of the suicide bomber: to me, representing an insight into the cauldron of emotions, decision-making and choices of the dispossessed. A cauldron few westerners seem willing to acknowledge or dare contemplate too closely. Kamandi is not prepared to live as either pet or hunted animal. Luckily Canus manages to cool his temper and win his trust, if only for the moment. As always, it is cogent reasoning in the moment that saves Kamandi’s life. Canus convinces Caesar to turn Kamandi over to him as a subject for his animal behavioral studies. Caesar is happy to be rid of the young beast and dismisses them with a wave of his hand.
Kamandi’s new surroundings in the laboratory do little to cheer him. He sits with his head in his hands waiting for the other shoe to drop. What Canus shows him is something neither he nor I, as the reader, was prepared to see.
Ben Boxer is an evolutionary miracle: a human descendant of the Old World who evolved to survive the radiation of the great disaster. A circle sewn onto his garment over his heart regulates the atomic energy that makes up his body’s chemistry. Should he press it hard enough, his atomic structure would fission, as Ben demonstrates. However, he eases off on the pressure before fission is achieved as Kirby teasingly saves the complete reveal for issue #2:
“Don’t worry, Canus—I’ve got no reason to fission. Of course the boy might get a real kick out of it if I did.”
Undoubtably: Kamandi and, need I add, every other boy (and girl) reading the comic at that moment in 1972?
Canus’ techno-babble paints Ben Boxer as a living A-Bomb, but Ben himself isn’t buying the hype even though he must wear a lead-lined space suit to contain the radiation that his body emanates. Kamandi doesn’t fully comprehend the danger posed by Boxer, but it doesn’t matter. All that’s important to the Last Boy On Earth is that Ben is real: a living, feeling, thinking human being. He reaches out and touches the man in much the same way that Thomas had to himself touch the resurrected Jesus to assure himself that Jesus wasn’t a spirit or a dream.17 The final panel of this phenomenal issue has Kamandi standing with his forehead touching Ben’s chest as Ben gives him a reassuring hug. Canus stands by, silently honoring the moment.
I’m not ashamed to admit I find this last page of Kamandi #1 both profoundly touching and profoundly resonant as literature. After all, here is a boy who, in a moment of total despair, had just attempted to simultaneously annihilate himself and commit mass murder by exploding a nuclear weapon. He is saved (rescued, or reclaimed, take your pick) and meets Ben Boxer who is himself a nuclear weapon (I am still savoring the symmetrical resonance of that one). However, though the former represented the culmination of total despair and the seeming inevitability of self-destruction, the latter represents a hitherto unglimpsed potential both for hope and salvation. It is a remarkable achievement, in my view, made all the more so by the fact that it is still as affecting and life-enhancing to me today in middle age as it was to me as a fourteen-year-old nearly four decades ago.
But let Kirby provide the capstone to his own tour de force (Kamandi speaks first):
“A-and you’re real—aren’t you?Do you have a name?”
“I’m Ben Boxer. And it’s downright refreshing to see such curiosity.”
“Y-you’re real, all right…”
“It’s true, friend! Why I’m as real as you are.”
Kamandi doesn’t know who this man is—or why he is there--! But he does know that in this strange new world he faces, there is now a tiny a glimmer of hope!
“Thank heaven! –Thank Heaven!”
Man is down! But he’s not out! Kamandi can keep going now despite the perils. He has the purpose to live! The first trial has passed for the last boy on earth!
“I’m not alone! I’m not alone!”
Most comic-book heroes don’t meet their “dark night of the soul” (to borrow F. Scott Fizgerald and Meister Eckhart’s phrase) until late into their narrative histories when more seasoned and experienced writers and artists have taken over and character and story archetypes have been more firmly established (Frank Miller’s Daredevil immediately comes to mind).
Spider-man remains one exception. Peter Parker’s self-absorbed inaction leads directly to the murder of his uncle Ben and the birth of Spider-man the costumed hero (“…with great power there must also come great responsibility”). But Spider-man differs from Kamandi in one important detail: in his despair, Kamandi had sought his own life. Kamandi #1 is the story of a boy so driven by despair and isolation as to attempt suicide, something no other hero had ever done in my experience of reading comics. Characters had been murdered as part of their origins (Jim Corrigan/Spectre, Boston Brand/Deadman, Alec Holland/Swamp Thing), but none had committed suicide. To a young teen like myself who had felt isolated equally within his family and within his larger social circle at school, Kamandi would prove to be a literary archetype unlike any other. He was a boy who had looked death in the face and had been spared. He had taken stock of himself, and with a little fistful of hope, had chosen life.
Kirby referred to this as the “first trial.” I couldn’t imagine what the second and third trials would entail. As it turned out, it was more of the same. Over the course of the nineteen issues that followed, Kamandi would cling to hope as tenaciously as he would to life itself, until in a stunning and dramatic turnabout, Kirby would invert Kamandi’s final line of dialogue from issue #1 (“I’m not alone! I’m not alone!”), in heart-rending scene of resignation on the shores of what was once Lake Michigan, revelatory of that full and dispassionate Truth that is Kamandi’s tragedy, and which would, for me, solidify Kamandi both as an existential every-boy for our time and as one of the foremost literary archetypes in the Kirby Universe.
“No Sooner Blown But Blasted”:
“No Sooner Blown But Blasted”:
|copyright DC Comics|
Kamandi’s startled cry at the end of issue #2’s “Year of the Rat” comes suddenly and unexpectedly. The shock of the moment is as stunning for him as it is for the reader.
In the preceding pages we have learned that Ben Boxer is not the property of Dr. Canus at all, but a member of a research team sent to New York to study a society of rats that live by looting the ruins of the post-human world. Ben and Canus are old friends with mutual respect for the phenomenon of each other’s existence and abilities. When Kamandi is less charitable towards a dog that (by rights) should be nothing more than a pet, Ben reprimands him. A scuffle ensues when a group of tigers try to take Ben and Kamandi in for registration. Ben’s cyclo-heart is pressed, transforming him into a dense mass of indestructible steel. He defeats the tigers with ease and prepares to leave in order to rejoin the other members of his survey team. There is no thought of taking Kamandi until the boy insists on his inclusion. Ben and Kamandi exit in a mini-sub through the submerged streets of New York.
Ben and Kamandi are soon captured by the rats and are reunited with the other two members of the research team, Steve and Renzi, in a holding cell. Although he is securely bound, Ben manages to throw himself forward onto the floor, pressing his cyclo-heart. The shockwave from the fission knocks down the rats and frees Kamandi as the ropes slip off him. Ben releases his companions who likewise fission. The three transhumans make short work of the rats and escape with Kamandi in tow. An electro-magnetic signature from their radioactive bodies summons their transportation, a giant dirigible. Ben announces that they’re going home to a place called “Tracking Site”. Kamandi is free to do as he wishes. The dirigible sends down cables to Ben and the others who grab hold and are automatically hauled upwards. Ben announces matter-of-factly that they’re leaving, prompting Kamandi’s cry of “Wait!”
Neither Ben nor the others give any thought to Kamandi. They are indifferent to his choice, either to stay behind or to join them on their journey. When Kamandi grabs a cable and stows himself aboard the carriage of the dirigible, he is welcomed without celebration or judgment. Ben Boxer is in the business of survival. He is the product of scientific experimentation, the descendant of physicists and engineers, and he appears to have inherited science’s dispassionate and preoccupied mind. He is exclusively concerned with mapping out and understanding his new world, not in parenting an orphaned child, even if that child is a remarkable survivor like himself.
In issue #3, “The Thing That Grew On the Moon”, Ben does worry about Kamandi’s apparent disappearance (he’s been captured by gorillas herding wild humans), but Renzi does not share his concern. The subject quickly changes to the area of Nevada they are exploring:
“If my maps are right, this territory may be the cradle of our own people.”
Renzi’s attention is on his “own” people to which Kamandi does not belong. Some vestigial human prejudice seems to set Ben and his friends apart from the rest of humanity, a prejudice that is their link to a science of which they, themselves, are a product. Kamandi may join their company, but he will never share their lineage. Compared to Ben, Renzi and Steve, Kamandi is ultimately an evolutionary throwback, something to slow them down and worry about. Even the boy’s name, “Kamandi” has the ring of the primitive to it, like a character from a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It is only coincidence that saves Kamandi as he flees death, pursued by an electrically-charged alien that spews lightning in the same tunnel that Ben and Renzi just happen to be exploring. Kamandi is rescued, but he has to be carried out of harm’s way like a bird that has yet to fledge.
One issue later, Kamandi is again separated from the others after he and the survey team are caught in a skirmish between Great Caesar’s advancing tiger army and the defending gorillas in the Nevada desert. Their balloon is rocked by mortars and gas shells, rendering the crew unconscious. When Kamandi awakens, he is thrown into a holding pen filled with wild humans. Ben, Renzi, and Steve are (mysteriously) nowhere to be found. Embroiled in another life-or-death situation, Kamandi doesn’t have time to think about where they might be until eleven pages later, after he’s engineered another impromptu escape. He is distracted, however, by the clandestine actions of a young tiger, Prince Tuftan--the teenage son of Great Caesar--with whom he had briefly shared a cell. Tuftan had led the raid on the gorillas in the hope of finding an artifact from the Old World hidden somewhere in the gorilla compound. The artifact turns out to be a fighter jet. Kamandi is horrified by the potential military implications should the tigers successfully reverse engineer the plane and, so, re-master flight. Grabbing a flamethrower (conveniently at hand), Kamandi sets the plane on fire. The fuel tanks explode, destroying both the plane and Tuftan’s dreams of conquering the skies.
Despite the tiger’s animosity over the destruction of the jet, Kamandi and Tuftan are fated to become fast friends. Their flight from the gorillas in issue #5 lands them in a corral where a merciless ape is beating a young girl. Her name is Flower and her death one month later, in issue #6, shocked me deeply and dramatically changed the way I viewed the series. The first line of Milton’s elegy to his niece, On the Death of a Fair Infant, provides a fitting epitaph for a life cut short in a hostile world that too often seems to favor the strong, the covetous, and the rapacious. In the context of Kamandi, the inadvertent pun on the name Flower and the manner of her murder only makes the language of the poetry all the more pointed:
“O fairest flower, no sooner blown but blasted…”
Earth A.D. had, suddenly, become a more dangerous, a more uncertain world. For a shy and introverted reader such as myself, there was no comfort or security to be found in this savage land. Kirby had promised the reader hope in the opening narrative on page one of this issue:
“Only in Kamandi, the last reasoning boy on earth, is there a glimmer of hope for man! But Wait! There is also—FLOWER!”
|copyright DC Comics|
The bold emphasis is idiosyncratically Kirbyesque, overt, definitive, declarative: don’t underestimate this girl! A new dawn may very well exist in this half-educated female with limited language ability and survival skills. There may be in Flower the potential for an exceptional species to reestablish itself and, indeed, she makes her presence felt immediately.
Flower’s purpose in issue #6 is not unlike Lightray’s role throughout the New Gods. Whereas Lightray’s charm and cool-headedness acted as a balance for Orion’s rage and intensity, Flower provides a similar calming effect on Kamandi’s anger and frustration. The Last Boy on Earth does not suffer fools gladly, and the remnants of humanity running wild through the forests and plains of Earth A.D. certainly appear as foolish as they come. An anger that has been growing inside Kamandi since issue #1 explodes in issue #6.
After Kamandi and Flower are captured by lion conservationists and taken to an animal sanctuary, Kamandi encounters a small herd of humans living in the refuge. The pity Kamandi once exhibited for the humans in Caesar’s kennels (in issue #1) has turned to intolerance for a species seemingly incapable of appreciating its own potential to learn and organize and fend for itself, let alone learning to compete with other, more advanced, species. The weeks and months of being treated without rights or respect for his intelligence (he’s viewed as a freak, not as a miracle) by the various animals he’s met has embittered Kamandi towards his fellow humans. Kamandi’s intelligence has estranged him from his own people who would just as soon kill him as they would their animal captors. There are echoes of both Henry V and Martin Luther King Jr. in Kamandi’s rhetoric as he continually tries to rally and inspire the humans to rise up against their masters and enslavers. Sadly, the only fight the humans can muster is amongst themselves. either that, or flee in terror for their lives. Kamandi shows his contempt by hurling a rock after the latest group of fools he’s chased off. What separates this scene from earlier scenes of Kamandi’s anger, however, is the light, bell-like laughter of Flower: she’s not laughing at the humans, but at Kamandi for losing his temper and not realizing his own importance.
“Kamandi not be angry. Kamandi be proud. Now, you be leader!”
Kamandi wants no part of the herd. Patterned on the individualistic youth of the early 1970s he fancies himself his own man. He arms himself with a “big stick” to do his talking, echoing the words coined by a U.S. President of a bygone era. He sets out in search of the lions and finds the ruins of a Nevada suburb instead. They are spotted by a pair of pumas, come to poach the herd of humans who quickly reappear. They have followed Kamandi. Flower speaks:
“Flower tell Kamandi. Herd come to make you leader.”
Kamandi finds no pride or self-respect in leading a herd and tells her so. Flower encourages him to reconsider:
“Kamandi could teach! Make them like Kamandi.”
Strangely, that’s an idea that hadn’t occurred to him before. His fellow beings’ inability to help themselves has, so far, so incensed Kamandi that he never once considered helping them himself. He accepts the challenge, but no sooner than he does, they are ambushed by the pumas. The humans scatter, leaving Kamandi to fend off the poachers by himself. Flower hurls herself onto the back of one puma allowing Kamandi time to grab a fallen gun. He sends them scurrying off amidst a hail of bullets.
Sitting on a nearby hill observing the fight are the lions. They are after the pumas and are content to wait until they return for Kamandi before apprehending them. It is a decision that will cost Flower her life.
It is nighttime. In the ruins of civilization Kamandi stands watch. A fire burns outside the door of the house where he and Flower have taken refuge. It is reminiscent of the fires that must have burned outside the caves of many a generation of primitive man. Rain is coming, and with it, danger.
The storm extinguishes the fire outside the door so Kamandi builds a fire in the hearth. Flower has bedded down on the sofa. Kamandi resumes his vigilance at the window. Lost in thought, he does not hear the pumas enter through the back of the house. They grab Flower and attempt to shoot Kamandi. When they miss they try to negotiate with the boy, convincing him to surrender his weapon. It may be the first time in the series that an animal has appealed to Kamandi’s faculties of higher reasoning. At that moment Flower kicks free of the puma holding her. She gets between Kamandi and the puma’s gun. A shot is fired and Flower falls dead in Kamandi’s arms. The puma does not get off a second shot. The lions storm the house and arrest both poachers who are nonplussed and a tad indignant at their treatment. The lions seem to be taking this far too seriously. One puma complains:
“It’s not as if we were murderers.”
Kamandi lays Flower’s body back on the sofa and leans silently over it. The lions, who are not without sympathy for Kamandi’s suffering, are moved by the tableau. There is no eulogy for Flower, only the regret that the lions were too late to save the life of such a pretty animal. Kamandi displays no anger, only grief, and a shocked silence ensues shared by this reader. I had expected Flower to be a permanent fixture in the series. But just like that, she was gone, and with her, a hope for mankind.
What was the hope Kirby had spoken of in the introductory narration? Why was Flower important? What difference did her death make? There is a deeper meaning to Kamandi’s existence that I have discovered which will be developed more fully in the chapters below. It is what distinguishes this series from every other series I have read by Kirby (or by anyone else for that matter), and it is this: at its heart, at its core, Kamandi is a tragedy. That is to say, it is not merely sad or merely poignant in any maudlin sense of the word. Of the seven basic plots from which every story flows, Kamandi is a tragedy in the most classic sense. We glimpsed it in the first issue when Kamandi’s despair drove him to attempt suicide and mass murder, and we see further signs of it here with Flower’s death.
It is not Flower’s individual death, per se, that is tragic, for death, in and of itself, is not tragic. It is what her death prohibits Kamandi from becoming that points to what is ultimately, the tragic nature of the Last Boy’s story. Until Kamandi had met Flower he had been an irrationally angry and incomplete young man. Bearing in mind that the character is of an unspecified unspecified age between sixteen and eighteen, we can excuse Kamandi for the hotness of his temper. On the other hand it is exactly his inexperience and lack of parental guidance, or that of an all-important mentor, that makes him a tragic figure. Kamandi has no father figures, no Gandalf for counsel, no Dumbledore for instruction, no Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda to keep him from straying to the Dark Side. All he has is an often absent and largely indifferent big brother in the character of Ben Boxer. That is, until he meets Flower. In Flower he finds that Companion Figure of the Light so important to the story of the Hero. But Flower is a half-formed Anima only, too fragile herself to survive. She is no Hermione or Eilonwy. She is a figure of guiding principles, capable of bringing Kamandi to a place of balance, able to counter the dark forces in his nature, equipped to unite the archetypal masculine and feminine, but she is not, herself, a figure of strength. She is not Jason’s Hera,30 nor Dante’s Beatrice, nor even Frodo’s Galadriel (nor for that matter Sam!). This is an important element of Kamandi’s tragedy. In Flower, Kirby had given Kamandi what he most desperately needed to survive Earth A.D., but then, in a moment of seemingly senseless violence, he had taken her away. So I ask you: how true is that?
Flower was possessed of a soul which saw in Kamandi something more than a survivor, more than a final link in the chain with a past (by then) gone forever. Flower saw in Kamandi, not the Last Boy, but the First Man. The hope for mankind that Kirby had eluded to was in the very brief exchange where she convinces Kamandi to teach the feral humans to use their intelligence. In that moment Kamandi had accepted the humans as his kin and was willing to take responsibility for their care and education. In that brief moment, Kamandi was about to step out of his own past and into a new future. Instead of being alone, he would have a family, a clan, and a tribe to whom and with whom he would truly belonged and for which Flower’s intelligence and empathy would have provided the key. Had Kamandi been able to continue in his leadership role only time would have told what he might have accomplished. What is more important, he would have broken with his current and aimless path. He would have matured, and he would have succeeded his ancestors in the truest and largest sense of the word. He would have reached personal success, maturing both as a man and as a leader, thus providing a proper succession from all previous generations of humans to the next.
It was this potential that died with Flower. It was not merely the potential of the girl to inspire the boy to become a man, but the potential of the boy to escape his state of perpetual incompleteness and immaturity. Flower’s death left Kamandi adrift back on the Hudson River where he had started, alone. Never again in the series would Kamandi volunteer to take humanity under his wing. From this moment on Kamandi would be the now-inescapably fated Last Boy On Earth.
Flower’s death has stayed with me all these years both because of its unexpectedness and its sweet note of truthfulness. The actions of the pumas who killed Flower are no different than modern poachers who, driven by self-perceived economic necessity, butcher the world’s shark population, for example, to feed an insatiable and highly lucrative Japanese market for soup. Any life is cheapened once it has been commodified, or in the words of the Koran “sold for a mean price.”
So caught up was I in Kamandi’s world that I hardly even noticed that Ben Boxer had not been seen since the early chapters of issue #4. It would not be until issue #8 that Kamandi would chance to rejoin Ben as he and the survey team embarked on the final leg of their journey back to Tracking Site, his home. Kirby devotes three panels to capturing the lost boy’s elation at being found. Typically, Ben and Renzi have no time for reunions, joyous or otherwise. There is a pair of marauding bears that need to be dealt with, and once the threat has been attended to, it’s time to leave. Cables fall from the sky and Ben offers Kamandi the same choice as he did in issue #2. He and Renzi are heading home. Kamandi is free to go with them or to “make it on [his] own.” No explanations are offered as to where they have been, how they escaped, or why they had made no attempt to find or rescue Kamandi. In Earth A.D. there is a harsh emphasis on the expeditious immediacy of the moment. So long as you’re with the group you’re protected and defended. The moment you’re captured or separated, you’re on your own to escape, survive or die. Ben has his own life-purpose that ultimately does not involve Kamandi. Whether the boy is in his company or not will not deter him from pursuing that life-purpose. When Kamandi is reintroduced to Steve, the third member of Ben’s team, no pleasantries are exchanged. Steve greets Kamandi saying bluntly, “Are you staying with us this time?” So much as to say, keep up or be left behind, boy. The onus is on Kamandi to keep from getting lost or separated, not on the others to find or to rescue him if he does. It is a strange and terrible fact Kamandi does not grasp: in the company of these three dispassionate transhumans, he is, perhaps, even more alone than he is without them.
At the end of issue #8 Kamandi is back exactly where he was at the end of issue #2, in a balloon heading for Tracking Site. In issue #2 Kamandi had expressed his excitement at seeing what would surely prove to be a city of wonders. Now, he simply looks forward to being in a place where he belongs and won’t feel strange. He’s wrong on both counts. Tracking Site is indeed a place of wonders, but wonders of the most terrifying and deadly sort. They are the products of science enslaved to human survival: wild experiments that cost their makers their lives, and are about to threaten the lives of every living creature on earth. It is a place where no living thing belongs, and where Kamandi will feel as different from the populace, as from the bears, tigers and lions he desperately yearns to escape.
Survival of The Misfit
Survival of The Misfit
|copyright DC Comics|
|copyright DC Comics|
After ‘Flower,’ issues #7 and #8 seemed transitional, as if Kirby were taking a breath before launching into larger, more involved storylines. Issue #7’s “Monster Fetish” is a tongue-in-cheek recasting of King Kong (1933) starring Kamandi as Fay Wray captured by the giant gorilla, “Tiny.” Kamandi’s inexperience and immaturity are well suited to the role of “damsel in distress.” The lions rescue him after they take to the air in biplanes to shoot Tiny down from on top of a skyscraper. There is extra-contextual irony for the reader when Kamandi comments that even the ancients with their imaginative movies couldn’t have produced anything like this.36 We know, of course, that the ancients could and did--not once, but three times--and were Kamandi ever to view King Kong or its remakes, I have no doubt he would have suffered no end of ribbing over whose role he’d played.
But it’s not only Kamandi whose ego takes it on the chin. Kirby was also keenly aware of our own fetish for monsters in popular culture as evidenced by the plethora of horror titles available during the 1970s (Kirby’s The Demon proudly among them) and it is Fandom itself that is unflatteringly--and allegorically--portrayed as a fanatical “Ritual Raiding Party” who frees the fetish, Tiny, from his canyon prison. There is no casting of stones in issue #7, however: only an enjoyable and sly satire on masculinity and culture. One might even take the Dan Clowesian view that “Monster Fetish” represents every fan boy’s secret desire to be rescued from peril by his favorite super-hero.
Kamandi explores the “United States of Lions” further in issue #8. Busts of both Nixon and Kennedy are featured on the cover but Nixon takes prominence on page one as if to say, “This, too, shall pass.” Kamandi and the lion, Sultin, are indifferent to the bust of Nixon but are excited to see a portion of another “impressive” statue under restoration. It is that of another Republican president, one as different from Nixon as Kamandi is from Sultin. Whereas, Kamandi had previously identified the various busts under the general category of past presidents of the United States, this one he identifies by name:
“That’s part of the ancient Lincoln Monument!”
Even the greatest of U.S. presidents can be forgotten in the sands of time. Sultin merely sees the carving of a once highly valued animal. Kamandi is quick, as always, to remind anyone dismissive of the human species that humans once were more than simply “valued”. Kirby is equally quick to caution his readers against hubris suggesting that our current advantage in the animal kingdom may prove momentary. Evolution has placed us at the top of the pyramid, and evolution can just as easily remove us. We are one earthquake, solar flare, or pandemic away from extinction (Nowhere will this be more evident than in the imminent disaster awaiting Kamandi at Tracking Site). For the moment, however, Kamandi is stuck in the United States of Lions. It is a progressive culture compared to the chaotic streets of issue #3’s barbaric Gorilla City, or the imperialistic expansionism of the Tigers, but it is not a place where Kamandi can find any sense of peace. He is enraged by the sight of a human on a leash. Pride getting the better of him, Kamandi viciously attacks the pampered human. Despite a foppish and poodle-like appearance, the human is a trained pit bull. He engages Kamandi with a ferociousness of his own and Kamandi must, once again, be saved from his own impetuousness. Sultin pulls the human off Kamandi as officers arrive on the scene, drawn by the disturbance. Sultin tries to smooth things over but Kamandi isn’t interested in excuses. Instead, he grabs a lion’s gun and starts shooting. It is a sad reflection of the human condition that the last resort of the dispossessed is always violence. When you take away the voice of a people it is inevitably replaced by the sound of a gun. Kamandi’s reaction is no different. His undeniable humanity is no proof of anything. Even in the minds of the lions--the most progressively Liberal democratic-thinking animals in the series--Kamandi remains little more than an animal. Kamandi is without home or country. When the last vestige of his dignity--his status as “human”--is denied him, there is nothing left for him to do but lash out. In his rage, Kamandi even turns the gun on his one ally, Sultin, who holds his ground, somehow managing to calm the boy. The anger passes and Kamandi breaks down in tears.
“I can’t change things. I can’t--!”
The tragedy of his situation is dawning on the Lost Boy, but won’t fully bear its bitter fruit until the end of issue #20. For the moment, Kamandi is left to experience a despair he hasn’t felt since issue #1. Then, the despair of being alone; now, the despair of knowing that he is powerless to effect any change in his situation. In Earth A.D. he will forever be looked upon as an animal, and a mad animal at that. He buries his face in his hands and weeps. Sultin is profoundly moved by this strange, reasoning beast and decides to act on his behalf. He flees with the boy to a secret place in the country that only the Rangers know about. There, Kamandi can make a run for it and perhaps have a sporting chance of escape. He gives Kamandi a pistol and holster and the opportunity to live free in the wilds. They part friends, but the moment quickly passes as in the very next panel Kirby’s camera looks down on Kamandi standing silently in a small patch of sunlight surrounded by darkness and the realization that he is alone. It is a small, but powerful panel, and, like a Wagnarian leitmotif it draws us more deeply into the drama. When repeated throughout the “score” of the first twenty issues in its various changing keys, these visual themes--some darker, some lighter--of the lost boy in isolation both undergirds and anticipates the manifold complexities of Kamandi’s tragedy. We see, and therefore “hear” it repeated throughout the series each time Kamandi is separated from his friends, whether human or animal, but it is in panels such as this, in issue #8, when Kamandi finds himself physically alone that the full power of it is most keenly felt. The ultimate and overwhelming crescendo to this recurring theme will be found at the end of issue #20, when Kamandi comes to his existential realization of his situation.
Kamandi is rife with other themes such as separation and reunion, life and death, escape and capture, human versus human, lost humanity, denial, grief and explosive anger. These themes repeat themselves throughout, acting as dramatic agents, driving the forward momentum of Kamandi’s adventures while simultaneously trapping him within a recurrent looping plot from which no final escape proves possible. At the present, Kamandi stands alone. This respite lasts longer than expected, as Kirby allows Kamandi time to sleep on board the wreckage of a train filled with the corpses of its human passengers and crew, the moment of their deaths frozen in time by the Great Disaster. It is a truly macabre scene in that it is here, in this bone yard of a long-gone age, that Kamandi can rest peacefully. It is a fitting image that requires little in the way of exposition. Kamandi’s refusal to accept the new order of things subjects him to unrelenting suffering and his only peace comes while sleeping, literally, among the cadaverous remains of a world he knows only from the magic shadows of a microfilm library, a world that had already abandoned him long before he was born.
Kamandi is roused by a pair of bears scavenging the wreckage and is saved by the sudden reappearance of Ben Boxer. He rejoins the survey team in their balloon and looks forward to seeing their home, the mysterious city named “Tracking Site”. Without doubt Kamandi’s excitement was shared by many of his readers, myself included. Like Kamandi, I looked forward with great anticipation to meeting other humans--many other humans--like Ben, Renzi, and Steve. I was anticipating a colony of people whose forebears, like the bunker people of issue #1, had survived the Great Disaster. What I found, a month later, left me reeling--not with excitement--but with breathless dread.
Kamandi #9 in 1973 hit me like a ton of bricks. It was the first story in the series to be continued, and Kirby’s timing could not have been better. He had already cautioned the reader in the closing teaser of issue #8 that Kamandi’s assumptions about Tracking Site were “NOT TRUE!” As I flopped down on my bed--however forewarned I had been--and flipped open the cover I was, even so, completely unprepared for what Kirby had in store for me. The cover itself was the first clue: a tight, claustrophobic shot of Ben, Kamandi, Steve and Renzi in the basket of their balloon, fending off a savage attack by man-sized bats. The teaser above the masthead read:
“Paris had it’s Eiffel tower—Rome, it’s coliseum!—But Tracking Site, the strangest city on Earth, has—SUPER-KILLERS!”
It was the usual comic book hyperbole that I didn’t, as a result, take too seriously. Given the cover graphic I lazily inferred that the super-killers Kirby referred to were the giant bats. Yes, they were savage and rabid killers, but the real shock, the real revelation, came as I read the issue and realized that the super-killers of Tracking Site were not its attackers, but its inhabitants.
Kamandi #9 is a story of inversions. Tracking Site is a circular satellite. Its exterior looks like the Earth in miniature, complete with swirling clouds. It is Earth, but Earth as seen from the moon, and indeed, that is virtually what it is. Tracking Site hovers above what was once Central America but which is now a barren and cratered lunar landscape. Whoever the residents of Tracking Site were, or are, they had not escaped from the Great Disaster, but had been frozen in time by it. The globe had been an experiment in magnetic repulsion, but the Great Disaster had struck as it had become airborne locking its position (presumably) between two magnetic forces. Unable either to ascend or descend, the humans in the globe remained in a perpetual Purgatory between Heaven and Hell as they sought new avenues of escape. That escape would take the form, literally, of genetic mutation: manifold corruptions of Darwin’s core idea of “the survival of the fittest.” There was, indeed, nothing “natural” about the precise genetic selections these scientists had made. Their most successful results had been Ben Boxer, Steve and Renzi, but there had been spectacular failures as well: failures that lay in wait for both Kamandi and the unsuspecting reader inside the city.
The bats are quickly and easily scattered by an airborne machine resembling a space probe which disperses them with a laser canon. Their threat proves minimal, and Steve is free to maneuver the balloon to an opening in the hull of the globe. Kamandi remarks to Ben that it’s like approaching a planet. Ben agrees.
“In many respects, Kamandi, we really are approaching another planet!”
He does not exaggerate. Tracking Site would soon prove to be more alien to Kamandi than anything he’d yet experienced on Earth A.D.
Ben orders Kamandi to strap himself in and prepare for “splashdown”. Before Kamandi can comprehend what’s happening, the cables on the balloon are cut and the basket, along with the survey team, plunges through the opening in the globe into a giant tank of water mimicking the splash-down re-entries of their Mercury and Apollo astronaut ancestors. In retrospect I find it more than a little disturbing that Ben chooses to give Kamandi no hints about what might await him in Tracking Site. There are no, “By the way, kid, don’t get your hopes up…” or, “Before we get there, I should warn you…” It strikes me as the same indifference that Ben displays generally when Kamandi is lost or captured. The irony here is that Ben himself, even knowing what he does, is as unprepared as Kamandi for what he’s about to find. Not only will it nearly cost Ben his life, but very nearly the lives of every living thing on planet earth as well.
The splashdown complete, Ben and the team are met by a pair of robots—called “Serviteks”—in a rubber life raft. The robots ferry them to the landing where a third robot pipes them aboard past a row of Serviteks standing at attention. In hindsight, I more fully appreciate the irony of Kirby’s plot point. Ben refers to the ceremony as a quaint reenactment of the honors given the returning Apollo astronauts but, in many respects, both he and his survey team really have returned from an alien world. Tracking Site is the home world, the world of pre-disaster earth (Kirby’s 1973), while Earth A.D. represents in, their minds at least, outer space. When the survey team leaves on an expedition, they are truly going boldly where no man has gone before. The appearance of normalcy, however, is undone by the fact that there are no humans present upon their arrival. Stranger still is the fact that Kamandi doesn’t even seem to notice, so trusting is he of Ben. Kirby leaves it to the reader to wonder, “Where is everyone? This is cool, but when do we get to meet the others? Where are all the scientists and engineers? Where are all the people?”
Kamandi follows the others into an adjoining chamber where the survey team feeds their collected data into a giant computer they revere as the “NASA Mind.” Raised in a cult devoted to scientific progress, Ben and the others raise their arms in supplication to the computer in the same way the tigers venerated their nuclear missile. Like any good priest, Ben is merely following the rubrics of past teams who have explored the outer world before them. Kamandi gets it (“Your people want to leave Tracking Site--!”) before the penny finally drops: “Is something wrong?”
Something is terribly wrong indeed. Ben had mentioned previous survey teams--but the giant computer aside--where was the evidence of their existence? What is it about the globe itself that Ben is not explaining? Like so much of modern science, the technological wonders of Tracking Site present a false front. Ben, Steve, and Renzi represent just one aspect of the wonders that masks the terrifying truth behind the façade. That truth reveals itself in the appearance of a Servitek armed with what looks like a flame thrower. “Looks like your routine isn’t over,” Kamandi remarks. Ben and the others are caught off guard. “He shouldn’t be here--!” Ben exclaims. Earlier, when they had first “climbed on board” Ben had told Kamandi not to waste his time saluting the Serviteks explaining, “All this is programmed.” The entrance of the servitek, however, signals an unexpected change in that programming. Before they can react, Ben, Steve and Renzi are hit with a blast from the nozzle that shocks them into unconsciousness. There is a shock for the Servitek as well. Kamandi’s presence is as much a programming anomaly as are the actions of the Servitek itself. Kamandi is something unexpected, something that shouldn’t be there (“You are a hostile foreign object!”). The robot’s reaction is to kill the boy. Kamandi’s sense of self-preservation is predictably hostile and he destroys the robot with a well-aimed shot to the tanks on its back: “Pyooww!”
Kamandi’s victory, as always, is momentary. He is immediately confronted by the first of Tracking Site’s deadly secrets, The Misfit—a grotesquely dwarfish figure with a cranium disproportionally large in comparison with his atrophied torso and limbs. Once again, a character in the series is genuinely impressed by Kamandi’s cleverness, but as in all previous instances this does not translate into a genuine respect for the boy’s humanness. Kamandi is perceived to be just another creature to be enslaved. To add insult to injury Kamandi’s prospective new master isn’t even an animal but a corruption: a failed experiment in human genetics. The Misfit’s massive brain allows him to control the Serviteks by means of telepathy. It is not a power that, as yet, extends over organic life, but (if all goes according to plan), The Misfit will soon have the power necessary to control the minds of every living thing on earth, beginning with Ben Boxer and his friends.
Kamandi is aghast. His protests and threats mean nothing to The Misfit. The Serviteks snare Kamandi and harness a chair to the back of his shoulders. Kamandi bucks like a colt, but is soon broken. The Misfit is placed in the seat, assuming the position of master. Kamandi is subdued but remains defiant of The Misfit’s humiliating tyranny. Surely, enslavement was the last thing Kamandi (and I, as reader) had expected from Tracking Site.
The Misfit directs Kamandi to another chamber where he orders the Serviteks to open a special container containing Tracking Site’s second deadly secret. Morticoccus is a viral germ capable of wiping out all life on the planet. Kamandi is rightly terrified. It is a worm-like creatures, wriggling angrily in its cylinder, a caged and starved beast seeking release. Fortunately The Misfit harbors no mad ambitions for releasing the germ, the ace up his sleeve in a typically mad game of conquest. The cask is resealed and The Misfit forces Kamandi to look at the vast emptiness of the chamber around him. He croaks with a dread finality, appearing to relish the opportunity to break a young boy’s heart: “This is what it cost to stop morticoccus and isolate it. Tracking Site is a dead city!” Kamandi responds with frightened awe: “Everyone who lived here—wiped out?” answering the question he had posed to Ben (“Is something wrong?”) a few pages earlier.
Before Kamandi has a moment to recover, The Misfit adds this astounding qualification:
“Everything that was human—died! That which was not human—lived! Your friend Ben Boxer and his breed are non-human!”
|copyright DC Comics|
Although Kamandi receives this revelation somewhat clinically, it serves to further emphasize the tragic nature of The Lost Boy’s situation: Not only is the original population of Tracking Site dead, but their descendants are not even remotely human. The tragedy for Kamandi--and the truth that Ben now appears to have kept from him--is that there were never any humans on Tracking Site. Kamandi’s best hope, thus far, of finding a place for men built by men in Earth A.D. has turned out to be yet one more mausoleum.
The truth disclosed, rebellion sparks in the boy, compelling him to free himself from The Misfit. Kamandi hurls himself backwards into an electrical unit. The jolt knocks both The Misfit and the harness from Kamandi’s shoulders. Kamandi survives but The Misfit has not fared so well. Though Tracking Site has no vestige of humanity remaining within it, Kamandi has it in abundance, and his first reaction is to help his enemy. Whether The Misfit had brought his injuries upon himself by forcing his hand or not, Kamandi’s sense of Honor will not permit him to abandon the creature to his fate, however justified. Surprisingly, instead of expressing his gratitude, The Misfit chides Kamandi:
“Fool! You don’t know what you’ve done--!”
What Kamandi inadvertently has done is to cut the power to the defense systems that protect Tracking Site from the bats. It takes mere moments before their claws rip through the metal exterior and the bats breach the hull. Kamandi tucks The Misfit under one arm like an oversized football and makes a dash for safety. The bats however are relentless and no chamber is secure enough to withhold their onslaught. The Misfit summons the Serviteks. The robots fight valiantly but are ultimately no match for the bats. The Misfit and Kamandi are pinned down. In an apparent act of recompense for Kamandi’s attempt to save his life, The Misfit sends a mental command to awaken Ben, Steve and Renzi from their paralysis. The cavalry arrives just as a bat bares down on Kamandi. Ben shoots it dead, but it is just the vanguard of teeming hordes now storming the city. Kamandi nobly attempts to take the blame for letting the bats in but Ben, recognizing the truth, accosts The Misfit who, in turn, redirects his attention to the crisis at hand: If the bats aren’t stopped they may free morticoccus. If they do, he asserts,“EVERY LIVING THING ON EARTH WILL--DIE--!!”
In issue #2 Kamandi had envisioned Tracking Site as a place of wonders. In reality the city had proved to be a deathtrap of nightmares beyond anything previously encountered on Earth A.D. Kamandi’s life had been threatened before, but never had all life hung in the balance as it did now. Kamandi had come in hope of meeting other humans who shared his capacity for reason, but had discovered instead the monsters of a mad science shorn of all reason. Hell bent on survival, the scientists of Tracking Site had, instead, created the means to destroy all life. Nothing human remained at Tracking Site. It was a ghost town haunted by desperation, by failure, and by the hubris of Scientific Reason. The truth was that the Great Disaster had stopped humanity in its tracks just as it had stopped Tracking Site in its position above the earth. As for the scientists themselves, they had met their fate at their own hands. Their doomed attempt to perpetuate their own species had meant abandoning humanity itself in favor of transhuman alternatives capable of living in this new reality. “Survival of the fittest” had compelled the implication that humanity’s time had passed. The Misfit, Ben Boxer and morticoccus were proof of that.
In this moment of supreme terror, Kirby leaves Kamandi--fearing that all may be lost--cowering behind Ben Boxer. How cruel life is, I thought, that we can fight wars, survive disasters, and escape monsters only to be wiped out by the haphazard release of a single, virulent germ. Yet, isn’t that exactly the core meaning of Darwin’s Theories of Natural Selection? “Survival of the fittest” has little to do with the evolution of the biggest or strongest (that is, the “most physically fit”) animals, or, as in the case of certain hominids, the “most intelligent” organisms, best capable of surviving their ever-changing environments. “Survival of the fittest” is equally subject to the caprices of blind, evolutionary chance. Had a meteor not impacted the earth sixty-five million years ago, would mammals have otherwise ascended the evolutionary ladder with such speed and dominance? Would dinosaurs ever have died out completely? In the case of Kirby’s Great Disaster, it was the animals that survived and rose to dominance, not the humans. The circumstances were simply that: circumstances.
As I closed the cover on issue #9 I faced another prospective--albeit more prosaic--horror. It was June of 1973 and the summer holidays were right around the corner. That meant an unavoidable interruption in my comic-buying schedule. So it was only by some small miracle of the gods of distribution (who moved in very mysterious ways in the 1970s) that I had happened across a copy of Kamandi #10 in the general store in across the lake from Camp New Moon where I had spent every summer since 1961. Once a month our cabin group made the short paddle to the tiny marina community of Baysville for a small taste of civilization, the opportunity to swim in the dam, and to purchase comics, candy, and a slice of pie at Lincoln Lodge. My eyes must have popped out of my head when I saw the Kamandi logo on the shelf of the general store. It was all I could do to hold my elation in check, as we made the ten-minute paddle back across the bay to the hallowed shores of New Moon before I immediately sequestered myself on my bunk in cabin 26 to read the conclusion of The Misfit’s tale.
I must confess to being disappointed at the time. After the thrill of issue #9’s cliffhanger ending, I experienced something of a letdown when I read issue #10. It wasn’t until much later when I reread the issue that I gained a greater appreciation for Kirby’s accomplishment. He had effortlessly woven together the twin threats of the bats and The Misfit’s vengeance into a tale of breathless frenzy as Kamandi and Ben raced against time to avert global genocide.
The cover image picks up where issue #9 left off. The bats are featured front and center, but this time they are breaching the hull of Tracking Site, while a terrified Kamandi fruitlessly endeavors to fend them off with a rifle. Page one reverses the image and backs up a few moments in time as Kamandi, Ben, Steve and Renzi brace themselves for the attack. This is no charge of the Light Brigade. If the bats can rip their way through steel, what defense is Kamandi’s half-naked flesh? The narration and dialogue was suitably dire. The situation appeared hopeless. Kamandi, characteristically, sounding the only note of optimism, his rifle raised against overwhelming odds.
When the bats tear their way into the chamber it is Kamandi who reacts, firing his gun into the swarming throng. The Misfit is a helpless target and is instantly mauled by a bat. Kamandi shouts an alarm, but Ben stands strangely detached from the action. He is like a true creature of science, waiting to observe and assess what transpires before committing himself to the fight. He knows The Misfit may be physically defenseless, but he is not helpless by any means. A panel later The Misfit lashes out at the bat with a bolt of psychic energy that stuns the creature. It is Ben’s cue to “suit up”. He and the others press their cyclotron hearts and fission. Their steel skins prove impervious to the bats’ claws and teeth but is no defense against their sheer numbers. They are soon dragged down beneath the weight of a thousand shrieking enemies.
Meanwhile Kamandi has spirited The Misfit away to another chamber. “The room behind that steel door--You can leave me there,” The Misfit instructs him, taking full advantage of Kamandi’s credulity.53 As they flee down an empty corridor Kamandi ponders the wisdom of the bats’ actions. Why break into what is, after all, little more than a creepy tomb? The Misfit agrees, cackling:“Well put Kamandi. In the end it shall be their tomb—and earth’s tomb!”
Kamandi’s mind is obviously distracted by the battle as he hastily delivers The Misfit to safety without listening to what he is saying. “Stop your babbling,” he tells The Misfit. “And hope that we can discourage those bats!” “They’ll be stopped NOW!” The Misfit cries, but Kamandi’s head is already turned away, looking back down the corridor to where he wants--and needs--to be. Kamandi’s loyalties lie with Ben, and the last thing he wants is to run from a fight. In his haste, however, he has played directly into The Misfit’s hands. Having locked The Misfit into the chamber, Kamandi dashes back down the hallway, blind and deaf to every warning sign around him. Yes, he’s secured The Misfit’s safety, but more significantly has unwittingly left him in command.
|copyright DC Comics|
Alone inside the chamber, The Misfit laughs triumphantly as he stares at the cylinder containing morticoccus. At The Misfit’s mental command hidden tumblers slide back and the lid of the container rises, revealing morticoccus in his vial. Kirby’s killer germ is truly something grotesque, an image of coiling death that still genuinely haunts my imagination decades later. It is a huge undulating worm whose many cells and strange blotches create an angry visage that stares out at the reader. Like The Misfit, morticoccus longs for freedom. I can still picture it vividly butting against the glass of its vial prison, its tendrils flailing, as it strains against its bonds. However horrific its nature, it is driven by the same desire to be free inherent in every living creature, even if that freedom should mean the end of all life as we imagine it. This is certainly the scenario The Misfit has concocted for his revenge, craftily positioning himself to be the agent who will soon deliver morticoccus from its prison.
Meanwhile, Kamandi rejoins Ben and the others as they manage to seal a section of the corridor off behind a thick steel door, briefly stemming the tide of bats. This earns them a moment’s respite from the battle. They revert to their human forms to strategize. The adults agree that the situation is hopeless. Renzi votes for abandoning Tracking Site:
“It was a false haven for our ancestors. They clung to it--and died!”
I have to admit I find this all very puzzling while at the same time it all makes perfect--if peculiar--sense. The men have kept Kamandi in the dark from the beginning. Why? Denial on their part--that their city is a truly lost cause? Did their faith in the science and technology of Tracking Site (as I had imagined it) keep them stalwart? Did they think that if they continued to collect data to feed the NASA Mind computer their efforts would be rewarded in a world they could safely inhabit? Had Ben and the others been clinging tenaciously to a dream of the old world no different from the one Kamandi clung to? Was theirs the ultimate faith in science, technology and human progress to fix the problems of the world by eradicating all obstacles to human existence: War, Hunger, and Disease?
Ultimately, Earth A.D. offered no such succor for the Utopian dreams of the remnants of the Enlightenment. On the contrary, in Earth A.D. Tracking Site represented (in my mind at least) the last of humankind’s achievements in scientific progress. Abandoning Tracking Site thus represented the same break with the past as did Kamandi’s abandoning the bunker after the murder of his grandfather. Death has touched the satellite one too many times. The only viable option left the three transhumans is a radical amputation of themselves from their past, forsaking the (false) dreams of their ancestors of creating a world in which humans might yet regain their primacy within nature. That dream had already ended in death for the scientists of Tracking Site and it would likely--perhaps inevitably--end comparably for their offspring unless they Let Go. Ben agrees and says profoundly, “We must do what we can for the living.” The statement demonstrates a vital shift in his thinking from the past to the present. They are no longer pursuing the dreams of the dead, but have at last awakened to the needs of those yet living.
And not a minute too soon.
“Where did you hide The Misfit?” Ben asks Kamandi.
“Back there! Behind a large steel door,” he answers, remaining unaware of the potential disaster he had set in motion.
The others are less obtuse. Steve immediately voices their alarm. When Ben starts to say what is foremost on everyone’s minds (except Kamandi’s), Renzi stops him: “Ben--Don’t even think it!”
At the end of issue #9 it was the threat of the bats releasing the killer germ that created the initial panic. This new threat is entirely different. The bats in their blind rage are oblivious to the consequences of freeing morticoccus. The Misfit is not. His actions would be purely personal, deliberate, and unapologetically malicious, done in full knowledge of their consequences for all life on earth. Renzi’s counsel is suddenly looking very wise indeed. In their dream for survival, the planners have brought the earth to the brink of the greatest mass extinction event in the history of the planet. Science may have offered humanity hope before the Great Disaster, but all technology has to offer in Earth A.D. is death on an unimaginable scale. There are no longer any options. Ben and the others must sever all connections with the planners and Tracking Site. It is not a matter of saving merely their own lives, but the lives of every living thing on earth.
Kamandi is left outside the steel door in an attempt to distract The Misfit long enough for Ben and the others to complete a necessary task elsewhere in the satellite. Alone at his post, Kamandi engages The Misfit who, unexpectedly, opens the steel door allowing Kamandi to escape the bats who now swarm the corridor. Kamandi brashly confronts The Misfit, threatening to shoot him in the brain. He is distracted by a sudden pounding on the steel door by the legions of bats who have broken through into the corridor. While Kamandi maintains his bravado, he’s obviously unnerved. He’s alive only at The Misfit’s sufferance and he knows it. The Misfit remains calm and confident. He’s had an ace up his sleeve this entire time and on page 13 he plays it:
“The bats shall die! You shall die! Every living thing on earth shall die! Only life produced in Tracking Site shall survive. It was planned that way!”
Kamandi is horrified by The Misfit’s implication. The planners may have been human, but all that survives them is, in The Misfit’s words, “a monstrous germ, a mental freak and three lonely inhumans.” Had that been the plan of the scientists? To save humanity, they had sought to replace it with something different. In essence, they needed to wipe out their own past, their own species, creating in their stead a new species artificially evolved to survive in this new and highly competitive environment.
At that moment the lights in the chamber dim and a video image appears on a screen next to The Misfit. Kamandi finds himself watching the last moments of the last human left alive on Tracking Site. It is Ben’s father, Dr. Hiram Boxer. This is his final report in the aftermath of their efforts to contain morticoccus. The room is littered with corpses. Ben and the others run in. They look to be Kamandi’s age. Dr. Boxer refers to them as “the best of our efforts” but they are no longer physically human. He instructs Steve to open the cubicle that contains The Misfit, a still less successful attempt at a different form of survival. It is an eerie scene that disturbs me to this day. The Misfit is contained in a plastic sack filled, one supposes, with an amniotic fluid. I feel both his terror and his frustration as he shouts, “Let me out! Let me out!”
Kamandi never sees what comes next as Ben appears out of a trap door in the floor. He grabs Kamandi and hauls him into an engineering shaft. When Kamandi asks Ben about the video he answers curtly, “You’ve seen enough. It was a bid for survival that went wrong.”60 As they climb down into the engine room Ben announces that they’re ending the dream of the planners by “doing something right.” The magnetic-repulsion engine crackles with life. It had taken them years of study to work out the engine’s functions, but they’ve finally done it. The timing could not have been either better or more dramatic. The three men and Kamandi leap into a hover-jet and take off through a bay door as the satellite-city is roused violently from its dormant state. Below the globe, the landscape is torn apart as Tracking Site rips free from the magnetism that had affixed its position in the sky and rockets into the upper atmosphere at escape velocity. The bats are now helpless passengers hurtling to their doom. Within Tracking Site, The Misfit realizes what is happening and immediately releases morticoccus. The germ works with ghastly transcendental speed. Its first victim is The Misfit himself. His amusement turns to terror as the truth dawns on him: he is not immune. There is no metaphorical lamb’s blood on the lintel and side posts of The Misfit’s door. His last sound is a choked rattle as the plague sweeps mercilessly past him like the Angel of Death. All that remains of The Misfit is a withered, dusty husk. The gruesome expression on the corpse’s face is that of agony, the agony of one final betrayal and failure on the part of the planners.
As I look at the panel now, it still has the power to invoke sympathy as well as terror. In The Misfit, the planners had intended to create one prototype for a breed of humans capable of surviving the most inhospitable environments. What they had instead created was, in The Misfit’s own words, “a freak” incapable of surviving outside its own artificial womb. Just as the super-killers of issue #9 had revealed themselves to be the inhabitants of Tracking Site, the inhospitable environment that The Misfit had proven too weak to survive was not the outside world of Earth A.D., but, rather, the laboratory itself. The Misfit had been born into a prison and locked away, no doubt, for his own safety. Deemed a failure, he had never been allowed the opportunity to live as anything other than a captive, a victim of his own inherent nature and nativity, his only “crime” that he had proved to be as fragile as the humans who made him. As for the scientists themselves, they had presumably moved on to their next experiment. The Misfit was locked away and all but forgotten. Is it any wonder that he “went mad in his prison” as Ben had described it? I shudder to imagine the type of existence The Misfit had endured, nurtured by a life-support machine while his human parents either ignored or shunned him in their frantic efforts to create less imperfect children.
At the last, The Misfit had seen in morticoccus both an ally and a means of revenge. They had both been prisoners of the same jailers, both the results of failed experiments: one too weak to survive, the other capable of ending any chance of survival altogether. The Misfit’s final gamble had failed because he had, paradoxically, put the entirety of his faith on the same scientists who had already failed in his own creation. The Misfit trusted the planners to have at least gotten this one detail right: his immunity to the germ. Their failure to provide him with that immunity must have caused his life to end in a final, all-consuming acrimony. Morticoccus was neither an ally nor was he a tool of revenge. The germ was nothing more than an indiscriminating plague, death, the great and final leveler. It was in death alone that The Misfit achieved, at last, an equal footing with all life.
If Kamandi is the tragic hero of his own story, then The Misfit is the tragic villain. Unable to realize his potential through uncaring parents, The Misfit’s thoughts turned from life to death: from survival to murder. The irony in this was that morticoccus had already enacted The Misfit’s revenge by wiping out the planners. By the time Kamandi had reached Tracking Site, The Misfit’s vision of revenge has extended to the destruction of life in its entirety (due in part, presumably, to whatever animosity existed between The Misfit had and his transhuman siblings). The Misfit may have come by his megalomania honestly, but in the end he was consumed by it and could be nothing other than the monster he, in fact, saw himself to be.
The similarity between Kamandi and The Misfit does not stop there. Recall how in issue #1 Kamandi had attempted to commit mass murder by exploding a nuclear missile. The despair he had felt through the resulting alienation had been no different from what The Misfit had been made to suffer. I find it noteworthy that Kamandi had been offered renewed hope by the unexpected appearance of Ben Boxer, but in issue #9 it is Ben’s very presence that sparks The Misfit’s attempt at revenge. Kirby adroitly, thereby, illustrates the complex relationships between people: that the same person in one instance can signify life (for Kamandi) and, in another instance, death (for The Misfit). The Misfit had to be stopped, just as Kamandi had needed to be stopped in the moment of his own temporary madness. Luckily for the Lost Boy, his despair had left him neither bereft of reason nor of the will to live. The Misfit, too, had a will to live, so in that the planners had found a modicum of success. Sadly, for The Misfit, his solution had left the others no choice but to hoist him to the petard of his own mad scheme. There was no saving The Misfit. No survival for him. He had been designated too weak to survive and in the end he had proved his creators correct. His weakness had been less physical however, than emotional. Unlike Kamandi, The Misfit had not only no desire for it, but was (willingly) incapable of envisioning a world he could cohabit with other beings. He was compelled to rule all or destroy all. In the end the tragedy of The Misfit proves that, for humans, the survival of the fittest does not come down so much to physicality--or our ability to kill our enemies--but rather to purity of spirit. His failure was one he shared with his creators, who were equally incapable of realizing that the key to survival in Earth A.D. would not be achieved through relentless scientific experimentation, but rather through the strength of will and purity of spirit exemplified by an adolescent, named Kamandi.
Back on Tracking Site Morticoccus continues to ravage the satellite. Its touch is corrosive and even metal crumbles into a rust of memory as it sweeps through the corridors. Where there is life morticoccus must needs snuff it out. The bats are dead before they can react. By the time the satellite leaves the earth’s atmosphere, morticoccus is the only living thing aboard. If the planners’ ultimate goal was to engineer a creature able to survive against all odds, then morticoccus is their resounding success, a germ that eradicates all competing life forms, until nothing lives, save itself. Luckily for the Earth A.D. the vacuum of space is the one environment where even the ultimate super-killer cannot survive. The actual survivors are Ben Boxer and his friends who managed to outwit both The Misfit and morticoccus, trading death for life in the ultimate competition for survival.
Was that it?
A brush with death? A narrow escape? The villains dispatched? The earth saved?
What had just happened?
The story concludes with Ben looking up into the sky as Tracking Site vanishes into the outer reaches of space.
“It was them or us, Kamandi,” he tells the Lost Boy. “I’m glad we won.”
In Ben’s words are the reflections of the terrible truths of the Twentieth Century. Written in 1973, the memories of the death camps of the Second World War were still well within the survivors’ lifetimes and memories. I am neither suggesting that issues #9-10 of Kamandi are, in any way, a metaphor for the Holocaust, nor do I want to belabor the point, but the themes of survival found in issues #9-10 of Kamandi are certainly heightened within the context of the second half of the last century. Such attitudes as “Them or Us” can be, not unreasonably, attributed to the trauma suffered by the survivors of genocide (on all sides) and remain a powerful undercurrent in the geopolitics of our current century.
As The Misfit triggered the play button on the video, Kirby wrote:
“Kamandi looks on the last moments of the planners--When the horrible truth of their failure dawns on them--Dies with them--Leaving behind the bitterest of all challenges to other living creatures!-- Them or Us!”
Although Ben reiterates this philosophy in the closing panels of page 20, Kirby seems to write it reluctantly. It may very well be an apparent truth of life--at least the life of tooth and claw (Kill or be killed; Eat or be Eaten)--but Kirby may be implying that it need not be, or should not be, the case with humans. It is bitter because Kirby wishes it were not so. He says as much through Kamandi when the Lost Boy smiles at Ben and says: “It’s a big world, Ben, with room for everybody!”64 Whether Ben would like to believe that, we don’t know. His answer remains pragmatic: “There may be others who don’t think so, Kamandi. Others who may challenge our right to live--” What is this, if not the lessons learned of one who had survived, or witnessed, genocide? The Misfit had attempted to wipe out life on earth just as Hitler had attempted to exterminate European Jewry. In attempting to perpetrate his act, The Misfit presented himself as the ultimate dictator. Ben knows, as Kirby knows, others like The Misfit will inevitably rise to challenge others’ right to live. This is an historical certainty. Yesterday it was Hitler, today it was The Misfit, tomorrow it will be someone else. Until then, Kamandi’s egalitarian view proves the ideal. The day it is contested is the day lines must be drawn and the oppressed must stand against the oppressor. There is no guarantee on which side of the ideological line people both individually and collectively will stand. Brother will undoubtably stand against brother. Neighbor will stand against neighbor. Friend will take side against friend. A thousand armies will March against each other on the battlefield, all with the same face of Man.
That will be, as it has always been, a bitter day, indeed.
|copyright DC Comics|
Just like that.
Ben was gone.
Kamandi and his companions had barely made their miraculous and harrowing escape from The Misfit and morticoccus before the engine of their hovercraft had begun spewing flames, and crashed into the waters off the coast of Old Florida.66 Ben, Steve and Renzi were hurled from the exploding craft before both they, and it, had disappeared beneath the waves. Only Kamandi remained, like Ishmael after the sinking of the Pequod, bobbing unconscious in the water, an orphan of this latest storm, awaiting rescue from Earth A.D.’s equivalent of The Rachel. In this case, a cargo ship bearing the markings of the Sacker’s Department store. The crew reluctantly fishes Kamandi’s waterlogged carcass from the sea. Thus begins his greatest, longest (four issues), most emotionally charged adventure to date.
When Kamandi finally regains consciousness he finds himself clapped in irons in the hull of a pirate ship captained by a portly leopard named “Bli” who undoubtably does a pitch-perfect imitation of Charles Laughton. Ben, Steve, and Renzi are nowhere to be seen, and would not be seen again until issue #22. Fate has thrown Kamandi to the wolves, or in this case, the leopards. As of this moment, Kamandi is the property of Sacker’s Department Store, owned and operated by the serpentine capitalist, Mr. Sacker.
Kamandi #11-14 is a giddy and exciting tale of a boy and his bug. Only Kirby would have the chutzpah to introduce a character like Kliklak to the largely indifferent and mostly cynical readership of the 1970s. Labeled a “devil” by the leopards, Kliklak is a giant grasshopper captured in what was once Canada, but which is now a dominion of insects the size of dinosaurs. Kamandi befriends the bug, intending to ride him to freedom, but the pair are co-opted to ride at Hialeah instead, in a Rollerball-styled death race against the brutish Bull Bantam, a thug of a man, and the undisputed champion of Sacker’s animal competitions. The storyline has overtones of both Ben Hur and Old Yeller as Kamandi and Kliklak must overcome insurmountable odds to survive the race against a murderous rival. Kamandi prevails, but Kliklak is left mortally wounded. The leopards are about to put the grasshopper out of its misery when Kamandi intervenes. In an act of compassion, the leopards allow Kamandi to administer the fatal head shot himself. Who else but Kirby could raise a lump in the throat of this fourteen-year-old over what was--on the face of it--a potentially ridiculous scene? A lump there was, however (oh, yes), as Kamandi shot the bug that had saved his life, then rebuked the leopards for attempting to cheer him. It’s a beautifully executed panel of contrasting moods, throwing each other into sharp relief; a Kirby forte: A marching band gleefully parades in across the top half of the full page splash next to a resplendent float saluting the winner. The mood of celebration changes drastically in the bottom half of the page where Kamandi slumps with his back to the reader, an arm draped over Kliklak’s lifeless shell in a final farewell to a valiant friend. Looking at this page today, I am still touched by how Kirby’s sense of life and death--perfectly timed and infused with his old-school humanity--easily from across the intervening decades surmounts and supersedes the tiresome cynicism and increased militarization of both plot and character that have come to dominate comics since the 2000s.
It is easy to laud Kirby for his artwork (and justifiably so!), but it’s not the power of his pencils alone, which captures our imagination and emotions, it is also his literary eloquence that both underscores and drives the visual action. In short, it is his writing--the seminal germ of expression, The Kirby Idea--which astounds. The scene of Kamandi shooting Kliklak might arguably be thought maudlin were it not for the contrasting moods Kirby presents within the surrounding tableau. It is Kamandi alone who mourns Kliklak’s passing. To everyone else in the stadium, spectator and employee alike, life and death are just part of the game, part of the sales pitch, a glorified advertisement for Sacker’s Department Store. Despite the death and carnage that litters the race track, the mood is jubilant, Kamandi’s posture the counterpoint to it. What might we infer from The Kirby Idea about our ability to objectify our own humanity? Humans have always flocked to our Coliseums. Throughout history we have paid good money to see our less fortunate brothers and sisters torn to pieces by wild beasts (the spectacle of public execution), overlooked the physical toll taken on professional athletes in contact sports, and are held transfixed by the grotesque butchery of the human body in art (Warhol’s car crashes) and popular culture (from comic books to film). In Kamandi #11-14, we are the wild beasts carried away by the spectacle of bloodshed, who cheer the carnage and completely miss the human drama taking place within the context and, as a consequence, of the battlefield. It is Kamandi alone who remains capable of recognizing nobility and significance in the death of a friend, even if that friend is a giant grasshopper. It is in Kliklak, not the pageantry, not the triumph in battle, not the euphoric consensus of the crowd, that Kirby finds and demonstrates for us the meaning of that nobility expressed through loyalty and sacrifice. In Kliklak’s death, Kirby reminds us of a lost humanity and therein challenges us to rediscover our own.
Apart from a scathing satire on capitalism--a theme Kirby would return to with Steve Gerber for Destroyer Duck (Eclipse Comics, 1982)--issues #11-14 bear all the hallmarks of Kamandi at its very best. The earlier themes, or leitmotifs, of capture, rebellion, reunion and escape are all present as are the themes of life and death. Life comes in the figure of a young woman who appears in the company of Mr. Sacker, and death in presence of the person she uncannily resembles: Flower! She is, not surprisingly, Flower’s sister, Spirit, an appropriate name since she is, indeed, the very ghost of her departed sibling. Flower, we will soon learn, had been Sacker’s property as well, until she had wearied of the beatings she’d received at the hands of Bull Bantam and had run away.
Bull Bantam is the alpha male of Sacker’s pen. Kirby delighted in giving his characters names with multiple meanings (an inspiration he drew from Charles Dickens). As much a bull as a bully, Bull Bantam is the cock of his walk, an aggressively violent bantamweight and the perfect foil for Kamandi’s humanity. The confrontation between Kamandi and Bull on the corpse-strewn racetrack in issue #14 embodies far more than a simple grudge match. Bull Bantam represents everything Kamandi refuses to become in Earth A.D. Bull is a subservient gladiator, viscous and vile, who exploits and abuses his position of authority over his fellow humans. He is a tyrant who takes what he wants to satisfy his various appetites and violently punishes anyone who refuses him. As much as Kamandi despises him, he still refuses to be drawn into Bull Bantam’s world, and thus be pulled down to his bestial level. Even after he has beaten Bull senseless in a climactic knuckle-duster, Kamandi mixes invective with sympathy for his fallen foe. The real villain is that snake, Mr. Sacker, who stages these races as bloodthirsty advertisements for his department store. This is the real reason Kamandi continually refuses to race. He remains deaf to Spirit’s pleas (it appears she’s the main prize) and Bull’s taunts because he knows it is not for Spirit, or Flower’s memory, or his own honor that he races (should he choose to race). Were he to participate in the race, it would be for Sacker and Sacker alone that he would compete.
Kamandi is the embodiment of humanity’s will (or dream, perhaps) to live in freedom, while Sacker’s animal compounds, with their cafeterias and classrooms where humans are taught to speak and fight, are just the illusions of liberty. The humans are placid because they are fed and housed, and when called upon to do so, offer up their lives as entertainment for their master’s customers. Kamandi is righty appalled when he watches his fellow beings butcher themselves to win a slice of strawberry shortcake. Sacker has tapped into humanity’s basest instincts and gleefully exploits them for his own profit. It is a view of man which is both damning and deeply insightful. When Sacker asks Kamandi to guess what kind of animal he is beneath his hood, Kamandi spits his answer back in Sacker’s concealed face:
“You sell weapons to anyone--you sell loot to anyone--you sell slaves, Mister Sacker! You can only be one thing--a SNAKE!”
In Mr. Sacker we have a capitalist who enslaves both subject (his potential customer) and object (his human inventory) through the exhibition of bloodsports. In doing so, he robs both of their “humanity” and their own ability to formulate any type of authentic connection between who they are, and the spectacle they are, respectively, either viewing or participating in. Sacker has reduced all life to a means to his own personal end: The making of money. The crowd at Hialeah engage in Sacker’s circus the same way we moderns watch film, completely inured to violent death as entertainment. The deaths certainly have no impact on the lives of the spectators, other than to implant an unconscious desire to buy the same gun that Bull Bantam used to murder his opponents. The crowd has thus, unwittingly (although willingly) commodified themselves. Sacker views them as persons no more than he does his livestock. They too are products of sophisticated psychological marketing techniques which transpose need and desire, and the filling of a mere demographic void once the satisfaction of our desires have proven empty of meaning. Sacker’s customers do not see his department store as a place to fill the void of their desires, nor do they see themselves as being defined by what they buy. It is Sacker who sees them objects to fulfill his own desire for profit. “Tell me who you are?” he hypothetically asks when he opens the gates to Hialeah. “What kind of object do you want to be for me? Do you like guns? Human women? Tell me and I will provide it for you.”
Worse still, is Sacker’s (and capitalism’s) commodification of humans as livestock. Bull Bantam’s violent character was nurtured in the name of profit. He was bred to kill so Sacker could sell merchandise. Kamandi recognizes this and so does not condemn Bull for it. Kamandi’s humanity sees through Sacker’s ugly profiteering to the heart of the man Bull Bantam was before he was twisted into something more reflective of his master’s slithering body. In Western Culture the snake is the original villain who tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The result of that transgression was humanity’s expulsion from paradise. In Sacker’s compound humans have fallen as low as they can possibly go, allowing themselves to be manipulated by another snake offering them temptations in the forms of sweets and even other humans. All they have to do is offer their lives to their master and be willing to die in battle for reasons they do not understand or cannot comprehend. This is humankind at its bleakest and most ignorant (or Darkest, to borrow from Medieval history). They are willing slaves and canon fodder for others who trade in, and profit from, the entertainment value of their misery, their suffering, and even their deaths. Why does this still, decades later, sound eerily familiar?
The final straw comes when Kamandi is decorated like a thoroughbred with a prize-winner’s crown and presented with Spirit. Spirit may be relieved and grateful, but Kamandi is only further enraged. Forced to fight against his will, and pushed to the breaking point, Kamandi snaps, and attacks the leopard guards. He is silenced by a rifle butt to the back of his head.
I imagine by this time Kamandi must be used to awakening inside a prison cell. What he isn’t used to is finding Tuftan and Dr. Canus in the cell with him. The Son of Great Caesar has made a bargain with Sacker in exchange for Kamandi’s freedom. The Lost Boy is hustled out, but not before he has unpleasantries with a guard who scoffs at Kamandi’s bluster: “Huh! I’ll be waiting for you--Down here!”
As Canus admonishes Kamandi for his inability to hold his tongue, he and Tuftan bundle him out of the chamber. The leopards are left shaking their heads. Imagine trading with Sacker for a mad animal? “--And a condemned one at that,” adds the guard whom Kamandi had confronted. A second guard shuts the cell door and locks it. “Well, he said we’d meet him again someday--Well, maybe we will!”
The last panel reveals the cell door itself. On it is a sign that reads “Gas Chamber.” Kamandi had no idea he was moments away from being exterminated, not because he was angry or violent, or even mad, but simply because he consistently refused to conform, comply, or be servile to the will of Mr. Sacker. In short, he wouldn’t toe the company line. He wasn’t a team player. He did not prove profitable.
Kirby’s satire of corporate culture in issues #11-14 of Kamandi is progressive even beyond the “turn on, tune in, drop out” culture of the 1960s. Kirby’s view of the “Evil Corporation” did not soften with the publication of Destroyer Duck (writer Steve Gerber was locked in a similar battle with Marvel over the rights to his incidental creation of Howard the Duck in the pages of Man-Thing). There may certainly be echoes of Kirby’s own struggles with Marvel and DC to be heard in Kamandi’s various protestations. The battles over the ownership of his original artwork, copyrights, and royalties that Kirby fought for were long and bitter, and have yet to be fully resolved in the courts.
In the world of Earth A.D. Sacker is as powerful as Great Caesar, a startlingly vision that has proved true in the new age of globalization and Neoliberalism, where many corporations are wealthier than the economies of most countries, and where capital has been freed to transverse the world electronically, making (so-called) Liberal Democracies subservient to the demands of investment opportunities. In our context, the new imperialists may very well be the Sackers of our world alone.
There’s another added chill to that second last panel of issue #14 that may easily escape the reader, as it had escaped me on first reading back in 1973. Yes, Kamandi had dodged another bullet. He’d nearly walked the last mile, but cheated Death again, thanks to Tuftan and Dr. Canus. His mistake, however, was in taunting Death on the way out the door. It is not a leopard who patiently awaits Kamandi’s return, it is Death Himself. Unfortunately for Kamandi, Death is far more patient than the immature boy who threatened him. Death’s dominion is the earth itself and He will meet Kamandi again. Luckily the Last Boy On Earth has one thing in his favor: he is the hero of his own story. Even though it is customary for the hero to die in a tragedy, Kamandi prevails repeatedly. Death can be patient, however, because He is cognizant that Kamandi’s suffering ultimately lies in his clinging to life. Death is content to allow Kamandi to escape (just as Darkseid allowed both the Forever People and Scott Free to escape), well knowing that a tormented life is often a fate far worse than death.
In that truth lies the nature of Kamandi’s tragedy, and it is to that final heartbreaking image of a boy, lost and alone on the shores of Lake Michigan, that we finally must turn.
One of the perks of being the son of the Program Director at Camp New Moon was that we were up at camp two or three days ahead of the other campers. Jack Goodman--the camp director’s son--and I would move our things into our cabin, taking our pick of the bunks and shelves. On the morning the buses arrived from Toronto, Jack and I would scale the main gates and perch ourselves a top the pillars like two jubilant gargoyles ready to greet the campers as the buses pulled in.
Summers at camp, between the years 1966 to1974, remain some of my happiest memories. It was at New Moon that I learned to swim and canoe and sail. I reluctantly went on canoe trips, but loved every moment once I was out on the lakes of Algonquin Park, Temagami, or Kilarny. On Smoke Lake in 1971 my cabin mates gave me an impromptu Bar Mitzvah, being the lone goyim in the group. At New Moon I learned the angst of teenage love, I discovered a precocious talent for the theatre, and what remains, a lifelong love for comic books.
Until I was ten or so, the only comics my dad allowed me to read were the Classic Illustrated Junior line of comics. Once at camp, however, under the insidious influence of my cabin mates, I found myself reading Archie, Hot Stuff, and Richie Rich. To a kid used to reading The Three Little Pigs, or Thumbelina, Betty and Veronica were like some forbidden fruit, while Hot Stuff was the equivalent of a prepubescent acid trip. I remember loving Blackhawk, The Flash, Green Lantern, Metamorpho, Doom Patrol, and Metal Men. DC’s 80 Page Giants were deep reservoirs of iconic fantasy for adolescents. Entire worlds were suddenly opening before me. I don’t recall paying Marvel much attention until the summer a copy of Spider-man Annual #5 (1968) and The Silver Surfer #3 (1968) fell into my hands. It was at camp that I read X-men #60 (1969) and Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76 (1970) two groundbreaking comics (written by Roy Thomas and Dennis O’Neil respectively), both notable for the pencils of Neal Adams, the artist who had given us Deadman in 1967. These were truly summers of love for a budding comic book aficionado.
Even better than choosing my own bunk before the other campers had arrived was the sweep of the cabins Jack and I did after the campers had left for home and the Canadian National Exposition at the end of August. No sooner had the last bus exited the gate, than Jack and I would begin our traditional cabin inspections. Starting at Cabin 1, Jack and I rummaged through each shelf and bunk of all twenty-seven cabins, collecting whatever articles of interest we could find. Chief among them, were comic books. It was during these expeditions that got my hands on Silver Surfer #1 in 1968 and Kamandi #20 in 1974.
By then it had been several months since I’d read Kamandi. As much as I’d enjoyed issues #11-14, something had changed. Issues #15 and 16 of Kamandi were interesting enough (issue #16 explained how animals became as intelligent as humans in an accident caused by, but coincidental to, the Great Disaster76) but I was feeling fickle. By issue #17 both Mike Royer and I were gone; he as inker and I as reader. I remember seeing issues #17 and 18 on the store shelf. It was like bumping into an old girlfriend. I felt awkward, but still curious to know what was going on in Kamandi’s life. D. Bruce Berry was now inking the book. His inks weren’t as bold as Royer’s, but he still had moments of brilliance. Berry’s one failing, compared to Royer, was as a designer. Royer was an assiduous letterer and his success as an inker of Kirby’s work lay in his perfect integration embellishment and text design. The weight of Royer’s lettering and chapter headings were always in harmony with Kirby’s pencils. It was a talent unique to Royer, and one can hardly blame D. Bruce Berry for falling short. Most would. Even so, comic book fans can be unforgiving to changes in their favorite art teams, and I was not atypical in that. It wasn’t fair to Berry’s talent, I admit. It’s just the way it was. Royer’s departure marked my own.
I never saw issue #19. Issue #20 I found on the shelf in cabin 19 or 21 during our sweep of 1974. It had belonged to Jesse Frankel, a kid a few years younger than myself. I’ll always remember Jesse for his portrayal of Lex Luthor in the summer’s musical production of “Superman.” Yes, there’s a musical based on Superman, and Jesse’s snarling rendition of “Revenge!” brought down the house that night (making him one of the great eleven-year-old Luthors). I knew the comic belonged to Jesse because he’d affixed his name to it as you would a pair of underwear (to insure the underwear you got back from the camp laundry belonged to you and not someone else!). Jack and I often shared our finds: “Hey, man, I’ve got an Eighty Page Giant, here. You want it?”, but there were just as many times when it was a case of First Come, First Served. When I found Kamandi #20 there was no question I was keeping it for myself.
As I gazed upon the cover, I could once again feel Kirby’s grip on my imagination and, D. Bruce Berry or not, I was helpless to look away. The cover showed Kamandi exiting the darkened ruins of a mysterious building. The place looked as if a bomb has hit it. The wall in front of him has collapsed. Kamandi’s back is to the reader. His head is down, his shoulders slumped. All that is visible through the blown out hole in the wall is an ominous orange-red sky that envelops the boy. The mood is sombre. The silence is broken by a recorded voice that repeats, “You are leaving Chicago... Come again... Come again... Come again...” I immediately sensed something important had just happened, but what?
Kirby’s reputation for action is legendary, but the cover of Kamandi #20 testifies to his often overlooked mastery of stillness. The cover of Kamandi #20 is reminiscent of the cover to Fantastic Four #87 with its magnificent image of the fabled foursome silently, if nor solemnly, walking toward an exit in the background, their heads turned back, quietly comprehending the corpse in the foreground over which falls the fatal shadow of Doctor Doom. It remains one of Kirby’s most powerful covers. Kirby knew battle, but he also knew the eerie silence that followed it, especially when it was touched by either tragedy or death. Those who laud Kirby only for his action do him a disservice as a storyteller. It is in these sudden moments of calm, that the true voice of Kirby’s pencil, and the power his writing in particular, can be heard like the “still, small voice” that spoke to Elijah after the storm, the earthquake, and the fire had passed.
The cover of Kamandi #20 stops the action dead just as it stopped me dead in my tracks that morning in 1974. There is a sense of closure in Kamandi’s body language, and in Kirby’s overall composition. I couldn’t escape the feeling that something significant had ended. As I would discover, things weren’t ending so much as they were coming full circle in a way that signified the end of a magnificent twenty issue story cycle, leaving Kamandi almost exactly where we had found him in issue #1. What I was to read has stayed with me for thirty-seven years and remains as moving for me today as it was in the bygone year of the summer of 1974.
“I’m not alone... I’m not alone.”
When we closed the cover on Kamandi #1, the Last Boy On Earth stood with his head resting on the chest of Ben Boxer, relieved to discover another reasoning human alive in Earth A.D. After the despair he’d experienced in his 1st DC Issue, Kamandi suddenly feels as if his life may have some purpose after all. He has been given the hope that he is not alone in the world. Man may be down, but Man is not out.
Sadly, Ben would prove to be an unreliable companion, disappearing for months at a time, leaving Kamandi to fend for himself. Kamandi’s bravery is never in question. What is in question is his maturity, his ability to make informed decisions on the spur of the moment that will best serve his chances for survival, and further his growth as a man. One cannot blame him for his mistakes, or for constantly speaking out when silence is most called for. Kamandi is a callow youth thrown into a situation few would survive. That he survives through luck and coincidence is not a slight against his abilities. It is a testament to his being in the right place at the right time, and to his enviable ability to meet and win friends.
It is in the latter that Kamandi assures his survival. Dr. Canus, Ben Boxer, Prince Tuftan, Sultin, and even The Misfit all contribute in one way or the other to keeping Kamandi alive. Regrettably, none of these acquaintances are able to protect or mentor Kamandi to the extent the boy clearly requires. Ultimately, they cannot devote the time or energy to protect what is to them, essentially an animal. After Kamandi goes missing during a battle between the tigers and gorillas in issues #16 and 17, Prince Tuftan is faced with the same difficult decision that every one of Kamandi’s protectors and companions had faced. An Infantry man speaks first:
“I suggest we pull back, Prince Tuftan. We’re only a small raiding force against and army of apes.”
“And you, Doctor Canus... What’s your advice?”
“I’m a scientist, not a military strategist... You’ve done all you can to find Kamandi...”
“I suppose the poor animal is beyond all help now...”
“Fate is not always kind. Let’s hope he met his end with little pain...”
Tuftan is left with no alternative but to order a withdrawal. His heart is heavy, but he is Great Caesar’s son and war seldom offers commanders the luxury to dwell overlong on those under their command who are missing in action. Tuftan must sacrifice Kamandi--as had Ben--to their respective missions. Despite the bonds they had formed with the boy, Kamandi remains expendable. He simply doesn’t fit into the larger scheme of things. Alive or dead, it really doesn’t matter; Earth A.D. will go on with or without Kamandi.
In the end, it is the infrequency of their company which serves to isolate Kamandi more than it provides any genuine reprieve or comfort. It is in their absence that the Last Boy confronts the true nature of his situation. Nowhere is this driven home more effectively than in the final panel of issue #20.
“The Electric Chair” (Kamandi #20) concludes a four-issue storyline in which Kamandi is pursued across Ohio and Michigan by Ugash, Captain of a Gorilla Pioneering Expedition. Captured by gorillas in issue #16, and then again in issue #17, Kamandi is taken to Ohio and given to Ugash who plans to use him to exterminate a race of gopher people which has been raiding his camp for supplies. He straps a box of explosives to Kamandi’s back and sends him down a giant gopher hole. Kamandi sabotages Ugash’s scheme, earning the gopher people’s trust. They take him to a factory where a mysterious machine runs ceaselessly. Its purpose is unknown until it breaks down and Kirby reveals that somehow the machine had kept a monster at bay deep within the earth. In the absence of the machine, the monster--quite literally--worms its way to the surface. Being little else than a mouth and a stomach, this veritable Leviathan devours everything in its path. As always, impending doom provides Kamandi with an avenue for escape as the gorillas are left to defend themselves against the gargantuan invertebrate. Amidst the commotion, Kamandi steals a land rover and takes off for parts unknown, ending up outside Chicago where he is pulled over by a group of vintage 1920 gangsters in the middle of a heist. Not only has Chicago survived the Great Disaster, it is frozen in time as the inhabitants play out a deadly game of cops and robbers. When Ugash and his gorillas show up, bullets fly. Kamandi ends up on the side of the human denizens in a shoot out on Michigan Avenue. Ugash fires his rifle directly into the face of a gangster who falls over dead, but who is on his feet a moment later, the fragments of his face fallen away, revealing an intricate network of circuitry underneath.
Yes, Chicago is populated by robots reenacting life in the Roaring Twenties. In Kirby’s hands, what appears to be a simple riff on Westworld (1973) becomes a vehicle for tragedy as Kamandi searches for the intelligence behind this elaborate amusement park. During the scuffle on the street, cops beat Ugash senseless and toss him and Kamandi into the slammer. Ugash isn’t one to be kept in a cage and throws his tremendous weight against the cell door. The bars give way and the “Big Ape” and Kamandi are free. They are surprised to find the robots in the outer jail and courthouse inactive, frozen in position like a photo by Weegee. When they spring suddenly to life inside a courtroom, Ugash suspects that whomever is operating these robots is somehow watching them. The judge pronounces immediate sentence on the pair of public enemies. It’s the electric chair for Ugash and Kamandi. Ugash’s reaction is to tear the place apart creating the perfect diversion for Kamandi to slip away unseen. When, unfortunately, he runs right into the execution chamber, Ugash is wrestled to the floor by “the coppers” and then strapped to the electric chair.
Kamandi’s open and generous nature compels him to help Ugash. He pinches a cop’s “heater” and fires out the window to attract the attention of the warring gorillas in the street below. They storm the chamber and free their captain. Every character in Chicago suddenly springs to life and storms the courthouse to repel the invading gorillas. Kamandi slips through a doorway and down a stairwell. The Chicago of Capone and Scarface disappears in the sterile silence of an engineering corridor. A serviceman in a small flatbed repair truck drives by with the torsos of several robots in tow, rekindling the hope Kamandi had felt when he had met Ben Boxer twenty issues earlier:
“There could be many of them! Humans like myself... Who can still reason!”
Kirby wastes no time pulling the rug of cautious optimism out from under his creation’s feet. In the very next panel the chapter heading reads:
“Now for the fantastic, hope-destroying Truth!”
And what exactly is the hope-destroying truth, you ask?
Row after row of computers run and manage the city of Chicago and its inhabitants. Kamandi cannot accept this. There must be humans behind the machines. He shouts for them to show their faces. He is answered by an electronically simulated voice:
“We are in charge... Leave or be eliminated.”
Kamandi follows the exits through a deserted terminal filled with souvenir shops. Disappointment and despair are clearly etched on his face and reflected in his body language as he is ushered out the door. There is sad irony here. In the “Living Museum” of Chicago the one person who is not welcome is the only one who is truly human. The Old World of humans has been relegated to a past which predates even the Great Disaster. It is less than even faded memory. It is a reenactment of stereotypes and movie clichés. Even here Kamandi’s genuine humanity is not recognized by the machines that have been tasked with replicating and maintaining the illusion of it. As Kamandi slowly exits through the fissure in the wall, he grows smaller in each subsequent panel until, at last, he stands, an incidental speck, in an overwhelming landscape.
Outside the city, Kamandi breaks down, releasing his grief in what remains, for me, one of the most powerful pages in the Kirby canon. The boy is barely visible in the panel, hunched over in tears on a rotting jetty overlooking the flat, cold expanse of what was once Lake Michigan and is now known as “Monster Lake”. Behind him is the crumbling ruins of the Chicagoland gates. Ahead of him is nothing but a darkening, overcast sky. Kirby does not even offer Kamandi a horizon. There is neither sunrise nor sunset. There is only a cold wall of grey clouds and the pale Jungian depths of the water’s metaphoric subconscious, filled as it is with nightmares. The scene is utterly bleak, and utterly friendless. There is the cry of gulls, if gulls they be. There is the lapping of waves against the jagged promontory on which Chicago sits. Lastly there is the sob of a fledgling boy who fell from the nest too soon and is only now beginning to grasp the full extent of his alienation:
“I’m alone... Alone once more.”
|copyright DC Comics|
The renewed hope Kamandi had felt at the end of issue #1 has proven false. Despite the friendships he forged through necessity or danger, Kamandi remains alone, the last reasoning human in a world where humans no longer belong. His closest companion, Ben Boxer, has proven to be no more human than the robots of Chicagoland. It is fitting Kamandi should realize this in the shadow of Chicago. Kamandi is himself part of a living museum, a relic from the past, an anachronism from distant history. Kamandi is trying to survive in a world that has already relegated him to extinction. On the shores of monster-infested waters, Kamandi faces the hope-destroying truth: not that, “Computers run an amusement park.” No, the real soul-destroying truth is that he is alone. In all the world the only other human he will ever meet is the one reflected back at him from the waters below. The soul-destroying truth is that he is, in every sense, the Last Boy On Earth.
What are the elements of tragedy?
When we first meet the hero, he or she are generally in a state of incompletion, awaiting fulfillment. They anticipate a future course of action to which their energies can be directed and upon which their minds can focus. This is followed by a dream stage in which the hero pursues their course of action with some success. Frustration ensues when things start to go wrong before collapsing into a nightmare of despair when the hero realizes that Fate is against them. In the final stage, the hero is destroyed at their own hand or at the hands of others.
It is perhaps revelatory to discover all of these elements within the very first issue of Kamandi. When we meet Kamandi he has been sent to the surface world in search of other humans who presumably survived the Great Disaster. The anticipation of a joyful reunion is quickly shattered by the discovery of a post-rapture world turned upside down. To say that Kamandi is incomplete is an understatement. He is a callow boy unprepared for the world in which Fate has trapped him.
Following the death of his grandfather, Kamandi has no choice but to strike out on his own. He focuses on finding other humans such as himself. This dream stage lasts as long as it takes him to paddle up the Hudson River. His attempt at hailing a herd of wild humans fails. As the truth begins to dawn on Kamandi he plunges quickly into frustration. Captured and imprisoned in a kennel, Kamandi experiences the nightmare of his reality. The best he can hope for in Earth A. D. is to be a pampered pet. Nightmare turns to despair and Kamandi’s thoughts turn to self-destruction. His attempts at both mass murder and suicide fail. Kamandi is given a reprieve when he meets Ben Boxer. At that moment the cycle of tragedy begins again as Kamandi reenters the initial anticipation stage. The cycle will continue over and over until its conclusion with issue #20. Along the way Kamandi will be lost and abandoned by his friends. He will fight on heroically, but his heart is human and prone to break. Flower’s death is a blow, leaving the animus without his anima, but worse is the admission he is forced to make on the shores of Monster Lake that reverses the hope in the final panel of issue #1, underscoring the scene with profound poignancy and deeply-felt humanity.
Kamandi remains trapped in an endless loop of tragic despair precisely because his story, his quest, as it is played out in the first twenty issues, has no resolution. There is no monster to slay, Princess to rescue, or Galactic Empire to overthrow. When violence and death evict Kamandi from the safety of his bunker, he ventures outward in the semblance of a quest (to find other humans with the capacity to reason) but it is a quest, by nature, without end because its goal is pure fantasy. Looking at it another way, the only ending Kamandi’s quest can have is an unhappy one. It can only end in failure and despair because he is, as the title of the comic describes, the Last Boy On Earth. Each search must end in disappointment because Kamandi is, by definition, alone.
Seen in this light, Kamandi has much in common with Samuel Beckett’s Gogo and Didi who sit by the side of the road waiting in anticipation for the arrival of the title character, Godot. Through the course of the play it becomes increasingly clear to everyone but the two tramps that Godot has no intention of coming despite all assurances and promises to the contrary. Every day he sends a small, frightened boy with the message that his master will arrive tomorrow. The boy has no memory of the previous day’s message and fails to recognize Gogo and Didi from act to act, always claiming that each meeting is the first. Kamandi’s search for reasoning humans is equally fruitless, despite the false promise that Ben Boxer represents. That Ben proves not to be human at all, but a genetic mutant bio-engineered to survive in an irradiated environment, only emphasizes the futility of Kamandi’s plight.
If the ultimate reality of Kamandi’s quest is a Will O’ the Wisp--at best, wishful thinking--then he is doomed to reenact an endless cycle of despair. His only potential escape is to abandon his search and, like Ben Boxer, accept Earth A.D. as his home. When Tracking Site was propelled into space along with The Misfit and morticoccus in issue #10, Ben Boxer had excised the one demon that bound him to his own cycle of failure and despair. Freed from endless expeditions to collect scientific data for a computer incapable of understanding the parameters of this new world, Ben was able to stand firmly upon the cratered surface of Central America, not as an alien throwback to a pre-disaster earth, but as a full citizen of his adopted global village as constituted.
Kamandi’s inability to make a similar choice is significant and a consequence of his immaturity. When Luke Skywalker receives his call to rescue the Princess, he has Obi-Wan to guide and consul him. When Frodo makes the decision to carry the One Ring to Mount Doom, he has Gandalf’s wisdom and power to draw upon. Kamandi has no such mentor or wise man. This has disastrous implications for the arc of Kamandi’s narrative. Lacking such an essential character hamstrings the boy’s ability to mature and consequently prevents him from taking the necessary step from adolescence to adulthood. Kamandi remains divided between reason and anger, the latter constantly undermining the former. His attitude to the animal population of Earth A.D. is nothing if not antagonistic. That he can make friends at all is a small miracle. A mentor--a Gandalf, Merlin, or Yoda--would go a long way in calming the boy’s frustrations and anger, teaching him how to unite his dualistic emotions.
As he is, Kamandi is incapable of taking full advantage of his opportunities. He is totally ego-driven even while his humanistic approach to helping others is derives from his deeper self, connecting him to the selfless core which is humankind’s best shared nature. This division between Kamandi’s light and dark aspects only makes enemies. When Kamandi wins the admiration of the crowd at Hialeah he immediately loses it by threatening them. He does the same with the leopard outside the gas chamber. Should the reader ever mistake either Ben Boxer, Dr. Canus, or Tuftan as possible mentors, then they need only reference this scene to understand their inappropriateness for that particular role. All Canus and Tuftan can do is admonish Kamandi (with equal anger) and drag him away from the premises. There is no learning of a lesson here for Kamandi because there is no one there to instruct or correct him. Kamandi is destined to endlessly repeat his mistakes because he is endlessly divided. The key to Luke Skywalker’s success was mastering the anger that leads to the “Dark Side” of the Force. Had Obi-Wan and Yoda not been there to instruct him, the outcome of Luke’s quest would have been very different indeed. Kamandi’s emotions remain undisciplined, exposing him to repeated despair and estrangement, as portrayed so vividly and harshly in the last panel of issue #20.
The resolution of any heroic narrative finds the hero on more solid ground. The backstory of a film’s first five minutes where we first meet the protagonist before the Inciting Incident propels him or her on a life-changing adventure, is bookended by the last five minutes in which we see the hero in their new life following the successful resolution of the third act’s conflict and crisis. There is no such resolutions on the horizon for Kamandi which makes the scene on the shores of Monster Lake so unrelentingly bleak and, for me, heartbreaking. I felt it back in 1974 and the intervening years have diminished none of its effect. Of course the whole point of tragedy is that it ends tragically. The tragic hero believes if they just hold the course everything will work out in the end, but we know it won’t. We sense early on in the play that Macbeth’s course of murder and regicide can only end badly because Macbeth’s actions go against everything we instinctively know to be good. We also know that when a witch, seer, or oracle gives you a prophecy, you’d better believe it even if you infer from it that you’re invincible because no man born of woman can kill you. All that means is that there’s someone out there not born of woman who will appear in the last act to kill you. So when Kamandi sets out to find other humans in a world where none exist, the outcome can only be further estrangement.
Unlike the “non-tragic” hero of other story plots, the actions of the tragic hero do not resolve the conflict, but entraps them in a labyrinth of decisions that lead to their own destruction. When an immoral act against nature causes the gods to visit a plague upon Thebes, their King, Oedipus swears to discover the truth. His relentless search unmasks himself as the immoral villain who unwittingly murdered his father and sired children with his mother. Likewise, Kamandi’s determination to find other reasoning humans only succeeds in leading him down a path of deeper and deeper isolation.
Because Kirby leaves the possibility of finding other humans open, the reader shares the Lost Boy’s angst, issue after issue, until, if you were like me, the pain simply became unbearable. Kamandi, like Hamlet, is a passive tragic hero. Events outside his control or influence embroil him in a course of action that leads to his destruction (in the case of Hamlet it was the murder of his father by his uncle). Hamlet is as incapable of enacting revenge for his father’s murder as Kamandi is of finding other humans who reason. The tragic hero never truly leaves the anticipation or dream stage of their journey because their story cannot possibly resolve itself without their death. Hamlet’s inaction ends in the deaths of all principle characters, including himself. Kamandi’s refusal to give up the hope of finding other humans divides his reason and emotions, retarding his development as a man. No matter how old Kamandi lives to be, he will always remain a boy emotionally. There is no growth, no maturing, no exit.
There is a powerful irony in that last panel in issue #20. Kamandi has just exited Chicagoland and stands alone on the shores of Monster Lake. What he has just exited, in truth, is nothing more than the illusion stage of his journey, his dream of the past, of the Old World where humans were top dogs once, and can be top dogs again. It is a world of exits only, for it is a world that does not exist outside museum walls. What Kamandi steps into is the real world of Earth A.D. from which there are no exits. The planners of Tracking Site had attempted to reshape their new world and it killed them. Ben abandoned that plan, and took the next step on his journey toward a more successful resolution to his own story. The fact that Ben was able to recognize that he was trapped in the dream stage meant he was able to make the decision to free himself from the thing that had entrapped him: Tracking Site. Perhaps that’s the reason he is absent so often from Kamandi’s life. Kamandi is a somnambulist, Ben is not. Kamandi remains asleep on the shores of a lake teeming with the nightmares of reality. He is unable to rouse himself from slumber, dreaming the dream of Pharaohs and fools, breathing the sands of times lost and forgotten.
Kirby would helm Kamandi’s adventures for another year before DC began to wrest the series from him. I never read those final stories until decades later. Issue #20 was as far as the story could go for me. It was a suitable and satisfying ending. It was, I believed at the time, the only possible ending. Taken together, I would argue, the first twenty issues of Kamandi constitute a whole. They form a complete graphic novel, as thoughtful and provocative as any other example of the medium. Thinking on it now I better understand why my interest in Kamandi waned. I was reading a story that had no other resolution than despair, culminating in the last panel of issue #20. There was no need to read further. Once I had realized that--albeit on a subconscious level--I did what Kamandi could not: I left. I broke the cycle of despair, like Ben Boxer, by returning to reality, looking for new directions.
What distinguishes the writing of Jack Kirby is his innate knowledge of the different genres in which he worked, and of the basic plots that infused every story he wrote.85 Whether it is Voyage and Return (The Forever People), Overcoming the Monster (The New Gods, The Demon, The Losers), Rags to Riches (Mister Miracle), or Tragedy (Kamandi), Kirby clearly had every instinctive tool at his creative fingertips he required to produce beguiling and simple-looking tales with deep, rich cores of emotion. On close examination, even his most maligned creations, such as Kamandi, yield literary rewards that more than justify a reader’s time and attention.
Kirby was a sponge when it came to soaking up stories. He spent thirty years telling them in partnership with others before venturing out on his own. Once given the opportunity to be the author his own scripts, he fashioned stories that endure because they are intimately reflective of the times he lived in and, more importantly, were built on literary foundations that continue to engage the mind and imagination after three decades and countless re-readings.
The Last Hope On Earth: Conclusion
The Last Hope On Earth: Conclusion
In Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing #52 (DC 1985) Abigail is being held by the Gotham City police awaiting indictment on charges of public indecency: she’d had sex with a plant. That plant, of course, was the reincarnation of her murdered husband, Alec Holland, now the earth spirit known as Swamp Thing. Alec is enraged and wants his wife freed. He appears in the courtroom where Abigail is on trial. When violence appears likely she begs Alec to leave before someone is hurt. Before Alec departs he offers this warning:
“…Hear this… men of the city. I have tolerated your species… for long enough. Your cruelty… and your insufferable arrogance. You blight the soil… and poison the rivers. You raze the vegetation… till you cannot… even feed… your own kind. A…and then you boast… of man’s triumph… over nature. Fools. If nature were to shrug… or raise an eyebrow… then you should all be gone…”
He gives them one hour to free his wife.
Needless to say, the authorities do not to heed the warning. They choose to defend themselves instead and hire as their consultant the evil super-genius, Lex Luthor, a specialist in destroying indestructible beings. Meanwhile, Gotham’s caped crusader has taken umbrage at the Swamp Thing’s attack on his city and vowed to defend it.
In the following issue, “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (Swamp Thing #53), Alan Moore and illustrator John Totleben chronicle humankind’s struggle to master nature through Batman’s battle with the Swamp Thing. Batman loses. Lex Luther has better success, but Moore has made his point: In the war between man and nature, nature wins.
In evolutionary terms, hominids may be a failed species. Our three-million-or-so-year residency on earth pales beside the two-hundred-million-year lease turtles and crocodiles signed with creation. The dinosaurs lasted one hundred and fifty-million years and, if not for a meteor striking the earth, they may have lasted longer. Extinction-cycles are a fact of nature. The earth’s climate is in constant flux due to continental drift and the tilt of the planet. As the climate changes so does life on earth. Why should humans be immune? Stars have life cycles. Why not the human species? Perhaps the Great Disaster was just the planet’s immune system ridding itself of the human virus?
This thinking is clearly reflected in an essay published in Kamandi #2. Kirby writes in his own inimitable style:
“Does the earth flip its lid every ten thousand years…? Is planetary cataclysm part of some kind of continual ‘adjustment’ Earth must make in its endless swing around the sun? …If this is true it seems to me that the premise of ‘Kamandi’ may not be that much of a far-out nail to hang one’s hat on. …Recorded history, as we know it, is littered with debris of monuments once thought to be miracles of invulnerability. But they’ve been buried by common mud.”
We are a ship of fools, and the ship’s name is “Titanic”. Deemed an unsinkable miracle of engineering, it took a single nudge from an iceberg to send her and nearly all on board to a watery grave. Nature wins, yes, but if humanity sails the Titanic, then Kamandi is Molly Brown, and it is the tale of the survivors that always interests Kirby. How will man cope with the difficulties of living in Earth A. D.? Man may be presently down, but it’s how he gets back up that is the crux of Kirby’s tale.
Kamandi is the chronicle of humankind’s involuntary descent back into the Dark Ages through the devolution of humans into irrational wild beasts. It is also the chronicle of humanity’s climb back out of the common mud, as personified by Kamandi’s indomitable pluck. Underlying both, however, is the hubris of a technological age unable to prevent Armageddon or to deal adequately with its aftermath. It is one of the most sobering themes in Kirby’s post-disaster earth.
Kirby’s years at Marvel were marked by the technological wonders that filled the pages of The Fantastic Four and the highly underrated science-fiction fantasy, Thor. Technology opened the doors to many evils and terrors in the F.F., but nothing the right technology in the right hands (usually those of Reed Richards) could not overcome. Kirby’s move to DC in 1970 saw a dramatic shift in this outlook. Whether it was unconscious, or a result of Kirby’s editorial and creative freedom, the change in attitude was jarring. I recall the summer of 1973 sitting at Lincoln Lodge in Baysville, talking Kirby over a piece of raspberry pie. The complaint was that all Kirby had brought to DC were guns and explosions. By this time nine issues of Kamandi had been published, as well as the Fourth World Saga, so I knew the criticism wasn’t entirely true, but it was, on the surface, a valid complaint. While the Fourth World books took technology to its extreme conclusion, it was replaced by magic in The Demon and, in Kamandi, it all but disappears. Like humanity, technology devolves in Kamandi until all that’s left are guns. A few technological wonders survive, like Caesar’s laser and the satellite city of Tracking Site, but both carry largely negative connotations. Guns in Kamandi’s world are the equivalent of sticks and stones, but that’s the point. The guns and explosions that Kirby brought to DC are the remnants of the Enlightenment. They are the last vestiges of a philosophy that cannot distinguish reason from religion, and mistakes scientific progress for human evolution. Technology’s ability to bring stability and peace to the world was but one more of the disillusionments of the 1970s. If Vietnam was anything to go by—for all our recent boasts of putting a man on the moon in 1969—all technology had given humanity in 1973 were, in essence, guns and explosions.
Ours is not a slow march to paradise, but a slippery slope to God-knows-where. The scientists of Tracking Site failed in their long-term project to protect their descendants from natural disasters. All that their technological and scientific progress could produce was a mind-controlling freak, three transhumans, and a germ that could wipe out all life from the planet. The real failure of the scientists, however, was their concentration on physical survival at the expense of their own humanity. While they did succeed in creating a human with an impervious metal skin, Ben Boxer remains primitive in his ideological outlook, the product of scientific advancement without moral instruction. He never once returns to save Kamandi and abandons him without hesitation when the situation calls for it.
In OMAC, Kirby’s final dystopian series for DC, this theme finds complete expression. In OMAC’s “World That’s Coming”, technology is used not for the betterment of humankind, but for its enslavement and exploitation. If scientific progress (or “progress”) is a reality we postmoderns must accept, then so is the immutability of the human condition. Our faith that technology and scientific progress can save us is no different from our religious belief in the return of the gods to eradicate all evil and suffering on earth. So long as technology remains in the hands of humans, our future remains a deadly uncertainty.
Although I have gone to some small lengths to stress the tragic in Kamandi I am now determined to undermine my entire argument by admitting it was probably unintentional. I see no evidence to support the hypothesis that Kirby meant any of his heroes to be tragic. It is inarguable that Kirby employed many elements of tragedy in his writing during this period and many of his characters come to tragic ends: Farley Fairfax, “The Phantom of the Sewers” (The Demon # 8-10), immediately springs to mind. Even “The Glory Boat” (New Gods #6), tinged as it is with tragedy, ends contemplatively, but not tragically. There is genuine hope for the survivors in the new perspectives they have gained from viewing both the world and their actions in that world. Given what we have in Kamandi #1-20, it is a tragedy, and stands as such, but had Kirby brought the series to its conclusion, I am certain it would have ended on a more positive note.
Comics are about slaying monsters, and nobody slew them better than Jack Kirby. He created (and co-created) some of the medium’s greatest monsters in the Red Skull, Doctor Doom, and Darkseid, but he also created heroes who were equal to the task of slaying them: Captain America, the Fantastic Four, and Orion. Is Kamandi really so different? Yes, and no. There is no shortage of monsters in Earth A.D., the biggest monster being the planet itself. Kamandi is not so much about slaying the monster as it is about living with it. Kamandi’s success or failure will not depend on his finding other reasoning humans, but on his own adaptability to his new environment.
There is another aspect to Kamandi that makes the series a hopeful one. It is Kamandi himself. Divided as he is, he continually embodies the best of the Kirby Idea of what it means to be human. Kamandi is, like his creator, trusting and loyal with a heart as big as all outdoors. If humanity is to resurrect itself on Earth A.D., it could have no better start than with The Last Boy On Earth. If there are any qualities in humanity worth resurrecting, they can all be found in Kamandi himself. Kamandi may be the Last Boy On Earth, but he is also humanity’s Last and Best Hope. After the many social upheavals of the Sixties, the Cold War (including the specter of nuclear Armageddon during the then-recent Cuban Missile Crisis), the Vietnam War, the not-so-secret bombings of Cambodia, and Watergate, the mood of pessimism found in popular culture was understandable. Perhaps what we all needed was a fresh start. In Earth A.D. Kirby laid the groundwork for such a new beginning and gave us a hero to rise to the challenge. That he often fails is testament to the crucible of learning he (and we, as a collective species) must endure. Under Kirby’s tutelage, however, I’m confident Kamandi would have survived and, like Captain Victory, emerged as exactly the type of leader Earth A.D. demanded.
In Kamandi Kirby puts his hope for humankind not in the hands of scientists and engineers, but in those of a scrappy teenager who values loyalty and kinship above all else. He is inexperienced, yes, and a rebel, but he is a rebel with a cause. Regardless of humanity’s ultimate fate, whether they will rise again as a species to a dominant position in the world, Kirby’s allegiance remains clearly with Kamandi’s simple ability to reason, and to care passionately about his fellow humans. Kamandi believed humans deserved better than their ultimate fate. He believed in their dignity and worth, and in the equality of all beings. It is these qualities that make Kamandi’s struggle worthwhile. Judaism believes that a person cannot be religious without being moral (as Rabbi Hillel famously demonstrated in the Talmud when a Non-Jew asked him to “convert me to Judaism on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.”), and that morality is the single most important aspect of being human, that is, to love your neighbor. All else—religious observance and sacrifice—is commentary. In the figure of Kamandi, Kirby illustrates this commandment, where each action performed by the Last Boy becomes nothing less than a Mitzvah. Kamandi’s greatest attribute is that he does not discriminate between man and beast, friend or enemy. When it comes to a being in need, each is a neighbor. There is no time or place for empty ritual or meaningless gesture in Kamandi’s worldview, only for a timely and necessary helping hand, for--in a topsy-turvy world which is not so different from Earth A.D.--we are, all of us, man and beast, very much in it together.
In Kamandi, with Kamandi, and through Kamandi, Jack Kirby extended, and continues to extend--nearly two decades after his passing--that timely and necessary helping hand.
Was there ever a better time to grasp it?
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