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Sunday May 13, 2012 11:21 pm
Kamandi #14 by Jack Kirby
I used to rank Jack Kirby’s Fourth World series as my favorite of all his post-1970s comic book work, with Mister Miracle as my favorite title. Over the years, that shifted.
My favorite Fourth World title became Jimmy Olsen because of two things: (1) it’s such a whacked out, imaginative take on the Olsen universe and (2) it’s the first time anyone thought about Olsen as a character instead of the victimized afterthought he was for years in the Mort Weisinger comics.
But since then, my favorite has shifted once more. It’s Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth. What began with the basic elements of Planet Of The Apes turned into an epic of post-apocalyptic Earth. Animals are in charge, humans are slaves or playthings, and only Kamandi stands as the last hope for mankind.
It’s been a long time since I read individual issues. I picked up a bunch on sale for $1 each during Free Comic Book Day, and Kamandi #14 was one of them, the earliest in the pack.
In 20 all-too-brief pages, creator-writer-artist Jack Kirby and his best 1970s inker Mike Royer create a story that moves, has real empathy, is packed with action and leaves me wanting more. I didn’t feel lost because I hadn’t read the 13 previous issues, and Kirby made it easy to catch up and to know who his players were and their relationships to one another with feeling like I was being talked down to.
As issue #14 opens, we join the action already in progress, picking up where the previous issue cliff-hangered. Kamandi, riding a giant grasshopper named Kliklak, is in something that looks like the Kentucky Derby meets Death Race 2000 at the remains of Hialeah Park. He’s fighting against Bull Bantam and his giant buffalo.
The battle runs 12 (!) pages before Kamandi finally wins. Then he mouths off during the victory celebration in his honor and gets tossed into prison where his friends, a tiger prince named Tuftan and Dr. Canus, a dog scientist, make a deal to get him released just before he’s gassed to death.
And that’s the issue: it’s simple, direct, no subplot. It picks you up at page 1 and never lets you go until the end. I was into it and really wanted the next issue.
Kirby’s solo dialogue is often pointed out as being not as good as it was when Stan Lee was his partner. Granted, it lacks that certain elegance and grandiose chatter of Stan, but it’s bold and engaging and has a charming rhythm that makes it fun to read. The dialogue is spattered with little asides from tertiary characters, and some tough-guy patter. Kamandi sometimes talks less like the “boy” of the subtitle and more like a character out of a 1930s crime movie. At one point, Kamandi tells Bantam: “Killer of men - and beater of women - you’ve got more than this coming to you!”
But the dialogue is fun and it fits the story, and since so many of today's comics feel non-distinct, Kirby's words here stand out in a good way. I can't wait to read the other two issues I picked up.
Which reminds me that I have to pick up DC’s Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth Vol. 1!
[Artwork: Kamandi #14 (top); Kamandi vs. Bull Bantam (bottom), © DC Entertainment]
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