Writer/artist: Jack Kirby
Outgrown your old Daisy?
Maybe Dad can help you pick a new one.
This giant-size comic appeared on newstands in 1975, dated August and (in keeping with protocol) released three months earlier. It's a pretty good look at mid-1970s American superhero comics, and highlights the work and career of the great Jack Kirby. It also has really great ads, that speak volumes about the genre's audiences, shifting at that time from little boys to older fanboys.
Second chance for high school dropouts.
Now you can finish high school at home
The first story features the ongoing saga of Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, an articulate human in a world ravaged by a vague "Great Disaster" and ruled by feuding anthropomorphic animals. On page one, Kamandi rides in a motorboat with Prince Tuftan, heir to the Tiger Empire's throne, and seveal striped feline soldiers. They're in a battle with gorilla guerrillas led by a simian pirate named Ramjam. Meanwhile, Dr. Canus, first scientist to the tiger Emperor and friend of Kamandi, has struck a bargain with a stranded extra-terrestrial.
Kirby provides monster truck show-level histrionic dialogue and narration, peppered with BOLDED CAPITALS and multiple exclamation points!!! His art features lots of square-bodied characters and preposterous machinery. Violence spills out of every other page, without the gore that would attend it in real life. It's a comic book.
FIRST, DC GAVE YOU THE WORLD'S GREATEST SUPERHEROES.
THEN, DC INTRODUCED TOP QUALITY MYSTERY TALES.
NOW, DC PRESENTS FANTASY AT ITS BEST IN OUR ALL- NEW ADVENTURE LINE
With the current story out of the way, the issue delivers a biography of Kirby, complete with unbelievably grainy black and white photographs-- the paper on which traditional comics are printed does not lend itself to photographic reproduction. We learn about Kirby's impovershed origins and his fascination with Hollywood, which reflected his real-life Depression-era Lower East Side childhood with the Dead End Kids. We follow his career, and hear about his "own special magic" with comics.
Hippie-boy: I made this electric guitar myself!
Admiring Blonde: Wow!
Orange-haired Girl: Real strings groovy!
Redhead: It sounds great. Play something!
Blonde Guy: Unreal!
Brunette Guy: I think I'll make a microscope!
EYES WILL POP AS FRIENDS GASP!
Of course, comic book magic usually borrows heavily from the cultural mainstream. Kirby had responded to World War II with the ultra-patriotic Captain America, and he responded to the Cold War and 70s cynicism with Kamandi, strongly influenced by Planet of the Apes. Just how strong that influence was may be seen in the next story, a reprint of the Last Boy's first adventure. This features the ruined Statue of Liberty, wild feral humans running scared, anthropomorphic animals on horseback, worship of a nuclear weapon, a human being kept at bay by a whip-wielding beast, and a leader named "Great Caesar."1
At the episode's end, Dr. Canus introduces Kamandi to Ben Boxer, a mutant human who can speak and reason, just like our young hero.
Men who could fight. Or disappear.
LEARN THE SECRET POWERS OF THE DEADLIEST KILLERS IN THE ORIENT.
The Physio-Mental Powers of the Ninja
And then comes the idiotic highlight, an unbelievably bad, unimaginative map of Kamandi's earth. A comic artist can create anything; what we get is something so pointlessly influenced by the American perception of then-contemporary geo-politics that it may now be the most entertaining thing between these covers.
The U.S. gets the lion's share of, well, lions, tigers, and... Curiously, no bears, despite the fact that they currently outnumber both lions and tigers in North America, and a Kamandi/Batman team-up definitely showed that anthropomorphic bears had a civilization in the Dakotas.
A radiation barrier runs exactly along the current Canada/U.S. border-- except that the U.S. side gets all of the Great Lakes, which have now become "Monster Lake." Canada is the "Dominion of the Devils," a place of intelligent insects. Alaska, of course, is a region unto itself, a "strange fire area" confined to the current boundaries of that state. South of the American border, Mexico-- pretty much with its current borders-- has become a "wild human preserve." This identification will be largely forgotten in another year, when Kamandi actually makes it there.
Europe fares better, with its Bulldog Brittaneks, Gorilla Germaneks, and Wolf Napoleoneks and Spandars. South America, however, is a fragmented mess with few clearly-designated cultures, while Africa and India appear to have been given little thought at all. A few uncertain kingdoms are designated: "Raji-Land," the "Screamers", the "Hung-ups," and some snakes. We hear nothing of tigers and lions; presumably, they've all moved to the United States and China, which also features a Lion/Tiger rivalry. Giraffe and elephant civilizations were, perhaps, too ridiculous to contemplate. The middle east, meanwhile, has become a "Black Bay of Oil."
Australia has become home to a "Kanga-rat Murderer Society."
Dynamite from DC! 2 MORE KING-SIZE SPECIALS!
An exact reproduction of the FANTASTIC No. 1 1940 issue of FLASH comics-- with the ORIGIN STORIES of the FLASH, HAWKMAN, JOHNNY THUNDER, and THE WHIP!
A super-special spectacular BATMAN starring the CAPED CRUSADER's most infamous villians-- with a special surprise-- THE ORIGIN OF TWO- FACE!
If you wanted to see the best and the silliest qualities of mid-70s funny books, experience their last comic gasp before the era of comic shops, Kamandi #32 makes a fine study.
1. In all fairness, Kirby had tackled similiar material earlier in his career. His story, "The Last Enemy" from a 1957 Alarming Tales featured a future world of anthropomorphic animals.
The ruined Lady Liberty had long been a symbol of post-apocalyptic earth, and pulp SF of the Cold War era featured it long before Planet of the Apes used the image in its famous finale. The first such use appears to John Ames Mitchell's The Last American, which tells the story of middle eastern explorers who reach the lost, fabled continent in 2951. Mitchell published the novel in 1889-- only six years after the statue was completed. This footnote appears with my Planet of the Apes article at the Retcon Files, http://www.geocities.com/utherworld/retcon1.html