Jack Kirby's Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth was my favorite childhood comic. I didn't know it was a ripoff of the first Planet of the Apes movie at the time I started reading my brother's old issues. In fact, I probably started reading Kamandi a full decade before the first time I saw Planet of the Apes. And while I love the Apes reboot films, I still prefer Kamandi.
The premise of Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth is pretty much right there in the title: on a blasted-out apocalyptic earth — something called The Great Disaster happened an indeterminate amount of time ago — a human boy named Kamandi tries to survive. While Planet of the Apes just featured talking apes, Kirby populated Kamandi's planet with all kinds of talking humanoid animals: apes, yes, but also dogs, tigers, cheetahs, bears, and more.
Kirby packed Kamandi with all sorts of allegories for life in the 1970s — my favorite topical story involved a race of subterranean mole people who worship the Watergate tapes — but it was, primarily, a boy's adventure strip, a postapocalyptic sci-fi Jonny Quest.
Last week, DC Comics published something called the Kamandi Challenge Special, a squarebound sampler of Kamandi comics for $7.99. I've been waiting years for a nice, affordable sampler of these stories to give to the young comics fans in my life; I think Kamandi has a timeless quality that might appeal to any comics fan.
Unfortunately, this isn't the collection to pass on to a new comics fan. Frankly, the selection of comics in this edition is just plain weird. The book starts with a reprint of Kamandi #32, which is smack in the middle of an ongoing story involving a weird space organism that shifts from uni- to multi-cellular and back again. ("I am 'ME.' I can be...WE...! Now I am...US...!") It's a fun ride to be dropped in the middle of — one chapter is titled "Satan in the Sands," for crying out loud — but there's no real reason why it should be the story that opens the book.
Especially since the second book collected in the volume is the very first issue of Kamandi — one which introduces characters who we've already met in the first story. It's just a weird curation decision. And then the rest of the book consists of a black-and-white unpublished post-Kirby Kamandi story written by Jack C. Harris and drawn by Dick Ayers and Danny Bulandi which is itself wrapped around an unpublished Jack Kirby Sandman story that doesn't feature Kamandi at all.
Imagine you're just sitting down to watch a TV show. You've heard lots of good things about it. You're excited to watch it. But the first episode you watch is from the middle of the second season. Then you watch the pilot. And then you watch a shoddy clip show from a season well after the main actor has already left to launch his movie career. None of this makes any kind of goddamned sense, is what I'm saying.
If you're acquainted with Kamandi as a character but you haven't read much of his adventures, maybe the Kamandi Challenge Special would be worth picking up. It does feature, after all, a talking gorilla revolutionary named Ramjam. But anyone unacquainted with Kamand should stay far away from this awkward, poorly planned book.