Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth – Volume One

It’s been quite a few days since my last post because I’ve been working my way through all 456 pages of Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth-Volume One.  450+ pages of any comic would take a while, but when you have absolutely no prior background on the comic or the character, it seems to take even longer.

The premise for this series is simple yet profound.  The world has undergone a cataclysmic change, and animals are now intelligent thinking creatures vying for control of land and resources, while humans have degenerated to a lowly animal status, without the ability to reason or even speak.  Kamandi is, as far as we know, the “last boy on earth” in that he is the last intelligent human being alive.  He spent his entire life underground, gleaning facts about the former world through films and his grandfather’s stories.  After his grandfather is killed, Kamandi sets out to find his place in this new, strange world.

The premise alone was enough to get me interested.  After reading the entire Fourth World Omnibus series, I was well immersed in the Kirby lore, and knew that here was another opportunity for Kirby to flex his creative muscles and create an entirely unique world with engaging characters.

It’s unfortunate, but I felt like this attempt fell a little flat.

The concept is interesting, and I was hooked on the story for the first few issues.  As the story continued though, it began to feel less cohesive than I expected it to be.  Storylines continued from one issue to another, but they never seemed to flow easily.  Instead they felt a bit disjointed, as though parts of the story were missing.  What’s more, Kamandi is really the only main character of the series.  Others pop in and out on occasion, but not with any regularity.  Kamandi is the sole constant, and I didn’t find him to be an especially likable character.  he’s not terrible, but he’s not written in a way that I care very much what happens to him.  This made it difficult at times to get through the issues.

While reading, I could certainly get a sense of what Kirby was aiming for with these stories.  There were points where he was allowing his characters to be serious and ponder scenarios that are all too real in our own history:

wpid-wp-1445276419198.jpgThis allusion to slavery was particularly moving, and gave me a glimpse of the sweeping saga this series could have been.

Unfortunately, these moments of introspection are brief, and often replaced with scenes depicting absurd and slightly comical occurrences. A perfect example is KliKlak, the giant grasshopper Kamandi straps a saddle on and rides like a horse:

wpid-wp-1445276753021.jpgDon’t get me wrong, I actually enjoyed the brief appearance of KliKlak, but the combination of humor and solemnity didn’t mesh well here.  I’ve seen Kirby combine these two opposing emotions with great success in past trades, so it was surprising that it didn’t flow as well in Kamandi. 

The issues throughout this trade all seemed to follow a standard course.  Kamandi goes to a different part of America, discovers a different race of intelligent animals, gets into a conflict with them, and then must try to escape captivity.  Given how excited I was by the premise of this series, the repeated plotline felt like a bit of a letdown.  The stories were entertaining, but they lacked the cohesion and gripping narrative I had come to expect after the Fourth World collections.

Towards the end of this collection I began to truly wonder if the story was going anywhere.  As I turned the page, I was greeted with the following cover:

wpid-wp-1445298858537.jpgIn which Kamandi discovers an entire civilization of humans surviving in Chicago (and apparently stuck in the 1920’s).

I arched my eyebrow at this. After all, isn’t Kamandi supposed to be The Last Boy on Earth?  I mean, it’s right there in the name of the comic.  How could there be this entire group of people still alive and kicking? (Or Charleston-ing, as the case may be).

Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple, as the comic goes on to reveal that all of these people are, in fact, robots:

wpid-wp-1445299042509.jpgBecause sure, why not?

(Also, that picture reminded me of The Terminator right away. Anyone else?)

The idea that the people were all robots left a sour taste in my mouth. It just felt like Kirby was reaching now to include any possible sci-fi angle he could.

I’ll admit I was happy to see that they weren’t robots being controlled by some strange omniscient being, but were in fact what remained of a bygone animatronic amusement park.  This twist interested me, and made me sympathize with Kamandi’s loneliness moreso than I had in any other issue.

This trade ends without any aplomb or epic cliffhanger.  The issue concludes much the same as all the others, with Kamandi deciding where to go next.  It’s not very surprising, given that this trade is volume one of two in the series.  What is surprising is that the story is halfway over and I still can’t see any discernible plotline.  Kamandi is traveling across vast lands, meeting a host of different creatures, but to what end?  What is his overall purpose?

These are questions that I must wonder about for some time, as Mistah J does not own volume two of this collection.  Luckily I was informed of this before I began reading, so I wasn’t left feeling bereft when I reached the end of the trade and found out I wouldn’t be continuing the story.  A part of me wants to read Volume Two simply to complete the story, but I can’t say I’m in any rush to go out and buy it.  I’m sure I’ll read it eventually, but I’m not dying to see how the story turns out.

A part of me feels like it’s blasphemous to say I didn’t love a Jack Kirby series.  However, it’s a little easier to be critical knowing that he contributed an untold number of hits to the comic multiverse.  I admit I haven’t read nearly all of his work, but even if this is the worst series he’s ever written, it’s still miles above a lot of other stories out there.  Sure, this may not be my favorite comic series ever published, but Kirby set the bar pretty high for himself.  His vision and creativity are there in spades.  Kirby excelled at creating entire universes within themselves.  Even if Kamandi’s wasn’t fully realized on paper, you can still sense the bigger story that lurks just beyond the page, itching to come out.  That’s the story I wish we could read; the one that lived in Jack Kirby’s mind.

-Jess

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