When I was a kid, I didn't want to be Spider-Man, Batman or Superman. I wanted to be Kamandi. Kamandi was Jack Kirby's longest running book of his '70's stint at DC, and though it doesn't seem to be as highly thought of as The Fourth World, possibly lacking that series' depth & personal insight, it's still in a lot of people's favourite's list, including mine. It sprang from a need to up Kirby's then dwindling page count, and the original idea came from Carmine Infantino, who'd been trying to get the rights to do a comic version of Planet Of The Apes ( he was beaten to it by Marvel, of course ). Refusing to admit defeat, Carmine went to Jack, and suggested he put something together like Apes, but not close enough to be libellious. Kirby had, at this time, apparently not seen any of the Apes movies, but was certainly aware of the premise. Digging around in the closet where he kept all his unsold, unused ideas, he came across some pencil samples for a newspaper strip he'd once tried called Kamandi Of The Caves, ( seen here courtesy of The Jack Kirby Collector ), and went to work.
Typically for Kirby, Apes was barely a starting point for the gigantic, insane world he was about to create. Why stick with just monkeys, when you could have all animals becoming intelligent? Here ( again thanks to The Collector ) is some of Jack's original ideas for the strip, with a strangely Greek looking Last Boy On Earth.
I first met Kamandi with this issue, no.6. This being the first one to reach Haverhill, distribution being as haphazard as it was in those days. And instantly I thought it was the greatest thing ever. As became obvious in future issues, this was a series where the sky was the limit. As opposed to the also excellent The Fourth World, whose titles were set solely (solely?) around one huge, galaxy spanning plot, Jack clearly sat down each month and simply thought: Where shall I send Kamandi to today? This issue might actually be my favourite Jack Kirby comic ever. Sure it's not deep, it's not trying to say anything, but it's so action-packed, so exciting, and so thrilling that you're exhausted by the last page. Plus the ending is heartbreaking. And by the way, anybody still doubting Kirby's genius, take note of the title. Every other writer would've called it: The Last Man On Earth. Jack knew his audience, and that's certainly what I responded to. Jack started Kamandi without a great deal of interest in the premise, having been deeply crushed by the perceived failure of The Fourth World, his most personal saga. A story set in a post-apocalyptic world, and centered around death, was completely against his sensibilities, and he was determined that this book wouldn't revel in negativity: " This must be a comic about fighting to survive. " Here's Kamandi, surviving.
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