RETRO REVIEW: Kamandi #29 (May 1975)

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Or – “What To Do When The Apocalypse Has Come And Gone…”

Well, apparently, Friday was the end of the world as we know it, and now we have to pick up the pieces in a post-apocalyptic world that somehow still has Starbucks drive-throughs and basic cable (although there are no more Twinkies.)  Of course, we’ve got it easy compared to the lad called Kamandi, dragged from a bunker into a world of anthropomorphic animals, misshapen mutants and shattered masonry.  But it would seem that even in the future world that’s coming, there are still legends of heroes long past.  Your Major Spoilers Post-Apocalypse Retro Review awaits!

Kamandi29CoverKAMANDI #29
Writer: Steve Sherman (Plot); Jack Kirby (Plot, Script)
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: D. Bruce Berry
Colorist: Uncredited
Letterer: D. Bruce Berry
Editor: Jack Kirby
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 25 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $20.00

Previously, in Kamandi:  During the early 1970s, the ‘Planet Of The Apes’ movies were a big deal, and both Marvel & DC Comics tried to license the property for comic book adaptation.  Marvel got the rights, but since  this was the Bronze Age, Carmine Infantino (DC’s Editor-In-Chief) had Jack Kirby go ahead with a series at least partially inspired by the movie anyway.  (Deathlok, Killraven and the Master of Kung-Fu had similar twisted origins.)  Being Kirby, he took the basic framework of a world devastated by disaster and anthropomorphic animals and kind of went nuts with it, creating the tale of a young nameless boy found in a bunker labeled “Command D.”  Joining up with a trio of mutants designed to survive in the strange wastelands, the boy took a name from his place of origin and set out to explore Earth A.D. (After Disaster), trying to build a future for humans in a world ruled by intelligent animals.  Case in point:  A gorilla enclave that Kamandi and Ben discover, notable for its oral tradition of a flying being of great power…

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As a reader, I’m fascinated by Kirby’s use of comics-within-the-comics here, as well as the interesting historical narrative drift in the tale of the Mighty One.  “Came out of Kla-Kent,” indeed.  Ben and Kamandi travel a bit further, only to discover that (much as Doctor Zaius might have told Colonel Taylor) the gorillas find most humans to look alike…

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Of course, in the apes’ defense, it should be noted that Ben Boxer IS a broad-limbed superhuman specimen in tights and boots, a silhouette that does resemble the crude drawings of the Mighty One.  One of their number, an angry ape named Zuma, who later developed an iPhone game, attacks the interloper as a fraud.  Ben fights back, and both combatants find themselves consumed by anger.  The battle is stopped by the leader of the cult, though, as just being strong isn’t enough…

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“Nashnil,” for those not in the know, is a reference to “National Periodical Publications,” the company that eventually developed into modern-day  DC Comics.  The DC logo even appears in giant stone form as the apes lead Ben and ‘Mandi to their second testing ground:  A GIANT CATAPULT, built to hurl their numbers into the sky like the legendary Mighty One!  I imagine that there may be more than just a few splattered primates over the horizon, which is kind of terrible and hilarious all at the same time.  Before the acolytes of the Mighty One can launch Ben Boxer, Kamandi saves his bacon by revealing that Ben, like the legendary Mighty One, has a secret identity.  Why Kamandi has such knowledge of their legends is, at this point, unclear, but it allows Ben to move on to the nest test:  Moving the “Daily Planet,” a massive boulder in the center of their settlement.

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Ben Boxer is hailed as the new incarnation of the Mighty One, but has to prove himself faster than a speeding bullet (a feat achieved by the awesome sight of a gorilla shooting at him with a gatling gun) but since Boxer is a LITERAL man of steel, he survives the fusillade without a scratch.  Kirby’s writing is always fascinating to see, as he clearly knows how to put together a solid story, and his timing is dead on, as Kamandi reveals that he knows the truth about the legend of the Mighty One:  It’s all true, and Kamandi has read all about the hero.  But when Ben is given access to the Mighty One’s legendary uniform, Zuma finally loses his mind and bolts through to claim the suit for himself!

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Kamandi himself is forced to fight Zuma in the catacombs, a David and Goliath battle if there ever was one, defending Superman’s legendary togs against the mad ape.  Of course, if this is the Earth-1 super-suit, it should be pretty much invulnerable itself, being of Kryptonian fabric under a yellow sun.  But, that’s a snotty thing to worry about, especially given the drama of young man versus simian usurper.  Zuma disrespectfully stomps on Superman’s cape, spitting into the wind for good measure, allowing Kamandi to gain the upper hand, yanking the cape from under his feet…

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It’s interesting to read this tale, knowing that Kirby intended for it not only to be the canonical future of the Earth-1 DC Universe, but to be directly tied into his concurrent O.M.A.C. series, as well.  Later stories would posit this as an alternate future of Earth-1, and eventually would confirm that this IS, in fact, Superman’s actual uniform, but none of that is important here.  What’s important is the way this story unfolds, never saying Superman’s name but treating him as an important legendary figure, the way we might speak of King Arthur or Pecos Bill today.  (Most people don’t know that his real name was Pecos Herschel Feinbaum, and that he rode that tornado while keeping kosher.)  In a post-apocalyptic world, the lost heroes have grown to mythic proportion, as they really should.  Kamandi #29 proves why this was the most successful of Kirby’s 70s DC books, giving us a story unlike most comic tales, rendered in the ultra-powerful, ultra-stylized Kirby 70s style, earning a post-apocalyptic 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  There has never been, and probably never will be another book like Kamandi, and issues like this one remind me of what a shame that is…

Rating: ★★★½☆

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