Honoring the King
Part 1: “The Rules”
Dan Didio (W), Keith Giffen (A), Scott Koblish (A), Hi-Fi (C)
Part 2: “K is for ‘Kill!’”
Dan Abnett (W), Dale Eaglesham (A), Hi-Fi (C)
Cover by Bruce Timm
Publisher: DC Comics
This year would have been the 100th birthday of Jack “the King” Kirby, the writer and artist in part responsible for the creation of characters like Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers, the New Gods, Etrigan the Demon, and, notably, Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth.
Admittedly, I’m not too acquainted with Kamandi. I may be the B-List Defender, but even I have my limits. The premise of the character is that he lives in the far future where an apocalypse has occurred. Humanity has been all-but wiped out, and Earth is primarily occupied by intelligent, anthropomorphic animal-people. The world is filled with danger, and he has to survive in this hostile environment. He is often partnered with a dog-man named Dr. Canus. Essentially, it’s like Planet of the Apes, but Charlton Heston is a teenager and the apes aren’t just apes.
To honor the 100th birthday of one of the most important and influential comic book artists to have ever lived, DC Comics has put out the Kamandi Challenge. For those who don’t know the details, this is a 12-part series wherein each issue is put together by a different creative team. Every book has a cliffhanger ending, and the next team has to pick up where the previous writer left off and resolve the cliffhanger. The first issue has a microcosm of this idea, as it is a story in two parts crafted by two different creative teams. The first part is Didio, Giffen, and Koblish, and the second part is Abnett and Eaglesham.
How does it hold together? Let’s find out.
The tale opens with a young man living in a suburban home waking up to be informed by his grandmother that he is late for school. He runs out the door and across town to try to catch the bus, passing townsfolk like Mr. Kirby, a delightful homage to the King himself. He’s stopped by a police officer before jaywalking, when the sky literally begins falling. From the hole in the blue come warriors in odd garb armed with high-tech weaponry. The townsfolk around the boy suddenly reveal their own laser weaponry and try to fight off the invaders.
The boy is ambushed by one of the warriors, revealed to be some sort of rat-man. Mr. Kirby subdues the creature and tells the boy to run home. Mr. Kirby is also revealed to be some sort of robot. The boy makes it home with the world burning around him. His grandmother brings the boy into the house and sends him through some sort of portal, promising it will take him to safety, explain to him what is going on, and help him find his parents. His grandma then reveals to be a robot herself and detonates to cover the boy’s escape.
The portal shows the boy visions of animal-people and tells him a myriad of things like “Find your parents,” “God Watchers”, “Save the World,” and “Remember Command D.” The boy is muttering “Remember Command D” when he is awoken by a tiger-man, and the creature dubs him “Kamandi” as a result. The creature then grabs Kamandi and tosses him in a slave carriage. He’s taken to an arena, where he is put face-to-face with a massive gorilla monster. This is where the first story ends.
The second begins with the crowd of tiger-people cheering on the violence and Kamandi being grabbed by the monster. He escapes being consumed by gouging out a pair of its eyes (it has four eyes, two in each socket, oddly). Kamandi discovers the walls of the arena are electrified, and he lures the creature into punching the wall. It gets shocked and falls. Kamandi is restrained once again and taken to the tiger prince.
The tiger prince, Tuftan, is talking to Dr. Canus, whom cannot explain how and why Kamandi is so smart and can speak. Dr. Canus is left to study Kamandi, and the last boy manages to convince the dog-doctor to listen to him. He explains the events which led him here, as much as he can remember them, and Dr. Canus begins taking Kamandi around their city.
Kamandi recognizes a symbol on one of the buildings, but Canus won’t allow him to get near the structure. Eventually, the king of the city, Caesar, arrives in a tank with a retinue of leopard and elephant slaves. He is also hauling a massive nuclear bomb. Recognizing it as an atomic bomb, Kamandi panics and runs into the aforementioned forbidden building. Inside are a myriad of weaponry created by humanity. He is attacked by flying jackdaw warriors, and he manages to hold them off until Canus comes to the rescue. Kamandi is then taken back to where the city is assembled around Caesar. The king promises to activate the device so they can “hear the gods speak.” A display on the bomb says that it will detonate in five minutes, and the comic ends.
This was a great book. The pacing was fast, the action was exciting, and it aptly established how this world functions without being bogged down with dull exposition. Also, the five-dollar price tag actually gets you significantly more story in this issue, which is very important (I’m looking at you, Marvel).
The Tarzan-Meets-Planet of the Apes vibe of the setting and story is a lot of fun. It’s pulpy-sci-fi awesome, and that is right up my alley. I also adored the inclusion of Jack Kirby as a character, and that he turned out to be a robotic badass.
Giffen was the perfect artist with whom to start off this story. I learned back in the New 52’s Omac (another Kirby original), that his art is an astounding recreation of the King’s style. I loved it. Eaglesham’s artwork follows it up with more of a conventional comic book styling, and it looks really good too. The design of Tuftan and Caesar’s armor looks really cool, and I loved the hulking gorilla-monster.
The way in which the whole comic manages to hold together despite the two creative teams bodes well for the rest of the series. It didn’t feel like two tales stapled together. It felt like a single, coherent story.
The storytelling style as well as the dialogue does harken back to comics of old. There’s a lot of one-liners, characters behave in larger-than-life manners, and there’s a lot of people speaking their thoughts out loud. I liked that a lot too, as Kirby pioneered this sort of style. It manages to avoid the pitfall of being overly-expository and bogging down the pace. This is a common flaw in older comics, and I’m glad they avoided it in their attempts to go retro.
Also (spoiler), the symbol on the building full of human weapons is the Brother Eye symbol of Omac. I’m really excited to see how that comes back. Omac is another character who originally lived in the future, so maybe the One Man Army Core will show up in this? I hope so. We’ll have to wait and see.
We aren’t cued in too much to Kamandi’s personality yet. He seems a bit cocky, but, beyond that, we don’t get to see too much of what he is like. That seems to be a consequence of the constantly-moving tale, but the pacing is so good that this detail isn’t really too much of a problem in this comic.
The dynamic of the tigers viewing humanity as inferiors while simultaneously worshipping their weapons like holy artifacts is an interesting irony. As a sci-fi fan, that detail really stuck out for me, and I dug it.
This was a great start to this ambitious foray on DC’s part. I liked it a lot, and I look forward to seeing where it goes. Check it out, especially if you want some old sci-fi action and a throwback to the comics of yore.
Final Score: 8/10