Monday, December 30, 2013

365 Comics...363: Kamandi Archives Volume 2 (2007)

In recent months the DC Archives in all their trade-dress ugliness have been steeply discounted all over the place.  Most stores I'm seeing them at at least half off cover, if not even cheaper.  It would appear DC is liquidating their stock, and the fans are benefiting.  The average $49.99 cover price of one of these puppies (and in Canada over the years, because of exchange rate fluctuations, have run as high as $82.99 if not higher) is quite a put off for any but the most die hard comics reader and Golden/Silver Age enthusiast, but at $20 or $25 bucks it's suddenly easy access to classic material that most of us have never seen.  Of course, Kamandi, which started its run in 1972, to me is more of the front wave of Bronze Age-style storytelling, but you could argue it's a tail-end product of the Silver Age, a last-gasp of superscience weirdness and sci-fi genre storytelling as the superheroes started to dominate the industry.  Either way, it's a series I had little interest in until I read a random quarter-bin find earlier this year (see 365 #109) and I definitely wanted more.  A steeply discounted Archive Volume would definitely fit the bill.

The second Archive volume spans the second quarter of Kirby's run on the series, issues 11-20 (I realize now that there have been 2 later omnibus collections of 20 issues each, which are probably better purchases, grr...there are only 2 volumes of the Archives so I'll have to go the Omnibus way for issues 21-40
), and they're truly ridiculous in the most entertaining sense.  Kirby treats his futuristic vision quite seriously, but he's also not so deluded as to believe there's any real prognostication involved.  This is a Planet of the Apes pastiche, but in serialized comic book form.  Kirby uses the comic as an idea warehouse, a place to put all these futuristic thoughts and worries into one place, some stuff germinating out of periodicals of the day, and others just flights of whimsy in his mind.

Issue 16 reveals how the Tigers, Dogs and Apes became so smart, and it's a story that would fit in very nicely between Escape From Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (actually, it would be far better as a follow-up to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and it would be totally awesome if the sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes actually segued into a Kamandi motion picture...but Apes is a Fox property, not Warner Brothers as Kamandi is so I guess that's not happening), and the preceding story deals with the curiously lasting effects of Watergate.  It's actually a really fascinating issue, more for the idea of a society that worships prerecorded tapes as gospel and uses extensively bugging, wiretapping and sound as cultural objects and tools of order. Outside of Kirby's intriguing conceptual elements though, it's hard to see exactly what point Kirby is trying to get at regarding Watergate, if any at all.  It was obviously a very hot topic at the time of the story's creation, and Kirby ends it with Kamandi saying of the tapes "It doesn't mean much now", but still I'm wondering if Kirby was struggling with the idea of whether Watergate was more scandal or sideshow.

At the end of issue 17, and reprinted here, Kirby addresses the book's biggest question/complaint which is how certain animals evolved and other ones didn't (as I questioned why they were still riding horses in 365 #109 myself).  Turns out Kirby had his own sound reasoning, but also that some of it was just his storytelling preference, but it's still nice to have the letter to the readers included in the collection. It's one of the things that I wish the archive editions actually kept in, the letter columns, understanding the difficulty in retaining the advertisements as well.

What I liked about Kamandi was Kirby's structure for the comic, with each 20-page issue broken down into 4 chapters, and the opening page starting with a text drop, a title card and a splash panel, followed by a two page spread.  It gives the book a unique and noteable framework, which I'm sure helped Kirby a lot as he worked on multiple titles writing and penciling each month.

It should also be noted that the general structure of a Kamandi story finds the last boy on Earth encountering another race or society that deems him either primitive or an outsider, he then gets beat down and imprisoned, after which he escapes and is quickly captured, beaten and imprisoned again.  This can happen two or three more times before Kamandi escapes for good and winds up in another location where basically he's beaten, imprisoned and then escapes only to have it repeat on an endless cycle.  Oh the concussion symptoms this kid should be experiencing.

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