The world has been struck by a natural disaster. The earth is left in ruins, and the human population is dwindling. Pockets of people survived in underground bunkers, and Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth (!) is one of them. Jack Kirby’s story explores a post-apocalyptic world that isn’t exactly like the others.
Though Kamandi learned about the world before the Great Disaster through videos and microfilms, he has no idea what the current state of humanity is. He emerges from the bunker in search of fellow humans after his grandfather dies.
Kamandi is shocked by what he finds. The people he encounters have reverted to savage beings with pre-historic man behavior. They have lost intelligence and behave with aggression and fear. But that’s not enough. Life as we know it has ended, the human race is more or less screwed, but it gets worse. Anthropomorphic animals rule the roost.
Yes, warring factions of tigers, rats, and gorillas are tearing apart the land. They speak, they are bipedal, they don armor, and they see humans as beasts. They hunt us. Humans are pets or slaves, and animals use them for labor or entertainment. All of them are shocked when they encounter Kamandi. He can fight back, speak to them as equals, and use reason – so he must be destroyed or captured.
And he is captured. A lot.
I want to make fun of how often Kamandi ends up trapped by animals, but it’s a numbers game. There are hundreds of creatures ruling the land and very few intelligent humans. Plus, he’s just a naïve teenager. He eventually finds more survivors and teams up with a trio of humans who are genetically engineered (mutants I guess) to survive in this new Earth. They set out to explore and to figure out how to return humanity to sentience.
They encounter plenty of entertaining characters along the way. One of my favorites is Flower, she who possesses magical hair that never moves and always covers up just the right parts:
In his journeys, Kamandi also visits places such as Las Vegas. I love the layout of this panel; it shows the glory of the city and it isn’t a stretch to imagine it in dusty ruins.
Age and wear are visible through the pages. The world has been through a lot, and Kirby packs in enough surprises that you’re never sure about what you’ll see on the next page. His world builds upon itself and always reaches to be bigger and better. You always have something to marvel at – and you’d think you’d get tired of it or stop buying it, but you don’t. You just eagerly move forward.
I enjoy the world at large, but I get hung up on tiny details. For example, where is Kamandi finding enough water to keep himself so clean? Where is his stash of super shampoo? No one surviving in a post-apocalyptic setting should have hair that pretty! He also walks around shirtless and in shredded pants. Did they not take extra clothes to their bunker to save over the years? How has he never learned to craft new duds? Don’t paranoid people who live in bunkers teach themselves everything about survival?
Those tiny things don’t ruin the story – far from it – but they take some of the reality away from me. And I like reality in my fiction.