REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS KAMANDI
Wave 14 of Mattel's superb line of DC Universe Classics action figures is a Walmart exclusive, and features a rather interesting lineup of characters. One of them in particular is proof that Mattel is not afraid to step outside the mainstream DC Universe of Superman and his (dare I say it) super friends in order to bring in some interesting individuals that, were it not for this line, probably would never have been turned into action figures. That particular character goes by the name of KAMANDI!
There does seem to be an intent on Mattel's part to bring some non-mainstream characters into the DC Universe Classics line. We've also seen a figure of the classic OMAC, we know that Jonah Hex is forthcoming, and there's been a vague rumor of Blackhawk. Personally, I'd love to see Sgt. Rock turn up at some point.
Kamandi has had some connection with the mainstream DC Universe, even though he's not an easy fit. I'll get into that as I get into the background of the character. Let's consider that now.
Kamandi was created by the legendary Jack Kirby, and the bulk of his appearances occurred in the comic series "Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth", which ran from 1972 to 1978.
Kamandi is a young hero in a post-apocalyptic future. After a massive event called "The Great Disaster", humans have been reduced to savagery in a world ruled by intelligent, highly evolved animals.
How did someone like Kamandi come about in a comics world largely dedicated to super-heroes? DC's editor at the time, Carmine Infantino, has tried to acquire the license to produce Planet of the Apes comic books. When that failed to happen, with the license ultimately going to Marvel, Infantino asked Jack Kirby to come up with a series with a similar concept.
Although Kirby had not seen the Apes movies he knew the rough outline and he had also created a very similar story, "The Last Enemy", in Harvey Comics' "Alarming Tales" that predated the original Planet of the Apes novels. He also had an unused comic story he created in 1956, called "Kamandi of the Caves". So Kirby brought all those elements together to create the Kamandi that we know. Although his initial plan was to not work on the comic books themselves, the cancellation of "Forever People" freed him up to do so.
The Kamandi series was launched in late 1972, written and drawn by Jack Kirby through its 37th issue, in January 1978. Kirby also drew #38-40, although they were scripted by Gerry Conway. Kirby subsequently left DC, but the series continued, with a variety of artists and writers. Kamandi was one of the victims of the "DC Implosion" of 1978, despite respectable sales figures. The final published issue was #59, in 1978. Two additional issues, completed but not released, were included in "Cancelled Comics Cavalcade" #1 and #2.
As for Kamandi's possible connection to the mainstream DC Universe, during Kirby's run on the book, it was indicated in the letter column that the series was connected to another Kirby-created series, OMAC, which was set some time prior to the Great Disaster. However, the only explicit connection to the DC Universe occurs in issue #29, where Kamandi discovers a group of young apes who worship Superman's costume, and who speak of legends of Superman trying and failing to stop the Great Disaster. The story leaves it ambiguous whether the legends are true, although Kamandi believes Superman was real, and whether the costume is indeed Superman's.
Various non-Kirby stories tie the character more directly to the DC Universe. In "Brave and the Bold" #120, Kamandi meets a time-traveling Batman. In "Superman" #295, it is established that the costume seen in the earlier Kamandi story is indeed Superman's, and that Kamandi's future Earth is an alternate future for Earth-One, distinct from that of the 30th century Legion of Super-Heroes. Issues #49-50 of Kamandi establish that Kamandi's grandfather was the elderly Buddy Blank, hero of the OMAC series.
Kamandi also turned up during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, but in the wake of the events of that story, the Great Disaster did not occur, and the boy who would have become Kamandi instead became Tommy Tomorrow, a different DC character entirely.
In the aftermath of the Infinite Crisis, a bunker called "Command D" has been built under the ruins of the city of Bludhaven.
During the "Countdown" limited series, Buddy Blank and his unnamed blond-haired grandson are introduced into the storyline. As of Countdown #6, the Great Disaster is in its early stages on one of the alternate Earths of the restored Multiverse. In this case, the Great Disaster is a virus. Buddy Blank is able to sequester himself and his grandson in a facility called "Command D", which has the defenses necessary to protect them from the virus. As they settle in, he hopes that his grandson can forgive him for making him "the last boy on Earth." Kamandi also appears during the Final Crisis storyline.
Kamandi's most recent appearance was in the Wednesday Comics series, with a story by Dave Gibbons and amazing art by Ryan Sook, in a twelve-page story in which Kamandi returns to New York and to the bunker where he was raised by his grandfather to honor his death, as he does every year at this time. Following an amazing adventure to be crammed into twelve pages, Kamandi learns of the possible existence of intelligent humans like himself, somewhere in the south of North America. This series doesn't appear to have any direct connection to events that tried to bring Kamandi into the mainstream DC Universe, and is an independent story, which might be just as well.
As to Kamandi's specific origin, as related in his own series, Kamandi is a teenage boy on a post-apocalyptic Earth, described as "Earth AD", which stands for "After Disaster", that has been ravaged by a mysterious calamity called the Great Disaster. The precise nature of the Disaster is never revealed in the original series, although it "had something to do with radiation", although Kirby repeatedly asserted that it was not a nuclear war. The Disaster wiped out human civilization and a substantial portion of the human population. A few isolated pockets of humanity survived in underground bunkers, while others quickly reverted to pre-technological savagery.
Shortly before the Great Disaster, a scientist developed a drug called Cortexin, which stimulated the reasoning abilities of animals. During the Great disaster, the scientist, Dr. Michael Grant, released the experimental animals affected by the drug, and dumped the Cortexin itself into a stream created by a broken water main. In the ensuing days, animals escaping from the nearby National Zoo drank from that stream and were affected by the drug.
By Kamandi's time, an unspecified time after the Great Disaster, the affects of Cortexin and the radiation unleashed by the Disaster had caused a variety of mammals, including gorillas, tigers, lions, cheetahs, leopards -- all descendants of the zoo animals -- rats, dogs, wolves and kangaroos to become bipedal, humanoid, and sentient, possessing the power of speech. Others, including dolphins, killer whales, and snakes, developed sentience, but retained more or less their original size and form. The newly intelligent animal species, equipped with weapons and technology salvaged from the ruins of human civilization, began to struggle for territory. Interestingly, horses were somehow unaffected, as they remain animals and serve as a means of transportation.
By this time, most surviving humans are bestial, with very limited reasoning ability, at best a rudimentary ability to speak, and are treated as labor or pets by the intelligent animals.
Kamandi is the last survivor of a human outpost in the "Command D" bunker of what was once New York City. Please note the similarity in pronunciation of "Kamandi" and "Command D". Raised by his elderly grandfather, Kamandi has extensive knowledge of the pre-Disaster world, thanks to a library of microfilm and old videos, but he has spent most of his time inside the bunker, and is unaware of the state of the world outside. When his grandfather is killed, Kamandi leaves the bunker in search of other human outposts.
He soon discovered that the only other intelligent humans left on Earth are Ben Boxer and two friends, a trio of mutants genetically engineered to survive the Great Disaster. He also makes a number of animal friends, including De. Canus, the canine scientist of Great Caesar, leader of the Tiger Empire, and Caesar's teenage son, Tuftan. Still, even the most sympathetic animals are nonplussed by Kamandi's and Ben's ability to speak. Ultimately, Kamandi and his friends set out to explore the world of Earth AD, in hopes of one day restoring humanity to sentience and civilization.
Kamandi's popularity has been sufficient so that he has had cameo appearances here and there ever since, as well as the Wednesday Comics storyline, and the 1998 Superboy series showed Superboy, essentially in the role of Kamandi, in a hidden land of intelligent animals identical to those from Kamandi's adventures.
So, how's the figure? As one would expect from this line, it's really superb.
One thing that I think may be a little up in the air is Kamandi's precise age. If it was ever stated in the original comic book, I don't know of it. He's described as a "teenage boy", but that covers a fair range, during which the average person undergoes quite a bit of growth. Jack Kirby's distinctive but admittedly somewhat quirky art style is of little help here. When George Perez drew Kamandi in Crisis on Infinite Earths, he seemed to be in his mid-teens, but a few images gave him a younger looking face.
Ryan Sook's take on Kamandi, in Wednesday Comics, which has been likened, not inaccurately, to Hal Foster's style of storytelling on "Prince Valiant", definitely skews Kamandi as somewhat younger, especially in his facial structure (he even has freckles in a few shots), but also with somewhat less muscle definition than either Perez or Kirby.
I'd have to say that the figure skews slightly older than Sook's Kamandi, and is arguably closer to the Perez incarnation. Jack Kirby's art style would be very difficult to translate into the basic look of the DC Universe Classics line, despite no shortage of Kirby-developed characters already in the line, including OMAC and most of the New Gods. There's not a lot of Kirby in this Kamandi figure, and with all due respect to "The King", that may be just as well. DC Universe Classics seems to be most interested in creating the most straightforward, compatible, and realistic versions of DC Universe characters they can, which I believe is as it should be. If you're looking for figures with a certain artist's style, there's always DC Direct for that, including some Kirby-inspired New Gods.
Kamandi's face is youngish, but doesn't look like a child. He has a rather stern expression on his face, rather thick eyebrows, and even a couple of creases on his forehead. It's all that time outdoors with no sunscreen, no doubt. Kamandi has long, blonde hair, and this has been scupted as an entirely separate piece, attached to the head during assembly. It gives Kamandi a fairly thick mane of hair, and it's very nicely sculpted and highly detailed, but it's also entirely flexible, and doesn't at all affect the head movement. This is something I wish I could say about a few other "wigged" figures in the line, especially certain female figures, particularly Mary Marvel, whose head is pretty well frozen in a partial turn because of her hair.
As a teenager, Kamandi is obviously shorter than the average DC Universe Classics figure. Most DCUC figures are about 6-1/2" in height, on average. Kamandi is about 6-1/8", and uses a basic body structure which was first seen on the Superboy figure in Wave 13. It's a new size, thus far only used on these two figures, and is slightly taller than the previous "young hero" set of molds, which resulted in figures that were more around 5-3/4" in height, and were used for a couple of Robins, as well as Kid Flash and Beast Boy.
This does, unfortunately, create a slight inconsistency, since Kamandi is probably about the same age as some of these shorter figures. It might have been more appropriate to make Kamandi in the shorter format, but it's also possible that that format has been retired. A lot of fans thought the Kid Flash figure was too small -- a debatable point depending at what point in his career that Kid Flash figure was supposed to represent.
Nevertheless, Kamandi is definitely shorter than the average adult figure in the line, as he should be, and that eighth of an inch over the six inches could probably be attributed to his hair.
Kamandi doesn't have much of a costume. He's not from the world of super-heroes. The Last Boy on Earth appears to be wearing the Last Pair of Jeans on Earth, and as it is, they're cutoffs. Kamandi is wearing these rather ragged-legged shorts, that have been painted a very effective denim blue, and given a bit of dry-brush detailing to make them look that much more like jeans. Normally I don't approve of this sort of detailing, since more often than not it's used for "weathering" or "battle damage" that I could do well without, but in this case, Kamandi's shorts would not have looked quite right without this additional detailing. And with it -- well, I'm surprised there isn't a "Levi's" sticker on the back or something. They look that effective.
Kamandi is wearing boots, as well, that are a little less easily identified than the shorts. They're very dark brown in color, come up to not quite his calves, have very thick soles, and lack any sort of significant detail, except seams on one side, and zippers on the outsides. These boots are perhaps the most Kirby-esque part of the figure. One has to believe that Jack Kirby figured that having a kid running around the ruins of civilization barefoot was not in the least a good idea, so he gave Kamandi a pair of boots, but probably didn't see any great need to overly detail them, any more than one would most super-hero boots. They look a little odd, since the shorts and boots are about all Kamandi is wearing, but they do make practical sense. And who knows what footwear manufacturers were up to just prior to the Great Disaster? These things might have been fashionable.
Credit to the Four Horsemen sculptors, they took a pair of nondescript boots and made them about as distinctive as they could without overstepping the bounds of what the figure needed to look like. It would not have been appropriate to put laces on these, or make them look like some sort of military combat boots. Then again, given the detail on the rest of the figure, clearly they wanted to do something other than just plain boots. The soles are distinctly sculpted, and have a raised heel. There is a sculpted seam on one side, and aforementioned zippers on the outside of each boots, and the zippers have been painted silver. They also have a rather squared-off front, which is an interesting nod to Kirby's art style.
Kamandi is also wearing a belt around his waist, which looks like a fairly standard leather-like belt, with a silver buckle. Attached to this belt is a series of small pouches, featuring a level of detail work that the Four Horsemen probably haven't had to go into since the last time they sculpted a utility belt for Batman. There's also a holster on the right side, and I'll get into that in a couple of paragraphs. The belt and the pouches are superbly done.
Since this is pretty much the extent of Kamandi's wardrobe, the rest of him is a fairly muscular if slightly lean-looking teen body, and it wouldn't surprise me to see a number of the pieces used on this figure used on future teen heroes. They'll have to sculpt a new upper torso, though, since the shirtless Kamandi does have certain details normally covered by superhero spandex, and they'll need to redo the legs for anyone else, too, since most super-heroes don't wear denim shorts.
The body is as well-designed as the full-size adult bodies for this line, of course, and does a good job, in its own way, of maintaining the consistent look of the figures that has carried throughout this line to date. This includes the articulation -- something that unfortunately is about to go a completely needless revision in Wave 16. Fortunately, Kamandi is not thusly affected, and is very nicely articulated at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, and ankles. About the only unusual attribute is that the shoulder articulation joints are slightly recessed from the shoulder, rather than being flush with the arms, as has been the case with the adults. It's not a big deal, but I do wonder how and why it happened.
Kamandi does have accessories. Lacking any super-powers of his own, and faced with a decidedly dangerous world, the kid is packing some serious hardware. I've seen G.I. Joes that don't come with this sort of artillery. I'm almost surprised that there hasn't been a bit of a ruckus made about giving a teenage character this sort of firepower, but the DC Universe Classics line is directed towards adult collectors these days. Kamandi comes with a fairly standard looking rifle and pistol, and a third gun that has a more futuristic look to it. All are molded in a metallic gunmetal gray color, with silver painted details. The more conventional pistol can be fit into Kamandi's belt holster.
So, what's my final word here? Okay, I haven't been the biggest Kamandi fan in the world. But I am certainly aware of the character, and I very much enjoyed Ryan Sook's tale in the pages of Wednesday Comics. I'm not sure what Kamandi's present status is within the pages of the mainstream DC Universe (I'm not sure anyone knows, really), but I am very pleased that he has made his way into the DC Universe Classics line, and Mattel and the Four Horsemen have really turned out a superb figure of him.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of KAMANDI - THE LAST BOY ON EARTH definitely has my highest recommendation!