The last boy on earth is one of the simpler concepts to come out of Jack Kirby. At least on the surface. World is in ruin, one human boy left alive just fighting to survive. He picks his name off the door of a bunker, then spells it wrong. Now you’re up to speed on the whole concept. LETS GO!
One of the prized jewels of newpaper comic strips for ages has been Prince Valiant. The way those stories are told seem absolutely perfect for this format. Give a narration and let the artwork take over. There’s something magical to be said whenever you can just look at a page or a panel and not need the words to let you know tne entire story. I don’t know any of Ryan Sook’s work before drawing Kamandi, but I know I haven’t seen very many comic book artists convey drama the way this guy does. Doesn’t hurt that he draws a killer walking tiger.
Dave Gibbons is a name I really know from Watchmen and Broken Sword, and as both of those he was an artist. Here he tells one of the best adventure stories in a while. It’s quite fantastic. In a world with walking tigers, rats, apes, and dogs it’s easy to stumble into a completely unbelievable story. Even as a fantasy comic where we’re suspending our disbelief it doesn’t take much to throw it off kilter. I mean. There are giant rats.
Why are there giant rats? Why do apes talk? Why are these tigers walking around? When did Kamandi and Prince Tuftan become friends? Where did Dr. Canus come from? Doesn’t matter. I’ve always said that if you have a strong enough story the periphery stuff doesn’t matter. These are just characters interacting, and it doesn’t matter that this one’s a tiger and that one is a dog. I do love how in this world of walking tigers, rats, lions, and apes that horses haven’t quite gotten up to speed. They still chill on four legs and are used for transportation.
This world of Kamandi is interestingly presented. It’s a sparse environment, the landscapes are plane, but Sook finds a way through immense details and great color work to keep it from boring you. Just the look and feel of the expansive skyline with the clouds flowing over a blimp that manages to have neat distinctive features while not tearing away from what your brain feels a blimp should be like.
I love how every logo for Kamandi is a different color. Each one stands out and looks distinctive. None more so that week four’s. It’s also the point where the story explodes. It’s obvious this store has a very very clear path. Dave Gibbons knows where the story is going and exactly how he’s getting there. He crafts Kamandi into an instantly likable character, and makes me route for him to get out of every situation he finds himself in. He adds a new character into the mythology (as far as I know. and I’m probably wrong on this.) and she fits right in as if she’s always been there. The addition of a female human speaking a different languages opens up the world in an almost unquantifiable way. Where did she come from? Is there a chance there are other humans around? Why does she kick so much butt? Who tailored that swank dress she’s rockin?
Not important. What is important is the ultra convenient plot device of throwing in walking lions where you didn’t expect them. So, you have two warring factions of animals. Tigers and Apes. The main conflict so far has centered around Kamandi, Canus, and Orora (the new girl) trying to save Prince Tuftan and his father Great Ceasar from the evil Apes. Thy have no real way to go into Ape camp and free ther friends so they need help. Where to turn? Lions. These guys have stayed out of the fray up until now.
What JERKS! When they hear that the tide has turned against their striped counterparts they agree to wage war. They were just sitting it out letting the tigers do all the work. No, let them keep the evil would be overlords at bay. We’ll just reap the rewards here, us with are fleet of hummers and giant turret guns. Regardless of their prior wimpery it was nice to see Sook bring an army of angry Lions in hummers through a ravaged Washington D.C.
There’s also something magical about last second victories coming from defeat. You knew Kamandi and crew were going to get to Tuftan in time, but seeing it happen is always good. Sook keeps the feeling of battle tight while still getting you the story of all major players. Kamandi and the lions, Prince Tuftan and his father, Baaku the evil Gorilla leader, and Dr. Canus. They all fit wonderfully into place during the climactic battle. Though it barely lasts for an issue it didn’t feel too long or either rushed.
In a true test of how well he’s developed a character, Dave Gibbons drives a dagger right through the heart. Traditionally, I have a hard time with characters dying in stories. It often feels like a cheap ploy to draw emotion out of you. Not serving a point, deaths come as just a reminder at how deadly the villain is, how precious life is, any number of things that normally don’t do anything but remove an extranious piece from the puzzle. I wasn’t sure how to take this story’s death. There are obviously aren’t time issues. Keeping Orora alive isn’t going to change future story arcs. So why did she have to die?
I’m not sure what category this falls in. I don’t feel annoyed by it. I like where it leaves us at the end. Is it a little cheap? It’s totally a cheap death. It served it’s point though. The last page is just damn cool. There really is no apter phrase. Kamandi standing all “Last Boy on Earth” style in front of a busted up Lincoln Memorial with the capitol building in the background is damn cool. And well worth a cheap death. Comics don’t really get much cooler than Dave Gibbons’ and Ryan Sook’s Kamandi series.