This week saw the release of DC’s latest animated film Justice Society: World War II. Any new DC animated film should be celebrated (you hear that, Marvel?!), but this film had me especially excited for a few months now. No, not because I was specifically looking forward to a JSA film itself. Don’t get me wrong, the film is great! The big draw for me was the special animated short included with the film, Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth!
That’s right! Comic book fans finally got a glimpse of what could be the beginning of an animated Kamandi revival. Don’t worry, I don’t want to spoil the short for anyone. This is a spoiler free zone! However, the bottom line is this: Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth! is 18-minutes of pure Jack Kirby eye candy.
Kamandi’s Comic History
Kamandi began life at DC Comics in 1972. Created by Jack Kirby, Kamandi ran for 59 issues until 1978 (though without Kirby for the last nineteen issues). There’s no denying the indelible impact Jack Kirby had on the comic book medium during his storied career. After all, Jack Kirby helped create some of the most memorable characters in the genre. Kamandi has always been a favorite of mine.
This isn’t the first time Kamandi has appeared in animation. Originally optioned for a cartoon in the 1970s, the idea was dropped and abandoned. Kirby did move on to do character designs for Steve Gerber’s Thundarr the Barbarian, a show that has an eerily similar premise to that of Kamandi. The titular character did appear in a 2009 episode of The Brave and the Bold, but fans of Kamandi have never really gotten the full animated experience for the last boy on Earth.
For those unfamiliar with Kamandi, the story follows the absolutely bonkers exploits of the last boy on Earth. Kamandi leaves a bunker that he and his grandfather occupied (named Command D) to explore a world ravaged by an unspecified disaster. As the first issue in 1972 declares, the post-apocalyptic world of Kamandi features “Beasts that act like men. Men that act like beasts!” Kamandi encounters mutated flora and fauna like rat-men, intelligent tigers, apes, and beasts of all varieties. He also encounters the savage humans that remain on Earth, along with the technological remnants of a past obsessed with progress.
That’s probably as static and bland of a description I can give Kamandi because the title is truly nuts. I wrote about the recent twelve-issue gonzo miniseries The Kamandi Challenge a few years ago. That series was bizarre because each issue was written by a different creative team, intentionally painting the next creative team in a corner by the end of the issue, challenging them to come up with a creative solution and to do the same to the following creative team. It was funny, zany, and most all, very Kamandi.
Kirby’s Kamandi Legacy
Kirby brought all of his bonkers ideas to the forefront with Kamandi. Every issue of Kirby’s Kamandi reads like four different comics crammed into a single issue. Untethered by having to be specifically tied to DC continuity and current storylines of the time, Kamandi gave Kirby the freedom to go absolutely nuts with any and every idea that came across his infinitely creative mind. Coupled with Kirby’s always amazing artwork and Mike Royer’s fantastic coloring, every issue of Kamandi crackles with energy that most comics are pressed to achieve in an entire series.
And all of the hallmarks of a great Kirby Kamandi story are present for the animated short. Several stories from the Kirby run are melded together to make the story of Kamandi: the Last Boy on Earth! The pace of the short never slows down. The artwork intentionally, and brilliantly, apes the style of Kirby. As with any Kamandi tale, it’s the energy, positivity, and wild eyed enthusiasm of the title character that makes this short a damn near perfect comic book adaptation. Fans new and old will walk away with the same reaction: wow!
The best review that I can give for this animated short comes from my six year old son, Lucas. Already an avowed Kirby fan because of our recent reading of Devil Dinosaur, Lucas and I sat down to watch Kamandi the evening of its release. He loved the short from beginning to end. As the credits rolled on, he sat next to me with the biggest smile on his face and whispered, “Let’s watch the next episode.” It was with great sadness that I had to explain that there wasn’t a next episode. Yet.
With any luck, this won’t be the last time we see Kamandi on screen. With a promise that we would start reading the Kirby Kamandi series together, I couldn’t help but admire the universal appeal of Kirby’s creations. The joy that Kirby has brought throughout the years cannot be measured, but I could see it so profoundly in my son’s eyes as we sat down for our second viewing.
Jack Kirby might be gone, but his magic remains. Kudos to DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation for rekindling the Kamandi flame. Don’t let it burn out.
Justice League: World War II is available now.