Monday, 18 February 2019

JACK KIRBY'S KAMANDI OMNIBUS...


Copyright DC COMICS

KIRBY's KAMANDI - just what do I make of it?  Of all Jack's DC work in the '70s, Kamandi is the only major one that I'd never read in its entirety - until now.  I remember buying issue #29 at the time (it's possible that I'd bought #1 prior to that, but I'm not absolutely sure), and I perhaps purchased a few other issues back in the '70s, but I was never a huge fan of the title for some reason.  Nowadays, I have the first 8 or 9 in the run, plus #29, but recently I took the plunge and acquired the OMNIBUS volume containing all 40 issues that Kirby worked on.

So, what's my verdict on the series?  It's okay.  There are some poignant moments, especially the fate of KLIK-KLAK, a giant insect, but surprisingly, considering it was JK's longest-lasting '70s mag at DC, it's probably his worst drawn of the period (his '80s SUPER-POWERS issues were worse).  Dodgy perspective abounds, and the art seems downright lazy in places - though this might be down to D. BRUCE BERRY's lacklustre inking rather than Jack's pencils.  The reproduction in the Omnibus isn't helped by 'black and white reconstruction' on some pages, and some of the lettering is blotchy, while other instances seem to have been completely re-lettered.  (Not having the original issues to compare to, I can't be 100% sure, but the quality of lettering is definitely inconsistent, even when credited to the same guy.)

However, it's good to have finally read all the Kirby issues (GERRY CONWAY wrote the last three stories, and JOE KUBERT drew the last seven covers), even if it did take me 45-odd years to finally get there.  I doubt I'll ever bother tracking down the other 19, non-Kirby issues - unless they're published in an inexpensive softcover edition.  I now have every published mag that Jack produced for DC in the '70s, either in original issues or Omnibus collections, but re-reading them makes a fella realise just how much Jack benefitted from collaborating with STAN LEE.

Look at that first paragraph on the back cover below.  "After shaking the very foundations of the DC Universe in the 1970s with his classic 'Fourth World' titles..." Well, DC are trying to sell the thing, so we can forgive them a spot of hyperbole, but though Jack's arrival at DC in the '70s might've rattled a couple of windows, his initial new series never really took off with most readers and were soon discontinued.  It was their failure, in fact, that made titles like Kamandi possible, as Jack had a contract to produce 15 pages a week, so DC had to keep him working. Which is not to say that Jack's DC work was bad when judged on its own terms - it wasn't - but it just wasn't a patch on what he'd done at Marvel.

I'm sure that others will disagree, but I've now read everything he produced for both companies, and I know which I prefer.  What about you?
   

21 comments:

Barry Pearl said...

Kid,

I was actually going to write a blog about my four major disappoints of the 1970s. And Kirby’s going to DC was one of them.

Simply, I thought he would change DC. He didn’t. They, to some extent, changed him. (well, they changed his faces in the Fourth World). The New Gods slowly became unreadable. Kirby grew up in the 1940s and was able to emulate the writing of his partner Joe Simon. This was a time when writers only had dialogue about the plot and the action, not about themselves or relationships. That changed with Lee and Kirby did not keep up. He could not emulate Lee’s characterization or humor.

The best work I think he did for comics at DC was the Losers, where he did not have to discuss relationships. He also did a great job for In The Days of the Mob. (Let me know if you want some scans!)

I had hoped Kirby would change DC, whose stories seemed more based for younger teen agers at the time. Superman rarely went on an adventure, he had puzzles to figure at home. I thought Kirby would change all that, but apparently, the Marvel readers did not, in great numbers, follow him to DC. And most of who did, did not stay.


Kid said...

It was like an alternate world in Britain in the '70s, Barry, because to us, it seemed that Kirby and Ditko were still at Marvel, due mainly to the reprints of their early work in the UK weeklies. Then there were the US Marvel mags that also reprinted their early work, so Kirby was still a presence at Marvel in America, but doubly so for we Brits.

I suspect that DC lured Kirby over believing that Marvel would suffer without him, but such was not the case - if anything, it was the very opposite, because, sad to say, Jack's art was looking a little tired and dated in his later Marvel mags, compared to Buscema and Colan, etc., and once Mike Royer took over the inking, Jack's art looked too cartroony. That wasn't Mike's fault because he was doing as he was asked - ink the work to reflect Kirby, unlike Colletta and Sinnott who enhanced Jack's strengths and diluted his weaknesses.

I've got the original Days of the Mob and Spirit World mags (plus their hardback reprints), but thanks for the offer of scans. I felt that the first batch of stories (in #1) looked better due to Colletta's inking than the strips inked by Royer for the unpublished #2, because Vince's inking gave Jack's pencils a more realistic and illustrative finish than Mike's did.

Had DC been wiser, they would have encouraged Jack to do comics the 'Marvel' way, but as that would've required Stan Lee (or a clone), I suppose that was never going to happen. I've got several of The Losers original mags, plus the Omnibus edition, but as interesting as they are, I think Jack's best DC mag was Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen. It just had something that the others lacked.

You're right in your last remark - a lot of readers who followed Jack over to DC soon came back to Marvel. In 1983, Never Say Never Again proved that a Bond movie needed more than Sean Connery to be successful; in the '70s, Jack's DC mags proved that they needed more than just Jack Kirby in order to sell.

Sad but true.

spirit of 64 said...

I enjoyed Kamandi. Not classic Kirby, but still Kirby. Some of the art was off though, especially the Klic-Klak issues, but the series provided one of my favourite Kirby covers, #23.
Kirby didn't fit in at DC. DC really didn't really want Kirby, Kirby's explosiveness was in total contrast to the DC style. A missed opportunity. DC only changed once the 'Marvel' writers went over...especially Englehart. I liked some of the DC books however: especially those by Kubert, Toth, Wrightson, Kaluta, Redondo, Robbins and of course anything by Adams. I loved the Kirby 52 pagers, with their reprints of Golden age Manhunter, Newsboy Legion, Boy Commandos and Sandman.

Kid said...

I loved the 52 pagers as well, S64, for the very same reason - the Golden Age reprints. The Newsboy Legion was my favourite. Also loved the Wein, Wrightson, Redondo Swamp Thing issues.

McSCOTTY said...

Kamandi was my favourite Kirby book at DC along with Jimmy Olsen and the Demon. As much as I wasn't a fan of New Gods my least favourite comic of Kirbys at DC was Justice Inc. I also like think his Eternals and Black Panther comics at Marvel on his return were really underrated. DC 52 and 100 pagers were always a big favourite of mine as well I especially enjoyed the Detective comics 100 pagers with Simonsons Manhunter strips .

Kid said...

I suspect that Justice Inc. was given to Kirby just so he could meet his page quota, PM, as the first ish was drawn by someone else. (Jack drew #s 2-4.) I've got all the original Detective Comics with Manhunter, but the first one was a regular-sized issue. Only seems like yesterday, but it was around 45 years ago - eeeek! Scary, ain't it?

Phil S said...

I liked Kamandi the best of Jack’s DC work. His lack of an editor to translate his words into English as She is Spoke really hurt though. New Gods was ok. Forever People was bad. Kamandi was a straight forward action book with occasional commentary on the world by coming across remnants of old humanity or using animals as stand ins for human society. New Gods has lots of heavy ideas rendered hard to read by Kirby prose. But in Kamandi when poor Flower died I was saddened. Jack just introduced her and bam! She’s gone.

Kid said...

I wasn't moved by Flower's death, PS, because she never really had enough character or personality to make me care about her. I thought Klik-Klak's death was sad though.

spirit of 64 said...

Kirby's dialogue was clunky, and, especially compared to the norm then, very hard to get through. Kirby was going for written impact, just as his art went for impact. Mike Royer, I recall, said that Jack was aiming for a slightly younger audience with his 70s work, but I don't really see anything in the dialogue that would appeal to a 12 year old; it certainly didn't appeal to a 12 year old me. However after Jack passed away I went through and re-read my Kirby collection, and found that, to my great surprise, I really enjoyed not only some of the 70s Marvel storylines and artwork, but the dialogue as well!!! Still hard to get through, but it came through with an almost biblical quality. I am sure that I am in the minority though......
ps just seen that Tomorrows is going to publish Kirby's Dingbats/ True Divorces/ Soul Love. Can't wait. Soul Love art was butchered by Colletta ( giving all the ladies bee sting lips) but also has really nice inks by DeZuniga, and True Divorces has astounding Kirby pencils.
pps Unlike you, I did not take to Colletta's work on Mob#1, and thought that Royer's inks on the unpublished #2 fabulous, and much better than the rest of his 70s DC Kirby work.
ppps glad to see that you are blogging again on a regular basis. Please keep on; your posts make for a really enjoyable end of the day!

Kid said...

I've found that it takes me a few pages (sometimes a few issues) to get into the 'rhythm' of Kirby's scripting, but even then it still tends to be a bit clunky and his characters don't talk naturally. I tried re-reading his Eternals Annual a couple or so years back, but had to do it in two instalments as it was a very dry read.

I'd heard about the TwoMorrows book and will probably buy it. I may be imagining this, but I seem to remember reading somewhere that Colletta was under instruction to soften the look of the characters, as Jack had put too much squiggly black areas (my description) into the faces. Anyway, it will be interesting to see.

More like a semi-regular basis I'm afraid, as some days I have a bit more time than others, but I'm certainly blogging more than I'd at first anticipated when I took on the (unpaid) care of an elderly relative. Thanks for the kind words, it's good to know my posts are appreciated.

Dave S said...

Kamandi was a title I always wanted to like much more than I actually did. Not sure if that makes sense, what I suppose I mean is that I loved the concept and was excited about reading it, but never really felt that it gelled properly. Like many others, I feel that Jack needed someone else to script his plots to give the characters and dialogue some zing.

Something I've occasionally pondered is what might have happened if Stan Lee had, for some reason, also gone to DC in the seventies. Imagine Jack cutting loose on the New Gods or Mister Miracle with Stan scripting them, we'd have been in for a treat (although Funky Flashman would probably never have seen the light of day!)

Kid said...

The couple or so issues of Kamandi I bought at the time, I probably just got them because they were Kirby comics, but I confess that most of his DC stuff never really took flight. There were good issues (as far as ideas and plots went), but the various series (with the possible exception of Jimmy Olsen, because it had a recognised major hero) just seemed to never quite make it. I think it was mainly Jack's scripting that let things down, but some of his ideas were way 'too out' - like the Black Racer for example (who apparently was never intended for New Gods originally, but was drafted in at the last moment).

I certainly think that had Stan scripted them, they'd have been an easier and far more entertaining read, but your diehard Jack fans and Stan haters won't agree with that assessment of course. DC should have kept Colletta on the inks, or had someone like Wally Wood ink the mags, because Jack's idiosyncratic musculature needed to be subdued, and his squiggly lines on everything diluted.

Kid said...

Meant to say that I enjoyed the Omnibus more than I expected, but the art was very weak in places, and it would've been better if the stories had been conveyed more in the dialogue than the captions.

Phil S said...

I’m deffo a Jack fan but not a Stan hater. Yes Stan didn’t write to stories but he wrote the dialogue and was a good editor. Just look at Jack’s Marvel “dialogue” compared to DC time. I loved Stan’s Thor stuff. And his writing of the Thing’s dialogue still hasn’t been matched.

Kid said...

I think Stan had more of a hand in the plots in the early days than later, PS, but his scripting was what made the Marvel stuff the classics that they were. You can see what Jack was aiming for in his DC stuff, but it often missed the bull in my opinion. Still, Jack's solo stuff was usually entertaining.

vwstieber said...

I personally love KAMANDI. It seems like an innocent cross between a Kid Gang (only one kid though, but he's an orphan!) and PLANET OF THE APES and it has a goofy, goofy charm contrasted with sporadic hopelessness at the inevitability of Kamandi's situation. There are some beautiful large two-page spreads! Yes, the perspective is dodgy at times, but this plucky little comic has a ton of heart! I especially like the issue where he competes for the late Superman's suit, which is quite poignant in its own right. Towards the end you could tell Kirby's heart wasn't really in it anymore, and Berry's inking did the art no favors. I have an original page from one those later issues and it looks like a children's coloring book. And you are missing nothing by not reading the non-Kirby issues.

Also, there is sort of a dry run of KAMANDI in the first issue of Harvey's ALARMING TALES: THE LAST ENEMY. The same issue has a story titled CADMUS PROJECT, which prefigures the Fourth World's DNA Project. If ever there was a Harvey comic to own, that's the one!

https://kirbymuseum.org/blogs/simonandkirby/archives/4414

Kid said...

You're right about D. Bruce Berry's art - I just can't understand why Mike Royer recommended him or why Jack accepted his inks. I'd have much preferred to see Vince Colletta ink the Berry issues. I have reprints of the two stories you refer to, and have mentioned them in a previous Kamandi (or Kirby) post, but they're pretty slight. However, they show that Jack was into recycling long before it became popular. Overall, I enjoyed the Kamandi tales, but to me they're merely a moderately entertaining read, and (Klik-Klak aside) lack the impact of his Marvel work. To each his own though.

vwstieber said...

From that time period, THE DEMON stands out as very strong work. Visually impactful, it works at being creepy and odd, while still very traditional in the mold of Universal Studios, Kirby's own BLACK MAGIC, and with some longer story arcs. While I cannot see Colletta doing justice to KAMANDI, I could see his inking changing the tone of DEMON in an interesting PRINCE VALIANT way (though Colletta never grasped blacks very well, IMHO, and DEMON requires some of those heavy lines and spotting).

OMAC improves with each reading...until the Dr. Scuba saga which seems to run out of steam in terms of storytelling (although there is some great artwork of the empty ocean floor).

I have the two-volume Kamandi reprint set and since I have read the stories many times, I now find myself flipping thorough them just to enjoy the double-page spreads, instead of reading a whole story.

Kid said...

I quite enjoyed the Demon, and I think Colletta would've been the ideal inker on it because of the atmosphere he gave the two-part Man from Transilvane Jimmy Olsen issues. With Omac, I again think another inker was needed as Jack's pencils by this time were too cartoony and needed to be inked in a more illustrative way. John Severin, Wally Wood, or Vince Colletta would've been the ideal chappies for the job in my humble opinion.

I like browsing through old JK comics, but I find it hard to look at the Hunger Dogs because, due to age and illness, Kirby had lost that old Jack Magic by then.

vwstieber said...

Wally Wood would have been fantastic for OMAC. SKY MASTERS was gorgeous and OMAC would have benefited from that same look. John Severin would have done justice to THE LOSERS.

I forgot about how good a job Colletta did on JO's Transilvane--I totally agree!

HUNGER DOGS is a glorious mess. The pencils for the original "draft" look better than the finished product, and by the time it was expanded, reshuffled and printed it had lost its magic for sure. CAPTAIN VICTORY is a similar animal, with the later issues really suffering, although the final 3-parter that links CV to the 4th World was an attempt to go out in style.

You know who else was a great Kirby inker? Barry Windsor-Smith (see CA's BICENTENNIAL BATTLES).

Kid said...

I love the Wood-inked issues of Challengers of the Unknown, so (as you say) it would've been great to see Omac look like that. Neither version of Hunger Dogs works for me, due to Jack's pencils being but a shadow of their former glory - such a shame. Yeah, I've got CABB, and Smith's inks look great.

Here's one to consider - John Severin inking Kirby's Thor.



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