Bizarro Back Issues: Kamandi Fights For The Mob! (1979)
This week sees the start of DC Comics’ big The Multiversity event series, and if the related books on sale over at ComiXology — ostensibly to get everyone up to speed — are anything to go by, then that thing’s going to be chock full of weirdos. Seriously, I already knew they were going to be throwing Captain Carrot in there, and for some reason people can’t get enough of that one story where Batman becomes a Dracula, but there are some deep cuts in there, like that one Chuck Dixon comic where the Justice League are all cowboys, and this weird thing from the ’90s called Kingdom Come, where Superman fights Cable.
And then there’s Kamandi.
But should Kamandi start crossing over into the main DC Universe, it won’t be the first time. For that, you have to go back to Bob Haney and Jim Aparo’s Brave and the Bold #157, for a story where Kamandi was sent back in time, and ended up being brainwashed, made invulnerable, poisoned with snake venom, joining up with the mob and punching Batman in the face. It… It’s a weird one.
If you’re not familair with Kamandi, the Last Boy On Earth, you really should be. It’s one of Jack Kirby’s most astonishingly underused concepts, the product of a mind that saw Planet of the Apes and thought “A postapocalyptic future where humans are treated like animals and gorillas are in charge of a new society? Why stop there?” Our hero is Kamandi, whose long blonde hair and jorts mark him as The Last Boy On Earth, navigating a world torn apart by the Great Disaster, where animals of all kinds have evolved to take over the ruined landscape that was once civilization. He travels around with Dr. Canus — a talking dog — and defends the Candy Kingdom from — wait, no, that’s the other guy with the hair, jorts and talking dog. Kamandi just generally makes a nuisance of himself. A future nuisance!
Sharp-eyed readers may remember that this actually isn’t the first time that Batman and Kamandi have teamed up. That actually happened about three years earlier in BATB #120, another truly bizarre Haney/Aparo joint that saw Batman taking command of a platoon of gorillas by karate-chopping their previous leader, and if you’re curious, you can read about it here. If I had to guess, I’d say that it’s likely that story that inspired Kamandi’s many appearances on the Brave and the Bold TV show. This one, on the other hand…
We start off with your standard-issue criminal enterprise, at least for Gotham City. The bad guys in this case are an organization called Extortion, Inc., one of those charmingly blunt names that Haney was fond of giving to crooks, and you can probably guess what their racket is. Batman, of course, does not approve:
Scenes like that are exactly why I love Haney and Aparo’s Batman. Just dropping in upside down on a helicopter and shouting things like “YOU’VE BEEN WATCHING TOO MUCH TELEVISION, CREEP!” at criminals before punching them in the face. It’s delightful.
After dealing with the immediate threat, Batman starts concocting a plan to deal with Extortion, Inc. that involves procuring a diamond and setting up an exchange where he’ll act as a double for a rich Gothamite in order to lure the gang’s chief enforcer — cleverly named “Enforcer” — out into the open. I mention all this because it takes six pages. That’s a huge chunk of a superhero comic. This whole thing is only 17 pages in total, and for the first third of it, Haney sets it up as a weird little crime procedural starring Batman.0
But then: SWERVE!
Not only is Extotion, Inc.’s Enforcer revealed to be Kamandi, but he’s Kamandi with a lot of weird stuff going on. He talks like a caveman, he has no memory of meeting Batman, and perhaps most importantly, he can shrug off a blast from a shotgun at point blank range, which is pretty weird since the Kamandi we know and love has no super-powers to speak of. Unless you count jorts as a super-power, in which case, thanks for reading, WWE Creative Team.
You might be tempted to think that this is going to end up being some weird time-crossed double situation where it’s not really Kamandi, but Batman confirms that it’s the genuine article…
…and things only get weirder when they have another scuffle, where he slightly brushes his foot against a pillar and reveals that he has a weak point not unlike the bosses in House of the Dead:
A couple things about this scene:
1) Giving his villain a literal Achilles’ Heel is a move so cheap that even I, Bob Haney’s biggest fan, can’t defend it. It’s a rough one.
2) I think we can all agree that Batman should use the word “holler” way more than he does in the current continuity, even if “like a gored bull” is perhaps way too super gross to be in regular rotation as an idiom.
3) At this point in the story, Batman already knows that Kamandi has been blasted with a shotgun, but seems surprised that he is able to shrug off Batman’s punches. From this, we can infer that, canonically speaking, Batman’s punches are stronger than a shotgun. It’s science!
None of that addresses the question of just what the heck is going on with Kamandi, so, with the aid of a local pickpocket, Batman plants a bug on the Enforcer so that he can tail him back to Extortion, Inc.’s corporate headquarters, where the boss — the hilariously named Mr. T, no relation — just happens to be recapping the entire sordid story for the benefit of his henchmen:
Oh, well, that explains everything. Except for the part where Kamandi is super-strong and invulnerable, and how he got to the 20th century, and how “Doc” Graves was able to cut through his invulnerable skin to implant the “gizmo” filled with cobra venom, and why he chose to put it in his heel, and why Kamandi lost all his intelligence. But other than that, this mystery is just about in the bag!
Batman also learns that Kamandi has slowly been losing his super-powers and regaining his intelligence, so Mr. T has plans to do away with him, and those plans do not sit well with one Caped Crusader. Thus, Batman busts in, pastes everybody right in the mouth, and finally talks to Kamandi about what happened, and how it ties into Kamandi’s vacation in Australia:
You know, I was joking earlier, but I’m actually even more confused now than I was when we started.
Either way, Batman flies Kamandi back to Australia, pops him back in the time portal, and everything is set right once again. That’s a lot to cram into 17 pages, but if nothing else, I think we can all agree that there is no superhero story that could not be improved by someone saying “…except where the Extortion Mob put that cobra venom in your heel… which I’ll take care of now!” There is no scene that won’t be better with that in it. Just try.