Bizarro Back Issues: Survive the Fallout for Kamandi And The Mighty One! (1975)
Like pretty much everyone else who's really, really into the Fallout video games, I've been pretty solidly in the mood for some post-apocalyptic entertainment over the past week. It's a genre that has a plethora of options, but really, why even bother with anything else when Jack Kirby's Kamandi is just sitting right there on the bookshelf waiting to be read again?
And fortunately, it's got exactly the kind of post-apocalyptic story that I like, the kind where there's a remnant of the present that the people of the future don't quite understand because their society has become so far removed from what we would consider to be basic knowledge, where the ordinary things of our day become the mystical past of these post-apocalyptic survivors. And it's also a story where there's a giant catapult that shoots gorillas over a mountain. That's pretty rad, too.
I speak, of course, of "Mighty One," from 1975's Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth #29. If you're not familiar with Kamandi, well, I'd suggest that you track it down as soon as you can and give the entire series a read, but in the meantime, here's the high concept: After the Great Disaster shatters the world and animals rise up to take control (like Planet of the Apes, but with an entire zoo's worth of animals instead of just the gorillas), the last human emerges from a vault --- er, bunker, labeled COMMAND-D, and takes that as his own name. Then he and his jorts set out to have adventures across a world that looks a little something like this:
In case you're trying to figure out what the best thing on that map is, the answer is everything. Seriously, just when you think you've gotten to the peak with "MAD-HOLE," your eyes drift over to "Orangutan Surfing Civilization" and you realize that every other map in comics is basically garbage by comparison.
Anyway, one of the interesting things about this issue in particular is that it's one of the few pieces of the story that actually connects Kamandi to the rest of the DC Universe. So much of what Kirby did in the '70s felt so self-contained, whether it was something like OMAC or Devil Dinosaur, or even the Fourth World Saga, which involves Superman but doesn't really touch on the rest of the DC Universe until after it's all laid out in its own little sub-section of books. Here, though, we have a story that actually ties Kamandi back to the present-day DC Universe.
And it starts right there on page one
At this point in the series, Kamandi's traveling around with his pal Ben Boxer, a mutant with a nuclear heart, when they run across a gang of gorillas who worship the Mighty One, a legendary hero from before the Great Disaster. He performed amazing feats of strength and courage --- including literally stopping the Earth from splitting in half on that fateful day. No prizes for guessing who it is.
The gorillas have been waiting ever since for the Mighty One to return, and when Ben Boxer shows up in a red and blue suit with a weird symbol on his chest, they initially assume that it's him. All except Zuma, that is, who has designs on being declared the heir to the Mighty One himself:
Clearly, there's only one way to settle this, and it's with a series of trials that the gorillas use to test the faithful, attempting to duplicate his feats as they understand them. And that's the really great thing about this story. See, Golgan, Zuma and the rest of their people all know the basics about the legend of Superman, but the specifics didn't quite make it through the explosion.
The first trial, for instance, focuses on Superman's ability to leap a tall building in a single bound. Clearly, that's not something that anyone can do on their own, so instead they load up their competitors into a giant catapult and see who survives the experience.
"Up, up and away!" is a pretty nice touch.
Ben understandably opts out of that test, instead choosing to produce his bona fides by activating his Cyclotron Heart to change into his metal form, thus proving that, like the Mighty One of old, he too has a secret identity. It's a pretty good ruse, but it does make me feel like this whole being-shot-out-of-a-catapult thing could've been avoided if any of these gorillas had just thought to wear a pair of glasses.
The second task, however, is not quite so easy to get out of, and it's also the best example of how the gorillas don't really have the details of this whole Superman mythology down: They have to move a giant boulder called the "Daily Planet."
I love this. I love that the gorillas know about the Daily Planet, and they know that Superman was powerful enough to move actual planets, and those two facts just somehow combined to form a big ol' rock that they can try to move once per day.
Ben isn't quite as strong as Superman, but at Kamandi's urging --- and for somebody with his name on the cover in big letters, Kamandi sure does spend an awful lot of time in this issue being Ben Boxer's hype man --- he cheats a little, stomping the ground beneath the Daily Planet to unbalance it and sending it rolling away.
The third test, on the other hand, the gorillas got pretty dead on:
Despite outpacing the speeding bullets, Ben only survives the test thanks to his impenetrable steel skin, and is granted access to the vault that holds the Mighty One's last relics. Unfortunately, Zuma is enraged that an outsider is stealing their thunder, so he knocks Ben out with a single punch (a little easier than it sounds since Ben de-transformed after surviving the machine gun test) and barges in there to settle his score with Kamandi.
And that's when we find out what all this fuss is about: Superman's uniform:
That's another piece of the story that I love, since it calls back to the idea that, having been sewn together from Kryptonian thread, the costume is every bit as indestructible as the person who used to wear it, and therefore made it through the apocalypse unscathed.
Zuma wants to claim the super-suit for his own, but Kamandi, realizing its historical significance --- and that Superman himself will be coming back one day and probably won't look kindly on anyone who steals his cape --- steals it back and accidentally condemns Zuma to a quick and fiery death in the lava pits that surround the suit's resting place.
But rather than claim it, Kamandi and Ben Boxer decide to leave it where it is as a testament to the Mighty One --- and so that he can pick it up whenever he makes it back from wherever he's been for the past couple hundred years.
YOU THINK YOU KNOW THE MIGHTY ONE?