Bizarro Back Issues: Batman’s Post-Apocalyptic Team-Up With Kamandi
This week, DC is releasing a hardcover omnibus of Jack Kirby's Kamandi, and it's something I'm really looking forward to. As much as I love Kirby's work, especially during the his time at DC when was creating Sandman, The Demon, and the Fourth World saga, Kamandi's always been one of those books that I just haven't had the chance to sit down and read.
That's not to say that I'm completely unfamiliar with the character, though. It's just that instead of Kirby's work on the solo title, I'm mostly just familiar with that time that he teamed up with Batman to fight laser-wielding gorillas on horseback at Mount Rushmore.
That might require a bit of explanation.
For those of you who don't know, Kamandi is, as it says on the cover The Last Boy On Earth. He lives in a far future world where the apocalyptic Great Disaster -- a convenient bit of DC continuity that would later be used to explain how the 30th Century's Legion of Super-Heroes didn't have the records to know when they should pop back to the present and help Superman drop an elbow on Lex Luthor or whatever -- has caused widespread devastation. There are, of course, the standard elements of post-apocalyptic adventure stories, like lost technology, ruined landmarks, and dudes running around in jorts, but the signature element that Kirby brought to the table came in the form of animal people.
Presumably mutated by... well, whatever kind of bomb makes gorilla-people and tiger-men instead of just blowing things up, which was a very real doomsday scenario in the DC Universe, the animal people had forged a new society and hunted mankind almost to extinction. If this all sounds slightly familiar to you, it's probably because DC editor Carmine Infantino wanted to do a series like Planet of the Apes, and asked Kirby -- who had only heard the plot of the movie without actually seeing it -- if he could whip something up along those lines.
Thus: Kamandi, so called because he was raised by his grandfather among the ruins of the past in a bunker labeled "COMMAND D." His grandfather who was also OMAC. And who, in an alternate timeline, prevented the Great Disaster, which allowed Kamandi to instead become Tommy Tomorrow. Comics, everybody!
So there's your background information, and to be honest, it's way more than you'll learn from reading 1975's The Brave and the Bold #120, by two of my all-time favorite creators, Bob Haney and Jim Aparo. What you will learn, however, is that Kamandi is awesome, Batman is awesome, and Haney and Aparo are the most awesome of all. And this is how they start:
I'm not even sure where to begin with the sheer number of amazing things on this page, but let's just start with the fact that Batman is now leading a team of gorillas on horses who want to enslave Kamandi and send him to the Great Lakes. There's also the caption, in which Haney drops "astounding," "trailblazing" and "sensational" in a description of his own story, and then in the very next sentence tells readers that, you know what, it's actually not any of those things.
Clearly, these are guys who are going to do their level best to out-Kirby Kirby.
It's important to note that Batman's current status as the leader of a gang of evil gorillas isn't explained at all for the entire first act of the book. This is just how it is now. He ends up chasing Kamandi into the foothills, where Kamandi decides to try out a few fancy fighting techniques:
"HE KNOWS THE SAME WAY OF FIGHTING?!" is the most hilariously awkward way to convey that thought. I think I might love it even more than "He says you're just a nutso robot!"
Really though, what did Kamandi think was going to happen? I mean, learning martial arts from a book? I can think of one dude who definitely would not appreciate that.
You're never going to learn to beat Cobra Kai that way, Kamandi. And in your case, they are actual cobras.
Anyway, after taking the time to smack Kamandi around a little for trying to step to him with inferior styles -- which, to be fair, is an involuntary reflex at this point -- Batman pulls out a rope and, instead of tying him up and hauling him back to the gorillas, uses it to give Kamandi the opportunity to escape. It's important to note that despite the fact that they're completely alone for this entire exchange, Batman never says a single word to Kamandi.
It is even more important to note that after being close enough to get karated, Kamandi still thinks that Batman is an actual bat. Now, admittedly, this is actually pretty likely in Kamandi's world, so on one level it makes sense. On another level, however, we have the fact that Batman doesn't actually look anything like a bat. That's one of the reasons that they have a character named Man-Bat, who has actual bat ears and not just pointy blue devil horns on top of his head. Seriously, there have been some major changes in the World That's Coming, but there are very few animals running around in bright blue capes wearing pictures of what they used to look like on their chest.
Nevertheless, it convinces Kamandi, and he runs off, only to find himself being chased by the same person bat that just let him go. He rides hell-bent for leather -- or in his case, denim -- until he runs across a gang of bears who are making the sacrifice of a pick-a-nick basket to the giant stone heads of Mount Rushmore. Clearly, they have been evolved to become smarter than the average.
That's right, everybody: When given a scene of a shirtless man in cutoff jeans coming across a group of bears, I went with the Hanna-Barbera reference. Here at ComicsAlliance, we keep it classy.
Something that might jump out at you in the above panels -- what with the fact that it's in boldface type being shouted by a bear-man -- is the idea of The Death Belt. Sadly, this is not a reference to fashion accessory that murders its owners by squeezing them like an anaconda, but if you want to take that idea and run with it, the world has proven time and time again that it can never have too many low budget horror movies. Instead, the Death Belt is a glowing pink band of energy surrounding Mount Rushmore that annihilates everyone who goes through it. Or at least, that's what they say.
Not only is there never any evidence of this being the case, it's actually the exact opposite. The bears get freaked out when the giant stone heads start singing the national anthem -- and let's be honest here, you would too -- and Kamandi just strolls right on through the Death Belt.
As you may be expecting by this point, this is also never explained. A few pages later, Kamandi remarks that it must have been because "perhaps I am immune to its power. Descendants of survivors are like that." In other words, it's just how he rolls, deal with it.
Batman, meanwhile, takes the far more classy route of going over the barrier with a rope lassoed around George Washington's chin, which is weird because I don't remember the Father of Our Country bearing quite such a striking resemblance to Bruce Campbell and/or Sgt. Slaughter. Shows what I know, I guess.
On the other side of the barrier, Kamandi discovers that the "Gods" that Yogi and Boo Boo were so eager to please with their offering are actually just a bunch of human survivors, holed up in the caves inside Abraham Lincoln's forehead. Their leader, the elder Manton, explains that they've been using a tape recorder to fool the bears into thinking that the stone is alive, and mocks them pretty sternly for their silly superstitious nature.
And then he reveals that he brought Batman to the future using ancient Native American magic. You know. As one does in this sort of situation.
So finally, 12 pages into a 23-page story, we learn just what the hell is going on here. As it turns out, Batman was kicking it back in Gotham City circa 1975, doing some justice at a couple of jive turkeys and hanging out with Commissioner Gordon, when he suddenly collapsed and went into a coma. While he was being rushed to a hospital, his spirit was pulled from his body and brought to the Kamandi's time, where he once again became flesh.
Just so we're clear here, this means that even Batman's disembodied soul has a utility belt. That's canon, y'all.
Batman pokes around a little bit and, being the World's Greatest Detective, determines that he's in a post-apocalyptic world where human beings are kept as slaves by mutated animals. It's actually not as impressive a deduction as it sounds, since the last part is confirmed pretty handily when a group of mutated animals -- in this case, the gorillas -- show up and start asking if he's human because if so, they intend to take him into slavery.
We now come to what is unquestionably one of the all-time greatest moments in Batman history. Faced with a world he knows nothing about and one of the strangest threats he has ever faced in his entire career, Batman decides that the best possible course of action is to beat the living sh** out of a gorilla and take over its gang of flunkies.
Two things here: First, if you do not agree that Batman taking leadership of a post-apocalyptic gorilla gang with a combination of karate and yelling is at least as inspiring as anything that happened in The Dark Knight Returns, you and I will never understand each other. Second, read everything Batman says in this page, particularly the last panel, in Christian Bale's Batman voice. Trust me on this one.
Now that we're all up to speed, Manton tells Batman that they brought him to the future so that he could lead them out of Mount Rushmore to somewhere that weathered the apocalypse a little better. Batman agrees after Kamandi -- no joke -- pulls an "I bet you could if you were REALLY awesome" on him, and they're off with a plan that's not quite as good as dropping karate blows on gorilla necks, which is not a metaphor no matter how much it sounds like it should be.
Step one involves Batman pretending to be God. Or at least, a god, the chief of the spirits that the bears think inhabit the stone heads. He issues a command that more or less amounts to "hey, thou shalt look over there for a second," and the Rushmoreans make a break for it. Unfortunately, there's a screw-up in the bunch that almost gets them killed, but Batman and Kamandi do a good enough job that the others are able to escape on a train.
Where did the train come from? I have no idea. But at this point, why wouldn't there be a train involved?
So everything works out more or less okay for Manton and the folks, except that, you know, they've lived their entire lives in shelter and are now in a hellish wasteland dominated by people who want to murder and eat them, but whatever. What matters is that Batman, who if you'll remember is a disembodied spirit given physical form by magic, totally offers to take Kamandi AND ONLY KAMANDI back to 1975 with him.
On the one hand, I get why Haney and Aparo chose to go that route. After all, having Batman just go "well, have fun in the apocalypse, losers" wouldn't exactly be very heroic. But on the other hand, it's not like Batman drove there in a car; he time traveled with ancient sorcery. What the hell was he going to do if Kamandi said yes? The obvious answer is, of course, he's Batman and he'll do whatever he damn well wants, but still. That dude was writing a magical time travel check that he definitely could not cash.
But Kamandi declines, which is handy since Manton only has enough magic dust to send one person back to the '70s, the rest of it having long since been used up by George Lucas so that he could finally get it right this time. And so, Batman returns to the past, looks wistfully out of a window, and muses over the grim future that awaits humanity, hoping that if he can somehow punch just enough clowns, we might be able to avoid it after all.
It makes for a nice panel, but the actual moral of the story hits a lot earlier. It's easy to accept that Manton would be able to decipher the symbols of the magic spell he found on the walls of the caves in Mount Rushmore, but how did they know to get Batman in the first place? After all, the entire deal with the Great Disaster is that it destroyed most of the historical records of the present, and it's not like gorilla men are sitting around telling each other about that time a rich guy's pest control problem got so out of hand that it broke a window and he had to become a vigilante over it.
So how'd they know? Because of this:
That's right, everybody. You might have your video games and fancy iPad downloads now, but when the Apocalypse comes around the only thing that's going to make it through is good old fashioned DC Comics. Specifically the ones by Bob Haney and Jim Aparo.
And if that's the only lasting remnant of our civilization, I'm actually pretty okay with that.