Spotlight Sunday 12.31.17

Sigh.

Okay, so now it’s a rule: one person, one vote.

I mean, I kind of wish that everyone had that much enthusiasm and would vote at least once – the Weigh In posts get a lot more views than actual votes, which is kind of odd, given that it is pretty easy to vote, and if you’re here anyway… – but I think voting once is the best way to go, and while I wasn’t bothered by it initially, I did put that constraint on the poll. If I actually wanted people to vote more than once, they’d be able to without having to take any extra steps.

It will be stated in every Weigh In going forward, and the book that got multiple votes from the same person this week is out of the running. (And anyway, it was just okay. I wouldn’t have had much to say about it. The “water torture” bit was pretty good. The art was okay. It was good enough that I’ll keep picking it up, but it wasn’t really anything special.)

That leaves us with a tie, and given that one of those books gets a Bonus entry anyway, that means that the last Spotlight Sunday of the year contains spoilers for…

Kamandi Challege #12
Writer: Gail Simone, Paul Levitz
Artist: Jill Thompson, Ryan Sook, José Luis García-López
Cover: Frank Miller
Variant Cover: Ryan Sook, José Luis García-López
Rated T
$4.99
DC

Back in the mid-eighties, when I got most of my comics from whatever random place I could – grocery stores and gas stations, mostly – in a scattershot fashion, I rarely had money for subscriptions, which, lacking an actual comic shop, was pretty much my only option for ensuring that I was able to get hold of any particular series on a consistent basis.

Even on those occasions when I did manage to pay for a subscription, whether I got every issue was hit-or-miss. Despite the near-zero population level of the area, I shared a name with someone else in the same rural mail route in which I lived. While I was Jon-Paul Maki and he was John Paul Maki, it was enough to frequently cause a mix-up at the post office, leading to him getting the comics intended for me. (I sometimes got mail intended for him, but it was never anything good.)

A few times, my mom put up enough of a stink on my behalf that I eventually got what was mine, but…well, to put it delicately, my similarly-named counterpart had developmental issues, and so, often, it just seemed easier, and kinder, I suppose, to let him keep them.

(It’s worth noting that we always made sure that he got his mail when it came to me, and I’d like to think that we would have done that even if it had ever been anything good.)

Anyway, the point is, back in the mid-eighties, DC advertised a new twelve-issue maxi-series called DC Challenge. I was intrigued, and given that it was only available via direct sales – meaning, it wouldn’t be sold at any of the places where I got my comics – and I happened to have some money, I opted to subscribe to it. (And I actually got all twelve issues delivered to me.)

It wasn’t…well, it wasn’t particularly memorable, at any rate, beyond the basic concept behind it, which was a “storytelling in the round” approach in which a different creative team produced each issue and ended it on a seemingly-unresolvable cliffhanger which the next month’s team would have to resolve (and then end with a cliffhanger for the next team).

The other thing that was memorable was that the creators were free to use any character that existed in the DC stable, which made for some deep cuts, which was kind of a “thing” that year – it was DC’s 50th anniversary – between Challenge, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the index of characters and concepts that was Who’s Who in the DC Universe.

(The other thing I remember is Albert Einstein making an appearance, a callback to his appearance in writer Elliot S! Maggin’s prose novel Superman: The Last Son of Krypton. Maggin wrote that issue of Challenge, of course.)

I bring up DC Challenge, of course, because The Kamandi Challenge is something of a spiritual successor, taking the same new creative team/cliffhanger ending approach.

The Kamandi Challenge was part of DC’s year-long celebration of what would have been the 100th birthday of Kamandi’s creator Jack “King” Kirby, and, as is only fitting, the King himself makes an appearance in the finale. Overall, I liked it a lot more than I did its predecessor, and issue #9 by Mister Miracle scribe Tom King and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle co-creator Kevin Eastman is one of the best single issues of a comic I’ve read all year.

The concluding chapter by Gail Simone starts off by completely ignoring the cliffhanger from the previous issue, focusing not on the Last Boy on Earth, and instead introducing us to the Last Girl on Earth, who was raised in a bunker called Command A, and took on the name Kamanda as she ventured out into the world that has risen in the wake of The Great Disaster, a world devoid of humans such as herself, populated instead by warring factions of anthropomorphic animals.

Kamanda stumbles upon something she thought she’d never see: a boy! Like her, this boy was raised in a bunker – Command D – and thought that he was the last of his kind.

As the boy and girl prepare to do what comes naturally, we learn that there is no Kamanda, and that this is just the idle imagination of Kamandi as he loses consciousness while plummeting to the Earth below after having destroyed the Tek-Moon of the evil Misfit.

Fortunately for Kamandi and his gorilla and orangutan companions, among the debris falling with them is a control gauntlet for a jetpack, and while it doesn’t have enough power for them to land safely, it does slow them sufficiently to allow the gorilla, Silverbeck, to protect Kamandi and Royer (the orangutan) from the impact of their landing with his own body, at the cost of  his life.

Upon landing, Kamandi and Royer are set upon by rats – like the ones Kamanda warned Kamandi about in his daydream – but after a brief tussle, the rats realize who Kamandi is and apologize for the misunderstanding. They explain that his coming has been prophesied, and that he is the hero who can lead the world out of hate.

The rats know a little something about that; they recall their treatment at the hands of humans before the Great Disaster. The rats had attempted to preserve what was left of humanity and use the humans as an army to defend them, breeding and experimenting on them, but in time, the Eye – which prophesied Kamandi’s arrival – showed them that they were wrong, and now they choose to try to create a world in which people help each other.

Meanwhile, though his plans were ruined, Misfit is not quite dead yet, and unleashes a giant robot to destroy all life on Earth.

Fortunately, with Kamandi in the lead, the rats are prepared, and so, after having told Kamandi about the way rats in captivity before the Great Disaster would sometimes form “rat kings” and that humans would cause this for the sake of fun, and for the sake of hate, the rats all tie their tails together for the sake of life, and so we get this:

With the Terror-Naut defeated, thanks in part to the leadership of Kamandi, the rats use the Eye to bring Kamandi’s quest to an end. He had started his adventure seeking out his parents, and while he’d thought he’d found his mother in an earlier issue, she turned out to be a robot – which was, interestingly enough, very similar to a recent storyline on Adventure Time, a show that was inspired, in part, by Kamandi – but now, in the end, he meets his father: Jack Kirby.

That ends Gail’s contribution, but the story continues with an epilogue written by Paul Levitz, in which Kirby, who admits that he’s not exactly Kamandi’s father, proves to be the godlike being that he was in real life

“D’Jinn–Genie–Genius–What’s the difference? Thing is, I can make stuff up, and make it real.”

In the process of granting Kamandi three wishes, he reveals that the whole quest to find his parents was really just a means of unleashing Kamandi’s hidden power: the power to command.

Kamandi wishes to fix the whole world, bringing all of the warring tribes together, but despite his newfound power, he’s intimidated at the prospect of leading everyone, and so, we end on a pun, as Kirby reveals that Kamandi can use his third wish to restore everything, to reset it all. The power is in his name: Command+D.

For non-Mac users, Command+D was a keyboard shortcut for “Don’t Save,” which gets Kamandi, as Kirby puts it, “fresh copy,” and after the world resets we find young Cameron leaving his ordinary house in his ordinary, pre-Great Disaster world, walking to school and thinking about the strange dream he had, and as he walks past a zoo, we get the last word from Bobo, the Detective Chimp.

We also get a nice tribute to the late Len Wein by Paul Levitz, who filled in to write the epilogue that Wein was originally slated to provide. Had he lived long enough to complete it, Wein would have been the only contributor to The Kamandi Challenge who had also contributed to DC Challenge. (By filling in for his late friend, Levitz took on that distinction.)

As I said, I enjoyed this more than I recall enjoying its predecessor, but ultimately, while it was a lot of fun – and, again, #9 really stands out – this approach doesn’t really make for the most coherent story.

It’s clear that everyone had a lot of fun working on it, and it was a nice touch to have each issue include a note from the writer of the previous issue explaining how they would have resolved the cliffhanger they ended their issue with, and, of course, talking about how much Kirby and his creations meant to them.

Gail clearly had a lot of fun, and I liked some of the little touches she added, such as revealing that Kamanda’s real name was Dot. Kirby Dot. (I don’t recall offhand if the previous writer named the orangutan, but his name was a reference to Kirby’s frequent collaborator – as an inker – Mike Royer.) I also liked that the rats referred to Kamandi throughout as “Kingson,” and there were plenty of other “King” references throughout.

And, of course, the Eye, the artifact that the rats had, looked like Brother Eye, the satellite partner of another Kirby creation, OMAC, the “One-Man Army Corps,” who was eventually revealed to be Kamandi’s grandfather in the original comics (in these comics it was his grandmother, rather than his grandfather, who raised Kamandi in the bunker).

If the credits didn’t list her, I wouldn’t have guessed that Jill Thompson provided the art for the first five pages (the “Kamanda” sequence), as the style is so different than what I’m accustomed to. I can see her style when I look at the art more closely, but if I’d gone into it not knowing it was her, I might have guessed that it was done by Shawn McManus. This isn’t a complaint or criticism – it’s good work – but just an observation.

Ryan Sook provides the art for the remainder of Gail’s story, and I like his style a lot. It reminds me of a cleaner, somewhat more minimalist version of the work of the late Alfredo Alcala. This isn’t his first go-round with Kamandi; he provided the art for the Kamandi segment in DC’s Wednesday Comics several years back (And that also looked great).

The Epilogue is illustrated by José Luis García-López, and I don’t need to say anything more about it other than what I often say: José Luis García-López is a goddamn national treasure.

The Frank Miller cover is…well, it’s late-period Frank Miller. And it makes me sad.

It was a fitting tribute to the King, and the final issue of a twelve-month-long story, one which offers the promise of a reset, is a fitting choice for ending the year.

Recommended Reading:

KAMANDI BY JACK KIRBY OMNIBUS (March, 2018) – Kamandi-one of the few survivors of a Great Disaster that has destroyed civilization–must search for a safe haven in a world populated by bizarre mutated animals and other strange wonders! Considered one of Jack Kirby’s most creative works, KAMANDI features a band of anthropomorphic supporting characters who accompany Kamandi as he searches for answers and adventure across the wastelands of Earth.

THE KAMANDI CHALLENGE (April, 2018) – Born from the mind of Jack “King” Kirby, the post-apocalyptic Earth of Kamandi has been a fan favorite for decades. Prepare to take part in one of the greatest adventures from the infinite future of the DC Universe, and join the industry’s top creative teams in a round-robin, no-holds-barred storytelling extravaganza titled THE KAMANDI CHALLENGE!

WEDNESDAY COMICS – This oversized hardcover edition collects the entire critically acclaimed anthology series that reinvented the classic weekly newspaper comics section. It features 16-different stories starring the World’s Greatest Super Heroes including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash, as well as lesser known characters including Metamorpho and Metal Men written and Illustrated by the comic industry’s top talents including including Neil Gaiman (THE SANDMAN), Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo (JOKER), Dave Gibbons (WATCHMEN) Eduardo Risso (100 BULLETS), Joe Kubert (SGT. ROCK) and Paul Pope (BATMAN: YEAR ONE HUNDRED).

WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON – See Wonder Woman like you’ve never seen her before in WONDER WOMAN: THE TRUE AMAZON, an original graphic novel from Eisner Award-winning writer and artist Jill Thompson. Join Princess Diana in her early years, as she develops into the formidable hero we know and love.

Bonus:

“Children of the Gods” began with a scene showing how the story ends. In its conclusion in Wonder Woman #37, it…well, that scene doesn’t make an appearance. There’s a scene kind of like it, but Diana is saying something completely different in it.

In any case, while Wonder Woman fought Darkseid and Jason fought Grail last issue, Zeus showed up and decided it was time for an Old God to whip some New God ass. This was, of course, Darkseid’s plan all along, as he was just killing Zeus’s kids to get the god himself to show up so he could drain the power – and life – out of him and completely restore himself back to his former infernal glory. And that’s what happens, as Diana works to protect the innocent civilians caught in harm’s way during the battle, and Jason, who had a change of heart last issue, takes on Grail. With Zeus dead, Diana prepares to take on Darkseid alone, but doesn’t get the chance, as the rest of the League shows up and Darkseid and Grail decide to Boom Tube it on outta there.

But hey, at least Diana and her bro can try to take this opportunity to get a fresh start.

The framing of this issue involves Diana recounting the events to an unseen Steve Trevor, and she talks about how mad she is that the League showed up? She’s convinced that she could have taken Darkseid down herself, even after he’s fully recharged, and is mad that the Leauge’s arrival prevented that from happening. The charitable reading is that she believes that she could have eliminated him once and for all if the League hadn’t chased him away, but it comes across more like she feels like she has something to prove, and it’s just…off. Even being mad that she was deprived of the opportunity to avenge her father and her fallen half-brothers and half-sisters would have been a better motive than sheer cockiness.

Anyway, that’s done. We’ll see what happens next…but not in the Bonus section, as the end of a storyline means the end of its automatic inclusion here.

And so we end the final Spotlight Sunday of 2017, and look forward to new year of new comics and new opportunities to vote on them. Make it a resolution to only vote once (but please do vote), and even if you don’t manage to stick to it, I’ll stick to it for you.

Special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artworkmy Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one). And support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon!

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Jon Maki

Born and raised in the sparsely-populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Jon Maki developed an enduring love for comics at an early age.

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