DC Shake-Up: The death of Flower in Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth
The Revival can have sweeping historical significance, and Obscurity can have an intriguing punch. However, Shake-Up has impact; it can, and did, jolt the adventurous expectations of even the most go-with-the-flow DC fan–especially during the 1970s. Sometimes change was good, but on occasion, even when forewarned, it was brutal, and often it occurred in the space of one issue with no warning at all.
I’ll be exploring the Shake-Ups at DC Comics a lot during the coming year–such as the switch in editor from Julius Schwartz to Archie Goodwin in Detective Comics, the change in title from Tomahawk to Son of Tomahawk, the replacement in creative team from writer Len Wein and artist Jim Aparo to writer Arnold Drake and artist Gerry Talaoc on The Phantom Stranger. If you were there, you remember the impact of these sudden shifts.
However, I’m not going to discuss the new direction of a particular title this time around; instead, I’ll touch on the jarringly brutal shake-up within one particular story–“Flower,” published in Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth #6 (June 1973).
Writer and illustrator Jack Kirby depicted a tragic twist when Flower, Kamandi’s new friend, was shot down by a pair of pumas trespassing on a wildlife sanctuary run by lions. Pumas with rifles? Lions as zookeepers? Humans as sheltered animals? Sound strange?
Kirby’s Kamandi took the premise of Planet of the Apes and raised it to a higher level–just Jeff Smith’s Bone and Frank Espinosa’s Rocketo would, too–albeit decades later.
In a not-so-distant future, an allegedly natural Great Disaster combined with the fall-out from a mutagenic chemical called Cortexin had changed the world. Animals spoke and acted like men. Humankind had been reduced to wild, roaming beasts. Kamandi, the young, last reasoning teen on Earth, is mankind’s last hope. However, survival is the real name of the game here. Lions and tigers and bears . . . as well as gorillas and pumas and giant rats and dolphins . . . all contend and/or befriend Kamandi in his wanderings.
There’s a mountain range of creative peaks in Kirby’s three-year run on the series, but no moment stunned the readers’ emotional sensibilities more than did the death of Flower (although the death of the dolphin Teela in Kamandi #22 comes pretty dang close). No protagonist in a comic book was expected to lose the girl this suddenly and violently.
Kirby took pity on Kamandi and his audience, though, by introducing Spirit, Flower’s sister, in Kamandi #12–but it was small consolation. To this day, whenever I re-read Kamandi #6 (as I have dozens of times), I always hope that somehow Flower survives even though I know the story’s outcome.
Jack Kirby’s Kamandi remains one of the great boys’ adventures of the 20th Century–and it’s my favorite comic book series of all time.