Shortly after the movie Planet of the Apes became a hit, DC editor Carmine Infantino asked artist/writer Jack Kirby to create a series with a similar premise, after failing to secure the rights to that series; Kamandi was the result. Kirby had never seen the film, but used the concept to revisit some old ideas of his own. Unlike most other comics Kirby created for DC, the title lasted for many years, though Kirby left before its conclusion.
In the original series, a mysterious incident known only as "The Great Disaster" caused the collapse of human civilization. A human boy survived with his grandfather in a bunker called "Command-D". When he dies, the young man named after the place sets outs to find more people. What he discovers is that most humans are now primitive and unable to speak, while some animals became humanoid in form and gained human-level intelligence (apparently from the effects of an experiment being carried out shortly before the Disaster). All races were now in a conflict to survive while scavenging among the ruins. Humans were treated as animals, and the animals developed their own civilizations that were suspiciously similar to ancient human ones; e.g., the tigers had a culture like the Roman Empire.
The main conflict was between the Tigers and the Apes. Kamandi tried to help the humans while avoiding the animal armies. He made friends with some of them, though, such as Doctor Canus, a science-minded hound. He also did find some humans who could speak, but they were actually genetically-engineered mutants.
During the miniseries Countdown to Final Crisis, a present-day version of Kamandi and his grandfather, after becoming involved with a sentient satellite he created and a trip to Apokolips are transported to an Alternate Universe where a plague from the future has re-created the setting of the original series.
Tropes involving Kamandi:
- After the End: Something really bad happened to wipe out human civilization.
- Alternate Company Equivalent: There are plenty of similarities between this series and the animated series Thundarr the Barbarian. (Note that Kirby worked on that show.)
- Alternate Universe: Kamandi's world was just one of many possible futures for the DC Universe (and is now a Parallel Earth). A time travel story had Kamandi begging Superman to prevent the Cataclysm, but Supes has enough experience with time travel to realize Kamandi isn't from his world's future, so there's nothing he can do.
- Some of the comics featuring Kamandi were explicitly out of continuity.
- Animal Is the New Man: A great disaster has killed off nearly all humans, with the few survivors lacking intelligence, and in the meantime, races of humanoid animals have risen up to take the humans' place on the food chain.
- Animal Stereotypes: The different animal races acted pretty stereotypically. Apes are cruel, big cats are imperious but noble, etc. Kamandi manages to deduce that one villain is a snake before seeing his unshrouded form.
- Apocalypse How: The Great Disaster was a mystery: The original series established that it had not been a nuclear war, but not what it actually was. Later Retcons did establish that it had indeed been a war, and most recently, a plague.
- Applied Phlebotinum: Cortexium, the drug that mutated the animals.
- But What About the Astronauts?: Actually, some astronauts did survive the Great Disaster, like Kamandi's buddy Ben Boxer. They wound up mutated so their "cyclo-hearts" would turn them into solid steel in response to radiation.
- Canon Welding: Kamandi is at the center of a rather intricate web of this. His apocalyptic future is the same as the one the Atomic Knights come from! His grandfather was actually Buddy Blank, the host for O.M.A.C.! In an alternate universe where the world wasn't destroyed he became Tommy Tomorrow! And he's also Jed Walker from Sandman! (No, not that one. Or that one).
- Cockroaches Will Rule the Earth: The comic takes place in an alternate future where humans are all but extinct and animals have become more anthropomorphic and sentient.
- Convection Schmonvection: At one point Ben carries Kamandi past some spewing lava. Ben is pretty invulnerable, but in real life Kamandi would have been roasted.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Possibly justified in that the animals may have been influenced by surviving records.
- Future Imperfect: The animals have no idea that humans have ever been anything but dumb animals, and tell stories of their ancient homeland of "Zuu". We also meet a pack of gorillas who consider the Watergate Tapes to be their holy text.
- Godiva Hair: Flower and Spirit both sport this look.
- Hulk Speak: This is about the best some humans can manage. Others can only grunt.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Kamandi gets into a lot of gun battles. Fortunately the animals all tend to be pretty lousy shots.
- Last of His Kind: There are humans who've lost their intelligence (though as noted some are still capable of Hulk Speak), and some mutants (like Ben Boxer, Misfit, and the human gophers), but Kamandi is the last human being as we know humanity.
- Line-of-Sight Name: Kamandi's name comes from "Command D", the bunker he lived in before venturing into the surface world.
- Made of Iron: Kamandi's mutant friends, Ben Boxer, Steve, and Renzi, who can turn their bodies into living steel, like the later Colossus of the X-Men.
- Monstrous Germs: Morticoccus, who seems both self-aware and malevolent.
- Monumental Damage: The cover for issue #1, as shown above.
- Multiple-Choice Past: Exactly who Kamandi is supposed to have been is a mystery in itself. Kirby hinted that Kamandi was the grown-up version of the boy who starred in his version of The Sandman; later this was changed to making him O.M.A.C.'s grandson. And later still, he was made to be an Alternate Universe version of DC's Space Policeman, Tommy Tomorrow.
- Panthera Awesome: Tuftan, Prince of Tigers, one of Kamandi's few animals friends.
- Replacement Goldfish: Kamandi loses Flower, a girl he travels with who shows signs of regaining original human intelligence. Later he meets her identical sister.
- Science Fantasy
- Shiny New Australia: According to a map appearing in one issue, Australia was ruled by the "Kanga Rat Murder Society".
- Shout-Out: In one issue Kamandi becomes entranced by some old comics he finds. The character on the cover is clearly Jack Kirby's character Etrigan.
- Talking Animal: Variation: Some of the animals can talk, but humans can't.
- Tap on the Head: Kamandi gets knocked out more than once, but always springs right back into action.
- Title Drop: Kamandi apparently is the last boy on Earth- who can speak, that is.
- Whole Plot Reference: One issue is a retelling of King Kong, with Kamandi replacing Fay Wray. It's explicitly lampshaded at the end, with Kamandi saying something along the lines of "Even the ancients' movies could never have come up with something as incredible as this!"