Panda Khan Special #1, August 1990, Abacus Press
writer: Monica Sharp
artist: Dave Garcia
Blogger's note: Entry for Saturday, February 2, 2008.
Like the stars of Friday's Mighty Mutanimals, Panda Khan is a character I've known only as an action figure for well over fifteen years. Since his armor is similar to Usaki Yojimbo's, I assumed that the characters were somewhat related, if not cosmetically, than perhaps conceptually. "Rabbit samurais look cool, so what other animals can we dress up? Hey, aren't pandas from China anyway?" Of course, now I know that, like Yojimbo, Panda Khan already had quite the established identity in his own independently published miniseries, The Chronicles of Panda Khan. From what I've been able to find on-line, this issue, Panda Khan Special #1, is the character's third and final appearance. Honestly, after reading it, I can understand why Khan has more staying power as a toy.
Dave Garcia's work boasts a lot of heart, but Panda Khan Special #1 also touts its own veritable vocabulary, one that requires more patience and investment than I'm willing to give any single issue. A front cover synopsis attempts to provide some definition and clarification, but my feable mind was quickly lost after the third reading of such sentences like, "As the years passed, Shibo continued his experiments while his nature grew more twisted, and the JIN1000 developed the personality of THE JINSHIN MUSHI, a legendary diety who taught the pandas their history and the worship of the SUPREME CREATOR, P'AN KU." Okay, maybe that sentence makes sense on its own, but imagine it wedged between similar statements, each introducing a different concept or character with peculiar pronunciations. Had I read the previous Panda Khan issues, perhaps I'd have an attachment to those pivotal plot points, but as a synopsis, it looks like Greek to me.
Still, mine is an opinion that shouldn't detract from the fact that Sharp and Garcia try to tell a very human story with their alien panda protagonists. At its basest level, the Panda Khan is essentially a tribal account of a benevolent leader going to great lengths to protect his people. Also, although their country inhabits an alien world, these talking pandas are not immune to mankind's greediness and are still on the run from poachers, which infuses the story with a smidgeon of political and environmental undertones. Still, when three of the youngest bears are cornered by the snarling hunters, a ninja star flies through the air and strikes one of them, and when Panda Khan appears to save the day, he . . . talks it out. Those fantastic elements summarized on the inside front cover somehow come into play, and for some reason, the humans cannot be mortally harmed. They are outnumbered, however, which is enough to assure an Ewok like celebration in the end.
Although I couldn't connect with this issue's story, I definitely enjoyed Dave Sim' art, which was expressive and effective considering his personified animal subjects. His ink stroke reminded me of John Byrne's for some reason; further, the series of supplemental Panda Khan pin-ups, including the likes of Sam Keith, Don Simpson, and Jim Valentino, was a welcome bonus.
Since I've begun this series of animal-oriented titles, I’ve acquired a few more, potentially obscure creature comic books that I’d love to review. Unfortunately, as I've mentioned before, February warrants attention in other areas, so we'll have to wait until perhaps the rabbit-centric Easter or turkey-lovin' Thanksgiving to see the likes of Varmints or Oink: Heaven's Butcher. It should be worth the wait.