I originally wrote this review for the In the Mouth of Dorkness back in 2014. I thought I’d revisit it, as I’m finally reading Volume 2.
Admittedly, I’ve never been ‘in the know’ about comics. I tried them briefly as a wee lad, but didn’t stick with them. I finally returned to the medium in my late 20s with Hellboy, Tom Strong, and Metabarons. However, many of my friends were and are comic readers, so I’ve been aware of various books and events in the industry, even if only in passing. What little interest I’ve had tended toward independent, sci-fi/adventure comics. Yet somehow, I’d never heard of Jack Katz and his The First Kingdom. Having been a contemporary of several famous names, including Alex Raymond, Jack Kirby, and Stan Lee, I feel like I should have been more aware of the man and his work. Anyway, now I am and I’m glad of it.
The First Kingdom is not a perfect book, nor is it going to appeal to the average, contemporary comic reader. There is an old style, similar to that of classic newspaper strips like Flash Gordon or Terry and the Pirates, with a bit of 60s Marvel thrown in. Sometimes the captions go on and on, and sometimes the word choices are peculiar to say the least (and I’m fairly certain, not always correct). But this all lends it a strange quality that works here more than it does in something like early issues of The Fantastic Four or Challengers of the Unknown. The writing style, along with the story itself help to give the whole thing a feeling of a grand myth cycle, like something out of ancient Greece or Scandinavia, or out of Tolkien’s Silmarillion (except this is readable) or The Bible. You could also argue that Katz’s art has a tendency toward repetitiveness. It is true, that many of his people look essentially the same, and on occasion I’ve had difficulty keeping one separate from another (especially his females). And panels and pages often feature lots and lots of characters simply standing around, talking. However, when the action does break out, when he does exercise his creativity, it can be gorgeous. His environments and creatures are top notch. For those who are upset by the human body, you should know that the book features a good deal of nudity.
The story is wonderfully grand and operatic. Long after Earth was burned up in a nuclear war, humanity’s descendants are on their way up again. Strange gods meddle with their affairs, while a young man breaks with tradition and sets off on a quest to give his people a new and permanent home, but he is destined to meet a violent end. Epic quests, sinister villains, dangerous monsters, and fickle fate. The stuff of mythology. Odd bits of science fiction mix with copious amounts of fantasy, making me again think of the old Flash Gordon strips, as well as the works of people like Edgar Rice Burroughs. So, while I don’t know that the general reader would appreciate this work, fans of Golden Age science fiction, of grand myth-cycles, of pulp adventure stories, or of movie serials might really like it.
I, for one, am excited to find out what happens next in this giant, seven volume imaginary history. Many forces are coming together into what should prove to be a dramatic conflict.