4 out of 5
In my take on the first volume of Jack Katz’s The First Kingdom, I considered it, er, “shallow bullshit.” I’m not here to recant, but the second volume does tons more for the claims of this being an impactful read beyond it just being impressive and historically important. It’s still bullshit, but I think its quite dropped the shallow: Katz has gotten some of his more finicky impulses out of the way in setting up the circuitous lifecycles of his Kingdom inhabitants, and the major revelations of that book in regard to characters’ origins can now be leaned in to in a more fun and fantastic fashion. He’s also gotten much better at anatomy: we’ are still infinitely muscled, lithe freaks, but I at least start to see proper musculature and not just a cloudy mushy of lines, and there are even a sprinkling of different body types! But most important is the growth of Katz’s general storytelling: The Galaxy Hunters is told almost wholly through full-page spreads that are sort of onlooker-captures of a scene as opposed to attempts to mime more comic-booky action and flow. This is an ideal match for the way Katz narrates everything – it’s a storyteller, describing events, as opposed to the comic book mesh of words plus art – and frees Jack from having to work in more complex choreography and acting that just don’t vibe with his excessively detailed, weighty style. This gives us more variation in line weight – some looser, some refined – and composition, with some pages leaning in to the Druillet / Kirby fantasy and sci-fi; some leaning on traditionalism. Volume 1 was often hard to look at, as it was too busy, but volume 2 is veritable masterpiece after masterpiece.
The story is much the same as before: we’re programmed / doomed to repeat our patterns of self-destruction and rebirth. Here are some choice lines to give you a sense of scene-chewing flavor: “Let me now reveal to you the truth of your own past, a truth so overwhelming that it was taken out by overcoming an amnesia barrier;” “So with the intensity that makes up the passion for the fight for survival, regardless of the cause — be it revenge, proselytism, jealousy, fear of difference, the loss of power over the subjugated, the desire for freedom, or the love of different gods — the struggle ensues.” Y’uh huh. That’s still some awesome bullshit. But Jack is just riffing on it here, tacking on more and more layers to his onion, enlivening the story as we come jump between them a page at a time – that is, by sort of simplifying things down to these repetitions, characters have room to become a bit more than cardboard cutouts, and all of the various supporting events are spinning on their own without Jack having to forcibly kick them to keep them going. Keeping the bevy of characters and settings straight can be a chore (and I appreciate Titan adding an index of terms, but just scanning through it is to roll one’s eyes at how randomly constructed the madeup language is), but this is again where the narrative style – show a page, explain it to us – works for the story’s benefit, as it does most of the lifting for us to tell us where we are in the story.
The first volume of The First Kingdom took me a long time to get through; it wasn’t much fun. Volume 2 actually was fun, and I can’t deny I found myself slavering over these wonderfully re-presented, cleaned-up images in Titan Comics’ printing.