2 out of 5
If this is your first exposure to The First Kingdom, it may rate higher. Jack Katz’s layered and layered and layered worlds of scientists and warriors and magics and revolutions is intriguing – it certainly is suggestive of bigger, greater things – and the man’s artistry – here combining, with ever greater intensity, things like Hal Foster and Steranko and Druillet for insanely detailed, weighty panels – is undeniable, but if you’re reading along from start to finish, the collected issues 13 through 18 are mostly a slog of the creators’ already indulged indulgences, indulged, like, fiftyfold.
I phrased the “bigger, greater things” as “suggestive” above, because after the initial revelation in The First Kingdom that the race of humans we’re following are just another cycle of a loop of societal creation and destruction, Jack has just been iterating on that. The second book got into a fun kick on that washing machine setup, establishing a few different branches of characters / generations within the loop and following them around, Katz relaxing his overwrought and crowded paneling into larger splash pages, which is more fitting for his static visual storytelling style.
But volume 3, ‘Vengenace,’ returns not only to the more cluttered visual style of the first book, but it begins to extend all of its delaying tactics to a point of annoyance, and trebles down on the cyclical concept. Flashbacks within flashbacks of races that came before; origins are taken up to a certain point and then tossed aside with magical starting points, as transparent placeholders for something Jack will want to come back to and explain that the starting point was actually some other race, told via a forced method – an oracle; someone just having a sudden memory of the events – and interrupting, perpetually, Tundran’s march back to overtake his father’s kingdom, or Aquare’s decision as to whether or not to reveal the past he knows (of these looped faux origins) to his leader. While Katz has become better at aligning his images with his words, the return to cramped paneling and exposition highlights how repetitive his visual tropes are, and the structure of the pictures themselves. In short: the art becomes boring to look at, which isn’t a boon to a story that is desperate to get in its own way. The final issue in the collection starts to open up once again (full page illos) as things get moving – Tundran arrives back at Moorengan – but again, supposing you’re reading from start to finish, there’s way too much of a trudge to get through in the prior five issues to make that particularly worth it.
As a side note, one of the things that was quaint at first but is starting to bother me is the disconnect between the ‘secret of the universe’ style revelations Jack is hoping for and his particular visual obsessions with lithe, muscled men and always naked, perky-breasted women. That is: I can appreciate (on some levels…) the history Jack is mapping out, but there’s no sense to how it’s applied to these visuals, that both the most primitive and most advanced races just love prancing around naked, and that spaceships of all different eras and from different regions of space are bedecked in the same type of gizmos. You can tell me that this is underlying the repetitive nature of everything, but I don’t buy it – it just seems more like that’s all Jack wants to draw, and, unfortunately, it’s part of why the pages become rather boring: there’s nothing to differentiate race A from generation X from race B and generation Y; they are all the same: there is, ironically, no sense of history. It’s kind of like – or exactly like – listening to someone blabber out their insane conspiracy theory, and then you ask one clarifying question (e.g. why are all the women blond, naked, and look like 18 year olds?), and instead of getting an answer or even a pause for though, said conspiracy theorist just spouts off another edition of their theory. At which point I tune out.