The First Kingdom vol. 4: Migration HC – Jack Katz

1 out of 5

Bear with me through a rather harsh analysis of something that took an undeniable amount of effort, and no small amount of artistic skill, to put together. …But this is an incredibly unsatisfying conclusion to an already tiresome story, and there are enough external problems to make the unenjoyable reading experience just a tad more noxious.

The First Kingdom has been a mess of overwritten, undercooked ideas since its start. The craft was impressive enough, at least, and the story seemed to find some focus, even stumbling in to a more vampy style of storytelling that achieved a good balance between its Big Ideas and verbal / visual braggadocio, but would eventually fall back in to bad habits anyway. The mess has been consistent, though. Writer / artist loves his thesaurus, and loves a compound, block-text sentence when a simple one with simple words would do just fine.

The insult to injury of this conclusion of Kingdom’s initial storyline is that it is completely bereft of payoffs. In part, this is inevitable: Katz’s fresco style of illustrated storytelling – not a comic, but static images with text – doesn’t work very well when you’re not the most eloquent writer, and so events to which we’ve been building (a showdown between Tundra and Vargran; the fate of Helleas Voran; if Aquare will stop being a smug jerk) “conclude” in ways which are either in complete conflict with the “if this happens you’ll die!” type prophecies Katz has been foisting upon his various main characters, or happen rather offhand, in the corner of another overly-detailed fresco. There is, perhaps, the argument that this is in line with the undercurrent theme of humanity and humans being nonsensical and, to a degree, pointless, but there’s not enough intelligent iront woven in to the text – at any point – to support that in my mind, and the deus ex machina crap that ends up overtaking the bulk of this volume tosses it aside anyway.

In short: “hi, I’m from outer space, where we’ve figured out the key to life is to let bygones be bygones.”

Now extend that “twist” across an exhaustive flashback-within-a-flashback-within-flashback structure, and essentially underline the fact that there are no real answers here, despite the highfalutin verbiage which winds around and around to try and suggest otherwise – every time Jack approaches an ending, he pulls back and tries again – and you have about 5/6ths of Migration figured out. In the last few pages, said space dude creates his perfect society of all white character by gaslighting them all in to joining his exploration crew. Not that there’ve been any characters except for white ones throughout this thing, but also, we’re all heterosexual, and the best thing to be is lithe and muscular, seeing as how a couple crew members are “rewarded” with handsome human bodies upon joining up.

I called the illustrations overly-detailed earlier; obviously, opinions on the art are subjective, but Katz’s visual interests are so limited, and his designs so repetitive, that all of the lavish page work ends up just looking the same, page after page after page. And his composition work is hinky: it’s too busy, stuffing bodies into proportions and contortions that don’t work, and don’t add anything to the illustrations except business. The work is, in other words, too much – just like the writing.

The final nails are the external factors: some of the art seems to be reproduced blurrily, and this book is loaded with typos. You can tell me that the typos were maintained in order to represent the book’s original state, which is fine, but that should absolutely be noted somewhere – and if it was, I couldn’t find it. On the other hand, supposing the typos would’ve been fixed if noticed… just means this thing wasn’t edited at all.

Volume 4 took me an incredible amount of time to read. I was interested to see what, if anything, we were building toward, but as soon as Jack let the ball drop and pulled back the curtain on his shoulder shrug “let’s all be friends” ending, any lingering curiosities I had died. Every page was a struggle, especially given how rambly Katz gets – even moreso than usual – in the last half or so.