1 out of 5
In Jack Katz’s introduction for his fifth out of the six volumes of his Titan published The First Kingdom books, The Space Explorer’s Club, he refers to it as ‘the sixth… and last of the 26 books.’ The first four trades collect 6 issues apiece, and volumes 5 and 6 are individual stories, so, yes, that’s a way to count 26, but I’m not sure how to misconstrue the fifth volume as the sixth one, and even if we assume some kind of publishing hiccup (maybe the 6th was intended to be published earlier?), it’s great – said sarcastically – that Titan wouldn’t put some kind of note to that effect clarifying this quote, given that it’s the reader’s first potential impression of the quality to come.
But I suspect it wasn’t misconstrued, and was just misinformation from a cluttered mind, as Jack’s intro than wanders off into the same half-logical attempts at explaining his pitch of the world as caught in a never-ending loop of creation and destruction, which has always been a fine concept to hang a book on, until he prattles on endlessly about it – see the previous First Kingdom collections; see this intro – as though trying to explain it to himself, using some made up words, and half-understood scientific concepts.
You are correct: I have a low opinion of this series. But I think it’s worth noting that a lot of the praise for it tends to highlight the one-man effort of the project – Jack labored on it solo for years – and the admitted density of the artwork. The “scope” is often mentioned, but there aren’t many deep dives on that. My guess: not many people, Titan’s folk included, have read this stuff from end to end. The original books are a noteworthy part of comic history, and I enjoyed them up to a point when they achieved a kind of pulp giddiness, but things devolved pretty quickly thereafter into overwrought nonsense. By the fourth collection of issues, even the art had dropped off in to tedium.
There are two introductory appraisals included in this hardcover. Both were written before this book in particular was published, and are just talking about either the original First Kingdom, or Katz in general. The quotes on the cover can either be sourced to being about the first volume, or are too non-descript to say what they’re talking about. See where I’m going with this? Given the nigh-unreadable nature of Space Explorers’ content, I’m doubling down on that “not many people have read it” pitch.
I don’t necessarily want to turn this into a piece that just tears Katz down, but there must be a line drawn, somewhere, between praising someone for doing something, and being able to qualify that something as not good. The production of this stuff by any person is, indeed, admirable: you finished it. And though Katz’s art here seems rather unfinished, he’s learned a bit more about anatomy between his older comics and now, and certain panels (though very few) still have that whiz-bang-boom density of yore – there’s a draftsman here, for sure, just getting on in years and maybe not able to put as much time in to each and every panel. And I certainly can’t fault Titan for publishing it, as it’s only logical: you’re republishing the first four sets; it’s quite a claim to be able to put out the first new First Kingdom material in X years. But then there’s that line: when Katz turns in the “final” product, and it’s just not… very good.
The Space Explorers Club is the same goddamned story you may or may not have trudged through previously, except instead of at least giving us a character and some lore that’s been built up somewhat – Tundran; Helleas Voran – our “humans are forever corrupted by their need to be perfect!” premise is told by a boring-ass non-descript dude who lands in a spaceship, goes up to his friend, and just starts telling him his story: he traveled in time and saw the corruption of the universe from the start, or, no wait, that’s not it – before I did that, I had to travel to this other universe and see the corruption start there… or, no, no wait, before that, I had to travel to this other other universe… Sure, there’s some intrigue at the outset, but even a few pages deep, when Katz starts to contradict himself with the time travel (like, very clunkily – writing the story from the hip and not flipping back a page to check what he just wrote), it feels sloppy, and then a few pages more and we’re in to that never-ending loop of repetitious scenes and zero climactic moments that characterized the later issues of the original series.
Compounding the frustrating nature of this is how inept of a comic book artist Katz is. Page flow is… non-existent. The panel order makes no sense on any given page, and what’s worse, even when you can follow the wayward zigzag – the rules of which are inconsistent – the same layout doesn’t follow the same fucking order on the next page. But hey, guess what: since Katz’s sentences rarely actually connect to the previous one, it doesn’t really matter what direction you go on the page, as each way makes an equal lack of sense. Add to that a nice sprinkle of typos, and sudden thesaurus brain farts mixed with First Kingdom terms that arrive from exactly nowhere, and it can be quite a struggle making it through.
The art, as mentioned, is generally unimpressive. Furthering the sense that the book was written hastily, the quality of the illustrations – the line weight, the detailing – varies drastically across the book, and some pages do legitimately seem like thumbnail sketches. It’s not amateurish, but it in no way seems like finished art, and while there are, as mentioned, some weightier panels, it’s rare that Jack adds much depth via shading, giving the whole thing a flat look.
I… understand how we got here. And I understand why I bought this, snatching up all the First Kingdom books as they released, after reading about its legacy, and wanting to go through the whole series. But take away the one-man-project notoriety, and it’s really not a rewarding read, and by the time one gets to this fifth volume, it starts to come across as something intended almost solely for the creator’s benefit, exercising drawing skills and working out some obsessive thought patterns – it’s not a book that works, in nearly any way, for public consumption.