1 out of 5
…And it was all about magnets!
Not really. I wish it was. In his feverish, circular, half-finished sentences, Jack Katz, at one point, mentions “the lore of the composition of magnetism,” and I was briefly excited by the prospect of First Kingdom devolving into yahoo conspiracy theories in its final pages, but it was just another go-nowhere idea amidst the too-much text, something to break up the constant mention of Infinitiverses and rebuses.
This is, basically, a variation on volume 5, but set in modern day instead of some vague sci-fi near future, and told to us via, firstly, letters and and whatnot before falling back on the ol’ “let me tell you an incredibly windy and long-winded story” format of Space Explorers Club.
The setting is initially promising, because it seems to ground Katz’s look and feel for the series, as-is the setup: Adrian Adreal receives a mysterious package which promises (as all of First Kingdom does, and then never does) to tell him the secrets of the universe, if he can decode its secrets. The text is stuffed with Katz’s usual 50-words-for-one prose, but this is at least a focused beginning, and seems to promise some relative linearity, as Adrian sifts through a chronological story which will tell him how the package came into his hands, and something something universal secrets. The character’s obsession with this – skipping work, forgetting his family – is another more “intimate” addition to First Kingdom’s usual setups, which are more often Biblical style begets and exhaustive attempts at lore than making anyone stand out as a real human with emotions. The pencil work is also tons more consistent than Volume 5, with every page actually of the same line weight and style.
…But then it just breaks, in all the ways we’ve seen before. Others want to get their hands on this secret package, and Adrian has to flee from location to location to escape them, while being caught up on the story through further explorations into the package’s contents, and via tales told from others. The problem is that the criss-crossing timelines all blur together, in part because that “consistent” art is, again, as we’ve seen, poorly suited to comics – no panel flow; a character will look drastically different in panel A versus panel B; no separation between dialogue and narration – and also because the “story” just goes goddamned nowhere. When there’s the 500th promise of telling us the universe’s secrets (which always essentially boil down to humans being “programmed” to destroy themselves, and if we could only get along aw shucks we’d be happy) and 501st mention of decoding the rebus of the package, Katz gets tired of trying to put it into words he’s looked up in the thesaurus and so switches to mystical stuff – portentous dreams! – and then tries again, 500+ times more.
This is the the shortest volume, but it took me the longest to read. It has that initial promise going for it – though it’s still bound to Katz’s exhaustive writing style – and relatively “cleaner” art – strictly from a top-down view, Katz can undeniably still draw – but it quickly turns into an especially cluttered version of the same problems that’ve previously plagued the strip, just compressing it to fewer pages (making the problems even greater). You will have no idea what the reading order is on any given page, and even when you have a grasp, realizing that the character with the hook nose and receding hairline in the first panel is actually the same dude with the fat face and full head of hair in the second panel will throw that comprehension for a loop, while you’re meanwhile wondering if the 100s of characters are part of the past or present storyline, and then also questioning if it matters, given that the text and actions very rarely have any consequence on the actual “story.”
I am sorry to be so down on this, and I wish that reading it didn’t irk me so much as to cause such a bitter response. I’m glad Katz was able to complete his vision, but as I commented before, it seems more a personal one than something that’s palatable to an audience.