2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kirby, legendary comics creator and a figure so influential he is known by comic book fans and professionals the world over as the King. To honor him, DC Comics has commenced a bold experiment in storytelling centred around one of Kirby’s most fondly remembered, and weirdest, creations for the publisher. The Kaman Challenge #1 is the opening issue in a series revolving around Kamandi, last boy on Earth, as he embarks on a quest through a bizarre future to find his parents. And, as an opening instalment, the issue is weird, dynamic, hilarious, a little goofy, thrilling, and completely irresistible. Much like the King himself.
The thing that makes “The Kamandi Challenge” interesting from an artistic standpoint is its method of creation. 14 different creative teams will work on the series in a round-robin format, with each team writing an issue and ending it on a cliff-hanger that the next team, with no creative indication beyond the script, will have to resolve over the course of an issue before leaving another cliff-hanger for the next team to tackle. Kirby was a famous innovator in the medium, a man who crafted art that was at times exaggerated and even totally unrealistic, but who packed energy and dynamism and power into each panel, constantly refining his craft. As a storyteller, he was often wonderfully unhinged, coming up with concepts that were simultaneously silly, overblown and yet resonant and incredibly thrilling.
So, DC is to be commended in using his 100th anniversary to create a project that is just as ambitious and high-risk and exciting as the King at his best. It’s the comic book equivalent of an improv game, with each creative team having to take the storytelling baton and move the plot and characters further down the field. Some instalments will work, others won’t, but one can’t deny it’ll be fascinating.
As for Kamandi himself, and his world, it’s a typically Kirby-eque setting. A young man is trapped in a dystopian future world ruled by militaristic and warring talking animals. It’s a world where humans are the submissive species, mute and bestial. It’s an insane concept frankly, but one that’s maintained a certain level of love despite never having been a successful title, really. But Kirby’s larger than life setting and over the top hero is a perfect fit for this storytelling exercise, taking place in world where the craziest, most bonkers things can happen and no one will bat an eye.
The Kamandi Challenge #1 is divided into two parts, each handled by a different team. DC Editor-in-Chief Dan DiDio, Keith Giffen and Scott Koblish handle the story and art for the prologue, which sets the ground rules for the story and kick things off in an effective and exciting way. The prologue requires absolutely no prior knowledge of Kaman’s world to speak of, and effectively communicates a strong motivation for our main character while prepping the reader for the level of high concept crazy pulp adventure about to come their way.
For the second half, writer Dan Abnett and artist Dale Eaglesham take the reins and the transition is perfect. I’ve often complained about issues with split creative teams, but that’s the whole challenge and fun of this high-wire act of a series, and this second section is just as enjoyable and the shorter first act, albeit in its own way. There’s a true serial feeling to the book, moving from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, and yet the issue never feels episodic but rather the beginning of some crazy kind of odyssey. Kamandi is already a likeable character, with a great intention and well-defined, if bonkers, obstacles in his way.
The art on the book is amazing, and even though each art team is different, with different styles and strengths, neither one ever forget that this series is a tribute to the King, and each evoke Kirby in their own way. If you think that the big publishers are all about playing it safe and never taking a risk, this is the book to check out. It’s going to be a wild ride, in a wild universe, and I for one can’t wait to see how Kamandi gets out of this one! 10/10