KAMANDI CHALLENGE #1
Part 1: Story and Art by Dan DiDio, Keith Giffen, and Scott Koblish
Part 2: Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Dale Eaglesham
Colors (both parts) by Hi-Fi
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: January 25, 2017
A bold experiment in comics storytelling begins, as fourteen creative teams take on the task of exploring the world after the Great Disaster. In the first issue, Kamandi awakens and finds himself confronted by the ultimate weapon!
Kamandi Challenge is a comic that can’t really be discussed without an understanding of the behind-the-scenes process of its creation. It’s a hybrid of two different decades-old DC comics: Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, a Jack Kirby-created post-apocalyptic adventure story from the seventies, and DC Challenge, a high-concept round-robin comic that DC published in the eighties. The premise of both DC Challenge and Kamandi Challenge was that multiple creative teams would each produce one issue of the series. They would have to resolve the cliffhanger left for them by the prior team and set up a cliffhanger for the next team. Kamandi Challenge adds the additional wrinkle of having each issue take place in a different zone of the world of the Great Disaster, keeping the plot fast-moving and giving each team lots of material to work with.
I’ll confess that I approach Kamandi Challenge with both excitement and apprehension. Excitement, because I enjoy Kirby’s Kamandi and because DC has lined up some amazing creative teams for this comic. Apprehension, because I have qualms about the high concept. I haven’t read DC Challenge myself, but, while I’ve heard a lot of interesting stories from creators about the process of making it, I haven’t heard a lot of stories from readers about what a great comic it was. That’s left me with the impression that DC Challenge was probably a lot more fun to work on than it was to read. Already, you can see some of the issues with Kamandi Challenge in this review: How often do you need an explanation of how a comic was created in order to understand what’s going on with it? I’m completely confident that Kamandi Challenge will wind up an amazing experience for the teams working on it. I’m not entirely convinced it will be the same amount of fun for readers.
That said, this first issue holds a lot of promise. This issue actually has two stories by two creative teams, giving us the first cliffhanger-and-escape. The first story is by Dan DiDio, Keith Giffen, and Scott Koblish, and serves to introduce Kamandi and his mission. The second story is by Dan Abnett and Dale Eaglesham, and brings in classic Kamandi supporting characters Prince Tuftan and Doctor Canus.
The first story has a fake-out opening, with Kamandi enjoying a seemingly-normal life in the suburbs. The tranquility is interrupted by marauding bounty-hunters (though not before we get cameos by both Jack Kirby and Mike Royer, the inker on much of the original Kamandi series). Kamandi is dispatched on a mission to find his parents by his robotic grandmother, then gets teleported to the expanding Tiger Empire.
This is where the second story picks up, resolving the deadly peril Kamandi was left in at the end of the first story. It then introduces us to both Prince Tuftan and Doctor Canus, two friendly characters from the original series who are decidedly less welcoming of the Last Boy on Earth in this version.
This first issue does a good job of highlighting both the strengths and flaws of the Challenge format. The cliffhangers and the need to move from one area to the next ensure that the story is action-packed and fast-moving, with plenty of opportunities for the artists to showcase bizarre humanoid animals and post-apocalyptic wonders. On the other hand, there’s a distinct discontinuity in style between the two teams. Kamandi as written by the first team is shocked and overmatched by the events transpiring around him; he’s relatively compliant as he gets swept along by the plot. Kamandi as written by the second team is quippy and clever, constantly ready to leap into violent action and much more proactive.
With any other comic, you’d get annoyed at the sudden shift in characterization and tone. With Kamandi Challenge… Well, it really depends on how much you’re willing to concede to the high concept and how much you let meta-knowledge guide your reading experience. If you approach Kamandi Challenge as a unified story, the way you would approach most comics, you’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment. If you look at it as fourteen teams with fourteen unique approaches to the character, united by a thread of plot, you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more.
The art in both stories is a high point. Story number one gives all the characters a great square-jawed look, evocative of Jack Kirby’s unique approach to faces (there are even some Kirby Dots if you look for them). Story number two adopts a more modern approached, with detailed characters and grotesque mutations. The art in both stories is thrilling and dynamic, albeit in different ways. The first story’s art is simple and expressive, while the second’s is complex, with complicated panelling and elaborate backgrounds. Hi-Fi provides colors for both stories and, while the vibrant colors are well-suited to both stories, it feels as though there’s a missed opportunity with the first story to use colors more evocative of the flat style used when Kirby was originally drawing Kamandi (given the artists’ homages to the King’s art style).
This issue was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it. It’s entirely unlike anything else on the stands right now, and for that it should be commended. Moreover, you can be guaranteed that every single issue of this comic will give you a lot of action and storytelling for your purchase. It’s a quirky book, the seams are definitely exposed, and whether it will make a satisfying story in total is yet to be seen, but for now this issue is a great time.
The Verdict: 9.0/10