The First Kingdom is a historical benchmark in the history of the comic book and graphic novel industry. Created by Jack Katz, an American comic book artist and writer whose work spans both the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, The First Kingdom was an extremely ambitious and personal project for Katz and advanced both the concept of the graphic novel and the legitimacy of the idea that complex, high-quality, high-concept stories can be told through the sequential art medium. The first volume of Titan’s reissue of the epic series, The First Kingdom: Volume 1 – The Birth of Tundran, shows that the publisher is delivering a re-release worthy of Katz’s epic and cutting-edge saga.
MINOR SPOILERS BELOW
When Katz started his work on The First Kingdom in the 1970s, the graphic novel was still unheard of and comic books were still clearly thought of as a medium for telling stories for children (stories that were limited in scope, depth, and complexity). Katz is a skilled artist and writer, working among comic legends like Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, and more and was also aware of the fact that he was attempting to create something far grander than he ever created before with The First Kingdom. Taking Katz over 12 years to complete, The First Kingdom was, in the end, a 24-issue (mirroring the number of books in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey), 768-page graphic novel that tells a sprawling story of mankind’s struggle to rise from post-nuclear apocalypse that has reduced the world to savage, prehistoric landscape filled with tribal societies, dinosaur-like mutant creatures, and several new species of sentient beings. While man struggles in this new world, a court of gods watches and manipulates their actions, much like the Greek gods of ancient history, who often feel human emotions like lust, jealousy, anger, etc. The story of The First Kingdom may focus on the protagonist Tundran, but, in an example of the true massiveness and epic nature of this tell, Tundran has only recently entered the story (as one might guess given the title) and is still a teenager at the end of The First Kingdom: Volume 1 – The Birth of Tundran. Given Katz’s inspiration from Tarzan’s Hal Foster and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, it’s no surprise that The First Kingdom revels in a tone of high adventure and wonder, where every step features a potential new beast to face, adversary to best, or wonder to discover. While this first volume mainly features the story of Tundran’s father Darkenmoor’s rise and fall, what really elevated Katz’s story for me was the concepts of creation and man’s nature, which were being examined and discussed by the characters. The most specific example is Katz’s concept of cycles in civilization and the internal programming we are all slaves to. As one of Katz’s character’s states in The First Kingdom:
“Can’t you see that you’re helpless before your programming? Isn’t it evident we’re all helpless before our programming? Don’t your realize the little webs of intrigue that we spin are simply a complex network of designs we have developed to blot out the reality of the unfathomable question of what we are and why we exist?”
This concept is central to The First Kingdom and provides a captivating super-objective for a piece where we watch the rise and fall of various characters and groups.
Katz’s artwork is brilliant and beautiful in The First Kingdom. Katz’s characters, like many tribal people, wear very little clothing, sticking mostly to loin cloths, with both males and females going bare-chested. While this does mean that there is a large amount of nudity in the book, it is approached in an almost academic sense, resembling the tone of an anatomy reference book. The human form is a thing of beauty, and while I’m sure Katz enjoyed some small thrill bringing these exotic beauties to life, his talented hands never tip the balance and turn the nudity in The First Kingdom: Volume 1 – The Birth of Tundran into something salacious. In total, Katz’s art is perfect for his story, featuring a level of detail and consistency that makes his story come to life and a sense of destiny and heroic scale to the story that comes from the same place of inspiration that has been mined by writers like Shakespeare, Tolkien, and Homer.
In addition to the impressive nature of the original story and art, The First Kingdom also features incredible extras and a new look thanks to Titan’s reissue. The book operates beautifully as a larger-sized hardcover volume and features fascinating additions like a foreword and interview with creator Jack Katz and original concept sketches for The First Kingdom’s beginnings.
FINAL SCORE: 4 Post-Apocalyptic Rebirths of Society out of 5
The First Kingdom: Volume 1 – The Birth of Tundran is very much worth your time as a seasoned comic book fan or someone who is just getting introduced to the medium. Some may struggle with the nature or length of the book at first, but, like any classic, benchmark work, it’ll eventually reveal its true, glorious nature and reveal why it has been so revered by the creative legends of the industry.
That’s all for now, comic book sniffers! Keep your eyes peeled for scheming gods and prepare for the post-apocalyptic era of toplessness!
’Till the end of the world,
-Bryant the Comic Book Slayer