In June 2016, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
UPDATE: With a new year comes change. Going forward in 2017, Alex and Kyle will be alternating articles weekly in order to give each other a breather after 7 straight months of going tandem. A little break is always good! This week, Kyle takes the helm…well, except for this first book as Alex wanted to join me to talk about Kamandi Challenge, who wouldn’t, really?
Note: the reviews below contain **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Kamandi Challenge #1
Writers: Dan DiDio and Dan Abnett
Pencillers: Keith Giffen and Dale Eaglesham
Inker: Scott Koblish
Letterer: Clem Robbins
Kyle Pinion: There are three things that I absolutely love in this comics reading life. #1) The Legion of Super-Heroes, #2) Love & Rockets, and #3) Jack Kirby’s 1970’s DC work. I’ve spent more brain cells than I’d like throughout my past 30 years pondering the connections between Kamandi and OMAC, and how the themes of both dovetail with that of his Fourth World mythos. My childhood fascination with this was, of course, all rekindled by Grant Morrison’s efforts to tie them altogether under one narrative umbrella in Final Crisis – the most successful part of a far too maligned event series.
So, for a gradually ageing fella that delights in the idea of Captain Victory possibly being Orion’s son and thinks “The Pact” is basically holy text, the occasion of The King’s 100th birthday is one worth recognizing and deserves the full court press from both of the big comics publishers that he invested so much blood, sweat, and tears in. While I’m not sure if Marvel is up to anything, DC is hopping into something quite novel – a return the old DC Challenge format and is utilizing one of Kirby’s best creations to do so in Kamandi and the “After Disaster” world he inhabits.
For those unfamiliar with the “Challenge” concept as presented here: Kamandi Challenge is composed of 12 monthly issues, with a different creative team for each. Each issue (barring the finale, I assume) will end with a cliffhanger that the next team will have to solve. It’s worth noting, that the end of each issue will also contain the solution as envisioned by the previous installment’s writer in a brief letter column essay.
Surprise, surprise, Issue #1 actually contains two creative teams and does a nice job giving newcomers a taste of what this relay-type of storytelling will look like over the full course of the year. With a project like this, it’s easy to see why they’d make that decision. Every comic, no matter what it is, sees a good deal of attrition between Issues 1 and 2. Given that this maxi-series’ entire crux is set around “how are the new folks gonna solve it?”, it’s smart to have a mini-version of that up-front – and sate the appetite of the curious reader and perhaps secure a few more cautious eyes for next month’s go-round.
So, with all that said, how does the first issue fare? Pretty well, I’d say. The first half is driven by Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen, and before you scurry off, allow me to remind you that their OMAC was one of the best New 52 comics, and also a pretty great Kirby tribute on its own. Their task is to give you the origin side of the tale: the Command D bunker, Kamandi being named, the lead-up to Prince Tuftan, etc. It’s a great team to kick things off because DiDio has a good grasp on Kirby’s bombastic dialogue, and Giffen – who has, in recent years, shed his Munoz influence and returned to an approach that presents a more stylized take on his old Kirby-inspired art of the late 70’s and early 80’s. On balance, it’s probably the best part of the comic. DiDio and Giffen present two very different environments, an intriguing mystery up front and lay down a very good cliffhanger for the team to follow. It’s blunt in places, with a cute little Silver Age-y “how will I survive this challenge??” type line. But Kirby’s writing was never known for its subtlety. The opening half really nails down the right type of bombast that was part and parcel with his work from that long-gone era.
As for the second half? It keeps the momentum going, mostly off the back of Dale Eaglesham’s pencils, which here bring me to mind of a number of action figures from the old Masters of the Universe line. It’s a bit of an about face to go from the craggly Giffen approach over to Eaglesham’s perfectly sculpted iterations, but that sort of whiplash is a perfect sampling of just what this effort is all about. What Dan Abnett and Eaglesham take on is the introduction of Kamandi’s key figures: the aforementioned Tuftan, Doctor Canus, King Caesar, and some of the other fantastic mutated animals that populate his world. Abnett jumps on board fairly gracefully from DiDio, though he replaces the wink-nod touch with a more straight-forward bit of character building – particularly where the relationship between Kamandi and Canus is concerned. It doesn’t quite have the same sense of fun, but that’s effectively off-set by Eaglesham’s never-failing-to-impress gorgeous artwork. Also, based on what DiDio’s presents in the end letter, Abnett presented a simpler, but probably better solution; serving the action basis of the scene, rather than attempting to shove in a conversation between Kamandi and Tuftan – which I’m not sure would work without looking really forced. It’s not exactly a revelation, but he created his own solution, inventing an environmental hazard that gave Eaglesham a nice place to do a full pager, and gets on with business from there.
Next week sees Peter Tomasi and Neal Adams pick up the baton from where Abnett and Eaglesham gave way to the trusty old countdown clock cliffhanger. I had such a good time with this, both as an exercise in creativity and just as a fun comic to read about a character that I love, that I look forward to finding out just how Tomasi and Adams twist this next chapter and possibly turn the whole environment on its head. The sheer unpredictability is exciting, and the lineups to come have me looking forward to more. Your thoughts, Alex?
Alex Lu: To put it bluntly, Kamandi Challenge #1 is wild fun. I’m not typically one for absurdist comics, which this book certainly is, but there’s something novel about this particular title that left me feeling enthralled and eager for more.
As you noted, Kyle, this book is technically two issues in one. The prologue by DiDio’s and Giffen’s prologue left me feeling a little cold at the start. It seems like you were okay with the writing being a little more blunt than readers are used to given that the man himself Jack Kirby wrote in a similar fashion, but I’ve honestly never been able to totally get past any semblance of purple prose in my comics. Dialogue like “I know: I’ll cut through the center of town and hop on before the last stop” are bits of exposition in disguise, and while it’s not a cardinal sin in every situation, it’s quite abrasive nonetheless.
On the bright side, I greatly enjoyed Giffen’s art in the prologue. Kamandi and the other characters that inhabit this book are rendered with a boxy look that echoes Kirby’s Fourth World art quite nicely. The backgrounds are lush and full of action lines that fill any empty space. Hi-Fi’s colors toe the line between paying homage to Kirby’s classic style and rendering scenes with a more modern polished flare. All in all, it’s a decent introduction to the narrative arc that will play out over the next eleven issues. It provides a solid motivation for Kamandi and even has a fittingly dire cliffhanger for Dan Abnett and Dale Eaglesham to jump off from.
This second story, “K is for ‘KILL’!”, opens with an awesome drop cap K covered in vines, immediately establishing a classic and primal tone for the story. This is where Kamandi Challenge #1 kicks it into high gear. Eaglesham and Hi-Fi create a long and lovely action sequence as our titular hero takes on “Tiny” the giant ape. Abnett, like DiDio, uses a little bit of the same annoying expository dialogue to shortcut through some of the actions Kamandi takes during the fight, but overall the writing here feels a little less cheesy.
Ultimately, however, the thing that really sold me on this issue was Abnett’s cliffhanger. DiDio and Giffen set up an interesting paradigm in their storyline by throwing Kamandi into a world ruled by anthropomorphic animals. Abnett and Eaglesham take full advantage of this in their story, having the tigers Kamandi is captured by refer to him as an animal and a pet. The beings we would think of as the animals have put together a society that much resembles ours, and in a Planet of the Apes-esque turn, it is implicitly revealed that this world may very well be ours. The tiger king brings back a nuclear warhead which he sees as a sign from the gods, and in order to commune with said deities, he orders the tiger scientists to activate the weapon. This is a ridiculous thing to ask Kamandi to handle and pushes the boundaries of absurdity so hard that I could not help but laugh with excitement at what we might see next.
Kamandi Challenge #1 isn’t exactly high art. However, it is incredibly entertaining and well worth your consideration.
Final Verdict: Buy
Odyssey of the Amazons #1
Writer: Kevin Grevioux
Penciller: Ryan Benjamin
Inker: Richard Friend
Colorist: Tony Washington
Letterer: Saida Temofonte
Kyle: Well, that definitely read like a Kevin Grevioux story.
That’s probably unfair to say, but every time I settle in for something from Grevioux I find myself intrigued by his concepts but always underwhelmed by the execution. Take Underworld for instance, if someone were to give you the elevator pitch for it, you’d say…”hey, vampires vs. werewolves in a take on Romeo and Juliet, while also acting a metaphor for interracial dating! Clever!”. But then you see the movie and realize it’s kind of a mess. Same goes for I, Frankenstein – post apocalyptic Frankenstein’s Monster sounds like a terrific idea…but again, not so much when you’re actually watching it. Now I won’t blame all of this on Grevioux, as his directorial counterparts on both projects weren’t much to write home about. But with Odyssey of the Amazons, the writer/actor is a bit more unfiltered here, and again the overall concept is not a bad one. The background of the DC Universe Amazons is pretty sorely under-explored and between Greg Rucka and Liam Sharpe re-writing the New 52 background of that character, and the upcoming June release of the character’s big screen solo outing, the time was certainly right for this kind of tale.
The problem is it’s largely pretty dull.
While reading this, I had to constantly reshift my focus, and I know once that battle has begun there’s a pretty good chance there’s a reason for it. And that was only by page 4 or so. As I struggled to the finish line, it only marginally improved, but again it’s due to the broad strokes it presents in overall ideas rather than the page to page storytelling. Amazons traveling from nation to nation, recruiting more for their number, and assisting in conflicts sounds like a great way to frame the beginnings of Themyscira, and the last head to head battle delves into an area of warring mythological ideas that I haven’t seen in the DCU since War of the Gods. But, it’s just such an effort to get from page 1 to the close, and much of that is due to just how overwrought the writing is.
Odyssey of the Amazons, in an attempt to strike that sort of cinematic “epic” tone, utilizes narration to tell you exactly what’s happening as its happening. In cinema, this works because exposition is required to catch you up and its usually done in a sparing fashion. But in this initial issue, more than half of the panels contain this omniscient narration filled to the brim with purple prose. It’s as if the script doesn’t trust Ryan Benjamin to be able to translate the story visually without these text boxes telling you exactly what’s happening as it happens. I guess if I had Grevioux horrible luck with collaborators, I’d feel a little more sympathetic. But then again, that doesn’t spare the book from it’s other ever-present issue: each of these Amazons are awfully indistinguishable from one another. They’re all basically your standard warrior woman/Xena archetype, which is fine for a character or two, but when every single member of your line-up speaks with the same sort of voice, and have no further defining characteristics beyond “this is the one that doesn’t trust their leader” and “this is the young recruit”, you’re not exactly selling the reader on an engaging team of heroes to follow.
So if it doesn’t really work from a narrative standpoint or in terms of character development, is it at least a fun sword and sandals comic? Not terribly, though a good deal of that comes down to the fact that Ryan Benjamin is stuck working with a lot of panels of talking head after talking head. If you want to read a Conan type comic, you want to see him fight all kinds of monsters, not discuss his self-doubt with his way of life, and that’s kind of the grievous error this first issue makes. Benjamin gets a few nice moments to display his chops, particularly when the Shapeshifting Norse Giants begin to show up, but these sequences are all too infrequent and while the story may be starting to head towards something interesting for subsequent issues, my patience has already worn thin…and let me tell you I wasted 20 minutes trying to read this comic so you wouldn’t have to.
Final Verdict: Pass
First things first, you probably need to realize that if you’re keeping up with Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, you should make sure you read that closing chapter before you open up either Justice League of America Rebirth: Killer Frost #1 or Suicide Squad #10. As both will ruin the ending of the closing chapter of that event comic. It ends fairly well by the way, I remain impressed with Joshua Williamson’s handling of both teams and keep the story feeling relatively engaging without much of a sense of decompression ever really setting in. There’s a lot of set-up that’s balanced in this last issue, but I think it’s all done with a deft enough hand and keeps me fairly excited about the future of the DC Rebirth era in macro. It’s also worth noting between this title and the Seeley and Spurrier/Williams issues of Justice League and Suicide Squad respectively, I think this is the best either title has been since “Throne of Atlantis” and those couple of Ales Kot written issues of Suicide Squad.
More excitingly for me though, Doom Patrol is FINALLY back, after a full month delay. And the wait was worth it, as we get Casey Brinke finally coming into her own as Space Case and the further development of DC Comics’ weirdest team, as well as the introduction of a new mysterious adversary, the first appearance of Lucius (who is going to play a much bigger role coming up, if promo art is to be believed), AND the return of a long missing member of the team. I adore this comic, I wish it hadn’t taken so long to get here, but I remain steadfast that it’s the best thing DC is publishing currently and if the quality remains this good, I’m fine with a little waiting. Plus, there’s a short Bane-themed coloring book by Brandon Bird in the back. Can’t argue with that!
Also, I’m going to give a quick thumbs up for Detective Comics #949, which effectively both continues the upcoming “League of Shadows” storyline, while also setting up Kate Kane for her own solo title. “Batwoman Begins” is one of the better sort-of “backdoor pilots” I’ve seen for a comic to spin out of another, and leaves me pretty enthused about next month’s Marguerite Bennett and Steve Epting debut.
Lastly, this week’s Deathstroke is going to be one people talk about a good deal. Entitled “Chicago”, it takes a look a number of different strains of thought on gun violence, with Priest making the case of both sides of the aisle, and I’d really love to hear what some of you think about it. I get the sense it’s the kind of comic that’ll be open to different interpretations on just what he’s trying to say. Also, it’s hard to argue with Denys Cowan + Bill Sienkiewicz art.
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