Review: The First Kingdom Vol 1 – The Birth of Tundran / Author: Jack Katz / Artist: Jack Katz / Publisher: Titan / Release Date: Out Now
In the Golden Age of comics, Jack Katz worked alongside legends such as Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. He returned to the medium later in the twentieth century, working for both Marvel and DC, before spending twelve years on his personal, independently published magnum opus – The First Kingdom, a 768-page epic released between 1974 and 1977. Four decades later, this story is finally being reprinted across six hardcover volumes.
Katz’s interests, fuelled by a childhood memory of the Pearl Harbour bombing, lie in the grand scale of civilisations rising, falling, and being rebuilt, and this is evident from the very first pages of Volume One, The Birth of Tundran. We’re on an Earth that has been devastated by nuclear war, and Einstein’s famous quote – "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones" – proves true, as humanity is reduced to tribal hunters. They must fight for survival in a dangerous world full of strange creatures and rival tribes, using swords and spears and wearing no more than loincloths (which makes the comic a little awkward to read on the bus).
This first instalment follows Darkenmoor, a hunter who rises above the others to lead an increasingly powerful tribe and to found the titular First Kingdom, and there are a lot of thrills in following his arduous rise to power. Darkenmoor is prophesied to not live past the birth of his first child, so there’s an increasing sense of dread as various factions scheme against him, leading to a conclusion that’ll have you pre-ordering the second volume to find out what happens next to his kingdom.
The story isn’t without flaws. Always wanting to increase the scale of his storytelling, Katz includes a race of ‘gods’ who live in enormous towers, and, though this race’s true origin is later explained, their powers are a bit too magical (bringing a tribe crushed by a rockfall back to life, for example), detracting from the core post-apocalyptic storyline.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like in the story, and so too in Katz’s remarkably detailed artwork. From giant sea monsters to (unexplained) tiny fairies, every panel has been painstakingly composed – it took Katz half a year to create each issue, and this certainly shows.
Titan have done a great job with this edition; the artwork is remastered and packaged in a nice hardcover volume, with additional features including an introduction from and an interview with Katz plus a look inside his sketchbook. An admirable presentation of an ambitious and personal, if not unflawed, gem from comic book history, The Birth of Tundran is a worthy addition to any collector’s bookshelf.