“The Kamandi Challenge” is a revival of two older DC Comics series packed into one; Jack Kirby’s “Kamandi” and the anthology title “DC Challenge.” Here, a series of creative teams are each creating one issue’s worth of comics about Kamandi and then handing off the story on a cliffhanger for the next creative team to continue from as they see fit. Over the course of one year, we’ll have twelve installments where each new issue picks up right where the previous left off, steering the proverbial ship in whatever direction the new creators see fit. With “The Kamandi Challenge” #1, we get two creative teams packed into one issue, and Dan DiDio, Keith Giffen, Scott Koblish, Dan Abnett, and Dale Eaglesham show how in the right hands, this concept can work surprisingly well.
The basic premise is fairly simple; sometime in the future, humanity has been replaced by humanoid, talking animals. In this post-apocalyptic landscape is Kamandi, who’s searching for his parents that had squirreled him away in a bunker for his safety. Looking for a promised-trail to their whereabouts, after an attack on the bunker plunges him into the dangerous real world, Kamandi enters one dangerous situation after another.
The opening chapter is created by DiDio, Giffen, and Koblish, which is a rather apt choice. The original “Kamandi” series was written and penciled by Kirby and inked by Mike Royer; in recent years, the DiDio/Giffen/Koblish creative team has worked on other titles based on Kirby creations like “O.M.A.C.” and “Infinity Man and the Forever People.” This is a chapter that is channeling its inner Kirby, and more than just having two characters made to resemble (and be named after) Kirby and Royer. Instead we have a handsome, blocky art style from Giffen and Koblish that brings the strong, square-jawed art of Kirby’s pencils to mind. Giffen and Koblish’s panels are bursting with detail, from a jumble of buildings in his fake town, to the inner workings of the robots protecting Kamandi.
DiDio’s script is youthful in its storytelling. There’s a certain innocence and wide-eyed excitement to its narration as well as Kamandi’s approach to the world. He brings across the idea of someone who’s been sheltered by the reality outside the bunker quite well, and also quietly builds up lots of story concepts for future writers and artists to use or ignore as they see fit. From big story elements talking about foes and places that Kamandi’s trail might go on, to little character moments such as revealing that this Kamandi has studied cartography, there’s a lot to build on. But of course, that also means that there’s a lot to potentially discard.
DARKER TIMES AHEAD
Abnett and Eaglesham’s chapter shows readers both how a new creative team can move forward with the basic ideas of a previous team, but also still present a quite different overall look and feel to “The Kamandi Challenge.” On its surface, it’s a direct continuation of what we’ve seen up until now. Abnett and Eaglesham get Kamandi out of the jam he was in (being forced to fight a massive gorilla named Tiny), and introduce two characters from the original Kirby series; Prince Tuftan, a tiger who will was Kamandi’s greatest ally, and Doctor Canus, a dog scientist. Abnett leaves a lot of room for future writers to develop those relationships in “The Kamandi Challenge,” though. While Prince Tuftan is intrigued by Kamandi’s ability to speak and wants to meet this human for himself, much more time is spent between Kamandi and Doctor Canus, who rapidly accepts Kamandi and serves as much as a protector as he does in acclimating Kamandi to this brave new world.
It’s that acclimation, though, that ultimately serves as the largest disconnect between DiDio and Abnett’s two scripts. In DiDio’s opening chapter, Kamandi is innocent, an average teenager in a golden age styled town of yesteryear. When the real world breaks into Kamandi’s bunker, it’s worth noting that while he’s scared and tries to scramble for safety, he’s very much what an average kid would be like in a sudden, larger-than-life situation. Abnett’s script, by way of comparison, places Kamandi much more squarely in the role of an established adventure hero. He plots to have Tiny strike the electrified wall to shock itself, and delivers hero-styled snarky lines upon his victory. It’s a very different style and tone, and it’s a little hard to connect DiDio’s babe in the woods with Abnett’s protagonist swinging a mace at a flock of humanoid jackdaws. DiDio’s rendition is a bit more realistic (or realistic as someone starring in “The Kamandi Challenge” can be), but Abnett’s is also one that’s much more able to anchor an adventure story. He’s more capable and able to move the plot forward in a slightly more traditional manner, taking control of his situation instead of merely reacting to chaos around him.
Eaglesham’s art is also a little more in tune with a modern adventure comic era, something that readers will almost instantly take to here. He delivers what he’s generally known for; smooth, clean art with a slick ink line and nicely muscled, rounded bodies. When action sequences break out, Eaglesham has Kamandi tumble, dive, and swing in an effortless manner; it’s a fluid series of panels that flow into one another. Just as much work is put into the quieter moments though, like a piercing look from Kamandi to Doctor Canus, or Doctor Canus’s surprised canine expression when Kamandi talks to him.
“The Kamandi Challenge” #1 ends with an interesting text page, one where DiDio explains that a regular feature will be having the previous creative team explain how they would have resolved the cliffhanger. It’s a fun “what might have happened next” and it even gives the existing creators the added challenge of having to create a cliffhanger that is genuinely escapable. With an all-star line-up of talent ahead, “The Kamandi Challenge” is off to a good start here, even as we get a glimpse into both the strength and weakness of the concept. Both individual chapters in this first issue are fun, but how will the series as a whole work when you stack the chapters next to each other and see how much or little continuity truly exists between them? Tune in to the next eleven months to find out, clearly.