Kamandi Challenge 9: In the Midst of Chaos, Tom King Makes Art

One does not pick up an issue of Kamandi Challenge expecting a story worth writing a review of, yet here we are.  Formulated by DC as a celebration of Jack Kirby's 100th birthday, the miniseries hearkens back to the DC Challenge! of the 1980s, a round-robin production featuring well known writers and artists in the DC stable (plus a few guests).  Rather than focusing on a central mystery, this series attempts to visit every inch of a map Kirby once drew of Kamandi's world, with each issue careening from corner of the globe to corner of the globe and setting up Kamandi for a grand cliffhanger (ranging from staring down an atomic bomb to being eviscerated).  King chose a different path.

The world according to Kirby.
Instead, King and artist Kevin Eastman (who, in retrospect, is a logical choice for a Kamandi book) provide us a bottle episode that puts Kamandi into a locked room thriller and does so effectively.  Kamandi and his fellow prisoners are trapped, but know that every day, a robot will enter the room and abduct one of them, who will never be seen again.  The action is limited to Kamandi's attempts to thwart the robot, with King and Eastman instead focusing on the inhabitants of the room and their individual responses to their situation.

There are several character archetypes that typically populate these type of prisoner stories, and King gives each its representation in the story.  You have the eternal optimist (Herbert the elephant, the first character we meet when Kamandi opens his eyes), the eternal pessimist, the one who accepts his fate, the mother who only worries about family, the childlike dreamer, and the hero with paper-thin courage.  King visits each of these in turn through daily vignettes that show us how each responds to their seemingly inevitable fate.  The effect is unsettling yet powerful.

For his part, Kamandi plays the archetype of the untiring escape artist, the "Cooler King" of this particular Stalag.  He is driven to find a way to save his fellow prisoners and collectively escape their prison.  How he goes about it is more important than whether or not he ultimately succeeds.

While King eschews the madcap billiard ball story telling of prior Challenge writers, the art similarly blazes a path away from the bright four color splashes of previous issues.  Throughout, Eastman provides the gritty talking animal artwork that you would expect from the co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  His inked pencils (with Freddie Williams II) are murky yet with a definitive edge.  There is no colorist credit for this issue, as everything is just light, dark, and shadow.  The mood is definitive and palpable, pulling you into the page.

King provides the subsequent team of Greg Pak and Joe Prado a quiet cliffhanger, and they will no doubt return the series to its prior levels of bombast.  As a result, the King/Eastman issue stands as a complete standalone gem among the costume jewelry that is the rest of the series.  Pick up the entire series if you like Kamandi or enjoy round-robin creative works.  Pick up this issue if you like superb examples of comics craft.

JL Franke is a fan of both hard science fiction and hard fantasy.  He has been collecting comics for over 40 years and has been an on-and-off active member of online fandom for 25.  Those interested can find other writings at his personal blog, NerdlyManor.com.  When not geeking out, you may find him at a baseball park or cheering on his favorite college and pro football teams.  In his spare time, he is chief scientist for a research and development laboratory somewhere in the Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.
Kamandi Challenge 9: In the Midst of Chaos, Tom King Makes Art Kamandi Challenge 9: In the Midst of Chaos, Tom King Makes Art Reviewed by JL Franke on Tuesday, October 03, 2017 Rating: 5
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