What do you get when writers Dan DiDio and Dan Abnett join forces on a classic Jack Kirby-created property, with artists Keith Giffen and Dale Eaglesham, plus inker Scott Koblish, letterer Clem Robbins and Hi-Fi’s colors? The answer is out of this world.

By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu

Kamandi Challenge is a 12-issue maxi series, with different creative teams for each one, which all end with a cliffhanger that the next team will have to solve. So when I found out that the first issue actually contains two creative teams, it was a pleasant surprise. It also gives insight into what this ‘buck-passing’ type of storytelling will feel like as the maxi series progresses. During last year’s New York Comic Con, Jim Lee and Dan DiDio announced the series, to be done by a number of notable creators, with the challenge tied to Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday, and in the same vein as the 1985 DC Challenge.

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Right after a striking cover by Bruce Timm, we begin with a story written by DiDio and drawn by Keith Giffen, who proceed to tell us how we got where we are. All the main elements are here, actually: The Command D bunker, how Kamandi became so-named, and so on. It begins with our hero late for school, and as he rushes on, an explosive portal (yay, Kirby crackle!) opens. The Last Boy on Earth is yanked away from safe haven, only to face the nightmarish threat of what is basically the ultimate weapon. Strange creatures toting hi-tech weaponry come through and chaos ensues. Our hero, however, is confused as it seems everyone in town is aware of the attack and is armed. Everyone, that is, except him. The story, it must be said, unfolds at breakneck speed. Even with the inevitable nods to the classic series, it comes across as truly fresh.

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Sure, the freshness of Kamandi Challenge stems from the evergreen nature of the idea. Itself Kirby’s answer to the popularity of Planet of the Apes in the late 60s, but with other animals as well – especially tigers – having evolved physically and intellectually ahead of humans. Still on the freshness, it almost became threatened by the character’s penchant to remain perplexed, and he isn’t fully-fleshed out, either. Maybe subsequent creative teams will execute that? Hopefully.

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Speaking of the creative teams, the art in the first section of the issue is done in a Kirby-esque style which isn’t a far cry from what Giffen typically does. It proves to be a nice touch, tipping a hat in respect, and going places that are Giffen’s too, helped by the bold inks of Scott Koblish. The colors by Hi-Fi complement every blast line, every corner, every object so well that it’s a character in itself. In the second story, a massive K begins the page, gloriously detailed and heralding the shift in the art’s tone. And what a tone it is, skilfully rendered by Dale Eaglesham and written by Dan Abnett. The extensive action sequence that sees Kamandi take on a giant ape is truly epic.

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At the end of the first bit of the tale, after DiDio’s brilliant set-up which sees our hero stuck in a world ruled by anthropomorphic animals, Abnett’s takes it even further and shows us what Kamandi goes through after being captured by animals inhabiting a world which increasingly seems like it was ours.

For the crazy cool tribute to Kirby that it is, Kamandi Challenge #1 is a truly fun ride, with nods in all the right places, and packed full of new stuff as well. The next one will see Peter Tomasi and Neal Adams continue the tale and resolve the cliffhanger, before setting theirs up too. Staggeringly unpredictable, it means I’ll be waiting anxiously to snap the next one up. And the next. No challenge there at all.

Kamandi Challenge #1, from DC Comics, is in stores now

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