Kingdom Come (Mark Waid & Alex Ross)
Boy have I been looking forward to re-reading and reviewing this book for your pleasure!
Kingdom Come is one of my all time favourite comics and it is one that has stood the test of time. It goes to some dark places and explores some rather heady subject matter but at the end of the day a sense of hope and a dream of a brighter tomorrow shines throughout the dark. It is a must read for any comics fan, let alone DC Comics fan and it is the perfect book to get non-comic readers engaged in the medium!
This is because it is one of those “grim future” tales where the heroes of your childhood are no longer the same as they once were. The world has lost it innocence and the figures we once held up on pedestals have crumbled and fallen down. Essentially all you need to know to understand this book is who Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and their associated characters and a couple of other members of the Justice League are. Everything else is there for the hardcore fan to pick out in the background and secondary and tertiary characters are usually introduced with just enough information as to understand who they are and what they stand for. It plays on the power of the DC brand and how well everyone knows their main characters. Everyone knows who Supes, Bats and Wondie are. Everyone who does not read comics has some vague idea of who they are informed from seeing them in other media. Everyone has their “they all do good, all the time” view and expectations of them. This book plays on those expectations to brilliant effect while showing you what is at the core of each of the characters even in this post-crime fighting time period.
It is a main stay in any comic book reader’s collection and it is a joy to read every time I pick it up.
You cannot talk about Kingdom Come without mentioning another equally as good book, The Dark Knight Returns. You see when DKR came out along with Watchmen and really shook up the comics industry and showed the world that comics could be serious and god damn brilliant story telling devices things changed. The grim’n’gritty take on things that The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen used fed into everything. Suddenly most comics took on a darker tone and rougher edges. There was a need to make everything have substance and as a result the go to thing was to make things grim, very grim, for every comic trying to tread the same ground hoping for success.
Kingdom Come serves in part as Mark Waid’s response to this trend and in particular his response to The Dark Knight Returns. In Kingdom Come, Waid decided to explore where this darker tone and newer grittier characters might lead us. He answers questions like what would happen to the old guard when confronted with this new world and what they would do when things finally go to far. The answers make for thrilling reading as armageddon approaches and alliances are formed and broken. All depicted with the hyperreal and painted art of Alex Ross. For me personally I feel as though this is Ross’ best work. His style fits the story perfectly and makes it into this larger than life thing that jumps out of the page into your imagination. His point of reference models for the character fit perfectly as well at this point in his career. (These days Alex Ross’ Superman looks older than the one depicted here and he is meant to be younger!) Like Marvels before it, Ross’ art is something to behold and it really is a brilliant showcase for what comics can do.
But what of the story?
I really do not want to go into too much detail on it because this is one of those books that is best experienced for the first time with as few spoilers as possible! Seriously when I first read it when I was sixteen. (Jesus! That was ten years ago! I FEEL OLD!!!!) it blew me away so much because I had no idea where the story was going to go and what the characters would do next. Which is really saying something for a comic featuring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as its main players.
All you need to know is that The Joker (because it is always The Joker) stepped over the line, killed Lois and everyone at the Daily Planet among many others and Superman could not, would not, kill him. Queue Magog, a new breed of “hero” stepping in and doing the deed ushering in a new era of superpowered beings not taking responsibility for their actions and stepping over that line that should not be crossed. The resulting sea change makes Superman loose his faith and step down from active duty. This along with other events causes most, if not all of the established DC heroes to throw in the towel as the younger generation rise up and kill all the villains then start fighting amongst themselves. Over time tensions rise among the human and super-human populations then things really kick off when Superman decides to step out of his self-imposed exile and bring back the older heroes to try and set things right. Things only get messier from there, trust me!
If you have not read this true classic yet, I implore you to do so. It is a book that is often forgotten when people talk about genre defining books but it is well worth the time to hunt it down (the most recent print was in 2008 so it should not be to hard to find) and read it.