In a world grown weary of ultra-powered heroes, villains, and vigilantes, the masses of men and women no longer cheer for the passing flight of supermen. Buildings crumble and trains derail as bolts of lightening and energy are tossed around with no regard for bystanders. Citizenry flee from the clashing battles of metahumans like a besieged city being shelled. Gone are the golden age heroes, to do battle with foes while ensuring the safety of all. Chivalry is dead in the future of Kingdom Come. And in its place; collateral damage.
Written by Alex Ross and Mark Waid, and illustrated by Ross, Kingdome Come stands alone as a single prophetic comic book that dares to predict the future of DC superheroes and their successors. The story is told from the perspective of Norman McCay, a mild mannered minister, who is lead around by the invisible and all-seeing Spectre, like Scrooge and the ghost of Christmas Present.
A World on the Brink
Through McCay’s sympathetic eyes we watch the latest generation of superheroes as they wreak havoc on a society too frail to bear the weight of petty skirmishes any longer. Good and evil is not a factor. The flying, crushing, zapping, smashing demigods are organized more by tribal allegiance than like-minded moral grounds. The principals of the old go by the wayside as the biggest and best caped crusaders have retired, disappeared, or turned reclusive with age. Even Superman himself remains incognito, years after the death of Lois Lane at the hands of the Joker. Values and the preservation of life fly away on the hem of that big red cape.
The troubles of Kingdom Come narrow into focus as a relatively benign fight between super beings goes horribly wrong, resulting in an atomic explosion that decimates Kansas. The world cries for retaliation against metahumans which sparks the return of the Justice League, a group which soon abandons its role as defenders of earth to become jailors and wardens to the rebellious youthful heroes.
Not everyone is content to nod their heads to the government’s wishes though. Some don’t see the Justice League’s gulag as just, and the regulation of metahumans constitutional. Factions splinter off into opposing armies, composed of countless heroes and villains from DC’s past. Superman and his League support the prisons. Lex Luthor supports himself, backed by the villains and a mind-controlled Captain Marvel. Batman, always the skeptic, reasons that Superman’s ‘might makes right’ mentality will worsen problems. And behind the battle-royal is America herself, fed up with the struggles and championed by a fleet of nuclear missiles, which share an uncanny resemblance to Krypton’s cradle spaceships.
Those unfamiliar with Ross may be surprised by the realism of his work. The panels stretch over the pages like paintings in an art gallery. Pin-ups and action sequences glow with nostalgia for classic characters, and wide crowd shots are packed with nods to old comic and cartoons references. Look closely and you can see the cast of Fat Albert running from Gotham City patrol bots. Or Lobo, the hard-rocking space mercenary, drinking in the foreground of a bar. Every flip of the page is a Where’s Waldo of familiar faces (or masks).
Although it isn’t totally eclipsed by the artwork, the skillful writing of Kingdom Come may take a while to sink in. The realism of the nation’s fearful reaction and the culmination of separate story strands make for one big show, but it’s juggled with narration and dialogue well enough that it doesn’t seem too far fetched. So many comic team-ups, match-ups, and blowouts strain credulity in bringing their characters together. Kingdome Come presents its cast in a way that feels matter-of-fact.
As the ‘S’ flies:
I can’t help but speculate on how many parallels there are in Kingdom Come to real life. Possibly the human reaction we have to threats we don’t understand; blow it up. Or our propensity for watching heroes rise and inevitably fall. Perhaps the graying wrinkling supermen, which are so absent, represent how we’ve treated the golden age heroes; boxed up in the attic as too cartoony, replaced by a comicbook breed of hardboiled killers and gritty heroes that eat bullets and vacation in hell.
The fact that I’m still pondering over perceived messages in Kingdom Come may testify to its fascinating concept. It’s definitely a must-read for anyone interested in the outcome of the comic strips our grandfathers grew up with. And if nothing else interests you, flip through the pretty pictures.