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Kingdom Come

June 5th, 2009

It is the distant future of the DC Universe.  Beings with super-human abilities have spread across the globe, and ever-more powerful violent heroes and villains wreak untold havoc with their escalating conflicts.  Meanwhile, the heroes of old are gone.  Green Lantern has abandoned Earth for the solitude of space.  Wonder Woman has returned to Themyscira.  Batman, his body broken after years of pushing himself beyond the limits of human endurance, maintains order over Gotham City through the use of menacing robotic sentries.  And Superman has lived alone in his Fortress of Solitude for the past ten years, ever since the Joker’s brutal attack on the Daily Planet resulted in the deaths of ninety-two men.  And one woman.

This is the world of Kingdom Come, a dazzling tale of the future of the DC Universe by Mark Waid and Alex Ross.  Originally published in four parts in 1996, one of the initial core ideas of the story was a comment on the increasingly violent anti-heroes that were very popular in comic books of the nineties.  The brutal Magog, with his scarred eye, his enormous shoulder-pads, and his vicious weaponry was a clear comment on Marvel Comics’ character of Cable.  The specificity of that reference has faded over the years, but the power of Kingdom Come has not.

I can think of few stories that have captured the grandeur of DC’s pantheon of heroes as well as Kingdom Come.  This may be a story of an alternate, possible future, but it remains oen of the most iconic tales of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman that I have ever read.  The dynamic between the three of them is at the heart of the story.  Kingdom Come focuses our attention on the way their differing backgrounds have lead them to view the world from vastly different points of view.  Those differences drive deep wedges between the characters, and lead to much of the drama of the story.  Mark Waid’s script is filled with powerful moments and wonderful characterization.  Having read the tale countless times, I am still struck by the moments like Wonder Woman’s first visit to Superman in his isolation, when she throws his oft-repeated commitment to truth and justice in his face.  Then there is my very favorite moment in the series (and frankly, one of my favorite moments in any comic book ever), which comes in Chapter Three when a furious Superman flies out of the Batcave at super-sonic speed, basically disappearing from sight he’s moving so fast, leaving a solitary Batman to remark “so that’s what that feels like.”  Brilliant!

Which brings me to Alex Ross’ remarkable painted artwork.  I have been an enormous fan of this great talent ever since I read his epic work Marvels (with writer Kurt Busiek), and I have read almost everything he has ever illustrated in the years since.  But Kingdom Come remains, in my mind, his greatest work.  Ross is able to bring unparalleled realism to every image while never losing the ability to make the god-like heroes of the DC Universe look appropriately majestic.  He is able to cram a staggering amount of detail into every panel of every page, whether that image is of an elderly preacher walking down the street, or two armies of super-humans engaging in an armageddon-like conflict.  Each page, each panel, is a true work of art, and I get tremendous enjoyment from lingering on the images to try to absorb them all.

I can still remember the enormous anticipation my friends and I were gripped by as we waited for the fourth issue of Kingdom Come to come out, back in 1996.  I was working at summer camp at the time, and I remember like it was yesterday the afternoon when one of my friends strolled onto the camp grounds bearing issue four in his hands.  It was manna from heaven!  I sat down, with another one of my good buddies right beside me, and we read the issue together, page by page (not turning the page until we’d both finished reading).  If one of us finished before the other, there were a lot of non-verbal exhortations to “hurry up already!!” so we could move on to the next page.  This is a true story!  I have never in my life read a comic book in such a fashion.

Last month I wrote about some of my favorite super-hero graphic novels.  Kingdom Come is one of the very best.

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