Written by: Mark Waid and Alex Ross.
Painted by : Alex Ross.
Lettered by: Todd Klein.
There’s an old saying, “Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes, you get it.” That’s essentially what the graphic novel Kingdom Come is about. The story of a world where the heroes of old–Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern–have retired, and a new, less responsible, generation of vigilantes have taken up the mantle, the book basically serves as Alex Ross’s answer to the common fan querie, “If the villains are always going to escape, why don’t the heroes just kill them?” This is why. These new vigilantes are absolutely awful. They cause massive amounts of property damage, kill people at the first sign of trouble, and never bother to check and see if they’re injuring the civilian population. The story actually opens with several of these newer heroes, led by the Golden Avenger Magog, causing a nuclear explosion in Kansas, because they were too careless to recognize their surroundings. This disaster draws Superman out of his self-imposed exile, and he, along with the newly re-formed Justice league, set about trying to put things right again. They arrest the vigilantes who have committed horrible crimes, they recruit the ones who actually have moral fiber, and construct a massive prison in the wasteland that was Kansas, where the bad super beings can hopefully get reformed. But, of course, nothing goes according to plan. Batman refuses to help Superman, and actually sides with Lex Luthor, who’s whole scheme is to exacerbate tensions between humans and super beings, and eventually use the public’s hatred of Superman to take over the world. The book climaxes with a giant battle in front of the prison in Kansas, with Superman and the Justice League on one side, and Batman and all the imprisoned super beings on the other. The UN decides that if this battle between superheroes continues, it will spread, and eventually engulf the world. To avoid that, they shoot a nuclear missile at Kansas, hoping to kill all the belligerents there. In the end, Captain Marvel sacrifices himself, and even though some heroes die, there are enough left to rebuild. Superman and the Justice League then set up formal relations with the UN, he and Wonder Woman have a child together, and the story ends with them asking Batman to be their baby’s godfather.
For the most part, I really enjoyed Kingdom Come. The story highlights a lot of the things I’ve written about regarding Superman; like how his refusal to kill is actually a sign of great strength, and how his unyielding morality and optimism will carry people much further than swift, ruthless justice. On top of this, the artwork is just plain beautiful. All the characters are painted with gouache, which gives the images an almost ethereal air. Looking at the panels, I feel more like I’m staring at a Renaissance painting, or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, than a comic book. I also thought it was a very good idea to have the narrator of this whole story be a regular person. Yeah, in case I didn’t mention, this graphic novel is narrated by a non-superhero, and pastor, named Norman McCay. He witnesses the civil war among the superheroes from afar, and then, at the climax, intervenes; convincing Superman not to destroy the UN, even though they launched a nuke at him. Having Norman be the narrator and de facto protagonist was a really smart choice in my mind, because it helps ground the story. You’re dealing with fantastic characters who can fly and pick up buildings here. You need someone normal, with normal problems, like leaky faucets and food stuck between their teeth, to make the scenario seem more plausible. Norman does this, and all while being a very likable character. So, yeah. There’s a lot to admire in Kingdom Come.
There’s also a few things not to like. One is the artwork. Yeah, as much as I praised it earlier, I do have one gripe with it. It’s not a big thing, but, most of the characters have the same angry, constipated expression on their faces the whole time. it just gets annoying to look at after a while. Another thing I don’t quite like is the ending. Yes, it’s hopeful and optimistic, and I usually love that stuff, but it just feels out of place here. Batman basically stabbed Superman and Wonder Woman in the back. He sided with Superman’s greatest enemy. Why would they want him to help raise their child? And that leads me to my biggest problem with the book; Batman. He just comes off as a hypocritical asshole. Like I said earlier, he refuses to help Superman because the latter retired after the death of Lois, and because he believes Clark will become a dictator, blah, blah, blah. This whole scenario is just so played out, and that wouldn’t necessarily bother me, if not for the fact that, within this story, Batman being afraid of Superman becoming a dictator is completely hypocritical. When we’re introduced to Batman in Kingdom Come, we see that he’s turned Gotham into a police state. He has Bat Robots patrolling the streets, taking down anyone he sees as a threat. He’s an actual dictator, actually subjugating people. But no one ever calls him on that. They just sit back, and let him lecture them on how they’re too powerful, and how they need to be reigned in. What about you, Bruce? You’re an actual dictator! There’s nothing theoretical or hypothetical about it. You are actually oppressing people. Don’t you need to be stopped? No? Ugh. And it’s not just this comic, it’s a trend in most stories involving Batman and Superman. Whether it’s Frank Miller writing The Dark Knight Returns, or Bruce Timm writing Justice League Unlimited, creators love to have Superman be the dangerous alien who can’t be trusted, and Batman be the wise, grounded realist who can always be relied on. What they never seem to acknowledge is that, with his virtually unlimited wealth and resources, and his refusal to compromise with anyone who disagrees with him, Batman is just as dangerous, if not more so, than Superman. True, he can’t flatten the globe with his fists, but he can do all the horrible things that the excessively wealthy can do in the real world, and most of them don’t have military grade weaponry at their disposal. Just saying.
But, in the end, I would recommend Kingdom Come to you all. The artwork is glorious, the story is epic, and the manner in which the narrative unfolds is engaging. It’s an 8 out of 10. If you’re a comic reader, buy it. If you’re not a comic reader, I still think you’d enjoy it. So, buy it.