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Graphic Novel Review: Kingdom Come by Alex Ross and Mark Waid

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Red Arrow, Aquaman II, The Whiz, Braniac's Daughter, Avia, Atom Smasher, Phoebus, Alloy, Magog, Pinwheel, Nightstar.

These are just some of the new super-heroes introduced in the Kingdom Come miniseries (now collected as a trade paperback), saying nothing of virtually every important hero – and many villains – from the DC universe. Little surprise, then, that Kingdom Come can make any comics' enthusiast breath a little shallower. After all, if on every page you encounter new heroes with new powers (not to mention scantly clad men and women with perfect bodies), what more could a geek want? Some story and art couldn't hurt, but luckily, these  – especially the latter – are also found in abundance.

But let us begin at the beginning. To be more precise, let us begin 20 years after the end. We have moved forward in time from DC's normal continuity: comics' cyclical time has been unfrozen, and the years allowed to take their toll. Superman is no longer perpetually in his 30s. As a matter of fact, he's no longer Superman; he has retired in confusion and disappointment when the people of Metropolis chose another, more brutal champion over him: Magog.

Taking their cue from The Man of Steel, his contemporaries ceased their attempts to contain their powers and integrate their vigilante efforts into the fabric of human society. Some, like Green Lantern, have retired from the world. Others, such as the Batman in Gotham and the Flash in Keystone, have turned their various cities into crime-free utopias at the price of usurping political power.

They, however, are not the problem. Their progeny are. It turns out that when two super-people have children, at the very least their offspring will have a mix-and-match set of their parents' powers. What they won't have is any real understanding of the superhero's role in society, nor many moral bounds. The world is full to the brim with superheroes, and it can't take much more of it.

Kal-El is persuaded by Wonder Woman to resume his role as Superman, re-forming the Justice League and touring the globe with a simple message aimed at super-people: cease all independent activities and join us, or else.

Two forces are at the forefront of the opposition to Superman's new role as a world leader. The first are the humans, who are not too enthusiastic about being told what to do. They oppose Superman benevolently via the UN, and malevolently via Lex Luther's Man Liberation Front, with a surprising recruit in tow: Captain Marvel. The second force opposing Superman is rather more unexpected: the Batman is none too happy to take orders from whom he deems to be a naive late-comer that has yet to grow out of his school-boy morality. So he does some recruiting of his own.

All of this is, naturally enough, building to a head. Only when so many big players are involved, with such immense powers at their disposal, it is of little wonder that this is a rather boiling, explosive, world-threatening head.

Or, as Norman McCay fears, it may well be apocalypse.

Norman McCay is a pastor, only he has been plagued by horrible visions of late. The grim and fiery future these visions describe seems to be of special interest to a higher force – or at the very least, to his spirit of vengeance, the Spectre. Together, McCay – confused and frightened – and the Spectre – cool and detached – roam the world, observing events as they unfold. And we, the readers, sit on their shoulders, enjoying the view.

And what a view it is.

Spot the human
Spot the human

Alex Ross came to Kingdom Come fresh from his and Kurt Busiek's Marvels. While both projects aim to offer a panoramic view of the central players in the two comics companies' respective universes and while both of them do so through the eyes of a "regular" human, the similarities end here. Unlike Marvels, Ross' later work – which is also his brainchild, story-wise – is concerned with the mythological and religious elements of the super-hero concept. While the backgrounds of the characters play a significant role in the book, Kingdom Come is not nostalgic in nature. If anything, the DC universe is warped and changed almost beyond recognition – with every major player allowed to develop, and drastic actions with dramatic consequences taking place. In order to accomplish all of this, Ross was paired with writer Mark Waid, who lent the necessary drive and pathos to the plot and dialog, managing to keep a sweeping story with multiple characters interesting and to the point from beginning to end.

But, yet again, Kingdom Come is Ross' creation. It was the first DC series to ever feature gouache paintings as internal art (and not just on the covers), it cemented Ross' position as a wunderkind of comics; it is breathtakingly beautiful; and it was published when Ross was only twenty-six years of age. The tremendous quantities of love and hard work Ross put into it shine through, and Waid's encyclopedic knowledge of the DC's history and characters lets Ross' unique vision of super-heroes as beings on par with the Gods color and uplift numerous players, new and old, and perhaps the whole DC universe itself.

After all of this rather breathless (or, perhaps, shallow-breathed) praise, it's important to mention that Kingdom Come is not, narrative wise, a true landmark in comics' history. It hardly has the impact of The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen, and, while bold, it is not revolutionary. But the story works, manages to never become too grand or ridiculous, and is entertaining to read the second (and fifth) time around. And the art, oh, the art, it's just so, oh…

Will someone bring me a paper bag, please?

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About Adam Klin Oron