Kingdom Come is a tough book to rate. On the one hand, it does possess level of depth that sets it far above most "comic books" on the newsstand. On the other, such depths as you will find are, to be brutally honest, entirely - yes, entirely - derivative of what Alan Moore had already given us in Watchmen more than a decade earlier.
Fundamentally, this is Watchmen revisited.
Or at least, it's one layer of Watchmen revisited. By the time Kingdom Come came along, the iron age of comic books was well and truly in full swing. Titles that took a long, hard look at the ideal of the superhero were positively in vogue. That's what we get here. But the deeper, less genre-specific layer of Watchmen? The layer that took an even longer, and even harder look into the absolute void of a truly meaningless and amoral universe?
That is not within the scope of this work.
But although Kingdom Come is most certainly a retelling, it is a good retelling. Like so many comic book writers, Mark Waid is presenting afresh a tale not his own; a tale with a course and an ending as pre-ordained as that of any tragic or comic opera.
Taken on such terms, what matters is not so much where we end up, but how we get there. The writing, although lacking Moore's originality, is good: I'd give it a solid "B+". But the real star of the show is undoubtedly the art. Throughout this tale, the art maintains a level of quality and sheer detail that we normally only get to see on covers, if at all. Even more than that, the artist, Alex Ross, makes a real artistic statement by depicting many of the characters and much of the action with a kind of hyper-realism that very clearly alludes to the work of Norman Rockwell. Superman in particular is especially subject to this kind of rendering.
I am of course very far from being the first to observe the Rockwell influence. Nevertheless, it is worth considering how this choice of style is used to draw us in to think about what our Earth could become if beings more than human really did walk among us. In the harsher light of this iron age vision, the prospect is perhaps less appealing than it might have seemed in the bygone ages of silver and gold.
But the Rockwell-esque style is a two edged sword. On the one hand, the extreme realism grounds us in, well, reality, with all that this entails. On the other, there is also a bitterly ironic counterpoint being made here. The almost eerily wholesome and idealized depictions of American life we so strongly associate with Rockwell's work are surely the spiritual first-cousins of the idealized vision of the comic books of ages gone: The very vision that Kingdom Come itself now confronts through older, wiser, and yet also sadder eyes.
One final point...
This book begins with an introduction that literally spells out exactly, and I do mean EXACTLY, what Kingdom Come, as a work, is supposed to be all about.
DO NOT READ IT.
At least, not until after you've read the book itself.
Not realizing what I was in for (thinking perhaps I was going to find something similar to the printed material so skillfully integrated into Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns) I did read this introduction before reading the book itself. And it's not overstating it to say that it really did ruin Kingdom Come for me.
For heaven's sake. Spelling out to the readers EXACTLY what the book is supposed to be all about before they even get the chance to embark upon that journey of discovery for themselves?
What an unbelievably stupid and self indulgent thing to do. I took off an extra star just for that.
on December 26, 2007
Author: Mark Waid & Painter: Alex Ross, together have crafted a magnificent story filled with every emotion possible. The adventure begins 10 years into the future. At a time when Superman has retired and most of the other heroes of his generation have followed suite, leaving a world full of mindless, vessels of destruction to protect the world. These new heroes destroy everything in their way as they attack each other for no reason.
Finally, Wonder Woman, who has had enough, approaches Superman and asks him to come back to put a stop to this. He does, and in doing so, sets in motion a series of events that could lead to Armageddon. The story is narrated by pastor McKay, who is led around through the key events by the Spectre. The reader follows McKay in his travels through the DC Universe and watches (with him) as the events unfold. This story has its grand scenes and as well as intimate moments--it doesn't lowball one for the other.
The story also takes you all over the DC Universe, from Metropolis (Supermans home town)to Themiscrya(Isle of the Amazons) and from Apkolips (Home world of Darkseid) to Atlantis (where Aquaman hangs out) and everywhere in between. Not only that, but practically every DC super hero and villain makes a cameo appearance in the course of the story. It's an incredible and breathtaking journey. Couple that with Alex Ross' illustrations and, well, his people look real. They have a real sense of weight and dimension to the way that they look. It's amazing! Mark Waid's story is truly epic in scope and scale and Ross captures all of it in his illustrations. It's an amazing and deeply touching story.
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on May 29, 2004
its no surprise to most comic fans that this is a must have book. and over the years its grown into a true classic. but when it was initially released i found some problems that i couldnt get over. the book does spend a lot of time focusing on the feelings of the main characters but in the end never really shows us where they stand. the story was written as a backlash to the ultra violent comic books of the 90's and tried to show why violence never wins. its odd though since this comic has one of the most memorably violent battle sequences ever written. and in the end violence is used to solve itself. but at the story's end we're not given any clear view into the hero's mind. and its hard to figure out why they find it ok to use violence to solve the problem of violence. i guess if it was left to us to decide that would be nice but why write it if you have no definite point to make. after all the build up why leave it to the reader to contemplate. it seemed a bit odd and they kind of lost me on this point. still, the book is well written and gives our most beloved characters some real emotion and depth. truly worth reading.
on May 14, 2004
Kingdom Come works on several levels. It is, very loosely, a piece of religious fiction, making use of the Biblical prophecies of the Apocalypse. It can also be viewed as a rebuttal to Alan Moore's scathing condemnation of the shallow cliches of the superhero genre, "Watchmen," published a decade earlier. But I think the most important way to view KC is as an indictment of the nihilistic, ultraviolent comics of the late 80's and 90's. KC depicts the noble superheroes of old having slipped out the limelight and been replaced by an amoral, bloodthirsty younger generation. The aged heroes must come out of retirement to stop the corruption and violence of their successors (and this was indeed the purpose of KC itself, to end the bloodbath that the superhero genre had become). But of course, fighting violence with violence cannot be the answer, especially when both sides are so vastly powerful. Their conflict threatens to engulf the world and turn--literally--into the Biblical Armageddon.
I recall reading once that the initial idea for KC came about as a discussion, "What if the Image Comics characters invaded the Marvel Universe?"--contrasting the amoral killers that 1990's comics held up as heroes with the more staid and virtuous characters of yesteryear. Ultimately, Kingdom Come was made with the DC characters--which, no offense to Marvel, was the right choice for this story; nobody does the "true blue, upstanding hero" bit as well as DC's old guard characters. Meanwhile, Magog is a dead ringer for the gun-toting 1990's Marvel character Cable, and most of the murderous younger generation looks as if it could have stepped out of any Image comic of the day.
The religious frame device shows that, in contrast to the nihilism of the comics of that era, life and morality really do mean something--that there is a God, and it is possible for ordinary people to do good, even in a world as far gone as this one.
The Biblical symbolism, while impressive and even inspiring, is not at all in-depth; but considering how annoyed I've become recently with works of popular fiction claiming to offer definitive interpretations of the most cryptic passages in Scripture, I think it's for the best that this story knows not to take itself too seriously in that regard (the original comic issues were published in 1996, the same year the Left Behind merchandizing machine started churning, but I doubt that LB directly influenced KC; a lot of Apocalyptic fiction was produced in the years leading up to 2000). So while this does function as a parable of sorts, absolutely don't read this expecting Pilgrim's Progress, or even the Chronicles of Narnia. KC does not purport to be a serious religious allegory.
It's hard for me to judge just how familiar a reader needs to be with DC's comic book characters to understand this story, since of course I know them very well. But at a guess, I would say: not much. Superman is among the five most widely recognized fictional characters on Earth (the others being Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Robin Hood, and Mickey Mouse), while Batman, Wonder Woman, and Lex Luthor are not far behind. Of the remaining characters, and there are a slew of them, I think most are given a clear enough introduction that the reader will know everything he needs to in order to understand the story (to be honest, many are really just there for background window dressing, anyway). One possible exception is Captain Marvel: America's most popular superhero in the 1940's, he's a bit obscure these days.
(For anybody who doesn't know: 10-year old Billy Batson was chosen by the aged Eyptian wizard Shazam as his successor to combat the evils of the world. Whenever Billy says the wizard's name, "Shazam!" he is struck by a bolt of magic lightning and transformed into fully-grown and cape-clad hero Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel's powers are pretty much the same as Superman's, which eventually led to a lawsuit between their respective publishers, relegating Billy to obscurity for years afterward. Consequently Superman and Captain Marvel are often portrayed as rivals, even though they are both good guys through and through.)
On the other hand, readers who do know these characters are in for a treat: every character's personality is pegged perfectly, and the background of virtually every panel is full of references to old stories and adventures that a reader can spend hours picking through (especially the scenes in the superhero memorabilia restaurant, the Planet Krypton).
I'll go on record saying that Alex Ross is the best comic book artist who has ever lived. KC would be worth reading for the art alone. Every page is painted, not drawn, in gorgeous watercolor. Ross uses live models for all his characters, so every face is unique, even cameos. Most amazingly, the characters look as they did in the old comics, but now solid and three-dimensional. Captain Marvel looks like C.C. Beck's drawings of Captain Marvel, complete with the rounded cheeks and distinctive thick eyebrows, but he looks like a real person now, with structure and weight and solidity. It's an incredible achievement. And then there's Ross's incomparable staging, lighting and posing. As the old movie slogan goes, "You will believe a man can fly." I have often wondered whether I would think less highly of the story if the art supporting it were not so glorious, and I have to admit I don't know. What style is to prose, artwork is to comics. One might as well ask whether Shakespeare would be less enjoyable if the same plots were written in grade school-level English.
Read this. It's good for you, and you'll enjoy it. Then read Alan Moore's "Watchmen," Neil Gaiman's "Sandman," Jason Lutes's "Berlin," and Will Eisner's graphic novels about old Jewish New York. Top it off with Kurt Busiek's "Astro City: Confession."
Oh---and as for the question that's always raised in comics about whether or not it's appropriate for kids. Um... I'd say KC is a PG rated story, maybe PG-13. Certainly not an R like Watchmen or Sandman.
on April 28, 2004
I chose to purchase this book because of the many high recommendations and comparisons to other great books of the genre, Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, etc., and was not disappointed.
- The art is fantastic. Gouache paint and airbrushing add up to a feast for the eyes. Character rendition was realistic and I was pulled into it visually.
- Story kept me from putting the book down. It was an interesting plot that kept me engaged.
- The writing - Just average. Why is it that bad guys are plagued by exposition? For such a wonderfully painted book, the characters were often under-developed and relied on the readers past knowledge of the characters. The story development felt rushed at times and I often had to re-read sections because I felt like I had missed something, though I hadn't; It was just choppy story telling. That would be my one complaint. The writing was not near the quality found in books by Gaiman, Miller, Morrison or Moore.
Despite my compaints about the writing I would certainly place it in my top 10. Pick it up. It's worth the $12.00
on April 22, 2004
Kingdom Come is a four-issue addition to the Elseworlds line and all four issues are collected in this volume. This may not even truly qualify as Elseworlds. It is set in the not-too-distant future after the current heroes of the DC universe have had a chance to have children.
The premise involves what happens if the cornerstone of heroism is removed. In this case that means Superman. Superman upholds the law and all it represents. After a particularly nasty episode with the Joker running loose, Superman apprehends him and brings him to trial. A new hero, Magog, kills the Joker for all of his crimes. The public speaks out and are in favor of this form of justice. Superman then flies off and goes into seclusion.
Things go from bad to worse as supercriminals are put to death and the new heroes run rampant. The heroes are now almost as big a danger as the criminals had been. Something needs to be done.
Superman comes out of retirement and tries to beat the new heroes into shape. Another faction led by Lex Luthor tries to stop him. In the background the Spectre is trying to decide the fate of the world. Will humanity or super-people be allowed to inherit the earth. And what about the wildcard Captain Marvel?
Well plotted with a good ending this is an Elseworlds tale worth reading.
on April 14, 2004
Kingdom Come is Mark Waid and Alex Ross's gift to the DC universe. After exiling himself to make room for a newer, more violent generation of superheroes, Superman is reluctantly called back into duty by Wonder Woman to set things right. As he begins to covert all the superheroes back to their proper roots of truth and justice, he begins to question what being a superhero means, and what rights 'gods' have to rule over the mortal population.
As an avid Batman reader, I've occasionally come across stories that transcend the stereotyped boundaries of the comic book medium and exist as true literature in their own right. 'The Killing Joke' and 'Batman: Year One' are examples of this. Kingdom come could certainly qualify as another, with one exception. The cast of characters in this graphic novel is huge, spanning the entire DC Comics universe. While the bulk of them are only cameos, there are still a few of them that are apt to cause confusion to casual fans. Everyone knows who Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are. Has everyone heard of Green Arrow and Captain Marvel? Maybe. Blue Beetle and Orion? Probably not. The Spectre, who leads the reader's POV character on his journey, is still a mystery to me. Do you have to be versed in the DC Universe to enjoy Kingdom Come? No. Does it add layers to the story to know who everyone is and where they're coming from? Yes. And if you're a less-than-casual fan (meaning you don't even watch the animated shows like BTAS and Justice League), Kingdom Come might be a little intimidating to read.
For those who are brave enough or well versed enough to try though, Kingdom Come is a brilliant work of fiction. The great writing and excellent art come together for a superhero tale that is more than just a comic book tale. Just get a primer in DC history before you dive in.
on January 24, 2004
"Incredible" is the best word to describe "Kingdom Come", a deft blend of DC mythology and Christianity. While fundamentalists might scoff at the inclusion of Biblical text in what is essentially a "comic book", Mark Waid's story line doesn't rely heavily on the text; it just serves as a background for the events that unfold within the book's pages.
Ross's artwork is exemplary, actually surpassing anything from the "Golden Era of Comics".
Unlike another reviewer, I found Superman, Wonder Woman, and Bruce Wayne to be well-developed characters, showing new sides of their respective personalities while exhibiting the traits that fans have come to expect from them.
The major players in the history of DC Comics appear in some form or fashion in this beautifully illustrated work. Because so many make "cameos", the book becomes a bit crowded, at times coming across like a "Where's Waldo?" as one searches for the recognizable. Thus, it loses a star on account of overkill.
on January 15, 2004
I had been urged to read this by friends and books alike. I was disappointed. Maybe I shouldn't have been. I wasn't too impressed with Marvels as well.
Overall, I think the story lacks strong characterization. Superman has perhaps the best -- it's really his story -- but even then his character doesn't get realized until the last part of the story. What you have are great looking renderings of characters that are essentially blank. Wonder Woman has become a "hawk" because she was spurned by her fellow Amazons; Batman is older, but hardly aged -- he's more of a realist (as he always was) than the metahumans, but having to wear cyber-exoskeleton all your life makes you a grumpy man -- so he deals with the war on crime his own way. As usual. Waid's writing attempts to give the characters a sense of reality (notice the scene where Wonder Woman and Supes skip stones in space) -- but these characters were never meant for reality. Some could say the same of Miller's treatment of the Dark Knight, but in the Dark Knight you don't have reality -- you have satire.
What Waid does right -- and I admire his work for this -- is visualing this alternative DC reality. The bat-drones, GL's emerald city, etc. He has a knack for cool quips. Vandal Savage says, "I never dreamed they'd return. Not in a _million years_." Ba-dum-dum. Nice play on the character.
Waid's ideas are realized by Alex Ross' painstaking art. It's definitely beautiful, but I would recommend someone to pick up the 4 oversized books he did like "Shazam: Power of Hope." In the final analysis, Ross is a great artist but he's not a great comic book storyteller. His images are too static. Looking at a work where he's fully illustrated like Kingdom Come, you feel like you're rushing through an art gallery to look at all of the canvases out there. The story ultimately gets in the way of the visual enjoyment. I doubt I'll ever go back and read the stories, but I might look at the art from time to time.
For those who love Ross' art, I would recommend the book not to read, but to merely pick up and turn from page to page. It's a beautiful book, but I don't think Kingdom Come will rock your world.
on December 21, 2003
For years Alan Moore's perversely anti-heroic THE WATCHMEN has been granted preeminence among epics of graphic novel mythology. His works (even startlingly clever satire on pre-modern superheroes, incarnated The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) reek of masochism and despair. WATCHMEN pushes PM cynicism to the bitter max. Like Nietzsche at his most psychotic, Moore glorifies Anti-Christ."Will to Power"-driven, Dr.Ozymandius (WATCHMEN's blond-haired BEAST who imagines himself Alexander the Great) treacherously kills brother ubermenschen then "judges" earth in Wrath of plague,"alien" invasion;and incineration of millions by nuclear holocaust.Then,in god-like self-apotheosis, he proclaims: I AM the One...I DID IT! [Purpose of this darkest KILLING JOKE by Moore is Deconstruction of Western Heroism and mythology of the Sacrificial Hero.]
KINGDOM COME...assisted by magnificent ICONIC artwork of genuine, Alexander the Great,ALEX ROSS...answers Moore's revelations in despair with RETURN OF THE KING-like epic. The real SUPERMAN is summoned to confront glamour of evil in raw power of masonic oligarchies (incarnated by Lex Luther and his Mankind Liberation Front); flacid amorality of fey metrosexuality, and anarchy-bred violence of youth. WONDER WOMAN, BATMAN and legendary heroes of time when men were men;women,women;and heroes,heroes rally in NEVER-ENDING BATTLE, to war with legionaries of PC lies, injustice and Three-Faces of Eve Fascism with mythologically (Captain)Marvelous answers reaffirming courage and sacredness of Life. Alan Moore's ultra hip nihilism celebrates Culture of Death. Mark Waid and Alex Ross have constructed an exciting, spectacularly illustrated, SUPERMEN saga to challenge him and nay sayers. KINGDOM COME is dazzling candle that illumines darkness-visible,and resounds with seven thunders over against lost Gollum's curse and PM princes self-worshiping acolytes.(7 stars)