Throwback Thursdays is a place where KABOOOOOM writers look back at things that have inspired, influence and amazed them from geekdom past. This week, Rush Urbalejo tackles the Mark Waid and Alex Ross masterpiece “Kingdom Come.”
Seventeen years ago, Mark Waid and Alex Ross told the world a story that included some of our favorite DC superheroes in a future where their methods for justice are no longer respected. At the time of its release in 1996, Kingdom Come was a brilliant idea that was not only written well, but contained artwork that inspired awe, catapulting the medium to a new level.
Since its release, a new generation of artists and writers have stepped up and while they have used the past as a foundation for their work, their work is truly their own. Their stories are intriguing and well written and with modern technology at their fingertips, today’s comic book artists can do in hours what it used to take artists days to complete. Now, almost twenty years later and in a field that is crowded with fantastic writers and talented artists, we look back on this iconic story to see just how well it has survived the test of time.
The story opens in a future where the Justice League has disbanded and its heroes are a thing of the past. Superman, Wonder Woman and The Flash are almost a joke, that goes as far as inspiring a kitschy restaurant called, “Planet Krypton,” where its dishes are named after superheroes and the servers are costumed.
The new breed of crusaders, most of them children or grandchildren of the once beloved heroes, have no regard for human life with no qualms when it comes to killing a villain to get their point across. Worse, they have no regard for the innocent lives that are endangered during their battles with those villains. Within the opening pages, readers are provided with images of destruction and of innocent people running, frightened of their new “protectors”.
As Waid explains through the narrative, “They no longer fight for the right. They fight simply to to fight, their only foes each other.” We are presented with images of these new crusaders as pompous figures, arrogant in their superiority.
They hide behind the idea of “justice” when their motives are something else entirely. There is nothing resembling the heroes of the past, no matter how much blood the old generation and the new share.
Once one of the new “heroes” kills a million people during a fight, Superman knows it is time to start holding accountable those who are accountable for keeping us safe.
The story, for the most part, is told as a narrative with only about a third of the entire story being actual dialogue. Waid presents the story as a series of visions presented by Spectre and witnessed by a pastor who sees the correlation between this new breed of superherosand the,“End of Times.”
The story runs smoothly, for the most part, and it does give readers a glimpse into what would happen in a world where society has been driven to the point where we want more than just justice – we want revenge.
The fact is that some days, we don’t seem far from this society, which gives the story yet another layer of depth which draws the reader in.
What if superheroes existed in our society? Would we be more accepting of those that seek justice or those that seek revenge on our behalf? Waid’s vision shows us one side of that coin.
More than that, it shows the effect that a hero’s morality may ultimately play in their usefulness in our world.
In this case, after Superman’s dedication to justice and true aversion to killing is tested when the love of his life, Lois Lane, is killed by Joker. Rather than exacting vengeance, Superman begins his search for Joker with every intention of bringing him to justice. The new superhero in town, Magog, beats him to the catch, however, and takes matters into his own hands by killing Joker in cold blood, much to the displeasure of Superman.
Superman takes Magog to jail but the public approves of Magog’s methods at stopping the clown terrorist, giving Superman an answer he didn’t even realize he was looking for.
After Magog is acquitted of murder, Superman realizes his morals and values no longer play a part in society, and he disappears in seclusion rather than adapt his methods or change his beliefs, leading the other “real” superheroes to follow suit. With this small subplot, Waid demonstrated his vision of Superman: a man who is willing to do anything it takes to fight for justice rather than revenge, even at the cost of his own personal emotions. This take on Superman is cut directly from Jerry Siegel’s original vision of the character and it plays well.
In true DC Comics fashion, the story is more atmosphere than action and there are scenes that leave the reader with a bleak outlook of a future where superhumans not only exist but have given up on a society that doesn’t value them as the heroes that they are. That is not to say that there isn’t action!
There are some wonderful fight scenes that still invoke emotion after all of these years. The action is there when it counts and Waid does a wonderful job balancing action with story and it blended beautifully. The final fight between Superman and Captain Marvel is the one of the most iconic scenes from the book.
From the moment the fight starts until it ends, each panel is designed to demonstrate the tension that the characters are experiencing while the reader watches two of DC’s most powerful men battle, laying destruction and causing the death of almost the entire superhuman race. It is an epic battle that is represented in a way that is heart breaking and brutal and it is written perfectly.
The reforming of the relationships between the old friends are absent other than a few interactions between Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and reading it now, those relationships were sorely missed. There are times when it seemed that Waid’s intention to include every superhero in the DC Universe may have overridden any decision for a deeper look into those relationships, but this can be forgiven.
Alex Ross is one of the most prolific comic book artists in the industry. His work can be spotted from miles around and his style is almost universally admired. With this story, he never misses a beat. Even without the aid of Waid’s writing, each panel tells the story beautifully by presenting us with images that are striking and realistic, almost reminiscent of the pinup art of the 1950s.
This style of comic book art gives readers a chance to see what these characters would look like if they actually existed rather than being presented with typical comic book images, in turn creating more of an emotional bond between the reader and the images on the page. In this case, this realistic approach helps the reader connect with the characters in their sadness, anger and triumph, providing an even richer reading experience.
In addition to the artistic style that is perfect for the Justice League, Ross’s attention to detail is striking. He has sprinkled treats for fans throughout the pages of the story that include everything from a tribute to Jerry Siegel to a nod to Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s a book that’s so pretty with the added bonus of being able to find all of Ross’ Easter eggs.
There really isn’t a single panel that could have been drawn better and Ross’ love for the characters is so clear that readers almost wonder if he himself may have some sort of secret connection to a super-world within our own.
His soft colors and almost non-existent hard lines demonstrate his familiarity of the characters as they seem as if they are portraits rather than simply comic book characters.Ross’s shadow work is something to be admired and young artists should look to him for inspiration.
Compared to many titles that are on the shelves today, Kingdom Come is still a story that is compelling and interesting, and it still delights readers after almost two decades. Waid and Ross gave comic book fans something very special seventeen years ago that not only has withstood the test of time but continues to bring joy and wonder to both seasoned comic book readers and those readers who have just recently discovered the world of comic books.