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Kingdom Come

Written by Mark Waid
Painted by Alex Ross

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Like Leave it to Chance, Kingdom Come consciously runs counter to the bad trends in comics, and was recently published in a collected edition. In many other ways, though, it is quite different from Chance. This includes the way that it deals with the negative trend from heroes to amoral anti-heroes in a grim and gritty supposed realism. Leave it to Chance combats this trend by offering us simple heroic fantasy in a form suitable for audiences young and old. Kingdom Come confronts it right on the page, in the storyline.

To quote Superman from the second chapter of the story:

Many of you may remember us. We have been away for a while. That was our mistake. In our absence, a new breed of metahumans has arisen ... a vast phalanx of self-styled "heroes" unwilling to preserve life or defend the defenseless ... A legion of vigilantes who have perverted their great powers ... who have foresworn the responsibilities due them. We have returned to teach them the meaning of truth and justice. Together, we will guide this new breed with wisdom ... and, if necessary, with force. Above all, we will restore order. We will make things right again.

The "new breed" of superbeings found in Kingdom Come's future are precisely the sort of characters appearing in a large number of the superhero comics published today, the sort that Image Comics specializes in but which can be found in the comics published by dozens of companies.

The book doesn't offer us a simple answer to this new breed. Instead it starts out by offering us three different solutions, none of which really work. Superman's answer slips into authoritarianism, Wonder Woman's leads towards jingoism and war and Batman's towards holocaust. All the characters wrestle with the moral dilemmas that their diverse approaches engender before finally arriving at an answer built on faith, trust and moral duty, one that I am rather predisposed to favor. In the end, though, the values that Kingdom Come brings us to are much the same ones embodied in Leave it to Chance: affirming life, freedom and responsibility for one's actions. Chance would, I think, approve of the values that they arrive at, though I suspect she would wonder why adults make such a big production about arriving at the obvious.

It seems clear to me that Waid and Ross are consciously trying to start a counter-trend reversing one that can be traced back to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, a ground-breaking graphic novel that many credit with originating the "grim and gritty" flavor of so much of what is published in comics today. Both the dark "realism" exemplified by DC's Sandman and Vertigo line (or Miller's own Sin City), and the violent fantasies found in the X-Men and Image comics owe a great deal to Miller's dark vision of the Batman's future. Kingdom Come complements and contrasts with that story.

In the Dark Knight, Frank Miller's art was dark, as suited his story, and stylized rather than realistic. The result was to most eyes compelling and effective if not what one might term beautiful. It seems to me that Miller's stylized art like Jack Kirby's provide some of the justification for the emphasis on style in what is often called the Image school of comic book art. Please don't think, however, that that means I think that the Image school art stands up to either Miller or Kirby's work. Quite the contrary. Both Kirby and Miller have more than amply demonstrated their skill at representation art, and neither sacrificed that artistry to their exaggerated style.

In contrast with both Miller and so much of the hack work that followed him, Ross has used a highly realistic, detailed, and skillful style to illustrate Kingdom Come. The study of Superman shown here gives a feel for the painstaking care that Ross has taken with the art. Just as Miller made his characters into larger than life icons, Ross has made his very real and life-like, something which gives added force to the moral dilemmas and struggles that they face in the story.

So, again, I can recommend Kingdom Come because it represents a number of good trends. Most importantly there is a return to the idealism and heroism of the superheroes of the past. There is the beautifully rendered realistic artwork. There is the equally realistic representation of the humanity of these heroes, bring them into clearer relationship with the real world.

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Last Updated: Jul 15, 2008