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Graphic Novel Revisited: Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross (1996/97)

Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross (1996/97)

By Cristina Miller

In this third installment of Graphic Novel Revisited, I decided to venture into trade paperbacks, a term that refers to a reprint of a story arc from a single title and compiled into paperback form. I picked up the Elseworlds epic and deconstructed Kingdom Come.

Written masterfully by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, this mini-series takes place in an alternate DC universe where an aged Superman has shunned the outside world for the solace of his Fortress of Solitude; Wonder Woman has been stripped of her royalty; and Batman, here a broken man in an exoskeleton, has left the crusading in Gotham City to his own army of robots. The world in which they live no longer needs their heroism that adhered to Truth, Justice and the American Way but instead it is left to the next generation, some of them actual offspring of the old guard, whose philosophy is vengeance and vigilantism by any means necessary. This new guard, with their brute force and careless abandon, has caused distrust between the governments of man and the realms of superhumans. This violent and potent stew is about to boil over and destroy the world around them. Who can save this universe from imploding? Cue Wonder Woman recruiting the only man that could possibly unify them: Superman and reforming the Justice League, that bastion of the old guard.

A story that originally spanned four issues in 1996, Kingdom Come was the book that embodied my changing tastes as I transitioned out of the superhero comics of my youth to the more grounded human stories of my young adulthood. In the late 90’s, I was fresh out of high school and casually visited the only comic book store in the desert that I knew of, UC Comics in Palm Desert. I would look through the shelves and see Image books like Wild C.A.T.S. and Spawn mixed with the Marvel X-Titles and DC’s Justice League. Then I saw it. A painted wraparound cover of a man with a red “S” on his chest, spit-curl slightly askew with red smoke swirling around his broad chest and arms. It was issue #4 of Kingdom Come. The last issue of the series. I needed to complete the collection.

Kingdom Come is a series I return to every few years or so. The last time I read through it, I had returned to the desert after my college years. I unpacked a box and there was my copy of the trade paperback (my actual group of four issues is hidden away in a secret location surrounded by a moat of mechanical narwhals). I remember it had a prominent place on the shelf in my bedroom. As I moved into another phase of my life and into a new living situation, I was sure as schnitzel that Kingdom Come would.. ahem.. come with me.

Sitting down with it again and immersing myself in the storytelling, is only the tip of the iceberg. The art... THE ART… THE! ART! Is breathtaking. Painted in gouache by Alex Ross as well, each panel carries heft and emotion in its details especially during the climactic final act of the series. Ross also incorporated cameos of other superheroes from other universes, like a certain web-slinger or a particular weather wielding goddess, as well as subtle allusions to storylines of yore. It is Ross’ grounding in realism and his knowledge of DC lore that keeps me coming back. His physical depictions of all the characters and key players, all based on real people including his own father, are perhaps the closest I will ever get to seeing Superman in the flesh.

Waid and Ross’ work on this is a master class in storytelling and artistry. I cannot say that enough. It is a timeless tale that delves into the real life consequences of decisions made by those who can fly and those who can only observe from the ground or both. It humanized my concept of what a true superhero is and what a superhero should be. Shazam.