Kingdom Come Absolute Edition by Mark Waid and Alex Ross – Comics Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius takes a look at one of the greats of the comics industry, Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come.
“One of the single greatest commentaries on the anti-hero boom of the early 90s and best comics ever made. What more could you ask for.” – The Founding Fields
There’s no denying that the comic industry from the very late 80s to early 90s is something people try to forget about. With huge guns, heroes which were indistinguishable from the villains, complete removal of the “no kill” policy, a severe artistic licence with physiology and bad writing it was a mess. While I’ll be the first to defend those which were genuinely good, there was no denying there was little in terms of quality storytelling. The end result of this was Kingdom Come which served as a savage denouncement and deconstruction of the characters of this Dark Age. One which was surprisingly even handed despite everything.
The story is of a dark near future in which things have gone horribly wrong. Superman and many of the classic heroes have disappeared, fading away into seclusion allowing for a newer much more violent generation to rise without the guidance of their elders. Turning on one another after they have seemingly exterminated all supervillains, without any care for who gets caught in the crossfire. After an engagement in Kansas wipes out everything living there, Superman is forced out of retirement determined to safeguarding the world once more.
The first thing to really credit here is that absolutely everything driven by characterisation clicks into place. Usually with Elseworlds or big events there’s the problem in which you need to have someone act out of character or like an idiot to get the ball rolling (Civil War anyone?) but in this everything works. Events like having Superman leave due to the public embracing the ideals he has decried for decades is something which feels entirely in character and why the public would support them is understandable. After all if you had a killer clown repeatedly breaking out of a mental asylum each week, killing hundreds only to be put back inside again, wouldn’t you support the person who permentatly took him down? Even when the story goes so far to have the president order a nuclear strike dropped on a battle, it’s clearly a hard choice he does not want to make and never manages to demonise the government itself for this act. Something remarkable considering just how many big names die in that blast.
Those which are seen not to take a side such as Aquaman are given fitting reasons for refusing to help and even the new generation of heroes is presented in a balanced light. They’re shown to take down all the old threats which the heroes never did (to the point where Batman is noted to have “the nights off” since his entire rogue’s gallery was dealt with) and some willingly take the sides of the heroes trying to fix things without much prompting. The comic even nothing in brief points they had to deal with threats the original generation never did. Many are still presented as being in the wrong and completely out of control, but the comic never goes so far as to make this a black-and-white situation.
Better yet the individual character arcs are consistently presented as well as the bigger stories. Each is brilliantly presented and feels completely natural, especially in terms of the world they have had to adapt to. Most telling of this is that Kingdom Come is the only story ever to make the pairing of Superman and Wonder Woman feel right. It’s focused on only developing a core cast and ignoring the side-characters who make up each army (even those who join Superman at the very start) but that focus makes the few they have all the better.
If there is something of a shortcoming to be found it’s in two things: The first is continuity. The few questionable elements like Hal Jordan’s disappearance have to be put down to the stories at the time of publication. The other is that that there are no proper fights within the series. Oh there’s everything from huge battles to one settled with single punches but they are not emphasised upon. A bit of a disappointment but it’s not what the comic is about and the presentation will likely distract you from this fact until long after you’ve finished. Plus as with many subtle things in the book, avoiding the fights make its opposition to the action obsessed 90s comics all the more clear.
Well, that and the art.
Alex Ross paints every panel in a hyper-realistic style about as far from the Liefeldian slabs of muscle and guns as you could hope to find. Resembling the classic Dan Dare comics with shades of Frank Hampson and Frank Bellamy more than they do any other era and it’s as beautiful a comic as you can hope to find. Words really do not do it justice, ranking amongst the best examples of comicbook art which have ever been produced. To top off a great story the last third of this collection consists of an Apocrypha detailing interviews, character commentaries, detailed art sketches and the thoughts behind the characters. It’s effectively the director’s cut section of the comic and makes a great story even more fascinating.
This a very rare example of a story in which there is genuinely nothing it does wrong. Even the elements I personally disagreed with had such thought and quality behind them that there really was no ground on which to truly criticise them. If you have knowledge of the dark age of comics which this deconstructs, this is highly recommended and even without that I would still suggest buying it on its other qualities of characters and art. There really are few to no comics better than this and Kingdom Come’s reputation, putting it alongside Alan Moore’s Watchmen, is entirely deserved. Definitely buy this one if you can find it.
Special thanks to Gareth Evans of Paranerds.com for donating the collection for this review.