In June 1996, Alex Ross and Mark Waid gave us Kingdom Come, an Elseworlds four issue comic book miniseries. Ross had the idea for a story that included most of the DC pantheon while he was working on Marvels in 1994. He pitched the story to DC and then teamed with Waid to flesh out the story with Waid’s extensive knowledge of DC’s heroes and their history. Ross envisioned the final product as an allegory for the ethics he saw disappearing in the hero comic stories that were being published in the 1990’s.
The story takes place many years after Superman has retired from the hero business. We learn in flashback sequences that, years earlier, The Joker had massacred everyone at The Daily Planet, including Lois Lane. The Clown Prince of Crime was then publicly executed by a superhero called Magog. Superman went into exile, unable to wrap his head around the outpouring of public support Magog was receiving for murdering a criminal who was already in custody. With their leader gone, most of the old guard of superheroes also faded into retirement, leaving a void to be filled by a new generation of heroes, led by Magog.
In the storyline present, with The Man of Tomorrow no longer available to enforce the “no kill” rule, there is little distinction left between superheroes and the villains they face. An overzealous attack led by Magog on the Parasite ends in a catastrophic event that leaves most of the American Midwest in ruins. Millions have died and the food production for much of the United States has been crippled.
Wonder Woman finds Superman and enlists him to return to Metropolis and re-form the Justice League to reign in the new generation and restore order. Three major factions of supers emerge: The Justice League, many of the old guard superheroes led by Superman; The Outsiders, mostly second and third generation supers led by Batman; and the Mankind Liberation Front, a group of villains led by Lex Luthor. While these super factions are sorting things out amongst themselves through violent means, the ordinary humans are also trying to sort out a solution that will work in their own favor and will end the tyranny suffered under super humans.
Ross’ artwork is nothing short of breathtaking. Using models and photo reference, he accurately captures the subtlety of a wide range of emotion. Each panel is meticulously hand painted with watercolors. The technique lends itself nicely to a classic and timeless feel. Every panel and gutter is filled with amazing detail.
Waid’s script weaves seamlessly in and out of multiple layers of storyline and subplot. The dialogue is realistic and genuine. There is a little bit of over explanation of the Biblical undertone by directly quoting the book of Revelation, but overall, Waid does an excellent job bringing the reader along for the ride. For the complexity of the story, you would expect there to be at least a few small “lost” moments, but there are no such moments to be found.
This edition collects Kingdom Come #1-4 and has 130 pages of extras. The original pencil artwork for every character is shown with an explanation, backstory, and reason for inclusion in the work. There’s also a nice feature called Keys To The Kingdom which details every visual Easter Egg laid by Ross, by page and panel and a chart that shows the Genealogy of Kingdom Come.
I would easily include this title in my top 10 comic stories of all time, if not my top 3. If you don’t own a copy, you should.
Kingdom Come 20th Anniversary Deluxe Ed HC: released May 11, 2016, Writer: Mark Waid, Artist: Alex Ross, Colors: Alex Ross, Letters: Todd Klein, $35.99.
Review by Brendan Allen.