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KINGDOM COME (1996)

Story: Mark Waid, Artwork: Alex Ross

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

It isn't always a happy story. But it's one of the most powerful tales in comics history.

Kingdome Come is the centerpiece of DC Comics' Elseworlds line, which places characters in different settings, times or circumstances to allow for more creative freedom than the mainstream, in-continuity books can allow. In this case, it's the not-so-distant future, and things in this world peopled by superheroes have changed.

Many of the old, familiar heroes of today are gone, in many cases retired. A new breed of "hero" has taken their place -- superpowered but amoral beings who have eradicated the supervillain threat by means of simple execution. Surprisingly, the world supports this new trend because, inevitably, it saves lives.

Superman is among the missing, having fled into seclusion in mixed grief and fury 10 years before. That's when the Joker, Batman's greatest nemesis, slaughtered the staff of the Daily Planet, and Clark Kent's wife, Lois Lane, was among the dead. But neither Superman nor Batman could bring the Joker to justice; instead, a newcomer in the field, Magog, found and killed the mad villain. The public was thrilled. Superman was not.

But now Magog's brand of kamikaze justice is out of control. There is a greater number of superpowered beings these days and few foes left to fight. So they fight each other, rarely taking the lives or property of bystanders into account. And Magog's hounding of one last villain leads to an accident which devastates much of the American Midwest.

That, combined with a plea from Wonder Woman, is enough to bring Superman out of retirement. He decides it's time for him and his old compatriots -- Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Power Girl, the Flash and others -- to take charge and "re-educate" the super bullies who've replaced them. As you might expect, the next generation doesn't want the old ones coming back and giving orders.

Batman, now crippled, refuses to join their effort, which he considers over the line of fascism. And he has allies, too -- Green Arrow, Black Canary, Blue Beetle -- and they enter into a strange pact with another group led by Lex Luthor and an oddly different Captain Marvel. The conflicts which result are stunning in their vivid brutality.

Tying the whole story together is the character of a simple city pastor whose faith has wavered. He is chosen by the omnipotent Spectre to help determine the course of retribution for the great wrongs about to occur. And it is through his eyes, usually as an unseen observer from the wings, that we see the story unfold.

The climax to the tale is apocalyptic in scale. And I'll wager the resolution isn't one you were prepared to see.

Writer Mark Waid has penned a potent tale about heroes as we never expected to see them. It's horrifying at times, and yet strangely refreshing, too. Characters we thought we knew act uncharacteristically at times, yet their actions ring true nonetheless. If the DC heroes were real, this is a very possible outcome of that reality.

A strong story deserves an equally strong presentation, and the perfect man for the job was Alex Ross. His painted artistry is far beyond the standard of what is generally considered to be comic book art, and his characters move and breathe with tangible life. Ross has done a marvelous job of reinterpreting familiar characters, adding mileage to them in ways rarely allowed within a book's continuity. Grey hair abounds (or, in some cases, has vanished). Some show the effect of hard years spent adventuring. Even Superman is showing a bit of a middle-aged spread.

With the creators' talents combined, Kingdom Come vibrates with real emotion and life.

The collected edition comes with some additional artwork, character studies and other tidbits. But the real bonus here is the eight-page, one-year-after epilogue. There's no action here; it's a quiet gathering of three heroes in a clever, if unlikely setting. Clark, Diana and Bruce all come to some new conclusions and resolutions, and their relationships with each other evolve in a direction I think a lot of us have anticipated for a very long time.

If you already love comics, you need this book. If you still believe comics are a medium best left to your youth, this is a good place to prove yourself wrong.

Links:

An excellent Kingdom Come Fan Site.