Superman Stats

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Man of Steel: Kingdom Come Review

Man of Steel

Kingdom Come Review

While I understand that Man of Steel month is over, I couldn't help but giving Superman another go. Prior to my Man of Steel review I promised a look at where to start with reading Superman comics like I did with Iron Man.  

Unfortunately, once I sat down to put this list together, I realized that my Superman knowledge was limited and that complimented my own article regarding my non existent interest in the big blue boy scout. 

Then I got a chance to grab a bunch of Superman books, Man of Steel's release jogged a new ambition in me and now I hold seven special books on the first superhero in the world. 

These are the seven books, by the end of the year I will hopefully have reviewed all of them

So I've been on a kind of Superman binge this past month, any time I can catch break from work I pull out one of these bad boys and start reading. 

As you may have noticed my review format has changed. I'm tired of doing the formulaic method, instead I insist on just reviewing the book in a free style method. Its much more fun. 

Also from now on my reviews will reflect the format of the book I have; such as my Kingdom Come is a trade paperback edition, though you can get it in hardcover and Absolute editions. This is because, I've stopped reading comics from a illegally downloaded digital format (its the reason I actually stopped my weekly reviews), so as to save me from a guilty concious. 

Now onto the review...

So onwards with the review. Of the seven Superman comics I own, I consider Kingdom Come to be the best and my favorite. Particularly cause I am a huge fan of Alex Ross's photo realistic artwork. 

Taking its influences from Alan Moore's unpublished DC comic idea 'Twilight of the Superheroes', the book was written by Mark Waid and drawn/painted by Alex Ross (with lettering by Todd Klein). Released in 1996 as four single issues, the comic was published under DC's popular Elseworld's imprint (a style that spectacularly fits both the origins and ideals of Superman). 

The elseworlds imprint allows writers to craft original and alternate reality storyline that bring about creative methods of changing the DC timeline and characters. An exciting way for fans to see the favorite Superheroes. Its popularity has seeped into different mediums with elseworld cinematic tales (like the Dark Knight Trilogy) or elseworld gaming tales (like Injustice: Gods Among Us). 

The story itself speaks of an alternate reality future where the old guard of heroes has finally retired, allowing a new bunch of heroes to take over. Unfortunately these new heroes neither have the ethic or moral code of their predecessors, they have no real value for innocent lives and seem to 'save' the world while they destroy it. 

Magog the leader of the new age heroes; The Justice Battalion

Led by Magog, a superhero having no qualms about killing those villains that have haunted the DC Universe for years. The story questions the upstanding attitude Superman holds when he decides to let someone like a Lex Luthor live at the cost of the death of a million lives again and again. 

Eventually Superman takes to the stage when his farm home of Kansas city is destroyed in the wake of a Superhero battle. He forms his Justice League and gets ready to both teach a lesson to these new heroes and establish the old but broken order alongside a hell bent Wonder Woman (for her own reasons). 

Wesley Dodds is the character through which we view the story (much like with the reporter in Alex Ross's amazing Marvels), a priest, he is visited by the spirit of vengeance; The Spectre. He is told of the coming apocalyptic events that will soon engulf the world, including taking Spectre along with him to witness it.

The book was released during a time after the birth of the seminal and iconic graphic novels Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns (two that I also have in my collection). These books literally formed the late 80's to 90's culture of grim and gritty comics. Unfortunately not many writers and artists understood the idea, and seemed to just go overboard (like CBM's do now, from the influence of TDK Trilogy). 

Two of the most important literary works in the comic book medium and the superhero you've probably realized this review is a way for me to promote my awesome collection

Here then comes in Waid, waging a war against the so called gritty stories where every hero has a certain violent edge into him. He asks the age old question; is there a place for Superman and his ideals in this modern world. 

Its one of the books plus points, as the question can play into the context of even today's world. The book actually explores a fair bit on that. The reason Superman is chosen as the symbol rather than lets say the much more 'no killing' stern Batman, is because of the iconography of what he represents. 

Superman by no doubts is the first superhero in the world. His place in comic book history is of legend, and Waid (an avid Superman fan) understands that more than anyone. 

Mark Waid though doesn't explore a one note path of the story though, he still understands the place for the grit and gray area factor needed in comics. Its the same reason why across the half way point his book takes a very brilliant turn, as Batman enters the play; the question also arises as to whether Superman should really stop playing Big Brother to Earth and rather let the world and its people steer their own course. 

This comes back to the point of Superman as the symbol of superheroes because of him being the original one. Superman bursting onto the scene in his blue, red and yellow (in this future black) costume opened the gateways for a flood of extraordinary men and women. With this Superman change both the destiny of Earth and the potential of its people. Now his arrival and subsequent leave ended up making things worse, but his return and policing attitude wont help solve things but rather escalate them in damning ways to his own adopted home. 

Batman's entry alongside his own group of 'Outsiders' tries to prevent Superman and his Justice Leagues own policing attitude. 

Waid scripts a lot of subtext into the story and adds resonating political as well as social depth that makes it much more important than just any comic book. Allusions can be seen right from the title and cover itself. 

If you look back to the Kingdom Come picture above you can then follow my own theories. First obviously the title, its called Kingdom Come. In the book its obviously alluded to the bible verse read by the peripheral character of the book Wesley Dodds. 

Thy Kingdom Come the verse asserts the fact that the savior Jesus Christ will return to once again establish the Kingdom of God on Earth. In short the second coming, there's no doubt that multiple writers through the years have presented Superman as an allusion to Christ himself, as such this is what the title entails. 

But for Christ to return, or in this case Superman. The world itself must be witness to tragedy and humanity must also understand and embrace suffering and pain. Its a way for them to understand the true value of Superman as their protector.

Like with Christ and his supposed second coming, Superman also must enter the world again at a time much more darker and brutal enough to shatter his innocence and shake his own purity. 

With Superman this comes in the form of the aforementioned destruction of Kansas (his hometown), the place where our big blue boy scout grew up and learned his ideals is destroyed leaving behind a radioactive wasteland, symbolic of everything Superman is. Giving us the reason why the second coming and the building of 'Gods' Kingdom will engulf the world.

Now onto the cover itself. Superman is leaning forward on the table, looking mighty as ever but with a face of rage. He is clearly a bit worn out but his powerful as ever, the rage is directed towards humanity and their own mistakes. In my theory this Superman is telling us that he is back, and this time he will take control but do it while conforming to his ideals. In short a way that will cause him both internal conflict but especially external conflict; referred to in the reflections of the table. Both the original and reflection have well known characters, showing each side of the war with their respective staunch supporters.Behind Superman lies the emerald throne. The reflection of his on it just shows how much more powerful and determined he truly is to accomplish his mission.  Hopefully I analyzed it right. 

As per any comic book story, its bound to end in a mind blowing finale fight. Superman and his Justice League face off against the power of everybody else (mostly Batman and a Lex Luthor mind controlled Captain Marvel AKA Shazam).

Shazam controlled by Lex Luthor confront Superman in the final pages of chapter/issue 3 bringing together the destructive final battle

While powered by magic, Shazam himself is in a way the same but still different reflection of Superman and his conflicting ideals in the modern world. The character himself has gone through some complicated times in this universe like growing up from the child Billy Baston to actually looking like his super hero alter ego. On a deeper note he thus represents the loss of innocence of an older time of comics (namely the Silver Age). He of course thus ends up playing a pivotal part in the ending (no spoilers). 

Moving away from sub text. Mark Waid rights the core characters very brilliantly. There are few writers who truly understand the themes and mythos that bind Superman as a complex and complete character. Waid is one of the few (at least according to me) alongside Grant Morrison, Alan Moore and of course Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster that truly knows how to write a definite Superman. 

He also includes quite complex sub plots for a number of the supporting cast. Where Superman is conflicted about his mission he presents Wonder Woman as the opposite, she's driven and unwavering but also doing this for her own sort of selfish ways (in this case to prove herself to the Amazonians that demoted her from her position as Ambassador to Earth). 

Batman has made Gotham a police state with Batbots but also understands as mentioned his need for humanity to run its course and why his own ideals always bring conflict between him and his best friend. Obviously I have already talked about Shazam.

As mentioned before Waid uses the book to highlight the unnecesary violence seeping into the comics of that time. As such he uses an ironic method of writing down tons of violent clashes in producing his own reconstruction of the medium at the finale of his book.

Onto Ross's work now. Apparently after reading the book, I have found out that both Waid and Ross struggled to collaborate together on this project. Mark Waid may have taken more credit for the writing than deserved, according to Ross; the bits regarding the story with Superman were his idea which Waid enhanced and included alongside other heroes with sub plots such as Shazam and Wonder Woman.

Still away from the writing we can talk about his artwork. Alex Ross as mentioned before has a photo realistic style to his work, sometimes it can be a hindrance especially in a comic requiring heavy emphasis on expression and body movement of the drawings. While this does create issues here as well, Ross's style clashes supremely with Waid's own use of violence in this comic in a superb way.   

Ross's artwork fits perfectly with promotional posters for the book

Alex Ross's painting style creates the beauty of the fight scenes thus highlighting Waid's own re-constructionist agenda. It helps that this also adds an element of nostalgia for the more experienced fan. Waid is supportive of Ross in this case that he lets the usually much more still artwork of Ross, speak louder than words in numerous dialogue ridden pages. Such pages subtly present these new and old superheroes with their powers and costumes giving a fun history lesson to older readers without really alienating new ones. 

It also adds a still dynamism to action scenes

This is more obvious with scenes in the future Earth restaurant known as Planet Krypton, a place where the old guard's history is intact in a way that would make comic book geeks proud and squeal. 

This is the same setting for one of the extras of the trade versions; the tacked on epilogue. As I wont be giving any spoilers its a bit hard to review, but all I can say is that while the epilogue is satisfactory it also hints to things that debunk the message Waid is trying to present through the book. Still as I said its satisfying and ends in a really fun touch. Alongside the epilogue, the edition also includes an extra scene where Superman visits the new god Orion at Apokolips.

The Alex Ross double cover for the Absolute edition of Kingdom Come

Speaking of extras. The TPB version includes a front page dedicating the comic to Christopher Reeve the original cinematic Superman. After that there is also a slightly lengthy introduction by author Elliot S Magin. 

The main extras are sketches of the lead characters of the books by Alex Ross including snipets of information on these versions. It also includes wide panel artworks of the superheroes in teams littered in the book with a numbering format for whose who in the story, if anyone doesn't know considering the multiple characters there are. 

There's a short inclusion on the script and art pages depicting the evolution of the scenes including Superman and the New God Orion of Apokolips. Then there's multiple pictures of Alex Ross's variant covers including a long picture for a t-shirt design by DC. Alex Ross also details the people he based his photo realistic drawing on. Finally the acknowledgements and an advertise for other works by Alex Ross. Overall the extras are fun but a standard for TPB's, they seem more focused on Alex Ross's artwork; the selling and strong point of the book. Although usually such TPB's would include the original scripts, this doesn't and makes it that much more fun but also annoying (no help for a writer).

The book itself has a cover that runs from front to back. It's binded in the standard way for most paperbacks.

In conclusion, I truly consider Mark Waid and Alex Ross's Kingdom Come as a book that stands just below revolutionary graphic novels like Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns (although I don't like DKR that much, but later on that front). It's a book in similar light to these yet different in its take and final message, that makes it really work as a semi-masterpiece of the medium, semi because it conflicts and contradicts itself like its lead character as well as writer-artist duo. 

As I said this is a new reviewing method, so I wont be rating the book either. What I will do is answer the question: Do I recommend this book, and if so to whom?

Yes, I do recommend this book. To obviously the more experienced comic book fan who knows only little but enough about Superman or to the Superman fan who doesn't really read comics. Its a fun experience, but not for people who have just recently been introduced to Superman through Man of Steel. If you have money, I would suggest getting the Absolute edition; it includes extra interviews with writer and artist and is printed in a larger higher quality paper format befitting of Ross's artwork.

'Nuff Said

Aneesh Raikundalia

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