Confession: When I was a kid, I didn’t read many comic books. I can’t tell you who did what in episode whatever. At heart, I’m a nerd, not a geek.
I just couldn’t get into the serial nature of them, and I didn’t find their moral clarity appealing. Often, the heroes always seemed to encounter situations where there was a clear right or wrong rather than a choice of a lesser of two evils. I found the latter juxtaposition much more appealing, the idea of an extremely powerful icon of virtue facing difficult ethical choices. Also the idea of something that is extremely powerful and extremely good ultimately judging humanity. On a spectrum, I think, we’re all on Superman’s shit list.
Enter some amazing graphic novel collections such as RED SON, THE WATCHMEN, and, reviewed here, KINGDOM COME. I picked it off my bookshelf to reread after BATMAN V SUPERMAN came out. I haven’t seen the film yet, but it seems to explore a lot of interesting dark themes. Mainly, whether an all-powerful hero, however good, can fit into the modern world, and whether that hero, however good, should be considered an enemy, as our fate is in that hero’s interpretation of good.
In KINGDOM COME by Mark Waid and Alex Ross (DC Comics, 1996), it’s the modern day, and Superman, Batman and the other heroes of yesteryear are getting old. Their progeny–the metahumans–now roam the planet in great numbers. The supervillains have been defeated long ago, and the superheroes are bored, so they have formed gangs and fight for sport, terrorizing the humans. The story is told through the eyes of an elderly preacher, who is given vision of the apocalypse triggered by conflict between superheroes. He lives in a world where humans have slowly ceded their ambition to be better because superheroes are there to take care of them. Faced with perfect, humans no longer aspire for progress as a species.
When a superhero fight turned deadly results in the destruction and irradiation of the U.S. breadbasket, Superman comes out of retirement to reform the Justice League. Some of the younger superheroes join him willingly, but others resist, some out of rebelliousness, others because they fear Superman is taking too much power into his own hands and deciding the planet’s fate on his own. Eventually, the rebellious superheroes are imprisoned, but Lex Luthor, in the guise of defending humanity, has other plans. The result is Ragnarok, superhero against superhero and civil war and final battle. Old generation versus the new. The question is whether it can be stopped or if it will destroy the world.
Mark Waid tells a complex, engaging story with no clear right or wrong, and the final battle seems inevitable. Superman is put in a no-win situation. There are cameos by so many heroes that if you’re a comics geek, you’ll be in heaven. Alex Ross’s art is amazing.
If you’re interested in looking at superheroes a different way, check it out. It’s a dark, complex and bold superhero story told with fantastic visuals.