Usually, Wonder Woman is Kathleen’s domain, but when I saw this oversized graphic novel that was illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Alex Ross, I just had to read and share!
Published soon after the tragedy of 9/11 in NYC, this story is shaped by the shock of the American people that terrorism could happen on our own shores. As such, it is a hopeful narrative that shows compassion to all nations of the world. Paul Dini begins this story with Diana’s birth at Paradise Island, and her later wish to join ‘Man’s World’ as an ambassador to help mankind. Her amazing powers are appreciated by many and she helps fight evil in large and small ways. However, others do not respect her goodwill and often her intentions are misinterpreted and rejected. She asks for advice from Superman, who wisely tells her to work alongside people instead of above them. She takes his words to heart and no longer always wears her Amazonian outfit, so she can blend in with other cultures and help from within. Finally, her spirit of truth shines through for all to see.
Ross’s painted watercolors are beautiful as always and done in his trademark photo-realism style. Diana often is shown to resemble Lynda Carter, the iconic actress who played Wonder Woman on television in the 1970’s. The layout is not typical graphic novel panels, but often are two-page spreads or montages with a few thin black lines to differentiate the pictures and to direct the flow of the action sequences. The people in the crowds are so realistic, you know that Ross is painting them from models as he did later in the superb Kingdome Come, which also featured Diana in the DC classic.
This book only reinforced that Wonder Woman is a hero for the ages, but also ably connected her to our modern-day world. This lovely stand-alone graphic novel was a treat and I highly recommend it for both the message and the art!
I’d forgotten until I was halfway through this one that Nancy has already read and reviewed it… but by that point, I was committed to finishing it! The show must go on, right? And I figured I’d see how similar or different our opinions were on it =P
Just before his death, the Sandman begins to have terrible visions. His friend, Pastor Norman McCay, is with him in his final moments – but then the visions transfer to him after the Sandman passes. The visions are horrible, filled with fire and blood and thunder. The Spectre appears to Pastor McCay, saying that he needs his help, because Armageddon is almost upon them. He needs a human soul to help him judge whomever is responsible for the impending evil.
It is a new millennium, and the superheroes of old have retired, or gone back to their homes, or gone into hiding. The new heroes – the descendants or proteges of those who came before – act without thought or reason. One of them, who calls himself Magog, killed The Atom, causing a nuclear fallout across the American Midwest. Wonder Woman appears to Superman, pleading for him to come out of his self-imposed exile and show the world hope once more. He reluctantly agrees, but the world is not what it used to be. Humanity hasn’t retained the same morality or capacity for hope. Is it possible for Superman to stick to his old morals to reach the next generation, show them the hero’s way, and save humanity?
… Holy crap. This book challenges the role of superheroes in a new millennium and an ever-changing society – and succeeds. Though it was written in the late ’90s, it still holds up extremely well today. The heroes you know and love are seen here as older, some jaded, some still hopeful they can make a difference. They are caught between their love of humanity, their deep-rooted morals, and the realization that sometimes the world moves on without you, and you have to change and adapt to it rather than expecting the world to bend to your will (even if you’ve superhuman will). I loved how these things conflicted within each character. This goes for our narrator Pastor McCay, and the villains who appear too, not just the heroes. Spectacular writing by Mark Waid all around.
The art… I cannot say enough about it. Two words: Alex Ross. He makes magic with superheroes. He works in more of a photorealistic style, making your favorite heroes really come to life. His sense of color and lighting, especially when it comes to the metallic aspects of some costumes, is unparalleled. Since his style takes longer to render than usual comic book art, he usually only does covers – seeing a whole comic with his art is a real treat. I’m not exaggerating when I say you’ve never seen a comic book illustrated like this before.
TLDR: As an artist, Alex Ross makes me want to quit daily X,D
In short, Kingdom Come is a must-read for any comic book fan. Waid’s writing challenges the place of superheroes in a new society, which is only augmented by Ross’ spectacular art.
P.S. I didn’t read Nancy’s review until I’d finished mine so I wouldn’t accidentally borrow her thoughts and ideas. I only knew she loved it, but the reasons why ended up being pretty similar. Except for the “One Year Later” ending… I HATED IT! EW!! GROSS!!! Save for that, we’re of the same mind on this one 😉
When IGN declared this story “One of the greatest comic book stories of all time” they were not far off the mark.
After I read Red Son and enjoyed it so much, this book was recommended to me by the manager at Graham Crackers, and he was spot on- I loved this book. The moralistic debate storyline and the artwork are top-notch, and holds up 20 years after first being published. The Eisner Awards that were given to Alex Ross were well deserved.
Set in the near future, the iconic superheroes have retired, giving rise to a new type of “hero,” some of whom are children of the original heroes, many of whom are selfish and are out only for themselves. They do not care for the destruction that occurs when they fight among themselves (Marvel’s Civil War seems to borrow from this plot point in the beginning of their book) as they are lacking personal responsibility. We are introduced to Norman McCay, a pastor who is the story’s POV narrator and is shepherded around by The Spectre, The Agent of God’s Wrath. The two are privy to events, as an impending apocalyptic event looms.
Superman is in seclusion, after the death of his wife Lois Lane, but Wonder Woman visits him to ask that he reenter society to help ward off further catastrophic events, after a huge swath of America is ruined after two warring superhumans fight. The two reform the Justice League, with many heroes such as The Green Lantern, The Flash, Power Woman, and Red Robin joining them in solidarity. Superman approaches Batman, but is angrily rejected by him. Many other of the superhumans refuse to join with Superman so he reluctantly sends them to prison, nicknamed The Gulag, to reeducate them. Although the Justice League tries their best to help the world, their methods are not entirely successful and suspicions and resentment build in different factions.
Lex Luthor and his evil cohorts band together to form the Mankind Liberation Front, in which humans would regain control, just for Lex to control them in turn. Batman aligns with this group, along with a motley group of second-generation superhumans. Lex’s secret weapon, Captain Marvel, comes out of hiding with his alter ego, Billy Batson, completely brainwashed by Lex. The group stirs dissent in the public, and when disaster looms in the too full Gulag, the true intentions of Batman come to light.
Wonder Woman, who has been pushing for a more militant stance due to her Amazonian heritage, leads the Justice League to the prison to quell the riot. As the rioters emerge, an epic battle ensues. Captain Marvel appears and seems to be outfighting Superman. Can Superman appeal to him, and what will happen among the fighting factions?
The relationships between The Holy Trinity of the DC heroes- Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman- are perfect. Although I have not seen the newest Batman Vs. Superman movie, I am aware that there was criticism about how the guiding principals of the two heroes were changed. This book stays true to each character’s back story, so kudos to Mark Waid for his familiarity with the history of all the superheroes! As such, the Epilogue was a perfect ending. After my frustration with how clueless Superman was in Red Son about Wonder Woman, I thought this book ended the story in a wonderful way. The three heroes will remain united.
The artwork is photorealism in style and painted in gouache. This opaque watercolor dries to a matte finish so combining the painting, drawing and other graphic media such as Photoshop produced a unique look. I thought throughout the book that some of the heroes and public looked so realistic that models must have been used, and in the Apocrypha section, my suspicions were confirmed, with a list of who the artist based his drawing off, with the bystander, Norman McCay based off Ross’s own father. The heroes were all aged realistically, and not caricatures of themselves; the greying, lines and weight added was naturalistic. The layout was fun, with splash pages and varied spread panels utilized. Ross’s original idea for this story and his artistry are what made this novel superb.
I so needed a cheat sheet to help me with the many, many characters. As I am not typically a DC fan, I was not familiar with many of the supporting, second-generation superheroes. This Wikipedia page helped me sort out everybody and how they were connected to one another. Sometimes clues in the panels helped me figure out connections, but for example, this site cleared up some confusion to me in regards to three family relationships of Batman. An added bonus in identification was at the end of the book there were several pages that identified every character with a picture and a brief description.
Final asides: When this graphic novel was published, Shazam was still called Captain Marvel, but due to there being a Captain Marvel in the Marvel universe this hero is now known only as Shazam to avoid misunderstandings and lawsuits, with the name officially changing in the New 52 run. I felt the meeting between Orion and Superman didn’t fit in with the narrative (it was not included in the first issue). If Diana is ageless why did her fellow Amazonian sister Donna Troy age? Speaking of Donna, loved the pic of her and Diana reuniting on page 77. In fact I thought Diana looked like Lynda Carter in that panel and Green Lantern/Jade looked like Linda Hamilton of Terminator fame. I shipped on Green Arrow and Black Canary, now mature with a daughter. I’m sure I’ll think up more things, and type in a few edits later 😉
I feel I have not done justice to this book, it demands a second & third read through with more time spent examining the pictures. I am very glad I dipped into DC books with this & Red Son!