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Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come
Waid, Mark & Alex Ross. Kingdom Come. 1996.

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!

-Nancy

Kingdom_Come_Vol_1_3_Textless

 

Superman: Red Son

Whoa, alternate universe time! Superman as a Russian, and me reviewing a DC book!

A co-worker and friend of mine (SG!) suggested this book for me to review, as it is a favorite of his. I can see why, as the story is the right way to do an alternate universe/reality tale. So what would happen if Superman’s parents sent him to Earth a few hours later?  Well, he’d land in the Ukraine instead of Kansas and this small detail makes all the difference.

Superman’s youth is remarkably like his upbringing in his other reality, and he grows into a fine, morally upstanding man. His powers are only used for good, despite being Stalin’s pawn. Over in America we meet Lex Luthor and his wife Lois Lane, and discover that America is in bad shape. Lex feels that Superman is his opponent, as he is the only person who can intellectually take him on. After Stalin’s death a power void occurs, and Superman is encouraged to step in and rule the country. At first he demurs, but after he fights off a creature that Lex sent to kill him, he decides only he can properly rescue the Russian nation. At first his initiatives make the nation prosper, and Wonder Woman joins his side, as she believes in his cause. But ultimately, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Dissidents in the Russian countryside start to appear, with Batman being the biggest insurgent to Superman’s iron rule. Batman, sporting some rocking head gear, captures Wonder Woman to try to break Superman but Wonder Woman, ever loyal to Superman hurts herself in saving Superman’s life. Things start to spiral out of control, with Superman taking on more and more of an authoritative and totalitarian rule. America is falling into ruin, but refuses to bend to communist rule, with Lex Luthor coming up with idea after idea to bring about the demise of Superman. An epic battle is fought between the two nations and a predestination paradox occurs,  with an awesome and unexpected twist at the end.

There were shout outs to many other characters in the DC universe such as Jimmie Olson, the Green Lantern Marine Corps, Brainiac, the Amazons on the island of Themyscira, Oliver Queen, plus probably a host of others that I missed but Kathleen would spot! 😉 Mark Miller penned this epic tale;  I was not surprised as he authors one of my favorite Marvel books, Civil War. The artwork was excellent,  colored with a dark and reddish palate, fitting the overall theme of Red Russia. The art work between chapters was art deco in style, reminiscent of both American and Russian propaganda posters.

Red Son is definitely one of DC’s best stories!

-Nancy

Millar, Mark, Dave Johnson & Kilian Plunkett. Superman: Red Son. 2003.

 

A-Force: Warzones!

A-Force
Wilson, G. Willow, Marguerite Bennett & Jorge Molina. A-Force: Warzones. 2015

The 90’s called and they want their Super Team back!

I don’t even know where to begin with this convoluted mess. This is a Secret Wars book, so basically anything goes in this alternate universe. On the planet of Battleworld, there is a peaceful island nation called Arcadia, populated mostly by female superheroes. Each region in this unique planet is a domain unto itself, with distinct borders that must not be crossed, ruled by godlike Victor Von Doom and policed by Sheriff Strange and the Thors.

Arcadia is governed by She-Hulk, who is Baroness. Her patrol for watching their nation’s borders are Medusa, Dazzler, Captain America, Loki, America Chavez and Nico Minoru. When a huge prehistoric shark inexplicably attacks Arcadia, She-Hulk calls her team into action with her catchphrase  “A-Force Assemble!” In the heat of the battle, the shark is thrown by one of the team members into another of the planet’s domains, which immediately prompts a visit by one of the Thors. This member is then exiled by Sheriff Strange, leading to dissent within the team. She-Hulk discovers there is a traitor in their midst when a portal that had sent the shark is discovered. When the traitor is revealed later, a hero loses her life keeping the Thors away, and the traitor portals zombies from yet another domain to attack Arcadia. The Baroness gets to yell “A-Force Assemble!” again, while all of Arcadia’s heroes fight for Arcadia’s future, and a brand new character shows everyone the extent of her powers.

The artwork is a mix of good and bad. First the good: Singularity is beautifully colored, and Loki is especially well drawn, with some fantastic details as emotions play over her face. The composite picture of five faces combined into one was striking, and I loved the variant art by different artists between the chapters. The so-so: the front cover, while awesomely drawn, is misleading. Singularity is drawn as a sexy adult, when she was quite clearly younger in the series, and other heroines are drawn in when they play little to no part in this storyline. The bad: some of the battle scenes had muddy coloring,  as blobs of color were supposed to represent people in crowds.

Now for my many random observations and/or criticisms of this series: Pixie is shown as one of the heroes out on the original patrol, but then is dropped completely as a character- I don’t think she got a single line. Loved seeing so many of the Runaways after just reading the book– Nico as one of the main characters and then Molly, Karolina, Gert & Old Lace were shown in crowd panels. So many cameos- Jessica Jones defending Luke and their baby, Hulking & Hawkeye, Black Bolt with Medusa, Spider-Gwen & MJ, Kamala as Ms. Marvel (Wilson writes for the Ms. Marvel series), and Gambit with his arms around Rogue.

At my first read through I rolled my eyes at some of the plot, but on a second reading I discovered the little details and cameos that elevated this series for me at the end. I still believe the story was much too confusing, but at least it was FUN mess.

-Nancy

 

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times

aria
MacLean, Andrew. ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times. 2015.

The tagline “A sci-fi epic about a postapocalyptic life…and cat ownership” guaranteed I was going to like this book! Wrong.

I picked up this slim graphic novel on a whim, for I liked the front cover, and I’m a sucker for cute cats. Aria is a young woman alone in a post apocalypse world, traveling with her cat Jelly Beans and singing opera while trying to reanimate a giant mechanical man, all while trying to evade two warring primitive tribes. While originally she seemed peace loving, the tribes get their butts kicked when they dare mess with her picking apples. Her mission becomes more clear later on, as she searches for a power source that will restart the photon grid that will return her to the mother ship and fulfill her duty. If only those pesky tribes would stop trying to attack her and her cat! Unfortunately, the story did not seem fully realized due to it’s thin plot. While at first it seems as if Aria is on Earth, the tribes look alien like, and while that is explained at the end, it is off putting.

There is a bit of double meaning in the story for aria means “self-contained piece for one voice”, and the character of Aria is alone; plus the author wrote, illustrated and inked this graphic novel all by himself. The coloring throughout is minimalistic and the art is cleanly drawn, with a good eye to detail. I will check out more work of MacLean’s in the future, for I liked the look of his artwork. Plus Jelly Beans. I loved me some Jelly Beans.

-Nancy

aria2

Marvel: 1602

Gaiman, Neil. Marvel: 1602. Marvel, 2003.

This graphic novel was marvelous (get the play on words?)! The story was a perfect way to freshen up the franchise and reboot some of the hero’s storylines. The story takes place in 1602, and is an alternate world in which Europe and colonial America’s history is jumbled and out of order due to a rift in the timeline, with America’s first child of European descent, Virginia Dare surviving and traveling overseas to London with her bodyguard Rojhaz. Court intrigue during Queen Elizabeth I reign abounds, there are several betrayals, with many of the mutants needing to travel far to escape persecution for being “witchbreed”. Eventually America becomes a sanctuary for these people with magical abilities, and an answer and a solution as to why they are in 1602 is made clear.

While I am very familiar with the X-Men line-up, I was less so with characters like Dare Devil (he was my favorite in this book) and the Fantastic Four. I loved trying to figure out who was who in the Marvel universe- most were easy enough to figure out, but I have to admit it took me a long while to figure out who Rojhaz was. There had been a clue early on, that I didn’t understand at the time, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out who he was and how he so prominently fit into the storyline, as he is the key to this warped timeline. Virginia Dare has some unique shape shifter abilities, with a connection to the (barely mentioned) dinosaurs that still live on in the North American continent.

The illustrations are supposed to evoke historical drawings of that era, so some of the drawings use the technique of “scratchboard”, in which a layer of ink is scratched through to reveal the underlying material. This intruders in time storyline, with all the ramifications of how the future could be altered, was superb. Kudos to the whole team that wrote and illustrated this book!

-Nancy

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