Parallel universes and alternate futures have always been interesting subjects to explore within the realms of sci-fi. One comic book that explores that concept well is Kingdom Come.
Kingdom Come is a DC comic book that was written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Alex Ross. It was released in 1996 and takes place in a future where Superman and the majority of the Justice League have all stepped down as a new generation of heroes step up to defend the Earth. However, it becomes apparent that this new generation is losing its way and hope is being lost amongst the ordinary citizens who suffer from the escalating conflicts.
One such citizen is Pastor Norman McCay who is chosen by the Spectre, a representation of God’s justice, to bear witness to oncoming events that will ultimately lead to Armageddon. Norman is the story’s principal narrator and it is through him that we see various viewpoints of the main players within the action. Wonder Woman convinces Superman to come out of his self imposed exile and once again take on his role as leader of his generation. It doesn’t take long for other heroes such as Green Lantern, Flash and Power Woman to follow suit. After declaring their intentions to the world, they begin recruiting the new generation to learn from them, and even begin to imprison those who refuse.
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor has assembled a cabal known as the Mankind Liberation Front to wrestle control back from the superpowered community. In short, his plan involves escalating the conflict between the two sides to its breaking point. He gains a reluctant ally in the form of Bruce Wayne, who has now retired from his Batman mantle but still vigilantly keeps watch of Gotham with a legion of mechanical sentries. However, this soon turns out to be a double cross, as Bruce is only interested in finding out the location of Captain Marvel (who in modern day comics is referred to as Shazam) Superman’s Justice League comes to blows with the prisoners who have escaped from their prison. Superman rushes onto the scene to try and bring it to a close, but Captain Marvel is hellbent on stalling him, all so that the US government can drop a nuclear bomb onto the battlefield, destroying the superheroes once and for all. At this point, Norman realises that the visions of Armageddon that he had been suffering from are slowly coming true. In a moment of clarity Superman realises that perhaps it is not up to him to stop the bomb as he is ‘neither a man nor a god’, where as Captain Marvel is a mixture of both. He gives Captain Marvel the opportunity to stop him, but in a twist of fate, Captain Marvel takes it upon himself to stop the bomb, sacrificing his life in the process. He detonates it before it hits the ground but alas, Superman is left in anguish as he is surrounded by the ashes of many fallen comrades and enemies.
With rage in his heart, Superman flies over to the U.N. Building to take revenge against those who ordered the bomb strike. However, he is talked down by none other than Norman! Norman explains to Superman just how important of a symbol he was, and still in fact is, to the world. He lets him know that it his inherent knowledge of good and evil that makes him this symbol, not just the superpowers. Superman stands down and, along with the survivors of the explosion, vow to aid mankind by walking with them instead of looking down on them like gods.
Kingdom Come is easily one of the best comic books I have ever read. Alex Ross’ beautiful illustration brings a certain gravitas to the issues of the story, particularly in the emotions and expressions of the older superheroes. Mark Waid’s story is not only interesting to read but expertly weaves philosophical questions into the narrative, questioning the ‘Why?’ as well as the ‘Who?’ when it comes to superheroes. Given when the story was initially released, it wouldn’t surprise me if it served as partial inspiration for more recent comic book stories. For example, for all its controversy, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice was a movie that touched heavily on the justification for having superheroes act so independently and the consequences that happen because of those actions. Despite there being many characters within the book, Kingdom Come mainly focuses on Superman’s impact on the world. When Wonder Woman reaches out to him, he is initially reluctant to take action as he warned mankind that the new generation would go too far in their methods, but they did not listen. Superman’s self imposed exile was predicated on the fact that mankind no longer needed him, but this turns out to be a false assumption. Superman underestimated just how powerful the morals of truth and justice were, and how people were longing for them now more than ever. In many ways, both Superman and Norman undergo a spiritual journey of sorts. They both begin in helpless situations, and it is through the rediscovery of hope, that they both contribute to helping the world move forward.
Kingdom Come is a spectacular look into the future of a world that has lost its way, gradually piecing itself back together when those in power realise that power itself is not the answer. It is a fantastic read that has stood the test of time and I believe it will continue to do so even as the real world changes!