Disclaimer: The original novel was published in 1996, so I’m very late in reading this (I was 9 years old when it was published). The below review is of 20th anniversary edition as a whole.
The DC Universe (as it exists in the book) is not what one would expect from DC; it’s completely separated from the main universe continuity. If writer Mark Waid and artist Alex Ross intended to create a seminal masterpiece for DC, then they certainly achieved it.
The story is set well after what some would consider the Golden Age of DC’s pantheon (setting a much darker tone and overall themes). The members of the Justice League have retired from the public eye and have since been replaced by a younger generation of superheroes. Unfortunately, in their absence, these new “heroes” redefine heroism through much harsher means than their older counterparts. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with Superman (who is in a self-imposed exile), Wonder Woman (whose nature has grown much colder), and Batman (who has put Gotham on the edge of becoming a Police State).
When the global populous begins to mount innocent casualties, it doesn’t go unnoticed by the original members. Throughout the course of the story, you see the clear build up to the final conflict, as well as how each of the original three of the Justice League cope and deal with the overall situations.
While Superman spent decades leading the way in the fight for truth and justice, you could clearly tell that he wasn’t all that engaged with his role in restoring order in the beginning. Wonder Woman and Batman were more present in engaging the problems more fully present but in different ways. The most unexpected part of the story was who Batman chose to partner with in his quest to restore order (not spoiling who). The climax of the story does end with one hell of bang, both in the final conflict as well as the resolution in the aftermath. By the end of the of book, I did feel like DC achieved a story that came full circle and ended in hope for the future.
If I had to choose my favorite moments, there’d be three. The first is when Clark and Bruce meet for after Bruce gets double-crossed by Lex Luther (spoiler alert) and the dialogue that sums up their different approaches to solving the impending crisis spurred from it. Second would be the panel where Wonder Woman make a very intimate confession to Clark regarding her fallen status with her Amazon sisters. The reason I appreciate this panel is because even outside DC continuity, it offers a very special glimpse into the relationship between two titans engaged in a vulnerable conversation and the way it flows and is handled, you can’t help but feel for Diana and Clark. The third is at climax of the story, involving Shazam. After Lex Luther’s double-cross, Shazam sets out to take on Superman directly (however he has been brainwashed by Luther beforehand). During the epic conflict, Superman realizes that the UN has sent a nuclear bomb to the battlefield and pleads with Shazam to make a decision that ultimately ends in Shazam’s death. The emotional toll that grips Superman even in the midst of conflict resonates as you read. His brainwashed colleague made a choice that you didn’t expect because it was literally made in two panels and then the result was a full page. Superman’s next choice makes sense after Shazam’s death but that’s only because you’re thinking of the character as someone you know personally. Superman’s rage is completely justified but then after two more pages, you’re thinking WTF are you thinking about doing. The story as whole has you thinking and feeling a certain way at different times but the end it makes you think in order to understanding the choices and consequences after you’re done.
Creating an epic/grand feel in the overall scope and scale of the world in the book, Mark and Alex achieved something in this regard. Because the story revolved around a global crisis, you never felt like you spent too much time on one side of the planet in terms of story flow. Mark Waid was able to construct a story that wasn’t just entertaining to read but thought provoking. The themes aren’t as simple as good vs. evil. There are real consequences as to how each character thinks and responds, which gives a stronger sense of gravity throughout the story. While older children enjoy the story, I found that as a much older reader, I was much more engaged with the subtexts and themes that held the story together. In fact, the intro to the book moderately outline why the story was written and after finishing it I completely understand why as well. To me, as the reader, I do enjoy the mindless/over-the-top story arcs in comics, but the real gems that make comics so much more than they are perceived to be are the one that make you think…and Kingdom Come has definitely achieved this.
The plethora of extra content in this anniversary edition is astounding. The amount of developmental character sketches that Alex Ross included in this is mind-blowing (considering that you enjoy and collect these special editions). There is also plenty of written commentary provided by Waid and Ross where you can easily lose yourself.
Written by Nick Linger