Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Kingdom Come, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

I'm struggling a bit with reading at the moment - one day last week I started four different books and couldn't hold my concentration beyond the first page of any of them. But looking through the shelves, this beautiful thing caught my eye. It's the collected edition of a four-part comic book series originally published in the mid-90s.

The chief attraction here is Alex Ross's extraordinary, beautiful painting. I remember the impact this had on me - and I think everyone who saw it - at the time. The story feels epic enough to meet the standards set by the art. A vicar has premonitions of impending apocalypse. We're in a near-future world where the children and grandchildren of classic superheroes spend their time beating each other to pulp, and Superman has retired. Unfortunately, him being persuaded to come back and knock heads together seems to be what starts us on the path to apocalypse.

Though there are jokes this is often heavy, portentous stuff - people punching each other overlaid with biblical quotations. It's fine, it's superhero stuff, but it wouldn't be nearly so bearable if it didn't look so good. There's some fun stuff when the vicar, observing events unfold from some ethereal plain, gets noticed but the superheroes and asked to explain himself. But largely he's passive, a bystander, until the very end, when he stops Superman from taking revenge on a load of politicians. The Man of Steel turning on humans seems completely out of character anyway, whatever the provocation. Can we really believe he'd have butchered them, that no one else could have stayed his hand?

Otherwise, the apocalypse plays out as predicted and a huge number of people are killed. In the aftermath, we're told not enough superheroes died to really change the balance of power so there's a sense nothing much has changed. I find that especially disappointing because this was released under the Elseworlds label - meaning it's a sidestep from the officially sanctioned timeline of superheroes. Couldn't they have been a little braver and really shaken things up?

I've never been won over by the superhero thing that when heroes meet up they must fight. Grow up. I'm far more intrigued by the promise of the coda: Wonder Woman pregnant, Superman the dad and Batman agreeing to be godfather. I want to see that kid grow up, get in trouble at school, fall in love...

No comments: