Posted by: Doc Comics | March 7, 2010

MARVELS and KINGDOM COME

Marvels (1994) examined the Marvel Universe from the perspective of ‘everyman’ news photographer Phil Sheldon. This street-level series examined ordinary life in a world full of costumed supermen, with each issue featuring a variety of minute details and ‘Easter Eggs‘ in retelling the most infamous events in the Marvel Universe. In addition to the strong storytelling by Kurt Busiek, the book featured amazing photo-realistic renderings by Alex Ross which took the comic book readership by storm.  Ross became an instant fan favorite, and the man-on-the-street trope returned a nostalgic sense of awe and wonder to the otherwise grim-and-gritty 90s. The comic re-examined the ‘birth’ of the Marvel Age and ends with the Bronze Age death of Gwen Stacy.

Ross would team with writer Mark Waid to similarly take on the DC pantheon in Kingdom Come (1996), a potential future wherein a new generation of reckless vigilantes have replaced the old guard of superheroes.  But when a violent confrontation causes a nuclear-level accident, Superman returns from exile to lead a group of superheroes to restore order in a world that fears them.  Meanwhile, everyman priest Norman McCay experiences visions of an apocalypse caused by superheroes and is taken by The Spectre to witness the events that lead to this Armageddon when Superman’s superteam confronts an alliance led by Batman and the cabal of Lex Luthor supported by Captain Marvel.  Norman (who was modeled after Ross’ own father) serves as the reader’s point of view on the story’s events, punctuated with foreboding Biblical quotes from the book of Revelation.

Kingdom Come #2, “Truth and Justice”

Storytellers Waid and Ross collaborated to offer their own metacommentary on the 1990s Dark Age of comics vigilantes with a nostalgic reflection on heroic values in cynical times. In many ways, their story touches upon many of the same themes addressed by Lawrence & Jewett: the pseudoreligious mythos of superheroes, the frighteningly fascistic politics of vigilante violence, and the heroic values that ideally offer some democratic hope. In what ways, then, does KINGDOM COME consider the dangers and hubris of “The Captain America Complex“?  And how does it also foreshadow the nostalgic desire for a return to a more Heroic Age in comics that yearns to recapture a brighter sense of utopian idealism in the superhero?

Check out the comments section for reflection questions!

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Responses

  1. REFLECTION QUESTIONS:

    1. How does the use of an everyman narrator restore a sense of wonder and awe to the now 60-year-old notion of a superhuman? How does the photo-realistic artwork of Ross violate expectations of comic art?

    2. Not unlike Dark Knight and Watchmen, KINGDOM COME presents superheroes whose human perspectives grapple with an apocalyptic scene that pushes them to their limits. Why does Superman withdraw from the world, and why does he return? What aspects of himself do Kal-El and Clark represent?

    3. What mistakes or errors in judgment does Superman make? What has Batman done with Gotham City, and is it superheroic? How do the values and ethics of ‘the Trinity’ differ from the new generation of vigilantes? Or with the superwealthy cabal of Luthor?

    4. From the perspective of the humans, what is so troubling or dangerous about superheroes? Does the ending justify their faith in (and perhaps fear of) superhumans?

    5. After discussing Dark Knight and Watchmen as “postmodern” graphic novels, how does Kingdom Come compare? How does its postmodern nonlinearity, subversive reflexivity, intertextual stylistic pastiche, and ideological polysemy trouble its nostalgic impulse toward romantic heroism? How does the ending, which Waid and Ross apparently disagreed upon, refute the fascistic potentials that Lawrence and Jewett identify? Do you find anything troubling about its nostalgic epilogue?

    6. In their “Surprise of Philosophical Theology,” Tallon & Walls use Kingdom Come to launch a defense of “eschatology” within Christian Theism against the nihilistic relativism they identify within “Naturalism” (with more than a little hating on Nietzsche); In Roberts’ article “Is Superman a superman?”, there is a short but punchy defense of Nietzsche’s philosophy. From these reading packet articles, and using Superman in Kingdom Come to illustrate, weigh in on the question: Is Superman an Übermensch?

  2. For the eagle-eyed fanboy or fangal, there are tons of easter eggs on virtually every page. Seriously. Can you spot the League of SuperPets on Kal-el’s farm, Fat Albert’s crew running from BatBots in Gotham, Rorschach in the Planet Krypton nightclub, Marvel heroes lurking on p.154 of the tpb, and did you note the Gulag looks like the Legion of Doom’s HQ from the SuperFriends cartoon?? Holy intertextual pastiche!

  3. On the importance of Comic Books:
    “Seeing everything from his distinctly human point of view, we get a different image of the superheroes within the book. Superman, while still having good intentions, ultimately leads us to the climactic disaster. He realizes this, saying “Every choice I’ve made so far has brought us here—has been wrong!” (Waid, 181). Norman is asked to choose between superheroes and humanity, and he faces a difficult dilemma. While Superman and the other superheroes brought us to this catastrophe, do they deserve to be punished since they had good intentions? The fine line between good and evil is fuzzy, and Norman is asked to draw a definite line in the sand. Good and evil become relative terms in many modern comics, and we can expect these trends to continue.”

  4. I am extremely happy with this reading. Never have I seen anything so visually compelling in a comic. From reading this graphic novel and others up until now, there is a question that arises…

    Are humans (as we are depicted in the stories) the sole villain, the root of all evil in whatever metaphor/form/symbol to the hero; a continued protognist to ourselves who create heroes to be the antagonist to our issues? Are we really just fighting ourselves through the superheros we create to serve us…to what end?

  5. Interesting question Erik. To give a half-answer that we might tease out in full detail on another occasion, remember that writers are writing for both the hero and the villain. They don’t take sides or write partials, they immerse themselves into the characters, for better or worse. Perhaps when we see the most iconic representations of heroes and villains, we are witnessing authors who truly tapped into the human consciousness’ ability to discern good and evil (ideologically speaking, of course).

  6. In some ways, this gets to Nietzsche’s notion of the Übermensch as self-overcoming. Any contemplation of morality will require a hard look at the best and worst of humanity, which is what superheroes and supervillains express in simplified form.

  7. Exactly!


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