Sunday, October 28, 2007

Kingdom Come by Elliot S. Maggin

(Book review)

And yet another return to my favorite guilty pleasure: novels based on comic books.
This is the novelization of the comic book series by the same name: Kingdom Come. Apparently the comic book was originally published in the spring and fall of 1996, which was shortly after I had stopped reading comic books. I have recently gotten back into comics a little bit (or at least their novelizations), but the years 1996-2006 fall largely in my comic book blindspot. During the spring and fall of 1996 I was busy finishing up high school and starting Calvin and wasn't really paying attention to what was happening in the comic book world.
Whilst I was not paying attention, this short comic book series became a huge classic in the fandom world. The first time I heard of it was when I was back in the states last summer and Bear loaned me his copy of the collected graphic novel as part of his reading regiment. I skimmed most of the comic, and then gave it back.
Since then I've been realizing how often this title pops up whenever I'm wasting time reading anything comic book related on the internet. And when I discovered that a novelization of this series had been done a few years ago, I ordered it off amazon.
"Kingdom Come" is one of DC comics "Elseworlds series", meaning it is not set inside their mainstream continuity, but instead takes place in a "what if" scenario. (Although due to the popularity of "Kingdom Come" there have been some attempts to integrate it into the usual continuity. Especially with the return of the multiverse. But I'm not going to get into all that. I'll stay concentrated on the book itself.
This book takes place about 30 or so years in the future, when most of the Superheros are in semi-retirement and a younger generation of super powered humans are running rampant around the world. After an apocalyptic disaster occurs most of the old heroes come out of retirement to try and bring law and order into the world and reign in their younger descendents. Various factions occur. Superman and Wonder Woman form one faction dedicated to trying to bring the younger generation to Justice. Batman, Green Arrow, and others form another faction that believes Superman is sliding towards Fascism. And in the meanwhile Lex Luthor and his team of villians is also trying to manipulate events. And Luthor has managed to brain wash Captain Marvel and bring him under his control as well.
For a comic book, this story has a fairly complex plot and there are a lot of wheels turning. However the main conflict between Superman and Batman seemed a little forced at times. This is a common problem in Super-hero stories. The fans want to see the superheros face off against each other, so the writers have to invent convoluted reasons for the heros to fight. The political argument between Batman and Superman here is a lot more interesting than the usual cases of mistaken identity or mind control, but it still seems at times like they are deliberately misunderstanding each other so the author could have an excuse for conflict.
Superman and Captain Marvel also battle it out in this story, although this is part of a long standing tradition. As an inside joke regarding the real life legal battle between these characters, writers frequently pit the two against each other in the fictional world of comic books.
In addition to all the usual superheroes battling it out, there's also a lot of religous imagery in this story. Specifically the prophecies in the book of Revelation are referenced repeatedly, and the narrator for the whole story is actually a pastor.
Religion in comic books is often an awkward mix. Comic book fans aren't often sure what to make of it, and Christians themselves don't always feel comfortable with the plug. (For an example of a recent discussion of the problems from using religion in comic books, see here.)
For the most part, I thought this was harmless enough. I think you'd have to be awfully sensitive to decry this as blasphemy, although I have no doubt those people are out there. On the other hand there is that whole other school of evangelicals who will see any positive reference to Christianity in the secular media as some sort of victory in the cultural wars. And they can claim this if they want.
Personally what I'm more worried about is the subsection of fandom which claims this as great art because of the way it interwines Christian mythology with Super Hero stories. As with my comments on Anime, in my book you only get so much credit for attempting to be deep. To get full points you need to pull it off also. Anyone can write in religious symbolism and imagery in their book. Take for example the character of Magog in "Kingdom Come". A reference to the biblical characters of Gog and Magog, but that's about as deep as it gets.
However if this book is not great art, neither is it kids stuff. It is good old fashioned escapist adult entertainment, in the same category as Robert Ludlum or "The Davinci Code". It should be considered a waste of time only to the extent that all reading for pleasure is a waste of time.
Link of the DayAssessing the Choice of Al Gore as the Nobel Laureate for 2007


DRM said...

I also missed out on Kingdom Come when it was first released. I read it a year or two ago. It is a fairly interesting comic. Story was pretty good, but for me it what makes it somewhat of a milestone is the Alex Ross art. I don't think their were very many comics prior to this that were completely painted. The art in this story is vivid and breathtaking. That is what wowed me the most.

I agree with you about it getting a little old figuring out ways to make comic characters who are normally friends start duking it out.

ジョエル said...

Thanks for the comment Dan.

I'm still waiting for more comic books of your youth...