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"According to the word of God, the meek would someday inherit the earth. Someday. But God never accounted for the mighty."
— Norman McCay
A DC Universe and Elseworldsgraphic novel, published in 1996. Written by Mark Waid and beautifully painted by Alex Ross, Kingdom Come depicts a dystopian future in which Superman has retired due to the public's preference for heroes who will use lethal force. The Silver Age superheroes followed him, in some cases retiring completely, in others sticking to their own small areas.Until a tragedy strikes in Kansas. The death of Captain Atom causes a nuclear explosion which destroys most of the Midwest of the USA. This loosens the last bounds of restraint among the new generation of metahumans, who begin to fight one another with abandon. Superman returns, reassembles the Justice League and tries to take back control, with dire consequences.Through it all, a simple pastor named Norman McCay is guided by apocalyptic imagery drawn from the Book of Revelation and by The Spectre. He must decide the fate of humanity - whether to allow the metahumans to be killed en masse and save the rest of humanity, or to allow them to survive, but doom the world.This series was followed by The Kingdom, which introduces the concept of Hypertime by having the Kingdom Come future superheroes fight alongside their present-day mainstream continuity counterparts, and Thy Kingdom Come.See also Justice, a similar miniseries also painted by Alex Ross that attempts to reconstructThe Golden Age of Comic Books and The Silver Age of Comic Books after this series deconstructedThe Dark Age of Comic Books.
This book provides examples of the following tropes:
Absurdly Sharp Blade: Wonder Woman's Hephaestus-forged sword. According to her, it can "shave the electrons off an atom." It can even cut Superman - though she remarks this is because magic is one of the few things that Supes isn't invulnerable to.
Abstract Apotheosis: One of the least noted Repower, yet one of the most insane, is the one which took its toll on The Flash (said to be Wally West); in this continuity Wally became the Anthropomorphic Personification of the Speed Force, becoming a force in perpetual motion, attaining omnipresence by running that fast. Oddly enough, he doesn't seem able to use his newfound omnipresence to any actual use, especially in the ending where it might have been REALLY useful. The only possible explanation is either he's not as Omnipresent as theorized, or he is now bound by complex rules that govern the Divine Entities preventing them from exercising their own choice outside their jurisdiction. And he's Blessed with Suck: Wally achieving godhood had its sacrifices; as noted above he is in perpetual motion, he can't stop moving ever, the times where he seems to be still is just Wally moving in a short space while circling through... well, everywhere else at the same time, basically an illusion. Also it forces him to cut ties with everyone he knows; since now he basically lives in another reality altogether, no one can keep up with him to even communicate with the guy, Superman is the only one who can talk with Wally, and that by processing what Wally says some time after the actual conversation.
Almost Kiss: Superman and Wonder Woman before the league announce they found Magog.
Anti-Climax: The anticipated fight between Superman and Magog never happens because of the latter's Villainous Breakdown. Wouldn't have been much of a fight anyway as Magog lashes out and Superman just takes it, more surprised than hurt. It's in keeping with the relative power levels of Dark Age characters versus Silver Age ones.
Magog: Your fault... you bastard. The world changed... but you wouldn't. So they chose me. They chose the man who would kill over the man who wouldn't... and now they're dead. A million ghosts. Punish me. Lock me away. Kill me. Just make the ghosts go away.
Anti-Hero: Magog and his cronies are these. A large part of the book hinges on the difference between antiheroes and traditional heroes, to the point where the whole thing can be seen as a metaphor for The Dark Age of Comic Books with the rise of the Nineties Anti-Hero and the decline in popularity of the Silver Age super heroes and the coinciding loss of morality in comics, and the eventual need to bring those ideals back. It also explores the differences between anti-heroes and villains. That difference is what breaks Magog in the end.
Armor-Piercing Question: Edward Nygma, who is now Selina Kyle's lover - though "boy toy" is a better description - loves to do this, highlighted by asking Lex what he plans to do about Superman. It's the only time Lex is completely out of control. In the Novelization, when Wonder Woman is questioned by the Amazons about her actions during the crisis, she states that Paradise Island had become too insular.
Diana: For example, who among you has actually met a living soul who does not live on this Island?
A few hands went up among the four- or fivescore assembled sisters. Even they went down when everyone realized what their former princess meant by "living".
The Atoner: Magog. In the comic, Magog can be seen sitting calmly in his cell, downbeat and presumably mourning the deaths he accidentally caused. Unlike the other residents of the Gulag, Magog is the only rogue superhero to walk up to the gate and knock - and patiently waits for someone to come out. What follows is both humorous and touching in the Novelization:
Eventually Comet walked up behind Magog in the shadow of the Gulag. Magog turned and smiled lightly, putting his helmet and energy spear on the ground as the older man approached.
“We’ve not met,” Comet said. “I’m Adam Blake,” and he extended a hand.
“I’m Magog”, the caller said. He extended his own hand to take Comet's, the first-time someone had shaken his hand in years, he thought. “I need a place to think. I need a place out of the sun. I understand that this is the village of the damned. I understand that this is a place where I might be welcome.”
“Yes,” Comet said. “Come in. We’ll find you a room.”
Badass Grandpa: Batman is so old and battered he needs machines to help him walk, but he's still as sharp as ever, able to execute a classic Batman Gambit and then has the guts to punch Captain Marvel. Who is really Billy Batson, but still. It's stated that Batman in this future basically abandoned the Bruce Wayne "personality" altogether. And Aquaman. Even Superman treats him with kid gloves.
Be Careful What You Wish For: The current status quo came about partly because regular civilians rejected the traditional heroes, who wouldn't kill their enemies no matter what, and demanded heroes who would kill. They got what they wanted, and millions died for it.
Berserk Button: In the climax, Superman is driven to the point of nearly destroying the UN when the humano-centrists kill most of the supers, despite Captain Marvel's Heroic Sacrifice to stop it, using a nuclear bomb.
Beware the Superman: Boy, is he pissed after the climax! In general, the series focuses on both the catastrophic damage and the morale-depleting effects that having entire races of godlike beings positioned so far above humanity that they can essentially do whatever they want without consequence can have. Although the younger generation of anti-heroes are the most obvious example of this, the story takes pains to point out that the older, more traditional generation aren't without blame either.
Big "NO!": Wonder Woman after Captain Comet is killed.
"Blind Idiot" Translation: The scene where Superman attempts to destroy the UN building and kill everyone inside results in this due to the multinational nature of the organization. For example, the Filipino delegate says "PAPATAYIN SIYA ANG ULO!". The intent appears to be "He's going to collapse the roof!". What it actually translates as is "He's going to kill the head!"
"Nandiyan na ang siva ulo! Papatay in niya ulo!" translates closer to "There is (or 'here comes') (the face of) death! He has death in his head (or "on his mind")!"
In the climactic battle, when Von Bach is ready to kill Zatara, he says "Du wurst wie eine wanze zerquetscht!!" He's supposed to say "You'll be squashed like a bug!", but to that effect, he should have said Du wirst ("You will") instead of Du Wurst ("You sausage"). Justified in the novelization which reveals that Von Bach is a poser who likes German affectations but is not German.
Both Sides Have a Point: Superman and his crew are right that the anti-heroes have become too bloodthirsty and overzealoud, blurring the binary of hero and villain, losing track of concepts like collateral damage and simply not caring about the people not on their power level. Buuuut the anti-heroes are also right in their belief that simply beating up Supervillains and tossing them in jail is a temporary solution at best and useless at worst because of Joker Immunity and that more violent action is the only counter to the less-restrained villains.
Magog himself is based on Cable, with elements of other Rob Liefeld characters such as Shatterstar. According to Ross, the original intent was to make him "look like everything we hate in modern superhero design." Modern in this case meaning Nineties Anti-Hero. The golden horned helmet and cybernetics were also meant to imply he was a "golden calf", going with the biblical motifs of the series. Though Ross also stated that he found himself liking some of the design in the end.
Tusk, a robot in the first fight scene is visually based on Z'gok-E from Mobile Suit Gundam.
Peacemaker's costume is very much modeled after Boba Fett.
A female-shaped robot from the Gulag scene, looks a lot like the robot Maria from Fritz Lang's Metropolis. (This is actually a Mythology Gag to a pre-existing Captain Ersatz; Mekanique originally appeared in All-Star Squadron, where didn't look as much like Maria, but was created by a scientist called Rotwang.)
Canon Immigrant: The version of Superman introduced in Kingdom Come was later incorporated into the main DC continuity and interacted with the Justice Society. The Kingdom Come-verse is officially Earth-22 of the post-Infinite Crisis multiverse. Versions of a number of Kingdom Come characters also ended up in the Main DCU's JSA, including Atom Smasher, Cyclone, and even Magog himself. Alloy showed up in in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Then again, the Metal Men combining is just too good an idea not to use...Justice League: Generation Lost, which had a major subplot having to do with the events of Kingdom Come, actually did use it. In a reversal of this, Rorschach shows up twice in the bar scene... at one point talking to the character he's an Expy of, The Question.
Continuity Lockout: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor and Norman McCay are the only characters you can get a handle on if you've never read a DC book before. Other than that, a character is lucky if they get a single indentifiable trait. You are never sure which Green Lantern (unless you know that it's the one who is the father of Jade and Obsidian, and that's a stretch) or which Flash is depicted. The ludicrously huge supporting cast on the other hand, you need a lot of foreknowledge to make them anything other than interchangeable. Not really a problem until the battle scenes, where the unprepared have their work cut out for them working out who's on what team. But special note goes to Captain Marvel, whom we only see in this story after he became Luthor's pawn and his heroic past is merely alluded to. The collected editions list the vast majority of characters that appear in the comic, but of course, not all of them. Also, Naïve Newcomer Norman McKay is only familiar with the big names that most of the audience would know so his traveling companion, the Spectre, can work some exposition into the dialog.
Cool Old Guy: Norman McCay. One of the failures of The Kingdom was putting him on a bus. Elderly Bruce Wayne is no slouch either, and someone reading it today would be pleasantly reminded in some ways of Bruce's portrayal in Batman Beyond a few years later.
Deconstruction Crossover: For the sake of exploring the moral and philosophical differences between the Silver Age and Dark Age ideals of hero. Although it's generally considered primarily a deconstruction of the latter, the former don't escape unscathed either.
Eagleland: Since the book is essentially a gigantic Crisis Crossover, there are a number of old-tyme DC heroes and their replacements or counterparts with patriotic themes representing the Type 1s, but as the second act starts, Americommando and the Minutemen start going on a violent rampage against "the wretched refuse" of immigrants... though, they are being mind-controlled at the time.
Green Lantern Ring: The obvious, in that there are a number of the various green lanterns around, but also Captain Marvel's use of his own magical lightning, as mentioned on the page.
Heel-Face Turn. Magog. Also, to some degree, Captain Marvel; also, most if not all of the survivors of the nuke realize that they cannot continue being unaccountable for their actions and superpowers to the general population they're supposed to be protecting, so they willingly give up their secret identities.
Heroic Sacrifice: Captain Marvel. Also, the Blackhawk jet fighters who were to deliver the nukes. According to the Novelization, they weren't expected to survive the blasts. Alloy (which was a literal amalgam of the Metal Men) protects Magog from dying from a nuclear blast. Magog wasn't completely protected, as he shows signs of radiation sickness. In the Novelization, Lois Lane. She stalls The Joker long enough for Superman to arrive and bring him to justice. Part of the reason that Superman abandoned humanity was that Magog made Lois' act a Senseless Sacrifice.
Hero Insurance. Explained in the Novelization, in which heroes tend to be impoverished and unaccountable. Auto insurance makes it impossible to own a car, damaged public property goes unrepaired (like the Statue of Liberty), and so forth.
Hidden Depths: Magog. He's a Well-Intentioned Extremist, but he quickly becomes The Atoner. For example, he's the only character who goes to The Gulag to simply introspect, spending his time in his room doing nothing but thinking. By the end, he's learned his lesson and has become a true hero (and teacher).
It's a little unsatisfying that Swastika is among the few to survive the nuke. Yes, technically he doesn't do much notable bad stuff, but on the other hand he's a flagrant neo-Nazi with a swastika tattooed across his entire body. Of course, killing him off just because the audience dislikes him would be rather missing the point of the story. According to the Novelization, Swastika has no Nazi ideals at all; it's Von Bach who is the neo-Fascist. Guess what happens to him?
Vandal Savage, as viewed by The Spectre. The Spectre would do anything to punish Savage - except for the fact Savage is immortal, and out of Spectre's purview. Savage ends up helping Bruce Wayne in his clinic, showing his knowledge of medicine picked up over a millennial lifetime.
Kill the Poor: A brief scene sees one Anti-Hero, The Americommando, and his cronies declare war on meager immigrants, claiming "the poor, tired, huddled masses camping on our shores, begging citizenship" are the biggest foreign threat to the United States after the disaster in Kansas, though it's shown that he's under Mind Control.
Laser-Guided Karma: Lex Luthor and his "Mankind Liberation Front" (a collection of Silver Age villains) attempted to exploit the metahuman war and Take Over the World. They end up being forced to work by Batman in his makeshift hospital for the casualties of the civil war.
Though, to the MLF's credit, they're more than willing to help. Savage, for example, uses his extensive medical knowledge to help with burn victims. Ibn also helps, but he's the only one without a restraining collar since he's a mole.
Legacy Character: Again, all over the place. Its setting is helpful in allowing such characters to see a lot of use. They really come to the fore in the sequel, though.
Literary Allusion Title: Not only Kingdom Come itself a literary allusion (to either Matthew 6:10 or Luke 11:2 from the Bible), but each chapter title ('Strange Visitor', 'Truth and Justice', 'Up in the Sky' and 'Never-Ending Battle') is an allusion to the classic Superman introduction.
Loads and Loads of Characters: We've got the original "Silver Age" DCU heroes, their children, the rogue antiheroes, the former supervillains, and a number of ordinary "humans" (mostly politicians). So much work was put into creating a gigantic cast of superheroes that it almost works against the book's favour, as you have to seriously do your homework on the appendices to work out who people are a lot of the time, doubly so in the battle scenes.
The Mole: Batman refuses to rejoin Superman, and instead he and his "Outsiders" infiltrate Lex Luthor's "Mankind Liberation Front" and stop them from exploiting the metahuman civil war for their own ends. Ibn al Xuffasch is the actual mole in the MLF. Bruce suspected Ibn was his biological son, but it wasn't confirmed til the very end.
Monster Modesty: Many characters due to the large cast but most notably the Spectre who wears nothing but a single cape and Hawkman, who is now a humanoid bird and wears very little.
More Than Mind Control: Billy Batson. The mind control bugs also appear in Alex Ross' and Doug Braitwaithe's Justice. Both instances show that they're a technology stolen from Shazam's Dr. Sivana.
A Nazi by Any Other Name: Word of God says the character of Von Bach comes from stories from The Golden Age of Comic Books where superheroes would fight Hitler, or thinly veiled Hitler Captain Ersatz dictators. He even speaks in German, and is covered in tattoos of far right German symbols. And the fact that the design for Swastika, whose tattoos form a giant swastika across his entire body, was originally designed as Von Bach, confirms this.
News Monopoly: Superman sees multiple reports of the Kansas disaster in the Fortress of Solitude.
Nineties Anti-Hero: Numerous characters, primary and secondary. And since Mark Waid and Alex Ross are Golden Age/Silver Age fans, they push the Nineties Anti-Hero to the logical maximum: a bunch of superpowered gangs fighting each other because they killed all the supervillains and have nothing better to do, personified by Magog.
No Endor Holocaust: Averted, big time. The damage these heroes do are far-reaching and visceral.
Norman: He had not turned his back at us. He stands in the sky... faith rewarded. He is returned... and— (vision of screaming Superman, which changes Norman's mood and reaction) —dear God. The threat of Armageddon hasn't ended. It's just begun...
The moment when Superman learns from Batman that Captain Marvel has been brainwashed and unaccounted for; and oh, it doesn't end well:"Armageddon has arrived."◊
Once More with Clarity: One of Norman's first visions is a dim, shadowed glimpse of a muscular man on his knees, screaming in a smoke-filled landscape. Apparently it's part of the looming apocalypse. At this point Superman is now bearded and cut off from the world. Over the course of the first act, he sees Superman and the Justice League return to work. He's exulting in their first public heroism like the Innocent Bystanders, until he has the vision again (or just remembers it) and it's clearly Superman in his current form. Superman's return hasn't prevented the apocalypse at all, it's a necessary step towards the end.
Pet the Dog: Magog saving Tokyo Rose from a nuclear blast. "Rosie, hold onto your spandex..."
Poke in the Third Eye: Norman is merely an invisible spectator for most of the story, but the Flash demonstrates that he's not completely undetectable.
Powered Armour: Batman needs an exoskeleton to move about, he's so battered from 60-odd years of superheroing. When he goes into combat, he does it in flying power armour. A number of other characters do as well.
Reconstruction: Of everything that was great about the Golden and Silver Ages, to the degree that the publication of Kingdom Come has been retrospectively labeled the end of the Dark Age.
Repower: Lots of the Golden Agers get big power boosts as Waid draws their abilities to the logical conclusion. Especially The Flash, who has become one with the Speed Force and now exists as a living blur in constant, never-ending motion.
Superman's power level in general is boosted and he becomes immune to kryptonite due to all those years soaking up the sun. And in the Novelization, in the end Superman becomes immune to magic because he realizes its fundamental paradox.
Alan Scott (a Green Lantern) has fused his power battery into his chest. Unlike Superman, however, he still retains his original weakness - to wood. While he's effectively invincible otherwise, Oliver Queen is able to punch right through his Powered Armor with regular arrows. On the other hand, Alan survives the nuke while Oliver doesn't.
Batman uses powered armor and keeps his city safe with robotic drones. This one overlaps with Disability Superpower: Batman has taken so many beatings over the years, his body has said "so long" and pretty much given up. He is dependent on an exoskeleton to be able to walk, and covering that in armor wasn't a big step.
Doctor Mid-Nite (now called simply "Midnight"), who once used smoke bombs, now exists as a living smoke cloud that fills out his costume's cape.
Garfield Logan — once called "Beast Boy" and "Changeling", now called "Menagerie" — can only shapeshift into fictitious creatures, such as the Jabberwock from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.
Doctor Fate, now called Fate V, is now merely the helmet and cape, having gained sentience from the many hosts it has used.
Sanity Slippage: Billy Batson. The Creeper went from being insane to completely bonkers.
Second Coming: Superman's return from his self-imposed exile to deal with Magog and his generation of heroes was first seen as this by McCay. However, the visions McCay has seen reveal that Superman's presence would catalyze the coming doom, not avert it.
Secret Identity Identity: The revelation of Bruce Wayne being Batman leads to Wayne Manor being wrecked by Two Face and Bane, and Bruce, of course, no longer keeping up the pretense. Superman also drops the Clark identity. Indeed the ending shows all the surviving supers de-masking, and seems to be showing the end of the Secret Identity Identity for this universe.
Sherlock Scan: Batman does this to Diana to find out that she is pregnant. May be Averted: one of the last few panels shows a curious bug-like device.
Shout-Out: Full of them. Shouts out to, among others, Watchmen and numerous Golden and Silver age comics. Most of them are explained in the Absolute Kingdom Come hardcover edition. This comic has the Fantom of the Fair and Powerman in it, for chrissakes.
Shut Up, Kirk!: When Superman expresses concern about Wonder Woman's sword, she snaps back that not everyone has heat vision.
Stealth Hi/Bye: Clark pulls this on Bruce. "So that's what that feels like."
Played straight at the end, when Clark muses how it was possible that Bruce is able to sneak up on them at a restaurant, even with his superhearing and X-Ray vision.
Stepford Smiler: Captain Marvel, both as Billy and as Cap. It unnerves everyone.
Stronger with Age: Superman, who is not vulnerable to Kryptonite anymore. But magic can still harm him. In the Novelization, at the end not even magic can harm him, and that Hephaestus' sword can't injure him. Why? He discovered the paradox of magic.
Take Up My Sword: In the Novelization, The Spectre says that he had come for The Sandman(the human one, not Dream of The Endless), but when he died, the Sandman passed on the visions to Norman so he could deal with the upcoming Apocalypse himself.
The Voiceless: A lot of characters have no speaking parts, but two really stand out - Hawkman, who (according to Word of God) is mute, since he's very anthropomorphised, and The Flash, who was (again according to Word of God) only meant to be audible to Superman, but ended up simply without speaking lines.
Unstoppable Rage: Subverted. After the nuke, Reverend McCay manages to talk Superman down from destroying the United Nations building and killing everyone inside.
Values Dissonance: [invoked] Used in-story. It's problems with values dissonance that cause Superman to retire in the first place because he cannot reconcile his values with those of the younger generation of heroes and, more importantly, the public that supports them.
Villainous Breakdown: Magog. He goes down without Superman touching him. He just collapses to his knees at the weight of the guilt of the destruction of Kansas.
Magog: They chose the hero who would kill over the hero who wouldn't. And now they're dead. A million ghosts. Punish me. Lock me away. Kill me. Just make the ghosts go away.
The fact that he's an Anti-Hero instead of a true villain no doubt contributes to this. He really was trying to be a hero and do the right thing, and he genuinely cares about all the innocents who suffered for his recklessness.
Luthor also has a mild one part way through the story; for most of it, he's smug and in control, but when one of his confederates raises the question of whether he's concerned about Superman's return his immediate response is to violently scream that Superman will not get near him before he calms down.
Weaksauce Weakness: Though he may have benefited from the aforementioned Repower, Alan Scott and his constructs are still vulnerable to wood. Explains why Oliver Queen was able to put so many arrows in him during the final battle.
What Is This Thing You Call Love?: In the Novelization, Spectre is baffled by Superman and Wonder Woman's relationship. Norman explains that theirs is a relationship of maturity: he needs an independent woman (like Lois Lane was), or he needs no one else, and she needs a strong man, or she needs no one else. Spectre notes that Norman's experience as a minister is exactly what he lacks, having been separated so long from his mortal life, and no longer can comprehend human relationships. At the end, Norman is teaching Spectre to be Jim Corrigan again.
What the Hell, Hero?: Batman to Wonder Woman when she kills Von Bach. Norman McCay to Spectre when it seems the Spectre is going to allow Superman to wreak his revenge on the United Nations.
Wild Card: The only reason Batman bothered to infiltrate the MLF was due to Billy, whom he dubbed a "wild card" - for good reason.
Xanatos Speed Chess: While the whole world burns with the question of what to do with the superhumans, the "Mankind Liberation Front" (led by Lex Luthor and his gang of Silver Age villains) are plotting to exploit the events to wrest all power from the superhumans. For this reason Lex manipulated Billy Batson to do his bidding. Not if Batman has anything to say about it. Luthor even states that Superman's unexpected return accelerated his plans.