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Comic Book / Kingdom Come

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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 Elseworlds graphic 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. With the absence of the old heroes and the abundance of a new, more reckless generation, the world has become a bit grimmer, a bit more pessimistic and hopeless, but nevertheless seems to keep turning.

That is, until a tragedy strikes in Kansas. The death of Captain Atom causes a nuclear explosion that destroys most of the American Midwest. 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, the minister of an elderly Wesley Dodds (the Golden Age Sandman), 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.

Unusually for a graphic novel, Kingdom Come also has a full Novelization by Elliot S! Maggin, which expands slightly on the comic's events and is generally considered to be at least as good if not better than the highly beloved graphic novel itself.


See also Justice, a similar miniseries also painted by Alex Ross that attempts to reconstruct The Golden Age of Comic Books and The Silver Age of Comic Books after this series deconstructed The Dark Age of Comic Books.

Although no animated adaptation has been made (and likely will never be, due to Warner Bros considering the art style of Alex Ross too hard to replicate), several elements of the comics have made it to live-action:

Kingdom Come provides examples of:

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  • 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 (simply because he can't pick anyone up to save them or they'll be vaporized by air friction and the Speed Force itself. The other speedsters are able to help, however.) As such, 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 even then, that's only by processing what Wally says some time after the actual conversation.
  • 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.
  • Actor Allusion: In a one-panel cameo, The Joker looks just like Jack Nicholson in the Tim Burton Batman movie. This is a general rule for all Alex Ross publications that feature The Joker. Likewise, Alex Ross clearly looked up what Frank Gorshin looked like as an old man in order to draw The Riddler.
  • All There in the Manual: Due to being filled with Loads and Loads of Characters, the story doesn't have the time to get into unnecessary details about each and every characters' backstory or relation to the previous generation of heroes. The collections provide guides for who's who.
  • Almost Kiss: Superman and Wonder Woman before the league announce they found Magog.
  • Amazonian Beauty: Power Woman is Power Girl when depicted as muscular Up to Eleven.
    • Wonder Woman, of course.
  • Amicable Exes: A middle-aged Fire can be seen at the superhero-themed bar asking if owner Booster Gold is around. According to the Novelization, they used to be together.
  • An Aesop: The Novelization gives a potent one during the Dénouement: when Clark attends Norman's sermon, the latter talks about the origins of citrus fruit, and ending it with the fact that we can make things better for ourselves, and we don't need to aim for absolute perfection to get it.
  • And Then What?: The comic shows what would happen if heroes went around killing all the villains. You get individuals with powers and abilities far beyond those of ordinary people with no one left to fight, and rather than give that power up (and the highs that come with using it), will sate themselves fighting each other over the stupidest of reasons.
  • 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 '90s 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".
  • Armor-Piercing Response:
    • A few cases, but the most notable one is when Superman first comes back to the world and is struggling to understand all the changes in attitudes and such. He asks Batman what has happened and why, and is visibly unnerved when Batman replies with "You quit."
    • When Superman expresses concern about Wonder Woman's sword, she snaps back that not everyone has heat vision.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Detonating a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere, not on a surface, just spreads fallout further. Captain Marvel would have made the bomb more destructive, not less. To be fair, it does still kill anyone who is not shielded (like those protected by Green Lantern’s shield) or invulnerable to the nuke’s effects (like Superman).
  • Asshole Victim: Joker, at the hands of Magog. Also Von Bach, at the hands of Wonder Woman.
  • As the Good Book Says...: All over the place. Quotations from the Book of Revelation bookend at least two chapters, and biblical apocalyptic imagery is heavily used throughout.
  • 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.”
  • Audience Surrogate: Pastor Norman McCay during most of the story.
  • Babies Ever After: Wonder Woman is pregnant with Superman's child in the ending. Batman is the godfather and they even discuss him having regular custody of the child, making he or she effectively a child of the Trinity.
  • Badass Preacher: Norman McCay, with touches of Badass Pacifist. He never fires a shot or throws a single punch, but through the power of his sermons, he singlehandedly saves the UN, and by extension the entire world from Superman.
  • Bad-Guy Bar: Titans Tower has become one of these. Though granted, it's more of a '90s Anti-Hero Bar.
  • Batman Gambit: Batman is a major character. Is anyone surprised?
  • 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. Batman actually says this word for word in his first conversation with Superman.
  • 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 by Von Bach.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Good News: Superheroes are now working properly with humanity and they can now be together in peace and the Big 3 are now friends again. Bad News: About twenty superheroes are actually alive and psychologically, they are going to need lots of help and millions of innocent lives were lost throughout the story. However it soon becomes an Earn Your Happy Ending, since we see that Superman and Wonder Woman are going to have a baby and they want Bruce to be the godfather and 1000 years in the future the Legion of Super-Heroes fly over a large group of connected people which includes Superman himself.
  • "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 NIYA TAYO ULO!". The intent appears to be "He's going to collapse the roof!". What it actually translates as is "He's going to kill us! Head!"
    • The full quote is "Siva ulo! Nandiyan na ang siva ulo! Papatayin niya tayo ulo!" literally translates to "Damaged Head! (i.e. "Insane" but it should be "sira" instead of "siva" for the term "damaged"; and "sira" (damaged) and "ulo" (head) should be a single compound word) There is already the damaged head! He's going to kill us! Heads!" The authorial intent apparently is closer to "There is (or 'here comes') (the face of) death! He has death in his head (or "on his mind")!", but that requires much longer sentences for a correct translation.
    • 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. At one point, World War II veteran Captain Comet tells him that no German would say Schweinhundt, just Schwein.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Superman and his crew are right that the anti-heroes have become too bloodthirsty and overzealous, 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. But 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.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Billy Batson, thanks to Lex Luthor.
  • Brick Joke: A subtle one that spans two Alex Ross publications and a decade in between. The mind-controlling bugs that Lex Luthor uses on Captain Marvel show up also in Justice, a 2005-07 miniseries also featuring art by Ross, with the kicker that Luthor actually stole them from Doctor Sivana in the first place, Sivana being Captain Marvel's arch-enemy.
  • Broken Pedestal: Magog actually looked up to Superman, and goes into a long rant in the Novelization about it.
  • Brought to You by the Letter "S": Well, this is the DCU after all...But still, look for a cameo by our old pal Marvin from Superfriends, who still wears a shirt emblazoned with the letter "M".
  • Calling the Old Man Out: All of the original Teen Titans' children are on the side of the anti-heroes in defiance of their parents. Shout-Out: They're called Batman's Outsiders.
  • Call to Agriculture: After retirement, Clark Kent is living in an artificial farm.
  • The Cameo: Many, especially in the bar scene— keep an eye out for Rorschach, who shows up a few times. Examples include:
    • Alex Ross himself, with long hair, in the Planet Krypton chapter.
    • Alex Ross' mother, twice: cheering at Superman in a crowd and in the end, watching Norman McCay's mass.
    • Music/Bjork, on a poster in the street and in a crowd (see Alex Ross' mother above).
    • Fat Albert and the gang.
    • Non, from Superman 2.
    • Lobo, bald and in bad shape.
    • an aging Fire, asking to see her old friend Booster Gold, who works as a manager at Planet Krypton.
    • Monty Python
    • The Beatles
    • Watchmen
    • Krypto the Super Dog and Comet the Super Horse
    • Village People
    • Columbia and Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show
    • The Monkees
    • Tommy and the Acid Queen from Music/Tommy
    • Spider Man, Captain America and Thor
    • Sherlock Holmes
    • The Shadow
    • Chernabog from Fantasia
  • Captain Ersatz: Many:
    • 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 '90s 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.
    • Americommando is visually based on Judge Dredd, with a hint of The Comedian. He's actually a pre-existing superhero from an alternate universe and based on Captain America.
    • Tokyo Rose takes some visual hints from Chun-Li of Street Fighter, although with a more Japanese tone to it (obviously).
    • An Unnamed background character in the Gulag is visually similar to Duke Nukem.
    • Several background characters are based on bands and musicians, including Björk, The Beatles, The Monkees, Village People, and King Marvel is visually very similar to an older Elvis Presley. This is a recursive Shout-Out — Elvis based his famous stage costume on Captain Marvel, Jr., his favorite superhero.
    • An unnamed background character in the Gulag is a dead ringer for David Bowie as the Goblin King, package and all.
    • 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.
    • The (Kid) Flash of this series later showed up in a few other stories, and was identified as Iris West II. Taken a step further, the mainstream Wally West eventually had twins, one of whom was Iris "Irey" West II, who became the second Impulse.
  • Central Theme: The loss of humanity through justifying your actions, whether it be taking a life or swinging around your power to get people in line. All the classic silver age heroes had lost their connection to the very people they swore to protect, Superman retired to his Fortress of Solitude, Wonder Woman lost her royal title because she spent more time as an ambassador of peace than as a more proactive warriornote , Flash existed in constant motion unable to interact with anyone, Green Lantern remained in a watchtower construct in orbit over Earth and Batman policed Gotham via drones. As such the new generation, who idolized the classic heroes, were left without guidance and fought each other as much as they fought supervillains. In the Novelization, Norman's narration repeats several times "There is a right and a wrong in this universe. And that distinction is not hard to make."
  • Chewing the Scenery: Many of the voice actors in the audio adaption.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Averted. Norm is a Dutch Reformed minister. He does mention in the Novelization that his congregation is Presbyterian and his sermons tend to be Protestant.
  • Clark Kenting: Explored in the end, where each of the heroes unmask themselves and join society, eliminating their secret identities altogether. While in a Justice League themed chain restaurant "Planet Krypton," featuring serving staff dressed as the classic characters, Clark, Diana and Bruce enjoy a meal together and are largely undisturbed. In the same scene Diana even mentions that Clark wrote the book on secret identities.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: Bruce Wayne's appearance is partially based on Gregory Peck. This is a nod to the much lauded Batman: Year One by Dave Mazucchelli and Frank Miller.
    • Ross tend to model some characters after other comic book authors. The most blatant examples are Joker's Daughter and 666, modeled after Jill Thompson and her husband Brian Azzarello.
  • Cool Old Guy:
    • Norman McCay. One of the failures of The Kingdom was putting him on a bus.
    • In the Novelization, Norman meets Wesley Dodds, who's in his nineties, in a gym; Wesley is doing exercises a man in his twenties would be doing.
    • 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.
  • Crapsack World: Ten years after Superman and most other famous superheroes have retired, the world has become overrun with more and more violent metahumans. Their fights are a constant source of collateral damage and put countless civilian lives in danger; many now compare hero/villain fights to gang wars. The Kansas tragedy has sterilized America's breadbasket, throwing the world's economy into near-collapse with the threat of global famine. There are also more subtle signs of how crappy this world is, like when Norman McCay is offered a signed baseball from the last world series ever played.
  • Cruel Mercy: Superman opts to spare Magog so that the latter will live with his sins.
  • Dare to Be Badass: Superman's words to Billy Batson.
    Superman: I don't know what to do! You can see that, can't you? Every choice I've made so far has brought us here— has been wrong! So listen to me, Billy. Listen harder than you ever have before. Look around us. Look what we've come to. There's a bomb falling. Either it kills us— or we run rampant across the globe. I can still stop the bomb, Bill. That much I'm sure of. What I don't know is whether I should be allowed to. Superhumans or mankind... one will pay the ultimate price. And that decision is not for me to make. I'm not a god. I'm not a man. but you, Billy... you're both. More than anyone who ever existed, you know what it's like to live in both worlds. Only you can weigh their worth equally. Fight the brainwashing, Billy. You can let me go... or with a word... you can stop me. Do you understand the choice that can be made by you alone? Then decide. Decide the world.
  • Dark Age of Supernames: The new generation of anti-heroes-villains names.
  • Darker and Edgier: Invoked when Batman notes that black (replacing the yellow in the "S" insignia) is a new look for him. Superman replies it's "for Kansas." Batman harshly chuckles and snarks, "Is there anything you can't justify?"
  • Death by Adaptation: In the novelization, Kid Flash is stated to have died in the blast, despite this never being depicted on panel (plus her being alive and well in the follow-up series The Kingdom.)
  • December–December Romance: MLF members Selina Kyle and Edward Nygma (Catwoman and the Riddler) are both much older now, and are in a relationship.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: Deconstructs the Dark Age, reconstructs the Silver Age.
  • 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.
  • Deconstructor Fleet:
    • '90s Anti-Hero: What happens when a bunch of “superheroes” with a darker and grittier attitude to crime than Batman starts targeting villains. They of course, over ten years wipe out a significant amount of super villains. But what happens when there is no one to fight? They fight each other and everyone nearby feels the full-effect of their battles.
    • The Cape: Superman is easily one of the greatest superheroes if not the greatest. He’s a pedestal of the superhero age, and many people look up to him. So what he happens when a great figure many look up for guidance just leaves, who do people go to ask for advice or need help go to? When the public support went to the anti-heroes everyone looked to Magog, but his actions helped little and ushered a dark age.
    • Utopia Justifies the Means: Killing dozens of villains for peace may have eliminated a good chunk of crime, but that does not mean the crime is gone for good. Also after years of He Who Fights Monsters battles, the “heroes” are no longer fighting villains but fighting each other. Sometimes out of dislike, most of them out of boredom and everyone suffers in the long run.
    • Ideal Hero: On the other end of the spectrum, having a set of uncompromisingly moral superheroes may look good in paper, but the very inflexibility of their moral compasses lead to a constant tug of war between good and evil, which in turn made people look up to "heroes" that would have less qualms to end things once and for all. This is most noticeable with Superman, who elected to exile himself from the world as public opinion swung in favour of Magog after he killed the Joker instead of confronting him and the possibility that his ideals might have limits.
  • Defeat Means Menial Labor: After events unfold, the defeated members of Lex Luthor's alliance are put to work in a hospital for victims of the final battle. They are forced to wear collars to keep them compliant, and the worse they acted in the course of the story, the dirtier the work. Lex himself is forced to do the most humiliating task... cleaning bedpans.
  • Dem Bones: Deadman is considerably more skeletal than usual when he shows up.
  • Designated Hero: Invoked; this is a reality where the Nineties Anti Heroes have gone so far, many have become no better than the villains they fight despite still claiming to be heroes. Standouts include Americommando, whose solution to illegal immigration is taking an Uzi to the immigrants in question (though he's under Mind Control at the time it's implied that it simply brought his worst qualities to the forefront), proud Neo-Nazi Von Bach, leather-clad Torture Technician Pinwheel, and the briefly-mentioned Genosyde, who apparently gets his jollies blowing up prisons full of already-convicted criminals.
  • Deus ex Nukina: Subverted in that Captain Marvel destroys it with his magic lightning, so that a few metahumans might still live.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • Diana was so consumed with regaining her "Amazon honor" that she didn't think until it's too late how normal humans would react to the League's war against the dangerous metahumans.
    • The League didn't seem to realize that putting hundreds of angry metahumans in a gulag might not go well if containment was breached. Aquaman did, which is why he refused. In the Novelization, an angry US Secretary-General tells them that un-powered criminals manage to break out of high security prisons on a regular basis:
      Superman, Wonder Woman, we have lots of prisons in Montana. Federal prisons. State prisons. Local jails. Detention centers. People — normal, nonsuperpowered people — find a way to get out of them all the time. But we've learned something about prisons where I come from. One of the most important, basic things we've learned is that you don't put the slyest, craftiest, most escape-prone people you've got all together in one place. Because if one of them gets out — and one of them will, somehow, get out, that's pretty much the rule — then in that case the rest of them are always going to follow.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Savage kills a secretary by snapping her neck because she didn't put two sugars in his coffee. According to the Novelization, she did — but Luthor stocked the small cubes of sugar, so Vandal thought she didn't.
  • Double-Meaning Title: In issue 1, one of the graffiti on the wall is the Japanese phrase 'tenchi muyo'. The way it is written, complete with exclamation mark, makes this a Shout-Out to the popular 90s anime. One of its translations, 'no need for heaven or earth', also makes it an ominous warning of things to come, as suggested in a Wizard magazine on artist Alex Ross.

  • 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.
  • Eco-Terrorist: Former hero Hawkman has essentially become a mild version of this, who has no hesitation about using violence against loggers and others who threaten his precious Pacific Northwest.
  • Elseworld: One of the best.
  • Enemy Mine: Batman and Lex Luthor.
    Luthor: If I'd known a common enemy could bring us together, I'd have invented one years ago. This must be killing you.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: What Norman McCay's visions tell him will happen. In the end not quite everybody dies, but the final battle gets a massive nuke dropped on it. Only a few survive.
  • Expy: Magog is one of Cable, meant to symbolize everything wrong with The Dark Age of Comic Books.
  • Final Battle: The Rogues break out from the Gulag, the Justice League answers the call with anger until The Outsiders arrive to try to stop everyone from killing each other; it balloons into a battle that can consume the Earth, so the joint powers of humanity decide to nuke all fighters out of existence; the only two people that can stop the nuke are fighting each other; the nuke drops with the bomber asking for forgiveness for killing the heroes of the Earth; Captain Marvel emerges from his brainwashing to give a few seconds window to the people below; he triggers the bomb before the payload is deployed, allowing a handful to survive... though they are all dead to Superman's eyes... and he's pissed.
  • Foreshadowing: Orion's segment in Apokolips serves as a warning to Superman and the Justice League of the unforeseen ramifications their actions might lead to and how their noble intentions could backfire in the worst way possible.
  • Food End: The story ends with the heroes having a meal at a restaurant.
  • Framing Device: The Spectre recruits Norman to assist him in the coming apocalypse to judge the guilty, because Norman inherited the visions of The Sandman. The Spectre guides Norman as an unseen observer to the incidents providing the most context to what happens. Norman only interacts with the characters twice, once when The Flash catches them observing them in the watchtower and again at the end where he intervenes himself to get Superman to calm down and reclaim his humanity. Norman also helps the Spectre regain his humanity.
  • Fun with Acronyms: NIL8. Say each letter and number individually.
  • Gaia's Lament: After the Kansas Tragedy the entire state, along with parts of Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri, were reduced to an irradiated wasteland.
  • Genre Relaunch: Of Silver Age era super hero comics.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: The Mexican reprint in Spanish language skips the whole scene set in Apokolips, which wasn't in the original series printing but added in the trade as bonus material.
  • A God Am I:
    • Deconstructed in the end.
      UN Council Member: We saw you as gods.
      Superman: As we saw ourselves. And we were both wrong.
    • In the Novelization, Deadman asks Norman if he ever considered being a god. Norm is, to say the least, highly skeptical. Boston replies he didn't mean capital G God, just a god, and gives examples like The Phantom Stranger and The Spectre, and notes that even Zeus himself was originally some normal guy who found a magic rock.
  • God's Hands Are Tied: The Spectre tells Norman that the Apocalypse is coming, but his job is only to punish the guilty, not stop the event. In the Novelization, Norm is less than amused and has a Refusal of the Call.
  • Going Critical: Captain Atom.
  • Gratuitous Latin: Magog kills The Joker pronouncing, "Sic semper criminalis!" It's also a Shout-Out to Abraham Lincoln's assassination (John Wilkes Boothe reportedly shouted, "Sic semper tyrannis!")
  • Hands Go Down: 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")
  • 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 RRoD. Wonder Woman. Examined closer in the novelization.
  • 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 (and crying, in the single panel showing him in his room). By the end, he's learned his lesson and has become a true hero (and teacher).

  • I Just Want to Be Special: Magog. Now he just wants "the ghosts [to] go away".
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Von Bach, meet Wonder Woman's sword. From behind.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: Superman is speaking with Wonder Woman about the sanctity of life as he rescues a woman from a collapsed building. Cue Vandal Savage snapping an office assistant's neck because she didn't prepare his refreshment properly in the very next panel.
    Superman: You're right. They seem to have learned little regard for human life, and there is nothing more sacred than that.
    Vandal Savage: I said two sugars. [neck snap]
  • Joker Immunity: Averted. In fact, averting this is what pushes Superman into retirement. As a bonus, the look on The Joker's face as Magog kills him is one of genuine surprise.
  • Karma Houdini: The human race is let off fairly easily for having nuked the metahuman race. But then Superman was going to Kill Them All before being talked down by Norman McCay. And they sent the nukes out of fear, not gain, something that the heroes ended up causing, so it was up to everyone involved to work together and trust each other to never allow that to happen again.
    • 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. With that said, Savage ends up helping Bruce Wayne in his clinic, showing his knowledge of medicine picked up over a millennial lifetime, so you could say he earned his redemption..
  • Kick the Dog: All over the place.
  • 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.
  • Knight Templar: Wonder Woman crosses the line.
  • Lackof Empathy: A version applying to the heroes. At the climax, Norman points out to Superman that the actions of superhumans were so intimidating that they were causing distancing from the rest of humanity, who were becoming more intimidated and scared and which drove them to send off nukes on the metahumans.
  • Large Ham: Lampshaded when Vandal Savage Kicks The Dog.
  • 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.
    Batman: Shazam.
    Lex: Shut up.
    • Karma's laser is further guided by the relative sins of the various members of the Front. For example, Selina Kyle, Edward Nygma and Joe Carny, who were basically glorified thieves with a gimmick, have fairly light duties at the hospital which appear to involve mainly minor nursing / orderly duties for the patients; Edward in particular is entertaining the younger patients with magic tricks. Would-be world-conquerors and megalomaniacs like Luthor and Kobra, however, have more demeaning and menial duties such as cleaning the floors and, in Luthor's case, washing out bedpans. Savage, meanwhile, 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.
  • Leave Me Alone!: Uttered by the Parasite who attempts to surrender from Magog and his Justice Battalion. But as the Justice Battalion is made up of Blood Knight Nineties Anti Heroes, his cries for mercy are ignored, which kick-starts the plot of the story as he lashes out in fear, ripping through Captain Atom's suit, nuking the American Midwest. One reporter even points out that Magog could have averted tragedy if he had just listened to Parasite.
  • 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. For example, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen are not in the story due to both of them being dead at the time of the series.
  • 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.
  • Literal Metaphor: Aside from being a reference to a passage in the book of Isaiah, the motto of the United Nations, where superhumans and humans finally reach an accord, is "And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (In fact, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have their picture taken in front of the plaque that bears it in the Novelization.) The end of the book as Superman using a giant plowshare, to indicate there will be no more war. (One wonders if Superman literally forged it out of swords. Knowing Supes...)
  • 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 favor, 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.

  • Manly Tears: Magog can be seen in one panel sobbing in his private room in the Gulag. In the Novelization, Bruce and Dick hug and sob - the first time in decades for Bruce.
  • Meaningful Background Event: At the metahuman bar, you can see Deadman noticing Norman and the Spectre milling about.
  • Men Get Old, Women Get Replaced: While many of the male heroes come out of retirement after Superman does, most of the female superheroes stay retired and have been replaced in this distant future. Examples include Supergirl, Black Canary, Catwoman, Starfire, and Zatanna. A handful of exceptions include Wonder Woman, Power Woman, and Jade, and only the latter has aged all that much, since it's established that Wonder Woman is immortal and Kryptonians like Power Girl not only age at a reduced rate, but get Stronger with Age.
  • 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 said character's archenemy 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. The Novelization reveals Von Bach's hero is Marshal Tito.
  • Neck Snap: Vandal Savage, one-handed. "I said ''TWO'' sugars."
  • Never My Fault: The antiheroes don't understand why they've been put in the Gulag, exclaiming they've stopped multiple dangerous villains and say that they're heroes. They don't bother to acknowledge the other reasons why they were imprisoned, like their rampant disregard for human lives and the fact they're a bunch of thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies constantly fighting one another out of sheer boredom.
  • News Monopoly: Superman sees multiple reports of the Kansas disaster in the Fortress of Solitude.
  • '90s Anti-Hero: Numerous characters, primary and secondary. And since Mark Waid and Alex Ross are Golden Age/Silver Age fans, they push the '90s 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.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • A primary theme throughout the story. In flexing their strength to bring the metahuman population under control, the reformed Justice League is making the exact same mistake that the current generation of anti-heroes made. In a brief visit to Apokolips, Superman finds Orion had overthrown Darkseid but is not much different in how he rules his world - which he rules because the slave population found freedom just as terrifying a prospect as fascism, and promptly elected him as their leader - other than that he seems to view himself more as a prison warden, keeping the worst of the 'lowlies' in rather than inflicting them upon the rest of the universe, and he lets Barda and Scott Free preach freedom and revolution (presumably in the hope that they'll succeed where he failed).
    • Shortly after meeting Orion, Superman ended up forced to build an immense metahuman prison called the Gulag and the narration mentions how familiar it looks, particularly it resembles the Legion of Doom's skull-shaped headquarters.
    • The Spectre tells Norman after all the events are over that he and the superheroes he just saved were not so different: both existed to bring hope.
    • Wonder Woman is Superman's lieutenant and one of the Justice League's main proponents in the cause to reestablish order by reigning in the renegade metahumans. But both Superman and Batman note, on separate occasions, that she has become nearly as violent and reactionary as the beings she fights.
  • Not So Stoic: The novelization reveals that Bruce Wayne's favorite movie is Citizen Kane, except Bruce sees it as a comedy; every time he watches it, he has a full-blown laughing fit at the part where Kane says, "If I hadn't been very rich, I might have been a really great man."
  • Not the Intended Use: Captain Marvel summons magic lightning by saying "Shazam". Normally he's struck by it and transforms, but in the final battle he repeatedly dodges his own lightning with his Super Speed (Speed of Mercury) to blast Superman, who can be hurt through magic. This only backfires on him when Superman tanks one blast to hold him in place so he transforms back to Billy.
  • Not Used to Freedom: Played for Drama. At some point during the other heroes' retirement, Orion finally defeated and killed his monstrous father. However, when he attempted to free the enslaved population of Apokolips, the people long since broken by Darkseid's tyranny couldn't handle the concept. As such, they forced Orion to become their new dictator, and overall nothing has changed, other than that Orion doesn't actively oppress his people the way Darkseid did, viewing himself as more of a prison warden, and lets Barda and Scott Free preach liberty and revolution in the vain hope that they'll succeed where he failed. The experience has effectively broken Orion, who wearily wonders if all sons are doomed to become their fathers, and offers to help Superman by taking on all his prisoners, as they can't possibly be worse than his current subjects.
  • Novelization: Elliot S! Maggin's novel is arguably better than the miniseries. It doesn't have Alex Ross' gorgeous art, though.
  • Now or Never Kiss: Wonder Woman kisses Superman before leaving the Final Battle.
  • Oh, Crap!: Norman's reaction to Superman's return, when he realized it was a key part of his vision of armageddon.
    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."
  • Old Superhero: Batman is now 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. It's stated that Batman in this future basically abandoned the Bruce Wayne "personality" altogether.
  • The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The Quintessence, consisting of The Phantom Stranger, Zeus, Ganthet, Shazam and The Spectre. The Spectre bristles at their avowed unwillingness to meddle in the affairs of mortals when Shazam begs the others to help Captain Marvel, accusing them of just being too scared to interfere and just have these meetups to tell each other "no". Deadman tells Norman in the Novelization that the last time they interfered, it resulted in The Trojan War, so naturally they're a little gunshy.
  • 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.
  • Order Versus Chaos: The Justice League stands as the order to the anti-heroes chaos.
  • Panty Shot: Wonder Woman in her golden armour has this a couple of times.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Superman's final worlds to the UN.
    Superman: But I no longer care about the mistakes of yesterday. I care about coping with tomorrow, together.The problems we face still exist. We're not going to solve them for you, we're going to solve them with you. Not by ruling above you but by living among you. We will no longer impose our power on humanity. We will earn your trust... using the wisdom one man left as his legacy. I asked him to choose between humans and superhumans. But he alone knew that was a false division and made the only choice that ever truly matters. He chose life. In the hope that your world and our world could be one world once again.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: "What's he—? Oh, my God! The Parasite has split Captain Atom open! HE'S SPLIT HIM OPE--"
  • 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.
  • Psychotic Smirk: Bruce Wayne sports one throughout as a sign of his apparent Face–Heel Turn, quite unusually considering Batman's Perpetual Frowner reputation.
  • Precision F-Strike: When Magog indicates the radioactive wasteland of Kansas is his legacy, Superman responds, "You must be proud."note  Magog responds, screaming, "GODDAMN YOU!" before blasting him with his weapon and falling to the ground, sobbing.
  • Prime Directive: The reason the Quintessence won't interfere with the "critical path" on Earth. The Spectre snorts it's just a convenient excuse.

  • Real Men Take It Black: In the epilogue to the collected edition, Clark, Diana and Bruce meet up at Planet Krypton restaurant. While Clark has milk and Diana gets some water, Bruce's drink order is "Coffee. Black. And keep it coming."
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: During the final battle, Batman calls out Wonder Woman's wanting to wage war on the anti-heroes being an attempt to earn back her crown among the Amazons. Wonder Woman does not react well, accusing Batman of arrogantly sitting in the Batcave and letting the world fall apart until he decided it was time to save it.
  • 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.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning. Superman is, to put it mildly, none too pleased after the nuke is detonated, with the Spectre remarking that this is a signal for him unleashing "a fury that would cow Satan himself."
  • Refusal of the Call: Norm in the Novelization, when he learns The Spectre won't prevent the upcoming Armageddon, and merely wants Norm to judge the guilty. Norm quickly judges The Spectre and basically flips him off. In a powerful subversion of the trope, there isn't even a The Call Knows Where You Live. After realizing Superman was the catalyst of the impending disaster, Norm realizes that it's going to happen anyway and maybe he can help avert it in some way. He does, and it's implied The Spectre knew he would.
  • 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.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: When Superman retired, Supergirl and Superboy decided to leave the present and join the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 30th Century.
  • 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.
  • Second Love: Wonder Woman gradually becomes this for Superman over the course of the story.
  • 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.
  • Seen It All: When Norman talks about approaching Armageddon on Earth, Boston pauses and notes Norman must mean the events of the "critical path" down there, hinting strongly he's seen a few of them already.
  • Self-Plagiarism: Before Kingdom Come, Alex Ross designed the characters of Astro City. There are at least two references to this work:
    • Wonder Woman's winged armor made her look similar to Winged Victory, herself a Captain Ersatz of Wonder Woman.
    • Joker's Daughter's clown motif and red-and-green, diamond-shape pattern costume made her look like a Distaff Counterpart to Jack-in-the-Box.
  • Sharpened to a Single Atom: Wonder Woman has a magic sword that is sharp enough to "carve the electrons off an atom". Leaving aside the ways that doesn't actually make sense, it suggests a blade with an edge thinner than an atom. Superman accidentally cuts himself on the blade.
  • Sherlock Scan: Batman does this, almost casually, 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.
    • Spiderman, Thor, Captain America and Doctor Strange are seen running among Superman's allies to stop the anti-heroes when they break free from the Gulag.
    • An early panel shows Hollis Mason's autobiography in a shop window.
    • "Who watches the Watchmen?"
    • Carrie Kelly works as a waitress at Planet Krypton. Bruce lampshades it when she presents herself as "Robin".
    • And Kingdom Come has been subject to a frankly ridiculous amount of Shouts Out from the main DCU ever since. So many elements were just taken directly from this.
    • Tommy and the Acid Queen show up in a corner during the party.
    • Still in the party, a middle-aged, drunk Marvin insults Superman, calling him “grandpa”. Nobody approves him.
    • Zan works as a waiter in the party.
    • Keep an eye out for the superpowered Village People.
    • Phil Sheldon at the impromptu press conference outside the United Nations building, and at the "Planet Krypton" restaurant at the end of the epilogue.
    • The United Nation building is a dead ringer of the Justice Room of Superfriends.
    • Also, the Gulag is a nod to the Legion of Doom's ship from Challenge of the Superfriends
    • And Von Bach's headdress is based on the one worn by Milan Fras.
    • And Columbia from Rocky Horror.
    • And Steve Miller in his Spider Queen mask at the bar playing a pull-my-finger game with the Human Bomb. He gets exploded, but he shows up unscathed a few pannels later.
    • Fat Albert and his gang arrested by Batman's robot drones.
    • Speaking of, Batman's robot drones are inspired by Patlabor.
    • And speaking of Batman himself, the arms and upper torso of the armor he wears resemble RoboCop, and the collar looks like Darth Vader's.
    • The cybernetically enhanced son of Jack-in-the-box shows up among the anti-heroes.
      • Joker's Daughter outfit is also based on Jack-in-the-Box: clown motif, red-and-green diamond-shaped patterned costume. Ross designed both.
    • The Sergeant Pepper Brigade is composed by robotic depictions of the Beatles in their Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band costumes. Two of them are destroyed by Von Bach; he tosses John’s head on Zatara’s stomach then threatens to smash him with Paul‘s dismembered body.
    • Menagerie, aka Beast Boy, transforms into Jabberwocky during the battle against the anti-heroes.
    • The Title Card for Tenchi Muyo! shows up as graffiti early on.
    • During a metahuman fight in Tokyo, Astro Boy can be seen on a building.
    • Along with Phil Sheldon, a brief glimpse of Ross's Uncle Sam can be seen at the end.
    • One of the rogue metahumans, Trix, was clearly designed based on H. R. Giger's artwork. She's described as "a morphing biomechanism" and is one of the few survivors of the Gulag.
    • The mind-controlling worms Luthor uses on Billy Batson, via ear, can be viewed as a nod to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and to Cap. Marvel's villain Mister Mind (or said worms may really be offshoots/offspring of Mind himself).
    • Wesley Dodd's prophetic dreams are a shout out to Neil Gaiman's The Sandman; in his original stories he was just a pulp hero with a gun that fired sleeping gas and didn't have mystical dreams, but Gaiman included him in a cameo in the later work and a revival series, Sandman Mystery Theatre, hinted that Dodd had a subconscious connection to Dream of the Endless.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: Of sorts to Superman vs. the Elite. In Kingdom Come, Superman turns away from lethal anti-heroes, and a Crapsack World results. In Superman Vs. The Elite, Superman confronts the lethal anti-heroes, and shows what kind of Crapsack World could happen if Superman behaved the same way. Both works had the effect of sending similar messages, but with different paths.
    • Also true of Injustice where Superman reacts very differently to Lois Lane's death at the hands of the Joker.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye:
    • Clark pulls this on Bruce. "So that's what that feels like."
    • Played straight at the end, when Clark wonders in bafflement how it was possible that Bruce is able to sneak up on them at a restaurant, even with his superhearing and X-Ray vision.
    • After Norman gives his speech during the climax, The Spectre removes him from the scene, leaving confused Superman, and frustrating Norman, who wanted to talk to him more. Norman muses that The Spectre had a better sense of drama than Norman did.
  • 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 (Wesley Dodds, 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.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Of the non-lethal, Talking The Beware the Superman Down variety.
  • That Man Is Dead: During most of the story, Superman has completely abandoned Clark Kent, giving minor Death Glares to people who call him by that name, forcing them to address him as "Kal". (Batman, naturally, keeps calling him "Clark".) When Supes realizes that he lost a lot more than a secret identity when he abandoned being a part of the human race, he becomes Clark once more at the end. The Novelization explores it further, when Norm notes that Superman has a hard time addressing the press. When Superman becomes Clark again, he talks easily and naturally to a crowd, having regained Clark's people and reporter skills.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Explored in the story. It's the violation of this creed that is a major part of why Superman abandons humanity. It's also the one thing that he and Batman have in common, no matter how distant their philosophies get, and the way Superman convinces him to intervene at the Gulag: to prevent as much loss of life as possible. Wonder Woman, Superman's lieutenant and future lover, does not share this credo.
  • Throw-Away Country: Kansas, and parts of the surrounding states. Twice!
  • Touch the Intangible: Norman McCay can travel unrestricted through space and time and observe events unheard and unseen. However, he does not count on The Flash, who has received a power upgrade that causes him to exist on multiple planes of reality at once. The Flash senses Norman observing a meeting of the Justice League, grabs him, and yanks him back into physical reality.
  • Tragic Intangibility: The reader is told Martian Manhunter has been left a nervous wreck, but we're only shown it when he's so out of it he can't even reach for a cup of tea without phasing his hand through it.
  • Troll: Edward Nygma, naturally. In the Novelization, Mera, who brings up an old rumor that Arthur and Diana were to marry to unite Themiscyra and Atlantis. When Wonder Woman and Superman is pleading their case, Mera is giggling, Atlantean-style (bubbles coming from her lips.) Neither Superman nor Wonder Woman understand the significance, but Arthur does.
  • Turn Out Like His Father:
    • Orion ends up as the ruler of Apokolips after defeating Darkseid for good.
      Superman: You're more like Darkseid than ever, Orion.
      Orion: So it was written to be. Our story has always been a generational one. It is said that many men eventually become their fathers.
    • It can be argued that this happens to Superman and Batman as well. In the beginning, we see Kal-El having retreated to an artificial farm to live out his exile, and in the end, as Clark Kent, he uses a gigantic plough in his attempt to revitalize the irradiated fields of the Midwest. And Bruce Wayne, son of noted doctor Thomas Wayne, has converted the family mansion into an ad-hoc hospital facility.

  • Ungrateful Bastard: Swastika survived the massacre and sent to Themyscira to be healed (and probably to be set straight), he showed his gratitude by spitting. Fortunately Magog, the new Dean of Students there, gives him a hard clout.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Superman and Wonder Woman. Eventually gets resolved.
  • 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 In-Universe. 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.
  • Victory Is Boring: This is what happened as a result of the new generation of heroes wiping out most of the villains for good. The numerous fights and battles that occurred happened because they were bored. The first illustrates this by showing many of the antiheroes fighting against each other, but then later on will team up with people they'd just been trying to kill for no given reason. They don't actually care who they're fighting just as long as they get to fight.
  • 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 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Was It Really Worth It?: Magog wanted to take Superman's place as The Hero.
    Magog: You were afraid... that I was the Man of Tomorrow. You were afraid of the future I represented. (gestures the nuclear wasteland he inadvertently caused) Well, look around you. This is what I represent.
    Superman: You must be proud.
    Magog: Proud? PROUD? GOD DAMN YOU!
  • 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.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • Magog. While he does value innocent lives, his Fatal Flaw is that he doesn't value all life as Superman does. It comes back to bite him in the ass when his zealotry costs millions of lives.
    • Superman. Green Arrow admits to people at the Good-Guy Bar that Superman has the best of intentions, but he's a bull in a China shop and isn't quite suited to dealing with the current day's problems.
    • Orion. Scott Free says in his underbreath to Superman that Orion is trying his best to do good, then loudly exclaims — so that the lowlies hear him — that he's a buffoon tyrant.
  • Wham Line: Even Wonder Woman is shocked, who had been a Knight Templar to this point.
    Superman: We are at war.
  • Wham Shot: Luthor encourages Captain Marvel to go on the attack, seemingly setting up the big fight...and then Bruce Wayne decks Marvel with a single punch and puts a foot to his throat. Everyone just stares before it sinks in that even at his prime, there's no way Batman could deck the World's Mightest Mortal. Which means...
    Green Arrow: He's not...You're kidding me! You mean all this time we've been living in mortal fear of Billy Batson?!
  • 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 a mature woman (like Lois Lane was), or he needs no one else, and she needs a mature 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.
    Norm: These are people who come together only after doing a lot of living. Only after being vulnerable and disappointed a lot. After loving and being loved a lot. Both of them. A woman this formidable needs a man who’s weathered, sanded down around the edges—or she needs to be with no one at all. And a man this weathered needs someone capable of making him forget the ghosts of his own sad stories—or he needs to be with no one at all.
  • 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.
    • The UN delegates (and by extension, the United States) expresses anger at Superman and Wonder Woman for building a meta-human prison in the middle of Kansas without telling anyone nor even asking for permission. The Winston Churchill Expy levies a potent threat to Superman as a Wham Line:
      Perhaps it is time that we began to decide some things for ourselves. Good day.
  • When He Smiles: After the events are over, in the Novelization, the President asks Superman if he's okay, because he hasn't smiled, and the Superman everyone loved always had a warm smile. Superman tells her he will again, but not now. In the comic and the Novelization, after Wonder Woman gives him a pair a glasses "to see a little clearer", he finally gives a very Superman-like smile as he pulls a gigantic plough in Kansas, ending the main story.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: This was the public's complaint about Superman, who's too "old-fashioned" and wouldn't "get with the times".
  • 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.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: The younger "Dark Age" style heroes have names like "Genosyde”.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Norman's reaction to the The Spectre stating their job was done after the bomb dropped on the metahumans, leaving one very pissed Superman in its wake.

They won't forgive you for this, Clark. Forgive yourself.