I received an iPad this holiday season. I’ve long been on the Apple fence and I love my iPhone, but I’ve always resisted taking the plunge on an iPad. Sure, I wanted one but did I NEED one?

That quandary was happily solved a couple of weeks ago and two of the first apps loaded onto it were Kindle and Comixology.

The Kindle I’ve long been a fan of, even on the iPhone. In fact, I do the majority of my reading on it. The Comixology app has been a little slower in adoption. Not because of the app which I think is well-designed and does its best to compensate for screen size. It’s just that reading comic books on a phone leaves something to be desired.

Not so with the glorious iPad and its Retina display. I quickly installed the app and downloaded Kingdom Come.

It ‘s been some time since I read the series and wanted to see how well it holds up. The 4-issue Elsewords mini-series was published in 1996 by DC Comics. The series was written by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. It was painted in gouache by Ross, who also developed the original concept.

The first thing that struck me was the artwork. On the iPad screen, the opening pages looked flat and dull. It was quite a shock from the vividly painted pages I remembered. Once the action starts and the meta-humans appear, the colors sharpen up and there are a few images that continue to stand out (such as Wonder Woman’s initial appearance in Book 1 and Clark and Bruce’s meeting in the Batcave in Book 2).

Once you get over this initial shock, the story grabs you and Ross’ artwork, on the whole, remains amazing.

The second thing was the amount of text. I never realized how wordy the series is. Waid has never been accused of being stingy with a sentence or 13, but here, it truly stands out. In our short-attention society, I wonder how many potential readers might be turned off by this.

And finally, when it comes to the artwork, I was again delighted page after page by all of the Easter eggs. If you’re a fan of DC Comics, this is the comic equivalent of pure gold.

Some of my favorites:

  • Book 1: the memorabilia in Planet Krypton; the Cosby kids in Gotham; the Super Pets at the Fortress of Solitude.
  • Book 2: the patrons in the bar. Here, you can spend a few hours looking over every pixel on the page looking for someone or something new.
  • Book 3: Deadman; the adults Teen Titans having a chat; Avengers (and Spider-Man) Assemble; “So that’s what that feels like.”
  • Book 4: Wayne Manor; Plastic Man’s eavesdropping; Planet Krypton (again).

The story holds up well. There are a few dated references (Superman’s stint wearing long hair) but for the most part, the story could come out today and it would still be a critical and commercial hit.

Waid and Ross came up with an epic series to rival and even surpass, in some cases, other lauded graphic novels including Watchmen, The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns.

It’s my contention that the only reason Kingdom Come doesn’t stand above these other comics is because DC (with Waid’s backing early on and Ross’ eventual capitulation) milked the cow too many times.

More or Less

While the other graphic novels mentioned above are indeed great for their own reasons, one of the factors on the road to legendary is that they stood alone, for the most part.

The Watchmen lived in their own little universe. No sequels and no announced prequels until recently. The Dark Knight did have a sequel but let’s be honest: it sucked.

But not Kingdom Come. You had these characters showing up in every other issue for a time. You had sequels, prequels, crossovers. You find out that they’re from Earth-22. Twenty-two! I didn’t need to know that. I didn’t want to know that.

I loved the characterization and the costumes. I enjoyed the finality of the story. I didn’t need to be inundated with the characters so that the original series became watered down as a result.

I can’t fault the company or individuals involved in the subsequent commercialization of the series. I only wish the source material hadn’t been tainted in that grab for the gold.

And it was. Despite the novelty of this universe’s characters being semi-regular characters here and there, it flat went against the message of Kingdom Come: The days of superheroes had ended. All of the super beings still alive at the conclusion put away their masks.

Superman became Clark Kent again. But as he’s recreating the Farm Belt, he’s not doing it in his super threads. He’s wearing a wife beater, jeans and his glasses.

It’s an interesting take on Superman. Iconic and the greatest, but not because of his powers. His humanity stands out in Kingdom Come. In fact, all of the major characters get a new take to go along with their new looks. While Superman has always been best when he’s Clark wearing a cape, Batman has always been best when Bruce Wayne is the costume and Batman the soul underneath it. Wonder Woman makes the smallest physical change but the greatest emotional change. She’s sexual and aggressive, yet also tender and faithful. The plot twists that envelope the three never fail to disappoint. That alone makes it the greatest Justice League story without the “JLA” title.

I love Kingdom Come. It’s my favorite comic graphic novel and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone, be they new to this universe or someone re-acquainting themselves with Norman McCay and his super odyssey.

“… and so, though my visions no longer plague me, I preach the lessons they have taught me. That a dream is not always a prophecy. That the future, like so much else, is open to interpretation.”

As for me? I’m just sorry that the eventual interpretation has muddled the legacy of one of the greatest comic book stories ever. Don’t believe me? Go find out for yourself, but forget everything after Clark says: “Let’s go go home and dream about the future.” Amen.

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