This is the cover of Kingdom Come's first issue, entitled "Strange Visitor". I love it. It doesn't look like a comic book. Sure it has grown men with weird outfits, but this looks like a representation of history meant to be put up in government building. This looks like the way that George Washington and his posse were portrayed by Emanuel Leutze when they were #CrossingTheDeleware. But instead of carrying the American flag, they're just standing there, menacing you, as The Spectre (God's Spirit of Vengeance) stands among them. But The Spectre isn't staring you down. He's just keeping his head down. Is there a metaphor there? Probably.
When Kingdom Come came out, it was the summer of 1996. Mark Waid had spent a great deal of the decade writing stories like The Legion of Super-Heroes, The Flash and Justice League. He'd only recently gotten knee deep writing X-Men, Onslaught and Deadpool before he began production on this story. Basically the premise of the story is that the old superheroes were pushed out of the limelight by younger, edgier heroes who stand in stark contrast to the previous generation with their characteristic lack of mercy and hyperviolent ways. My personal theory is that this is less of a commentary on other comic writers
output and more of a meditation on his own bibliography. To back this up, you even see a cameo from The Legion of Super-Heroes amongst the old
heroes, even though that would make absolutely no sense from an in-universe chronological perspective.
You could argue that this story isn't even about superheroes, though. The character that we start the narrative by focusing on is a preacher who is reading from the book of Revelation. Wanna guess who he's reading to? Too bad. He's spending time with the geriatric Wesley Dodds, once a wiry and spry superhero, now reduced to an unraveling knot of bed-ridden organ failure. He used to be The Sandman. He used to be a superhero
. One page-turn later and he's just dead. So the preacher dude goes out into the world and checks out a restaurant where everyone is dressed up as a classic superhero, mostly Justice Leaguers. One of the waiters is dressed up as Hal Jordan, but he literally doesn't even know whose costume he's wearing. It really hammers in the theme of the previous generation being deemed more and more irrelevant
and, even worse, forgotten.
It reminds me of Grant Morrison's New X-Men, where Professor Xavier tells Magneto "The only thing you have that they want is your face on a t-shirt
". Don't get me wrong. I hate Hal Jordan, but I also refuse to wear clothing with symbols or logos on them that I haven't thought about intensively because I refuse to allow people I dislike to use me as a billboard. So it's against my personal philosophies and probably isn't a universal takeaway.
He ends up stewing on how the new heroes battle each other just for the thrill of it and how the old are fading fast. Then he starts receiving intrusive visions of the future that unsettle him. It gets to him so bad that he ends up preaching doom and gloom in a sermon to his congregation before cutting himself off, apologizing and dismissing his audience. Shortly afterward, he's met by The Spectre, who explains that he is assigned to punish the wicked and deliver vengeance, but he literally cannot because his faculties are not what they once were and that he needs to a host to accomplish his plan. He wanted Wesley because he had been having visions of the future, but Wesley's dead. So this dude winds up with the Spectre by process of elimination.
They go on a little spirit walk where they see Wonder Woman check up on a gray-tinged Superman in the fortress of solitude where he's living out a fantasy of being a simple farmer. She tells him that they need him in order to stand up to the new generation of super heroes because everyone follows his lead. Even the old timers who didn't entirely give up still were changed remarkably. The Green Lantern created an Emerald City that looked upon the Earth from below, an idea that I love, btw. The Flash runs through Central City and literally never stops, correcting everything
with a faux omnipresence that only the fastest man alive could muster. Hawkman is acting as a protector of the remaining natural environment, which has become very minute after the new generation of superheroes attacked The Parasite viciously and literally relentlessly before The Parasite cracked Captain Atom open in an attempt to end his suffering, destroying the midwestern United States, and therefore causing an ecological/economic disaster.
Superman has been living in a self imposed exile for the better part of the past ten years when he was essentially outshined by Magog, one of the antiheroes we keep mentioning, and the public refused to heed his warnings that this style of heroism
would destroy the world. Diana attempts to snap him out of his complacency by insisting that they need him to take the lead, not because of his might but because he is Superman, the epitome of heroism. If he doesn't stand up then neither would the rest. Superman declines, dismissing Wonder Woman.
That's where the vision ends. That preacher dude is, like, super let down by Superman's bogus response, and asserts that The Spectre was supposed to have provided hope. The Spectre quips that he, in fact, did not ever promise hope. Hold that in mind for a second. Then they take a peek at a fight between superheroes and villains. You literally can't tell who is who on account of the massive amounts of damage that is being done. Preacher-dude screams "We need Hope" and guess what. All of the guns are crushed by hands more powerful than a locomotive. In a whirlwind, a dangling cablecar is deposited safely and Superman has brought the battle to a close.
Which is one of the best executed superhero interventions ever because it's strongly implied that Superman had truly retired. Unfortunately, the world rejects him once more. The final page displays him being overtaken by a redness that I presume to be either radiation or magic. The point of origin isn't given away in this particular issue. A real cliffhanger. Having never read it, I imagine it might be this Magog
that keeps coming up. But yeah. For a second it looked like everything was gonna be okay. Though the spectre of God's vengeance had been insufficient, Superman had not forsaken the world.
Anyhow, I'm off to bed. If anybody has any interpretations of this that they wanna bounce off of me, I am, like, all ears. Or at least, like, 87 percent ears. I assume I probably have some blood and serotonin left in me given that I feel an overwhelming need to slump off to sleep.