In 1996, writer Mark Waid and artist Alex Ross revealed a story to the world that would eventually become one of DC’s most iconic. From Waid’s poignant storytelling to Ross’ impeccable artwork, KINGDOM COME remains a one-of-a-kind tale that presents a vignette of superheroes through the lens of an ordinary man.

Through this mode of storytelling, we come to understand the catastrophes superheroes can create due to their shortcomings. As a result, KINGDOM COME isn’t exactly a cheerful tale. It’s a tragedy that depicts some of our most beloved superheroes turning on what they have always believed in.

So, why would such a bleak story move generations of comic book readers? ComicsVerse gathered together a group of DC fans, consisting of Maite Molina Muñiz, Ward Williams, Tim Stevens, and host Justin Alba, to discuss this question and more. Here are a few of the reasons they came up with. Be sure to listen to the podcast to hear the rest of their thoughts on KINGDOM COME!

The Wrath of Magog

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Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.
Magog as depicted by Alex Ross. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Of all the “heroes” of this new generation, the one known as Magog is perhaps the most venerated by Earth’s citizens. After the Joker murders ninety-three people, including Superman’s wife Lois Lane, Magog took it upon himself to kill the Clown Prince of Crime once and for all.

As a result of his act, people began to perceive Magog as a true hero since he was capable of doing what heroes such as Superman would not. There was no moral code that restricted Magog’s execution of justice nor did he feel remorse for what he believed to be heroism. Most importantly, Magog didn’t believe that the Joker, or seemingly any villain for that matter, is capable of reformation. However, though Magog’s actions might be perceived as just, his decision and capability to kill provide him with a great sense of autonomy. As a result, without any guidance or law to follow, Magog is truly capable of saving, and killing, anyone he believes to deserve it.

Now, after Magog murdered the Joker, he challenged Superman to a fight. He claimed that the winner would obtain the role of Earth’s ultimate guardian and continue serving as a hero to its people. However, in response to Magog’s challenge, Superman simply flew away and exiled himself from the rest of the world, leaving Magog as Earth’s newest, biggest superhero.

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

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Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Some may interpret Superman’s denial of Magog’s challenge as an act of cowardice. However, that is a misguided interpretation as there are a variety of justified reasons for his decision. Firstly, Waid presents Magog as a “hero” who craves violence, seeking it out in every mission he decides to take. His inclination to kill is rooted in that craving. So, if Superman had agreed to fight Magog, he would have given into his foe’s greatest motivator. Their battle would have ended with either Superman or Magog getting killed, and Superman wasn’t willing to succumb to that.

He too would have been fighting for the sake of violence, since the challenge Magog presented was a shallow one. No true reward was at stake, which is another reason why Superman flew away. He knew Earth had already made its choice. Superman had lost the role of Earth’s guardian already, and he wasn’t willing to change who he was to regain that role.

Ultimately, he was unwilling to compromise the symbol he spent his life building.

So, Superman lost hope in the hero he once was because he believed he that had failed humanity’s faith. Consequently, Superman enforced his own form of punishment: exile from the world he always believed to be home.

The Death of Justice

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Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

As aforementioned, KINGDOM COME isn’t solely a story about Superman’s return to heroism or Norman McCay’s experiences with the Spectre. Rather, it features an intersection of the trials for the heroes who have lost hope in the world. At the end of chapter one, Superman reemerges after Wonder Woman convinces him that Earth needs him as Magog’s violence has only escalated. As a result of her convincing, the Justice League reforms itself with several of its iconic members.

However, one particular ally doesn’t join the new League: Batman.

To this day, he resents Superman for abandoning Earth years ago and leaving it to Magog and a vicious army of metahumans that call themselves heroes. As a result of the two’s strife, they maintain varying perceptions of the current state of the world’s newest superheroes.

Superman believes they are simply misguided, pursuing a code they don’t entirely understand. They have been raised in a world without Superman and other heroes who respected human life. As a result, this new generation maintains a perspective of justice they believe to be the only way. Thus, Superman believes they are capable of reformation.

A Man of God

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Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Now, of all the heroes of the past age, from Superman to Wonder Woman, the one who experienced the most tragic change is Billy Baston (AKA Captain Marvel). With his powers being bestowed upon him as a child, Billy always maintained an optimistic view of the world and the superheroes that protected it. His childlike naivety grounded him along with his innate human nature. Thus, the wonder and magic surrounding the existence of superheroes inspired him greatly.

Therefore, when Magog entered the fray, Billy could no longer comprehend the world he once admired. Despite his powers, his understanding of superheroes — as well as the world — was still through the lens of a human.

He couldn’t fathom that heroes would define themselves by the lives they took. So, Billy Baston and his alter ego encountered a rift within themselves as the child lost faith in superheroes. Additionally, Lex Luthor broadened that rift by brainwashing Billy into believing all superheroes were evil, even those he once fought alongside.

Thus, Captain Marvel is undoubtedly one of KINGDOM COME’s most essential figures. He is both a god and a man, and he struggles to reconcile those identities throughout this tale. His disillusionment with superheroes catalyzes a loss of faith in what he’s capable of. As a result, he became susceptible to Luthor’s influence.

Interestingly though, what all the superheroes of this story tend to forget is that redemption is always a journey, even in a state of total desolation.

What Lies Beyond KINGDOM COME

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Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

KINGDOM COME is such a definitive work because it reminds us that superheroes are far from infallible. Many of them are capable of using their abilities entirely for good. Though, the temptation to take advantage of said abilities persists. Additionally, the presence of their powers will often lead them, and us, to believe that they are capable of anything.

Yet that isn’t true.

Superman cannot save every life, and, at times, he wants to act like Magog. It’s in moments such as those that humanity must prevail. Norman McCay’s intervention proves that even a simple man can inspire others. He doesn’t need superhuman abilities to do so. He can simply use his words to save lives since humanity is the true foundation of heroism. It provides an individual with the empathy that motivates them to value life.

Thus, though KINGDOM COME depicts a world abundant with loss and hopelessness, it also depicts a world where anyone is capable of being a hero, even if they are far from perfect.

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