COAST CITY – One of the biggest stigmas still attached to comics is that they are low brow. Uncouth. Degenerate.
But it’s not all like that. Yes, sadly, much of comicbookery is very smart and very interesting and very, very well illustrated. Many comics have won prestigious literary awards and run the gamut of subject matter including social commentary, political commentary, and sexual commentary (and the boobs implied therein) – yes, comics have it all. It’s not all about men in tights and improbably proportioned women.
That said, comics featuring these men and women can be used to express the same high-falutin’, literary, socio-political drama. And, apparently, they can be made in using gouache. This is perhaps most true in my second recommendation:
Written by Mark Waid, Esq.
Illustrated by the Rt. Hon. Alex Ross
I didn’t know what gouache was before this book. It’s paint sort of like water-colors but generally more viscous and more heavily pigmented.
Thanks to a timely hand-off of a Kingdom Come hardcover courtesy of Mr. Dave Olsher, I gained some much-needed points with my college watercolor teacher and was able to half-ass it the rest of the semester until 9-11 and then I was able to use that to half-ass it the rest of the way. Apparently, he showed it all around the art department and they were all aghast that such competant art was being wasted on such frivolity. Fruitcakes.
Wait… where was I? Oh! Kingdom Come, right!
Originally a 4 issue mini-series launched in 1996, Kingdom Come can now be found in handsome trade paperback editions where ever Glenn Beck books are marked down 30% and a bagel is marked up 30%. It is also a fine entrance to the world of DC Superheroes if you are of the “headfirst into the deep end” school of education as EVERY DC HERO EVER CREATED IS IN IT including a few that Ross came up with when he was but a boy with a pack of dried-out K-Mart markers. That, to me, screams class.
A more hackneyed writer would have begun Kingdom Come with a big “30 years later…” sign but it wasn’t so they didn’t. Superman has hung up his reds and blues. The children of today’s superheroes are running amuck in the streets with no real purpose or credo other than “kick the crap out of other teams of super-powered people,” each one sitting on a presipace in the rain grimly staring at their fist harder and more angst-ridden than the next.
One band of these yahoos hunts down a reformed supervillian in rural Kansas and, in a terrible accident, causes a thermonuclear explosion that chars and irradiates most of the state. The gray-templed heroes of yore -Wonderwoman, Green Lantern, and others- decide that it’s time to give this new breed of super persons a choice: shape up or ship out. Factions are drawn up, ideologies are challenged. Old (no, really) friends turn into new enemies, and some old enemies seem to be on the side of Right and Superman – a creature whose world has always been parsed through a clear, “Real America” Kansas horse-sense Black & White – is forced Back Into The Saddle (perhaps my favorite literary motif) to contend with a world that now contains many more shades of gray than he cares to remember.
Kingdom Come is probably the first “Elseworlds” story I ever read.
Elseworlds is “publication imprint for a group of comic books produced by DC Comics that take place outside the company’s canon.” That is, many of the characters you’ve come to know and love in different settings. Lovecraftian Batman. Soviet Superman. Marvel Comics has similar titles as well, most notably 1602, which features an Elizabethan version of the Marvel Universe’s biggest heroes and villains arriving in the New World.
Comic or no, Kingdom Come was probably the most pessimistic, cynical, and truthful thing I’d read in a while — it was just about what I was looking for at the Right Time. Oh, and the art is to die for, if I haven’t made that clear yet.
I heartily recommend this piece to anyone feeling a little let down by society and whose ideals simply can’t be met. If you’re not that into superheroes, you might be a little overwhelmed but most of the collected editions have special sections in the back with big lists of who is in which shots and it can be fun spotting Zan of the Superfriends’ Wonder Twins in the same bar with Lobo and Rorschach. But it’s no lie: them’s a lot of capes. The important characters are, of course, identified in the course of the story, but there are countless other heroes and villians running around who occasionally get name-dropped.
This is where I unviel my Getting Into Comics Tip #2:
I sometimes find the authenticity and reliability of its articles suspect, but I know I can always count on Wikipedia 100% for two things: complex physics equations and an extensive detailing of Deadpool’s back story.
For some reason, the most articulately composed and meticulously collected articles on Wikipedia are about comics and, most notably, superheroes.
The Large Hadron Collider, the device “expected [to] address the most fundamental questions of physics, hopefully allowing progress in understanding the deepest laws of nature?” Its entry, with bibliography, is 13 pages long. Spiderman’s entry? 15 pages. Welcome to Wikipedia!
If you like Kingdom Come, you might also like these comics (but don’t take my word for it):
TUNE IN NEXT TIME WHEN YOU HEAR YOU SAY: “But, Cash, there’s no real science or craft to making comics, is there?” “…were you dropped on your head as an infant?”