The Kingdom (1999)
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Ariel Olivetti, Mike Zeck, Jerry Ordway, Mark Pajarillo, Brian Apthorp, Matt Haley, Frank Quitely, and Barry Kitson
In 1996, DC Comics published Kingdom Come, a four issue prestige mini-series under their Elseworlds banner. Elseworlds was an imprint that DC would use to tell “imaginary” or What If? style stories. Kingdom Come stood out from the pack because it’s painted art came courtesy of Alex Ross, an artist who first made his mark with the fantastic Marvels mini-series. Ross co-wrote Kingdom Come with Mark Waid and delivered a story set approximately thirty years in the future to examine how an elderly Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman dealt with a world that was becoming increasingly darker and more violent. Fan reaction was through the roof, and DC wanted to capitalize on the ongoing buzz around this brief story. So, they decided to greenlight The Kingdom.
Alex Ross bowed out of returning to work on The Kingdom once he realized the direction DC Comics wanted to go with this follow-up. In an interview with CBR.com, he also expresses that Mark Waid no longer wanted to have a collaborative relationship with Ross.
I bailed out when there was a dissolution of the working relationship I had had with the editor, Dan Raspler, and Mark Waid at that time. I don’t know if Mark’s ever been honestly forthright with anybody about how he felt at that point in his life with that series, with working towards it. I think he wanted to go off and do other things and I had heard words to that effect, but he never expressed them directly to me. Nor would he express them to who was then going to draw the series, Gene Ha. We had one of the best artists in the art form, ready to go. I was all psyched about new ideas, and I had written up countless pages of outline stuff, but after conflict after conflict of just being told by our supposed leader in all this, that being Mark, that he was not interested in the ideas that I or Gene has expressed, we felt like we can’t fire him, so all I could do was quit. The thing is, it wasn’t like the editor was going to step in and say, well, Mark’s really not into this thing at all. His horse was bent on the fact that Mark being a writer, he can do many different books a month, and he can write this as one of those four or five different books he writes in a month. I, obviously, was not going to draw it since I had already moved onto different projects and just betting on me as just the cover artists or creative leader, what have you, it was not enough.
Ross’ absence can be felt in The Kingdom. In a Comixology special edition, Ross helped contributed to a deep dive series of annotations and readers learned just how in depth the artist went on the writing and world-building side of things. However, DC editorial decided banking on Mark Waid was the better deal at the time. Ross would go on to develop Earth X for Marvel, alongside Jim Krueger. Earth X is essentially a Marvel spin on what Kingdom Come was doing with the DC characters.
So, how is The Kingdom? It’s not great, but it’s not terrible either. The event is focused around Gog, a survivor of the Kansas Incident from Kingdom Come. A team of heroes led by Magog, a Rob Liefeld inspired pastiche end up causing a nuclear meltdown in Kansas. In the aftermath, Superman comes out of retirement, and one of the people he rescues grows up to become a minister in a Superman-centric religion. The man encounters Superman again, and the hero expresses his discomfort with being held up as a deity. The minister has a crisis of faith and in his moment of weakness is used by cosmic forces to become Gog. Why they do this, I am still not entirely sure other than making the plot move along.
Gog proceeds to kill Superman. However, that is not enough and using his transcendent powers he travels back to the day before and kills Superman there. And then back another day to kill Superman there. Moreover, he continues this until the afterlife is being filled up with Supermen. However, how could a person die more than once? Cue the Linear Men, DC’s 1990s based time police who were also being used to retcon what wasn’t plot convenient at the time. Rip Hunter, one of the Linear Men, suddenly reveals an awareness of something beyond the single condensed timeline everything was hammered into post-Crisis and post-Zero Hour. Back in the period of Kingdom Come, the heroes learn that due to Gog’s actions their entire reality is set to be erased. The Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman of the future follow Gog back to modern day to prevent this from happening.
The bulk of the event are four one-shots that spotlight a Kingdom Come character and a fifth one-shot set in the present. We have Kid Flash, Son of the Bat, Nightstar, Offspring, and Planet Krypton. They vary in quality of story-telling, but none of them are abysmal. When they are hitting on all cylinders, it focuses on the end times gloom these young heroes are experiencing. They are facing the fact that their entire lives are on the verge of being wiped out, having never existed in the first place. While I admire Mark Waid’s writing, I almost think Grant Morrison could have expertly weaved in that meta-textual examination of how hundreds if not thousands of comic book stories have been retconned over the course of the medium’s existence. Morrison has gone on record as believing that world of fiction do exist in another plane of reality and has told a story about meeting a man cosplaying as Superman and stating that said man ended up channeling the essence of Superman and Morrison was able to commune with the hero. I think that exploration of the ideas of The Kingdom would have elevated it above where it has settled in the mind of fans, which is a fairly mediocre follow up to Kingdom Come.
In the Planet Krypton one-shot, the real purpose of this event is hinted at. A waitress at a superhero-themed restaurant run by Booster Gold, experiences phantoms of characters that could never have existed. Much like the real-life Planet Hollywood establishments, Planet Krypton houses artifacts connected to heroes. The catch, as Batman discovers, is that none of these things, like multi-colored kryptonite, actually exists. Longtime readers would note that pre-Crisis all these things were part of continuity.
When the final chapter of The Kingdom arrives, we’re treated to a pretty lifeless translation by Mark Waid of an editorial mandate to shift continuity. Rip Hunter reveals that we were wrong about the nature of time for the last twenty plus years. Now we have super cool new Hypertime, a backup drive of retconned timelines and characters so that everything that has ever been still can be. At the time, Hypertime was hyped as the next big thing in the DC Universe, and they made a bit of a play to hype the concept in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Eventually, the idea went by the wayside when Geoff Johns’ Infinite Crisis in 2006 simply brought back the Infinite Earths concept.
The legacy of The Kingdom is not much. The mini-series was never profoundly acknowledged outside of its pages. Alex Ross would return to the world of Kingdom Come in the mid-2000s teaming with Geoff Johns on a JSA story arc that brought the Kingdom Come Superman to the main DC universe. That storyline is much more significant and more meaningful than Waid’s The Kingdom, another event that didn’t amount to much. One more event left in the 1990s, Day of Judgment.