With DC Rebirth, and the promotion of Geoff Johns to co-chair of the DC Cinematic Universe, the company has pledged to return to its roots of “Hope, Optimism, and Legacy” While that is all fine and Jim dandy, it strikes me as coming pretty late when you consider the story Kingdom Come. One of DC’s most classic series of it’s era by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, the comic could’ve saved DC a lot of trouble had they considered that story as the template to follow instead of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.
Everybody loves Watcheman & The Dark Knight Returns, and they’re great in their own way. However, they are neither the best way to prolong your never-ending narrative (being that they were originally self-contained deconstructionist tales anyway) or the “only” way to tell mature stories in the Superhero genre. By “mature”, I don’t mean things like rape, prostitution, ultraviolence, or deviant sexualities. Adding them to your story doesn’t automatically make it mature and thoughtful, it just means you picked some very odd window dressing as a shortcut to literary legitimacy.
People did this incessantly in the 90s trying to imitate greater works without having the skills or patience to do so well. It led to a lot of garbage frankly, stuff that will likely never be remembered or missed. DC themselves are not immune from this, the aftermath of such stories like The Death of Superman and Knightfall saw them experiment with new heroes who were more violent and extreme than the original characters they were based off of. Fans rejected them outright, as well as many 90s styled changes DC had implemented (Except Lobo, gotta have some Lobo in there).
Possibly the one good thing that came out of that mess is the aforementioned story by Waid and Ross, Kingdom Come, set in a future world where the 90s heroes never went away and the former heroes of the DC pantheon watch them with growing disapproval. These 90s styled heroes would fight with abandon, without regard to innocent casualties and kill without a second thought. The example they follow is the man who replaced Superman as the hero of Metropolis, Magog. Seeing his city look towards another more brutal example to follow, Superman abdicates his responsibilities and retreats to his fortress. Most of his comrades follow suit in their own ways, Batman relies only on drones to police Gotham, the Flash becomes more god than man and tirelessly patrols Central City, Green Lantern sits in space waiting for a sign he is needed again.
At Wonder Woman’s behest, Superman does eventually come out of exile to curb these violent heroes, letting his fellow friends and Leaguers know that they are needed once again. However, deciding what to do with these violent and inexperienced youth causes dissent among their elders. Superman believes that with time and mandatory isolation from innocents, they will come to recognize their failings. Batman sees this as a naive undertaking and rally’s his own sizable community to prepare for when things hit the fan.
While the entire story may seem like a tale of our elders saving us from ourselves, its really a tale of how the generation they inspired failed to live up to their standard. As a result, the generation that followed them was almost lost from the beginning. It takes Captain Marvel (or Shazam if you prefer) to step up as the bridge between the warring elders and violent youths and show that he is ready to live up to their example. His actions end the conflict, and restore peace to this version of the DCU.
That’s an epic story, but one that is centered around hope, dressed in the Legacy of that Universe’s heroes. Is there a more perfect work to illustrate DC’s current predicament?
As the years have gone by, the world has become more complex and seemingly more dangerous. Whether it is or not, depends on how closely you followed the news before and how much you do now. We’ve lost faith in our heroes, institutions and laws, almost everything. Hope is in short supply in our stories because they tend to spew back the real world at us, then lampshade it with jokes.
It’s harder to be hopeful and optimistic today, but nothing worth doing is easy. It helps to have heroes who embody those traits so we can believe in their veracity. On one hand, this is what Geoff Johns and his cohorts need to do. The other is actually put in the work of telling good stories and not corny CGI affairs.
Somehow DC has to tap into that energy and mindset. I don’t think it was a matter of us not buying into it anymore, but DC not buying it themselves. Watchmen isn’t the problem, or if it is, why is it a problem 30 years after it was released?
Other stuff was published by DC besides that, and those are the works to learn from. The New Frontier, Kingdom Come, Mulitversity, All-Star Superman, all are works that internalize what Johns’ new slogan is. The research material is there, people just have to learn which works to read and how to distill them.
Almost 20 years later, Kingdom Come serves as an odd prediction of where DC ended up. Luckily, in the aftermath things didn’t look so bad.