Review: Kingdom Come by Mark Waid & Alex Ross

81tnmidlshlIt has been many, many years since I last read Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come, but after watching the enjoyable (but heavily flawed) Justice League, I was in the mood to indulge my love of all things DC Comics. Kingdom Come was the closest collected edition at hand, but to be frank, I was a little wary about returning to it after more than a decade. I last read it in High School, and have held it to such a high standard since that inaugural reading, I feared the scrutiny of my “adult eye.”

This “Elseworlds” tale —  a story that takes place outside the DC Universe canon — occurs in a future where a vigilante segment of the super hero population, emboldened by public sentiment, have broken the established “code” set by the traditional heroes, and have started killing villains rather than incarcerating them. Disturbed by this brave new world, Superman has “retired” and his Justice League peers have gone into various states of hibernation or eccentricity. Superman has isolated himself and no longer dons his heroic garb, essentially retired. Batman, addled by an accumulation of injuries during his decades of crime-fighting, now patrols Gotham City with a fleet of cyborgs.

After the extermination of super-villainy, these new breed of heroes are left with no one to combat but themselves; it’s a wild west with super powers rather than six-shooters. When a catastrophic incident wipes out Kansas, it forces Superman and his fellow Justice Leaguers to return order to a world in disarray; to remind them of the importance of a moral code, of fighting for truth and justice… and to foil the evil machinations of Lex Luthor and co.

The story is narrated by an elderly pastor named Norman McCay, who is approached by The Spectre to be the supreme being’s guide through these upcoming potentially apocalyptic events. As a kid, I disliked these scenes because I thought they detracted from the action, but presently, I really appreciated this human perspective. It is unfathomable to imagine living in a world populated by God-like beings with the power to obliterate us with the blink of an eye; imagine being  a person of faith. And while I have always been a great fan of Alex Ross’s art — his painterly style is often mimicked but never matched — I’ve never liked his sequential work, and find his panels rather static. Of course, whether Kingdom Come would’ve had such resonance without his illustrations is unanswerable, and his work certainly isn’t flawed; it just lacks velocity.

Kingdom Come is one of those collections non-comic-reading people can enjoy. Unrestrained by continuity, it is that rare thing in comics: a story that has a beginning and an end. A decade after I last read it, I’m thrilled it still holds up, and serves as a demonstration that tales involving costumed heroes don’t just have to involve punch-outs and explosions. The best stories have heart.

ISBN: 9780606340083
Format: Hardback (257mm x 170mm x 15mm)
Imprint: Turtleback Books
Publisher: Turtleback Books
Publish Date: 30-Sep-2008

Review: Daredevil, Volume 1 – Devil at Bay

Daredevil 1 Devil at BayIn the lead up to the launch of Marvel’s first Netflix show, Daredevil – which is fantastic, by the way – I delved into Matt Murdock’s recent adventures in the form Devil at Bay, the first volume of Daredevil under the Marvel Now! label. Unlike many of the Marvel Now! books, Daredevil maintained its preceding creative team of writer Mark Waid and illustrator Chris Samnee – and for good reason. Waid and Samnee revitalised Daredevil after too many years of dark, harrowing and overly-gritty stories, which eventually (in this reader’s opinion) outstayed their welcome. It’s incredible how a slight shift in tone reinvigorated my interest; not that the series is suddenly sunshine and lollipops, but by leaning more into its superhero roots, Daredevil has once again become a Must Read series.

Following the events of its preceding volume, Matt Murdock has been outed as Daredevil, and thus been disbarred from practicing law in New York. Determined to continue serving the people as both a masked crusader and as a lawyer, Matt and his new partner, Kirsten McDuffie, have moved to San Francisco. Coincidentally, so has Daredevil’s long-time nemesis, The Owl, who’s none too pleased at Daredevil’s new base of operations; neither is the enigmatic vigilante The Shroud. This trio’s confrontation is the core storyline in Devil at Bay, and emphasises the intriguing directions Daredevil’s new status quo can take.

Beyond the Owl / Shroud / Daredevil skirmish, this volume also presents the ‘death’ of Foggy Nelson, in a wonderfully entertaining single issue, which sees the portly Foggy save New York from certain annihilation. It’s delightfully preposterous, but incredibly heartfelt, and showcases the deft line treaded by Waid and Samnee. The artist’s layouts are never less than ingenious; Samnee is one of the best storytellers in comics, with a wonderful knack of producing emblematic moments that deserve framing. Highlights here include Matt Murdock, clad in a suit and tie, dropping into a fiery death trap, and Daredevil’s fist careening into the face of a hovering villain.

Devil at Bay also includes the short story Daredevil: Road Warrior, originally released as a digital-only tale. Written by Waid, and illustrated by his frequent collaborator Peter Krause, Road Warrior explains Matt and Kirsten’s journey from New York to San Francisco; which, as you can imagine, takes several unexpected detours when a man without a heartbeat snares Matt’s attention. It’s an action-packed romp, and deals with a complicated moral issue over what it truly means to be alive, and is a nice counterpart to Waid and Samnee’s story.

Daredevil, Volume 1: Devil at Bay is a delight. Readers jumping in from the Netflix show might be startled by the comic’s lighter tone – but they’ll be appeased by the grittier runs by writers Miller, and Bendis, and Brubaker. But for everyone else, those just seeking a quality superhero comic, should look no further.

Review: Spider-Man – Family Business

Family BusinessWriting partnerships aren’t uncommon in comics, but I’m always cautiously optimistic about them. Oftentimes the pairings don’t work, and the writers end up trouncing the facets of their storytelling I admired about them in the first place. In THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: FAMILY BUSINESS, fan-favorite writers Mark Waid and James Robinson partner with penciller Werther Dell’Edera and painter Gabriele Dell’Otto to throw a new curveball into the life of our Friendly Neighborhood Wall-Crawler: a sister. The result is a fun, if fleeting, action-packed romp, which takes Spidey from Manhattan all the way to Cairo, with several stop-overs along the way.

Whether events in this narrative affect future continuity in the on-going monthly Amazing Spider-Man series seems unlikely: but for all intents and purposes, FAMILY BUSINESS throws the spotlight on the Peter Parker we know and love. Waid and Robinson, long-time pros, avoid excessively detailing ‘the story so far;’ we’re thrown into the action immediately, and pick up the necessary pieces along the way (such as the fact Peter Parker’s parents were CIA operatives). In this tightly-plotted 100-page adventure, Spidey is cast as the Jason Bourne archetype, and he and his never-before-seen sister (a CIA operative, like their mother and father) partner together to deny the bad guys (lead by Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin) whose diabolical schemes link back to the deceased Richard and Mary Parker. Of course, everything is not what it seems: there are double-crosses and revelations along the way, and the writing duo ratchet up the tension nicely. We’ll never know how the writers plotted and scripted this graphic novel, but it’s a partnership that works.

Dell’Otto and Dell’Edera work in beautiful tandem to create 100 pages of stunning artwork. The painted style isn’t integral to the success of the story – FAMILY BUSINESS would’ve worked with a more traditional artistic style – but in this oversized format, their work really benefits. Waid and Robinson allow the illustrators the space to let their artwork breathe; the full-page shots of Spider-Man swinging into action are, well, amazing. The action-sequence inside a lavish Monte Carlo casino is especially wonderful.

There’s a lot to like about FAMILY BUSINESS, and it’s a fantastic package, reiterating the decision by Marvel Comics to completely overhaul their line of original graphic novels. But as fun and action-packed as the story is, it’s perhaps too light-hearted. Given the format and the marketing push behind these graphic novels, I’d like to see writers offering readers something special, something different. There is no denying FAMILY BUSINESS is a fabulous Spider-Man story, and my copy will eventually grow dog-eared from recurrent readings; but it’s nothing that wouldn’t be possible in the monthly comic book series. That minor quibble aside, for new and long-time Spidey readers, you’ll get your money’s worth here.