The Importance of Kingdom Come

Contributed by Joshua Guess

A lot of comics influenced me and the way I look at stories. Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, all the usual suspects. To have been a reader of comics within the last thirty years means a certain vein of highly acclaimed books will be at the forefront of your thoughts when someone asks which comics had the biggest impact on you.

And while I will remain a faithful acolyte of the works of Alan Moore until I draw my last breath, no comic impacted me as deeply or powerfully as Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross.

On a purely surface level, look at the visuals. Ross is a painter of staggering talent, able to render heroes into believable figures while capturing the smallest nuances of body language. His ability goes beyond human form. His battles look as if they could spring into motion. His layouts are dynamic. The visual language of his art is consistently brilliant.

Kingdom Come wouldn’t work without Mark Waid, whatever claims Ross now makes about the division of labor. The writing carries Waid’s touch heavier in some places more than others, but it’s the unique alchemy between the two men that gives the story its heft and power.

This story asks the question: How do our greatest heroes cope with a world moving past them? Whether it’s Superman quitting after a hero with less strict morals kills The Joker after he murdered Lois Lane or a Batman with the veneer of Bruce Wayne finally ripped away, now free to assert control over Gotham, Kingdom Come does what few stories are brave enough to.

It opens up our heroes and makes them truly examine the consequences of their actions. Not just on the small scale, in the daily repercussions of fighting crime, but over the course of decades. What do we become when the next generation rises up, so certain that right is automatically conferred upon them by virtue of might? It asks us how far we will go—must go—in order to maintain peace, and whether peace is worth oppression.

The central thread tying every theme in this book together is one more question: where does the blame lie when everything spins toward Armageddon?

The brilliance of the story’s structure can be found in its main character, Norman McCay, a human man given apocalyptic visions by The Spectre. God’s spirit of vengeance is itself out of touch with humanity, as are many heroes of its generation. McCay is old enough to remember being inspired by the Golden Age heroes, giving him the perspective needed to judge. Or perhaps that deserves to be capitalized—Norman is to Judge.

The power of life and death, of punishment for the sins of all heroes young and old, is given over to a single human being. Norman is us—the reader. We are being asked as we read to question the ultimate morality of even the most noble heroes. Norman is our proxy, horrified and yearning to be inspired simultaneously, all while being confronted by the horror of the brave new world growing darker around him.

Kingdom Come is a deconstruction of the superhero genre that demands we look harder at the trend toward darker, grittier heroes that began with Moore and Miller. It forces us to shine a light on why this new strain of storytelling appeals to us. It holds us accountable for its popularity.

And while Kingdom Come does all that, layering questions and themes together, it also manages to beautifully tell two stories at once. Threads of classic Golden Age heroics are woven together with the better angels of Modern Age characters and stories instead of only presenting them as the villains. It doesn’t paint a picture of pure right and wrong as so many other stories might. It instead lays out the many shades of gray and begs us to pause and consider them.

Kingdom Come is, in my opinion, a vastly underrated piece of fiction. That it can be enjoyed on many levels is a powerful endorsement on its own, but that it challenges us to question the larger shifts in storytelling in comics without explicitly condemning and pointing fingers is easily the most overlooked aspect of its impact.

The story came at a time when I needed something to remind me what made me fall in love with superheroes to begin with. In a world where the trend spiraled toward anti-heroes, Kingdom Come not only rekindled that wonder about watching a man fly, but made me appreciate the complexity of the more gritty and violent modern heroes who didn’t fall into the stereotype of being nothing but ruthless killers.

I read the trade paperback at least once a year. Anyone who loves heroes should do the same.



TMNT: Return to New York

Contributed by Eddie Jakes

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Few can argue that the 80’s was a comic renaissance. Comic artists were coming off the heels of legends like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The artwork was at its peak and with it came even better stories. During this time, I found myself pulling away from DC comics and entering a love affair with black and white independent comics. I would read as many as I could get my hands on. I was drawn in by the more relaxed interpretation of the comic code. I was seduced by the foul language and even sex (gasp!) oozing from every issue. Cry for Dawn, The Crow, and Sin City to name a few.

There was a series of comics that I had been following since I was old enough to acquire them. A little-known franchise you may or may not have heard of. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT).

While everyone today knowns about TMNT through the animated shows or the new Michael Bay-produced action schlock (Jaded, I know), few remember the classic comic books that created the phenomena that have become an iconic part of the 80’s. This was a unique and edgy kind of hero comic that had a tragedy, some humor, and intense action like no other I was reading at the time.

Now there were a lot of great stories in all those comics, but the one that always grabbed me was the “Return to New York” series. This was a story arc so good that it’s been recreated in almost every incarnation of TMNT cartoon and the very first live-action motion picture.

Before you can dive into this three-comic arc, it’s important to reference the arc that came before it as it deals with the return of the Foot Clan, and its leader the Shredder, who was killed in issue 1 of the TMNT series. He had proven to be such a favorite villain that Eastman and Laird had no choice but to bring him back, and it pays off in spades. The whole story begins with Leonardo #1 micro series where Leo is attacked by the foot clan to near death, and the Shredder is revealed to be alive. The turtles fight their way out and escape with April O’Neil who ends up losing everything because of the Foot. While always an ally to the turtles, the character was never truly vested in their fight until these issues, which is one of many reasons these story arcs are so crucial to the development of the comics. It’s also the issues where the Casey Jones character is really allowed to shine having only been introduced in the Raphael #1 micro series up to this point.

Most of this will be familiar to most of you. The turtles escape to a farm, Leonardo is healed back to health and each one the characters deals with the defeat in their own personal way.

The first issue deals with leadership and a breakdown in the turtle’s bond. Raphael wants to return to the city to get revenge, but Leonardo isn’t convinced that they are ready. There is a vicious fight between the two before Raphael decides to leave on his own. Soon after the others relent and go after him.

The second issue deals with the bothers regrouping and cleaning house in NYC which has become a violent cesspool of crime. They are joined by a Triceraton who helps the ninja’s find the hideout of the Foot Clan, and that’s where the real action begins.

Issue three is an all-out war from the start, and it’s handled brilliantly. Without too many spoilers, the turtles become separated during the fight with the Foot, and at one point, each of them fights a version of the Shredder with Leonardo engaging in a duel with the original. The writers managed to combine a perfect action piece with a story of self-discovery that ends with the turtles defeating their enemies while retaining honor.

In summary, I have been in love with this story arc since I first read it back in 1989 and after refreshing myself with the story for this piece, I can still say that I enjoy these characters and this writing more than anything else I’ve read since. With some possible exceptions to The Walking Dead comics which have some fantastic storytelling in their own right. However, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is still my favorite comic book superhero group on par with the Avengers and Justice League in my opinion and the Return to New York is a timeless classic that continues to be embraced today.


Sharing the Experiences of Superheroes

Contributed By Errick A. Nunnally

There were two comics, for me. I know: lame, but it’s true. One from the past and one from the not too distant past—and both, in a stunning coincidence, are connected.

We’ll start with the four-issue mini-series “The Falcon” by James Owsley and Paul Smith. I tended to go after comics with artists I liked—damn the writers—and I liked Smith’s work. Plus, hey, The Falcon, yo. Here’s a guy who’s only got a pair of gifted wings and a pet falcon, Redwing, to work with. You have to admire that. This particular mini-series saw The Falcon (Sam Wilson) back in Harlem foiling a plot against the president. Sort of. Because this is Sam Wilson, the story gets convoluted inside and outside the book. As I understand it, Marvel only intended to do a one-shot, so the first two issues are fairly self-contained. The last two are a connected adventure, which is nice, but doesn’t do much to let our hero have an arc. Regardless, since this is Sam Wilson, there’s always some evolution of his origins or his abilities.

Wilson has at least three origin stories that I’m aware of, but all of them involve The Red Skull and the Cosmic Cube. At the time, prevailing continuity held that Wilson gained a psychic connection with his bird, Redwing. In this particular mini-series, however, he was unmasked as a mutant! Which explains the Sentinel clutching Wilson in issue #2. He also has a sort of “open secret” secret identity. By day, he’s a social worker and by whenever else he’s trying to stop crime and set would-be criminals on the right path. This is what I found fascinating. I don’t think I’d seen much of that sort of story-telling at the time and I certainly didn’t see any black heroes struggling against the sorts of crime Falcon dealt with. (Along with giant robots, Electro and shit, because, hey, it’s still a comic book.)

The final act finds President Reagan kidnapped during an outreach visit to Harlem. He’s taken by a “gang” who only want their voices to be heard. They outsmart the Secret Service because they know the neighborhood best. I guess. When Falcon tracks them down, he finds the culprits having a civilized discussion with non-facist, competent, fictional Reagan. Rather than a psycho holding a gun to the POTUS’ head making unreasonable demands, they’re getting through to fictional Reagan with words. Falcon has a chat with the guys and they all agree to turn themselves in! BOOM! POW!

The second comic series that really got me was Christopher Priest’s run on Black Panther. Initially, it was pencilled by Mark Texeira—once again, an artist I dig. They’d revamped Panther to be not only super-cool, they also inserted him in a place he hadn’t spent much time in as a character. He was always a monarch, sure, but there’s a socio-political and economic aspect to that role which had gone well and good unexplored. Priest went all-in for several issues, featuring plenty of political intrigue as well as action. Panther interfaced with other world leaders and monarchs such as Victor von Doom and Namor the Sub-Mariner. He wasn’t afraid to maim or kill as needed to protect his country. Panther also foiled international plots against Wakanda (and the world) while maintaining diplomatic ties with the United States via Everett K. Ross. Priest introduced the Dora Milaje and several other aspects of the Panther mythos that proved popular (and logical) enough to have survived as part of the movies being produced today. His run on Black Panther changed the character forever and for the better by thinking of Panther as less a super-hero and more a Wakandan cultural creation. Huzzah!

Both of these comics reminded me to take as much advantage of the world around me as possible, to mix in situations that were both relatable and interesting to me. Having someone with unusual abilities or in situations beyond the norm didn’t mean they needed to be set in worlds that I’d never experienced.

That connection, by the way? James Owsley is Christopher Priest’s birth name. He changed it in 1993. WHUT?

Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Errick Nunnally served one tour in the Marine Corps before deciding art school would be a safer—and more natural—pursuit. He strives to develop his strengths in storytelling and remains permanently distracted by art, comics, science fiction, history, and horror. Trained as a graphic designer, he has earned a black belt in Krav Maga with Muay Thai kickboxing after dark. Errick’s successes include: the novel, Blood For The Sun; an upcoming novel with ChiZine Publications; a comic strip collection, Lost in Transition; and first prize in one hamburger contest. The following are short stories and their respective anthologies: Welcome to the D.I.V. (Wicked Witches); Harold At The Halfcourt (Inner Demons Out); The Last Apology (A Dark World of Spirits and The Fey); You Call This An Apocalypse? (After The Fall); Recovery (Winter Animals: stories to benefit PROTECT.ORG); A Hundred Pearls: PROTECTORS 2 (stories to benefit PROTECT.ORG) and The Elevation of Oliver Black (Distant Dying Ember). He also has two lovely children and one beautiful wife.

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Planet Thor: Can Thin Adaptations Work?

Contributed by Steve Van Samson

Note: This article contains minor spoilers for the film THOR: RAGNAROK, but nothing much if you’ve watched the first trailer.

Adapting a book into a film is a slippery slope. Filmmakers who do so, may have a built-in audience, but it is an audience that is ready to slash out with tooth and nail, should the film fall short of their lofty expectations. Earlier this year, Nikolaj Arcel directed a film version of Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER for Sony Pictures. The result was a confounding mess which stomped over both character and plot–clumsily rewiring an already complex story for what seemed like no good reason. In the end, little to nothing of the books remained and the vast majority of fans were left feeling cold and bitter.

Personally, I hated the thing but my wife, who had never read the books, enjoyed it. This made me wonder… maybe the real problem wasn’t the quality of the film, but rather it’s title.

They called it THE DARK TOWER, but aside from a few key names, relationship dynamics and the odd line of dialogue, the source material was tossed out the window in lieu of creating something totally new. As a fan of the books, this enraged me, but then I got to thinking… what if those few remnants had also been cast aside. Is it possible to have a good film which blends elements of a popular story, after rewriting 90% of it?

Before last night, I would have said no.

THOR: RAGNAROK is the seventeenth and most recent entry into the vast, interconnected landscape that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Brought into direct was indie-darling Taika Waititi (WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, 2014). Waititi is known primarily for his use of quirky comedy and low energy but highly endearing characters. The result is a Thor film unlike the first two in almost every way, but one that is unabashedly Marvel. In his director’s toolbox, Waititi packed bright colors, plenty of humor, the pounding hard rock of Led Zeppelin and one very big, very angry supporting character.

Regarding the big, green elephant in the room… before 2012, the Hulk’s cinematic track record was somewhat less than incredible. But after stealing the show in THE AVENGERS, comic fans finally got a glimpse at how the character could work when properly realized. Since then, many have asked–nay, clamored for a live action film version of one of the character’s most beloved story arcs. It is a story that will eventually bring us full circle, back to my original point.

Bear with me here.

Written by Greg Pak and published in 2008, Planet Hulk told the pulpy yarn of a wayward Hulk, tricked into exile by the likes of Tony Stark, Reed Richards and Dr. Strange. Having been dubbed once and for all “more threat than hero” the decision was made to send the Incredible one off-world–to a distant planet with plenty of game but no sentient life to bother him. Unfortunately, after learning of the treason and plot, an enraged Hulk nearly tears his ship apart from the inside out. Veering way off course, the ship crashes down on a strange planet called Sakaar, where various John Cartery hijinx ensue.

THOR: RAGNAROK is pretty far from an exact retelling of Planet Hulk, but the thing is… it doesn’t claim to be. In it, Waititi has created what I like to think of as a spiritual adaptation of PH. Something that contains the core essence and certain key elements, while incorporating them into something altogether fresh. In T:R, Thor has replaced Hulk as the protagonist, but his initial experiences prove nearly identical. In a nutshell, he crashes down only to be promptly captured, enslaved and forced to fight for the local despot, in a Colosseum-style arena.

In PH, Hulk begins his gladiator career out with a few small matches before working his way up to a big fight with the arena’s grand champion, in issue #3. The idea there was to throw in a surprise guest appearance–one that the both the reader and the main character would never see coming. With the entire story occurring on a never before seen planet, Hulk was the only familiar Marvel character… that is, until those doors opened to reveal the arena’s grand champion.

In the original comic version of Planet Hulk, the role of the champion was given to the Silver Surfer. In 2010, an animated version of the story swapped out the Surfer for Beta Ray Bill, but the effect was the same. In both versions, Hulk recognized the character, even trying to avoid the fight by talking them down. In THOR: RAGNAROK, the spirit of this classic reveal/confrontation is intact. Here, with Thor as the main character, it is Hulk that gets to burst out of the big doors as the surprise cameo. And just as Hulk did with the Surfer, Thor does try to reason with his old friend, before eventually being forced to defend himself.

While the characters changed over the three different versions, the point of the scene was never lost. Across comic, cartoon and film, this one scene contains every single thing I love about shared universes. That said, beyond the grand champion fight and a couple of side characters, Waititi didn’t use a whole lot of Planet Hulk. And if the movie had been called PLANET HULK and not THOR: RAGNAROK, perhaps that would have been an issue.

Thinking about it now, I can’t shake the feeling that the changes made to THE DARK TOWER were done for no reason. It wasn’t a matter of rights, nor runtime, nor budget that forced scenes from book 3 and and characters from book 6 into the story. The alterations felt random at best and at the worst, callused. It felt like the filmmakers held so little affection for the original books, that they decided to do their own thing, still happy to slap the book’s title on the package to sell more tickets.

Maybe it’s just me but, while we will never get a proper film adaptation of Planet Hulk, I think Taika Waititi has delivered the next best thing. A film that incorporates the pulpy spirit as well as the setting, characters and a few key scenes of that series into one crazy, hilariously original spectacle of a movie. A thin adaptation at best, but one that doesn’t leave you cold.


The Crow: A Dark Awakening

Contributed by Amanda Kahl

Early on in my comic-reading days I had little exposure to anything other than the handful of superhero titles at my local drugstore. I wanted to read more comics, but had very limited access. Sometime in middle school, however, I took my Christmas money to the mall bookstore determined that I was going to buy myself a new comic. Something serious. Something grown up and important. That day I ended up with James O’Barr’s graphic novel “The Crow.”

I had scoped the book out before on previous mall excursions – drawn to the dark, brooding atmosphere of the art. A couple of friends had seen the movie adaptation and encouraged my interest, saying it was a good story. When I finally bought my copy I devoured it. The story was intense and emotional, the artwork was expertly executed and detailed. I could not have been happier with my acquisition. As the years went by, however, I reread it less and less frequently. I stopped bringing it up when people talked about favorite comics in favor of things that were more current or more highly acclaimed (whatever that actually means.) But really, when I look back on it, “The Crow” influenced me more than any other comic.

The most obvious influence of “The Crow” to anyone glancing at both it and my own work is aesthetic. I had already been a fan of dark and intricate artwork (having been an Edward Gorey fangirl since I was 7) but O’Barr’s beautiful book showed me that a Gothy style could be used in comics as well. This was something that had never occurred to me as I read the candy-colored popular comics of the day. I didn’t realize until I was much older and much more well-studied how much influence O’Barr was drawing from established masters (everyone from Michelangelo to Will Eisner.) All that mattered to me at the time was that it was gorgeous and that if “The Crow” had done comic art that way, then I could too.

Since “The Crow” was the first non-superhero/Archie/talking funny animals comic I ever read, it was my introduction to the possibility that comics could explore any genre. Since the story was centered on revenge for a rape and murder and takes place mostly in the criminal underworld it was full of scenes of violence, torture, sex, drug use, explicit language, and plenty of other things that would have made my mother throw the book out (had she but known!) At the time, I really only noticed this content as being “adult” and not fundamentally changing my understanding of what comics were capable of being (which is what was actually happening.) The story was also a personal one. The stakes are extremely limited and really just center on a handful of players rather than the more typical “saving the world” setup of many superhero stories. Most importantly, the story is profoundly emotional.

Outside of my own art career, one of the biggest impacts “The Crow” had was to show me the importance of art as therapy. The intensity of emotion that is conveyed in that book is not something that can be faked; it comes from somewhere real. The edition that I bought featured a forward explaining that James O’Barr came up with the story because he had lost someone and was working through the grief. At the time I just thought it was a sad back story, but in the years to come I would relate to it very deeply. “The Crow” taught me that sometimes the only thing you can do to make sense of your own pain and struggle is to use it to create something meaningful, and hope that you reach someone else. Hope that you let them know they are not alone.

Looking back at this comic book that influenced me so strongly, I am kind of embarrassed that I wandered away from it for so long. If someone, especially a young person who has many intense and emotionally charged years ahead of them, is just getting into comics and venturing away from the mainstream for the first time I would have to tell them, “Okay, so you’re going to think it looks dated, you might think the dialog is cheesy at first, but you really, really need to read ‘The Crow’.”


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