Tag: dcu

My Knight in Tarnished Armor

Contributed by Christopher J. Valin

It was the end of the summer of ’86, and my eighteenth year on this earth was drawing to a close. I was shedding the cocoon of adolescence and getting my adult wings—at least according to conventional wisdom. That’s how it works, right? Once you’re eighteen, you’re suddenly an adult.

I’d just moved to Colorado to join my parents and brothers, who’d moved there a year earlier from Albuquerque. The reason I had stayed behind was that I had a full ride scholarship to the University of New Mexico. It was the greatest year of my life, socially. And by far the worst academically. With no more free ride, it was time to move back with my family and attend school close by.

In the middle of high school, I had abandoned my lifelong obsession with comic books for a life of playing in heavy metal bands, partying, and—of course—girls. But now I was in a new place where I didn’t know anyone yet. I was feeling somewhat lost and searching for something familiar. One day, after my mom had gone with me to help deal with the final details of my transfer to the Colorado Springs campus of the University of Colorado, she said she needed to stop at the mall for a few things. I went inside with her, and the first place I noticed was a comic book store. “I’ll hang out here until you’re done,” I said.

All it took was walking into that place to re-ignite the spark. I bought a few issues of some of my favorite series that I’d missed, as well as some new ones. It was a couple of weeks before I made it to another comic book store, but I could tell that my old obsession had returned. With a vengeance.

I started checking out a few other comic shops in town, and on my third or fourth visit to a shop, I started a conversation with the guy behind the counter. I told him I’d been away from comics for a few years, and asked him for recommendations.

“You like Batman?” he asked.

“I love Batman. He was my favorite character growing up.”

“Then you should check this out.” He handed me a copy of the first issue of The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller. The one with the silhouette of Batman against a dark sky, a giant bolt of lightning behind him. It blew my mind.

So did the price.

“It looks really cool, but I don’t think I can afford it.”

He pulled out the trade paperback. The first edition, released by Warner Books, with Batman standing over Gotham City. Not as cool as the lightning cover, but still pretty awesome. He told me it contained all four issues, and it was reasonably priced. I bought it.

When I got home, I read it cover-to-cover in one sitting and couldn’t believe how good it was. It had so much to love. The only time I’d seen a version of Batman even close to this was the old Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams books, but this went way beyond that. Miller brought back the

old, oval-less bat-symbol, while still explaining why Batman would go around with a target on his chest. It had Batman fighting Superman. It even had my favorite late-night TV host, whose show I watched every night: David Letterman! This was incredible.

I had always been a Batman and comic book fan, but now it was ON. Not only did it reignite my love for comics, it brought back my desire to create comics. I had always been a good artist, and had created my own comics from when I was very young. The Dark Knight Returns brought back that impulse to create, as well as my obsession with Batman. In the years since, I’ve worked professionally as a comic book inker and writer, a screenwriter, and a novelist.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done some or all of those things if it hadn’t been for The Dark Knight Returns. Something else may have kindled that old fire…Watchmen, perhaps, or something by Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore. But the fact is that Frank Miller’s series did kick off a creative streak in me that still hasn’t ended thirty years later. And, for that, I’m forever grateful.


Christopher J. Valin is a writer, artist, and teacher living in the Los Angeles area. His first published book was Fortune’s Favorite: Sir Charles Douglas and the Breaking of the Line, about his 5x great-grandfather. He now writes science fiction and superhero stories and books.

All of his superhero stories take place in the same universe (called the “Raptorverse” after its central character, Red Raptor), including Sidekick: The Red Raptor Files – Part 1 and Superteam: The Red Raptor Files – Part 2, and stories in the anthologies It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!, World Domination, and Ha! Ha! Ha! You can also find his other books and short stories at his Amazon author’s page and more at his website, ChristopherValin.com. Finally, if you’d like to keep up with new releases, as well as giveaways and other fun stuff, please subscribe to the newsletter.

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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.

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