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Written by Cadeem Lalor
I started reading Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come (1996) just earlier today. Kingdom Come follows an alternate reality where a new hero, Magog, became a revered figure after killing The Joker. Meanwhile, the public’s long gestating fatigue with Superman’s “boy scout” persona led him to go into exile. With Superman gone, the rest of the league followed. Ten years later, the world is overrun by a new legion of super-powered beings that lack the moral fortitude and care for human life that the Justice League had. It was a title that came with a lot of hype, but I believe it has managed to live up to expectations. Within five pages, it got me thinking about something.
In the story, Norman McCay acts as a vessel for the Spectre, and also serves as a narrator of sorts. As he ruminates on the past he remembers a friend who recently passed away. He remembers his friend missing the human desire for achievement, manifested through competitions such as the Nobel Prize or the Olympics. In this world, where people are surrounded by god-like beings, it makes sense that human achievement is no longer as valued. Yet I don’t believe the question has ever been approached in such a way. Many comic books and adaptations bring up the issue of humans admiring, mistrusting or fearing super-humans. Yet none of the ones I have read have examined how social and political institutions or functions could change due to a new breed of people. Humans are used to being the center of life on Earth. Our collective achievements are what give everyday life meaning. Would we be as motivated to work out, knowing that there is a race of people whose strength we can never attain. Would we be as motivated to achieve academically if we know that the end goal, a lucrative career or recognition likely won’t come?
Competitions like The Olympics and Nobel Prize can be mired by a host of issues, but they are fundamentally meant to celebrate competition and human skill. Each event is a testament to the will and training of the people competing. Meanwhile the Nobel Prize serves as a chronicle of scientific, economic and literary advancement. With these events, we see humans striving to understand more of their world and attempt to take away power from gods, giving more power to the people. In the world of Kingdom Come, humans have given up on deciding their own destiny. They are at the mercy of super-humans. Even when Superman and the Justice League return, the public does not immediately feel empowered, they only shift their burden to new figures. Perhaps one group of super-humans makes the issue more obvious, but the issues persist either way. While the humans seek hope, there is little to come.