thrift store finds: kingdom come adaptation

(Thrift Store Finds is a mostly-weekly “column” of sorts where I discuss some of the cool books I’ve happened upon in my neighborhood St. Vincent DePaul store. Please don’t mistake me for an expert on any of the books I am writing about… I’m just a fan of a bargain.)

Today’s Thrift Store Find is pretty geeky, so get ready for some nerd background:

DC Comics’ Kingdom Come was a four-issue comic miniseries which posited a dark future for the superheroic DC Universe and all its’ characters. This future was predicated on the idea that at some point in the not-so-distant future, Superman decides to give up being Superman. Supes leaves the world at large in the hands of superheroes who had neither the ethics or the heart of the original DC superheroes.

Designed as a critique on the excess of the comic book industry in the 1990’s wherein any book starring a gun-toting, grim and gritty antihero would rake in the dough, Kingdom Come is one of the best Superman stories told in the last 20 years. Conceptualized and painted by Alex Ross, Kingdom Come featured Ross’ trademark “realistic”, detailed depiction of superheroes. Longtime comics’ writer Mark Waid worked with Ross to provide the story. Seen through the eyes of a common pastor, the big guns of the DC Universe are brought to life and into conflict with one another in a truly impressive story that gets at the core of what exactly makes Superman so super.

Kingdom Come was a tremendous success for DC Comics, and as such, the company has exploited that success with a variety of spin-offs. Some of them were very good (the recent Justice Society of America Story “Thy Kingdom Come“) and some of them were a bit iffy in their reason for being (1999’s mini-series The Kingdom). DC also went so far as to commission a novelization of the comic series… which, if you haven’t guessed yet, I ran across at our St. Vincent DePaul a few weeks ago.

Adapted by Elliot S Maggin, the Kingdom Come novelization strikes me as less a novel unto itself and more of a bonus feature for those who enjoyed the comic series enough to read almost 400 pages of story retread from a slightly different point of view.

Maggin’s a notable writer in the DCU; he wrote Superman for about 15 years, from the 1970’s on through the mid 1980’s. He’s very well known for his other novelized adaptions of the Man of Steel: Superman- The Last Son of Krypton is not a rewritten take on the 1978 Superman movie, but an original story featuring Superman, a novel (excuse the pun) concept at the time which quickly translated into a bestseller for Warner Books. Maggin also wrote a second Superman novel, Miracle Monday, which I’ve heard nothing but great things about. It’s one of those books I’m on the lookout for every time I walk into a thrift store.

I should mention that Maggin usually goes by the title Elliot S! Maggin when writing comics, but he’s sans exclamation point for this novel. The reason for that, I do not know. I miss the exclamation point!

As I said, I’m looking forward to reading those two Superman novels, but I’m afraid that this Kingdom Come novel is not the best showcase for any writer’s talents. The story is already so locked-in; there is very little room for Maggin to stretch his wings and do anything new or creative. You could argue that this type of book is not the venue for such creativity, and I’d be hard-pressed to argue with you.

To me, it seemed like instead of embracing that fact, Maggin went in and gave us truly unnecessary details around the edges of the book as a substitute. For example, an extended sequence where the narrator of the story, pastor Norman McCay, tells us his family has a history of premonitions like the ones he begins to experience at the beginning of the novel. This sequence is entirely too much information. It doesn’t move the plot anywhere remotely interesting, and in my own opinion, makes McCay’s acceptance of the remarkable nature of his association with the superheroes a little less dramatic than it could be.

Again, that’s my opinion. I am positive that there are legions of readers who bought this novelization precisely for those little details; it seems to be Kingdom Come’s stock in trade. In point of fact, one of the truly amazing aspects of the original comic series was artist Ross’ compendious knowledge of the DC Universe. In his hyper-realistic style, Ross inserted all sorts of “easter eggs” for the eagle-eyed fanboy and girl. A background character with no speaking lines would, if the reader was savvy enough in the ways of superhero lore, be easily identified as an elderly Captain Boomerang or Plastic Man. These hidden references were part of the fun of the Kingdom Come comic book, but part of that fun was how little attention was brought to them. You either picked them up as you read… or you didn’t. Knowing that background character with the top hat was Ross and Waid’s reimagining of Zatara would not affect your reading either way.

Prose doesn’t operate in the same fashion… or at least, the prose here does not. What could go unremarked in a wide panel and act as a small nod to continuity or character must be mentioned explicitly in a novel to give it any meaning.

If you’re interested in those extra details, I will say that Maggin’s Kingdom Come is an absolute treasure trove. As a fan of the original comic, I found all sorts of interesting bits and pieces sprinkled throughout this book. Background characters like Power Woman and The Ray are given more room to breathe, and in particular I found Maggin’s take on Kingdom Come’s version of Hawkman to be well-thought out and far more interesting than the handful of panels the character is given in the comic book. There are also many small wrinkles that Maggin’s given the chance to address that would have slowed the comic down to a screeching halt- I particularly enjoyed his explanation about why the futuristic Legion of Super-Heroes doesn’t come back and give humanity a helping hand… as well as the “death” of Clark Kent, something left entirely unaddressed in the comic.

Maggin also cleverly makes the connection between the narration device of Norman McCay, an average human being lead around invisibly by the ghostly superhero The Spectre to observe the major events of mankind and the origins of that relationship in A Christmas Carol. Several times throughout the book, Maggin drops hints and references to Dickens’ immortal holiday tale, going so far as to title one chapter “Scrooge Me Not”.

As a fan of the comic series, I enjoyed the novelization of Kingdom Come, but I cannot recommend a casual reader come in and read this cold. There’s a vital connection between the comics and the novel that Maggin exploits and I’m not sure the novel version of KC stands on its own. The paperback version of Kingdom Come features four black and white sketches of the major players (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel) from the series. I imagine extra Alex Ross artwork was another big draw for readers to this book.

This one of Superman is my favorite of the four- as a lapsed Catholic, I always appreciated how overt Ross and Waid made the comparisons between Big Blue and Jesus Christ.

One Response to “thrift store finds: kingdom come adaptation”

  1. […] I can envision some of my students enjoying this book. It’s a darn sight better than that Kingdom Come adaptation I read a few months ago. LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

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