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Kingdom Come
Elliot S. Maggin
Warner Aspect Books, 330 pages

Kingdom Come
Elliot S. Maggin
Elliot S. Maggin has written at least 500 comic book stories, including time as a principal writer of Superman comics from 1971 until 1986. Two of his novels include Superman: Last Son of Krypton and Superman: Miracle Monday. His most recent novel is Generation X (co-authored with Scott Lobdell).

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A review by Mark Shainblum

First there was the novel. Then there was the novel based on the blockbuster movie screenplay. Now, wait for it, there is the novel based on the blockbuster comic book mini-series.

Wait! Come back! It's actually good! It's even great.

Honest! Cross my heart and hope to... whatever.

You see, Kingdom Come was no ordinary comic book series. It was the superhero genre event of the 1990s. Illustrator Alex Ross was fresh from his blockbuster collaboration with writer Kurt Busiek on the genre-refreshing and historically evocative Marvels mini-series from, natch, Marvel Comics. Told from the perspective of an ordinary man watching the birth of the superhero in the Marvel Comics fictional universe, Marvels was a literary, artistic and commercial success. Ross' incredibly detailed and evocative paint style of comic art made him an overnight superstar, and probably made Kingdom Come inevitable.

Kingdom Come was initially perceived as the direct antithesis of Marvels. Where the latter explored the naïve, primary-coloured origins of Marvel's superhumans, Kingdom Come explores the possible future gotterdamerung of their DC counterparts. Written by Mark Waid -- himself a figure of acclaim for his dramatic re-calibration and re-energizing of such staid characters as DC's Flash and Marvel's Captain America -- Kingdom Come the comic book sold extremely well and received generally positive critical acclaim.

But still, but still... many readers and critics had a sense that the series (and the trade paperback graphic novel which collects all four issues under one cover) didn't quite gel. Where Busiek and Ross had an almost seamless collaboration on Marvels, you could almost feel the fissure-lines between Mark Waid and Ross in Kingdom Come. Waid seemed intent on telling the story of the Twilight of the Gods, focussing primarily on the DC Holy Trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Ross, for his part, seemed obsessed with the character of Norman McCay, a Protestant minister caught up in the events leading up to the Last of Days. The tension between these two aspects of the story never seemed adequately reconciled and the comic series, despite its technical brilliance, in the end failed to satisfy on some level.

The novelization by Elliot S. Maggin, however, rectifies most of these problems. Like the movie version of The Bridges of Madison County, the adaptation is in many ways superior to its source material.

Maggin's name, of course, is well-known to generations of comic book fans. A writer of Superman comics between 1971 and 1986, Maggin distinguished himself as a man who truly understood the mythological underpinnings of the material he was writing before such understanding was fashionable. In the 1980s he wrote two Superman novels, Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday which, though packaged like tie-ins to the Christopher Reeve movies, were actually original works of considerable charm and talent. Maggin is one of a very small stable of writers who can convincingly write superhero adventure in prose form.

To be fair to Waid and Ross, Maggin had considerably more landscape to play with. Though comics are a medium better suited to interiors and omniscient narration than film, there is just much more room for this kind of interplay in a 330 page novel, and Maggin makes the most of this additional playroom. He expands upon the motivations of characters, ties disparate story elements together, throws in extensive background and historical detail (the geologic origins of the Batcave, for God's sake!) and most importantly, provides a deeper and more fulfilling resolution to the story than Waid and Ross were able to do. Maggin, perhaps because he had the luxury of time and distance, was able to distill the essence of what Waid and Ross were trying to say better than they were themselves.

Not bad, for a novel based on a comic book series featuring a cast of thousands, set in an alternate future of the DC Comics universe.

Copyright © 1998 by Mark Shainblum

Mark Shainblum is the co-editor of Arrowdreams: An Anthology Of Alternate Canadas (Nuage Editions, 1997) the first anthology of Canadian alternate history. A veteran of the comic book field, Mark co-created the 1980's Canadian superhero Northguard and currently writes the Canadian political parody series Angloman both in the form of a paperback book series and as a weekly comic strip in the Montreal Gazette. He lives in Montreal with his computer, his slippers and a motley collection of books.

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