Enough people have told me to read Kingdom Come (most recently in this comment) that when I saw a copy at the bookstore today, I bought it and read it (while sitting at a table on the sidewalk outside a coffee shop, looking at the rainbow that marked the end of California's week-long rainstorm).
It was kinda... um, well, the art was really pretty, I'll say that. But I thought the story really suffered from too much telling, not enough showing, and from being overcrowded with too many cameos and continuity references. (Which seems to be a common pitfall for these "big event" comic miniseries... gotta find a way to cram in everybody from the DC universe, right?)
Spoilers ahead, so don't read if you don't want to know. The setup is that it's the future, most of the main DC heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc etc) are old and retired or semi-retired. There is a new generation of "metahumans" (i.e. superheroes, not Shadowrun races) on the streets, but they kind of suck because they care nothing about protecting innocent lives; instead they just spend all day fighting each other and causing massive collateral damage, because, I dunno, they just like fighting I guess. The main plot is about whether the Geriatric Superfriends are going to come out of retirement and stop the rampaging metahumans, and if so are they willing to fight violence with violence? Are they willing to break their code against killing?
Cue many pages of grandiose posturing and self-righteous speeches about war and peace, etc. liberally sprinkled with quotes from the book of Revelations. There's a boring framing device with this hooded dude, who is like an avenging angel of justice or some nonsense, takes a bearded old preacher guy on a trip through time and space to silently and invisibly observe events (i.e. be omniscient viewpoint characters) while making OMINOUS PORTENTS OF DOOM every couple of pages. There's also a pointlessly complex plot about Lex Luthor mind-controlling Captain Marvel. Meanwhile Superman builds a giant super-jail and throws lots of angry dudes inside it, Wonder Woman is uncharacteristically bloodthirsty, Batman double-crosses people, and Kansas gets nuked. Twice.
No, look, I do get it. I get it. It's a commentary on the de-evolution of superhero comics: the new generation of metahumans are all grim-and-gritty 90s antiheroes, and the story is about how horrified the Superfriends would be at all their ultraviolent shenanigans, and how ultimately the corny 50s-style caped-crusader characters are the ones you would much rather have around in real life. It's all wrapped up with a lovely message about how What The World Needs Most In These Dark Times Is Hope.
And that's great, but what annoys me is how it's all just told to us in narration boxes instead of shown, explored, proven through storytelling, etc. The central problem that all these 90s antiheroes are making the world suck because they just fight all the time with no concern for civilian casualties? Potentially an interesting problem. But the problem is literally explained to the audience - in about as much detail as I just used - in narration boxes, spread across beautifully painted panels of funny-looking dudes flying around shooting laser beams at each other. Most of these 90s antiheroes don't even get names, let alone personalities or motivations. Where did they come from? What do they believe they're fighting for? Who are they fighting exactly? Why don't they care about collateral damage? Why didn't the Superfriends teach them better before retiring?
There's only one 90s antihero, named Magog for maximum clumsy allegory points, who has any individual screen time at all, but even he is just a walking plot device with no personality. The rest of them are just an undifferentiated mass of capes and spikes and guns, a collective McGuffin.
It's fine to do metaphorical commentary on the state of the superhero genre, but the problem here is that if you ignore the metaphor, the literal events don't stand on their own as a believable story.
It's also implied at certain points that some of the old generation of superheroes are running the earth like gods, imposing order on humanity through totalitarian rule, not letting humanity find its own destiny, etc etc. but again this problem is just stated in as many words, and never explored or illustrated in any depth.
Meanwhile, the framing device with Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Future, sorry I mean The Spectre and the preacher dude, just felt unnecessary. They could have just used an omniscient viewpoint and told us the story directly, without having to explain who was viewing it all. The Spectre says a bunch of stuff about how the preacher must pass judgment on what he sees and decide who is innocent and who is guilty, but he never actually does that! Aside from nicely asking Superman to please not collapse the UN building at the end, he doesn't have any effect on the plot at all. The whole thing could have been taken out and you wouldn't have lost anything except a lot of random Revelations quotes. It felt like they were just in there so that every couple of pages the writer could remind me that the clash of the superpowered titans could mean the end of the world, armageddon is fast approaching, the fate of the world is at stake, everything is Very Serious and Full of Portent, yadda yadda yadda. Bad writer! Stop telling me that your story is Very Serious and show me why I should take it seriously!
Finally, why the heck did they make Captain freaking Marvel such a central character to the plot? Who cares about Captain Marvel anymore?
(Sushu: Captain who?
Me: He's this dufus with the lightning bolt on his chest. He was really popular in the 40s.)