I know “Kingdom Come” is quite old (published in 1996 by DC comics), but I admit that I haven’t read it until recently. A friend of mine lent me the trade paperback and the first thing that caught my eye was the amazing artwork by Alex Ross. As you can probably tell from the image above, the entire comic book is painted in gouache, so the word “amazing” doesn’t do his work justice; it’s a masterpiece!
“Kingdom Come” takes place in DC’s Elseworlds where new superheroes of the future known as metahumans have replaced the old superheroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.). These rogue metahumans show no regard for human life, however, and one of them ends up splitting Captain Atom in half, causing his nuclear energies to release and kill millions of people. The entire world is thrown into alarm and we learn through the narrator of the book, Norman McCay, that Armageddon is approaching. In such desperate moments, Wonder Woman finds an exiled and bearded Superman who shows no interest in helping the humans again. Eventually, Wonder Woman convinces Superman that the world desperately needs a leader who will reestablish truth and justice.
Overall, I’m relatively pleased with Alex Ross’ visual depictions of Wonder Woman. She’s not drawn out of proportion and isn’t showing off sexy poses as if she’s in a men’s magazine. There were only one or two unnecessary images where her skirt gets lifted to show her underwear, but it’s not as explicit and noticeable. I really got the sense that the writer and artist wanted readers to focus more on her character rather than how she looked, and while we can appreciate that, her character’s personality and role in this particular book really bothered me.
What ticked me off was how Superman would constantly hover over her as if she was a reckless child who needed parental guardianship. He learns that Wonder Woman was exiled from “Paradise Island” (a matriarchal society), because the Amazons believed she failed in her mission to bring peace to the outside world (i.e. the “man’s world”). Aside from fighting for truth and justice, Wonder Woman struggles with an internal conflict because she is now forced to live in a world that is not even her own. Let us be reminded that Superman, or Kal-El (his Kryptonian name), is also an outsider, but Earth (i.e. the “man’s world”) never cast him out; instead Superman abandoned his life as a superhero and went into exile. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is disposed of by her own people, the Amazons: women. She was forced into exile. It seems that the matriarchal society is harsher than patriarchy.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the book is how Wonder Woman becomes a fascist. Superman tries to appeal to the metahumans and encourages them to behave as real heroes instead of heartless monsters, but only a few of them join him. Unsure about how to deal with these rogue metahumans, Superman turns to Wonder Woman who suggests imprisoning those who don’t join! Superman says to Diana (Wonder Woman), “I’m not used to forcing others to follow my lead. Now I’m supposed to jail those who won’t? To act as judge and jury against our own kind? That’s a fascistic line, Diana!” Wonder Woman responds, “Then get ready to cross it. We are at war, Kal… And we will take prisoners. We will have to. They’re not our kind. We’re protectors of humanity. They are barely human.” Superman continues to express his concern for her, saying things like, “you’ve changed” or “this is not the real you speaking,” and yet remarkably, Superman is the same and stable character that we all know him as. It’s as if the deaths of Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson, and Perry White (murdered by the Joker) didn’t throw his personality off balance. As mentioned before, he went into self-exile and all it took was Wonder Woman to mend him back into action. But the same does not apply to Wonder Woman, who is so extremely afflicted by her forced exile that she behaves in contradiction to the moral compass that her character represents.
What starts off as imprisonment turns into Wonder Woman’s call for justice “by any means necessary.” When she is warrior-clad with her hair tied back, Superman comments like an over-possessive boyfriend, “yet another side of you that I’m not comfortable with.” She snaps back, “Get used to this one.” Wonder Woman shows her sword to Superman, who asks if she expects to use it. “I expect to be a soldier” she says with a stern and deadly look on her face. When Wonder Woman becomes no better than the rogue metahumans who show no regard for life, Superman shouts, “Why do you undermine my authority!” Wonder Woman shouts back, “We’re going to confront the prisoners and give them an ultimatum. They must surrender,” and if they refuse, “then it’s war!”
It’s important to point out that Wonder Woman is the only female protagonist in the book (there are other female characters that we see, but they hardly have any speaking parts), and she’s also the only character of DC’s three iconic heroes (the others being Superman and Batman) who turns reckless and ends up killing a metahuman character named Von Bach. Yes, Batman doesn’t join Superman earlier in the book and actually teams up with Lex Luthor instead, but he later undermines Luthor’s plot in mind-controlling Captain Marvel. In other words, Batman eventually joins Superman for the climatic battle (it was pretty predictable). But these three characters — Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman — have always epitomized moral judgment and the ethical principles of truth and justice. To see one of them detract from what a traditional superhero stands for may be interesting to some, but when it’s a character like Wonder Woman who hardly suffers as much as Superman did in this particular storyline, it just doesn’t make any sense. After she kills Von Bach, Batman tries to talk some sense into her and says she won’t earn her royal position back by killing. Wonder Woman shoots Batman a death glare and flies into a rage, shouting “You aristocratic bastard! How dare you condemn me!”
As the both of them do battle in the sky, Batman (on his flight-enhanced suit) remains on the defensive and tries to reason with Wonder Woman (sort of like how Luke Skywalker tries to reason with Darth Vader at the end of “Return of the Jedi”). Wonder Woman finally returns to her senses when she sees stealth bombers perparing to drop nukes on the superheros and metahumans. While this is happening, Superman brings the brain-washed Captain Marvel back to his senses so that he can stop the nuclear bomb. Notice how Captain Marvel is violent because of mind-control, while Wonder Woman is full of rage because of her personal struggles and ego. It’s as if the male superheroes can’t lose themselves in face of their own challenges.
At the end of the book, Wonder Woman goes back to normal and enjoys a nice lunch with Superman and Batman. We also learn that she ends up pregnant with Superman’s baby, but the focus rests on Superman and Batman who have a nice embrace of friendship, as if they were violently fighting each other throughout the book. If anything, the real moment of forgiveness should have been between Wonder Woman and Superman and Batman. I don’t like either ending, to be honest, because they reduce Wonder Woman to an inferior. She was unable to keep her head on straight amidst the turbulent and changing times, while her male counterparts held their composure. The fact that the ending hardly focused on Wonder Woman, aside from her being pregnant, shows how much of an insignificant character she was. If anything, she was an obstacle to Superman and Batman. It wasn’t Superman or Batman who wound up killing, it was Wonder Woman who did. She turned to the “dark side” and made the situation worse.
As I closed the book, I reflected on how I would have enjoyed it more if Wonder Woman was portrayed better. Then I thought about how many comic book readers may overlook the sexism and praise it for being an amazing story with beautiful artwork. Beautiful artwork, indeed, but an amazing story? I think male readers are more privileged to say that.