With Batman: The Killing Joke just a few months away from being released, the question comes to mind: what should be the next DC Animated film. My vote is one of the greatest stories ever to be published: Kingdom Come
Kingdom Come tells the story of a DC Universe roughly 10 years in the future, a dystopian world where the meta-human population has skyrocketed. In this future, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, along with most of the Justice League, have retired and allowed this newer breed of super heroes to protect the world.
If you’re thinking that this is a happy, nostalgic story about the old guard passing the mantle to the new heroes, guess again. Letting the new breed of superheroes protect the world works out about as well as a cop handing his revolver to a twelve-year-old and saying, “the streets are yours, kid.”
In this dystopian future we see that Superman has retired to “Kansas” (not really) after the murder of Lois Lane by The Joker, a storyline that lended some inspiration to the video game Injustice: Gods Among us. Unlike the rage filled Injustice Superman, the Kingdom Come Superman captures The Joker and sees to it that he gets a fair trial, keeping to his ideals to the very last. This doesn’t sit well with a new superhero, Magog (whose design both takes inspiration from, and criticises, the late 90’s comic book character design that Alex Ross found distasteful, namely Marvel’s Cable), who takes it upon himself to blast Joker in the chest.
What causes Superman to hang up his cape is not Lois’s death, or the fact that this new “hero” killed a villain in cold blood, but the fact that there was no outrage at Magog’s act. After this, Superman realises that the world has moved past his moral code and decides to hide himself away.
Batman and Wonder Woman share similar fates. Bane succeeds in breaking Batman’s back and Wonder Woman is exiled from Themyscira for failing in her task to be an ambassador to mankind. The Flash (Jay Garrick) has merged almost completely with the speed force and cannot stay still, constantly patrolling his city and stopping crime the instant it occurs. Green Lantern (Alan Scott) leaves earth entirely and instead watches the stars, protecting his home from alien threats.
This leaves a power vacuum that is filled by other, lesser superheroes. In the following decade, as the meta-human population rises, the superhero community falls into disarray without the Justice League to provide an example to the new breed of heroes. Often times groups of superheroes fight each other rather than villains for control of territory to protect. Other groups of super heroes provide summary execution to criminals in a style similar to Judge Dredd.
One such example sparks Superman’s return to the public, and marks the beginning of the story. Magog and his team start chasing the Parasite. This does not end well and most of the American midwest is destroyed. Wonder Woman talks Superman into reforming the Justice League, and the team goes about converting super heroes to their cause or locking them up in a new gulag in the remains of Kansas.
Not everything goes as planned. Batman rejects Superman’s offer to join the Justice League and instead joins forces with Lex Luthor, who plot to stop Superman. Their trump card is a mind controlled Captain Marvel (less seasoned readers might know him as Shazam) who is the only hero who has a chance at fighting Superman on his own level. Meanwhile, the United Nations feels that the Justice League is usurping their power and possibly beginning to take the reigns of governance away from the human population.
This all comes to a head when Batman betrays Luthor once he discovers his plan (see, Batman wasn’t the bad guy afterall). It’s too late, however, and Luthor sends a brainwashed Captain Marvel to fight Superman while the Justice League are trying to contain a meta-human prison break that threatens to erupt in world-wide combat.
In the end, Superman realizes that he was wrong and that instead of trying to separate the humans from the meta-humans he and the Justice League should have been working together to find a solution to the problem. Superman choses diplomacy over combat and in the epilogue we learn that the world is slowly becoming a better place.
What makes Kingdom Come one of the best DC comics released is that it covers truly adult themes: the realistic repercussions of having super powered humans roam the earth unchecked, attempting to stop criminals and villains in their own way. We are also given a glimpse into the psychology of Superman as someone who, although raised as a human, never truly saw himself as one. Which is absolutely correct, Superman should be a super man. But the problem is that, being more than a man, he cannot truly understand why the other meta-humans have such difficulties following his example. This leads to him at first shutting himself off from humanity, and later simply locking away the troublemakers rather than attempting to teach them, to guide them.
Kingdom Come was a landmark comic and even inspired a rip off in the Marvel Universe: Earth X. With the announcement that DC will be animating The Killing Joke next, perhaps we are seeing a return to more thought provoking storylines in the DC Animation line up. My great hope, now that DC appears to be removing the New 52 Continuity from its lineup, we will finally be rid of the current crop of New 52 inspired DC Animated films. If so, I hope that DC decides to animate Kingdom Come.