Review: Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come Vol. 3 hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The third volume of Justice Society of America: Thy Kingdom Come ends an interesting experiment in trade paperback comics.

As much as has been beneficial about the rise of trade paperback collections, it's also at times been an excuse for writers to pad out shorter storylines to a neat six-issues in order to fill a trade, with done-in-one-trade stories that don't much forward the title's status quo (see recent volumes of Teen Titans). Thy Kingdom Come instead introduces a seemingly new kind of long-form superhero comics, a storyline with a distinct beginning and end, but with a number of digressions along the way and unrelated storylines which weave in and out of the main thread. At times this is a mini-series, at times these are single issues of Justice Society -- it's a novel, it's a comic, it's a collage. I have a sense that what writer Geoff Johns attempts here is wholly new, at least in terms of DC Comics superhero collections.

In a fashion, we could argue, Johns attempts the same thing with Green Lantern, as Grant Morrison does with his run on Batman. The difference is that both Green Lantern/Blackest Night and Batman RIP remain individual storylines among separate-but-connected storylines, whereas Thy Kingdom Come is just one storyline at the near unheard-of size of twelve-plus issues. If anything, perhaps only Johns and James Robinson's open-ended Superman: New Krypton story comes close; it remains to be seen how long this storyline will be or to what extent DC Comics will collect it under the "New Krypton" bannerhead, but that too may produce connected multiple volumes during its year-or-longer run.

This is important, I think, because as a trend it would cause a certain equilibrium to enter the trade paperback reading experience. No longer would trade paperbacks be collections of self-contained storylines on one hand, or a collected series of done-in-one issues on the other. Instead this kind of long-form storytelling combines the best aspect of monthly comic book collecting (a deepening story that builds over time) with the more sustained reading experience one gets from a trade paperback. At the outset I felt some frustration that Thy Kingdom Come would take three volumes to tell, but in the end I marveled at how each issue and volume stood on its own, but combined to create a massive and involved storyline.

Writer and artist Alex Ross talks at the end of Thy Kingdom Come about how the story is not as much a sequel to Ross and Mark Waid's original King dom Come as it is an homage and a "checking back in" with the Kingdom Come characters. I much prefer thinking about it this way, as the second volume of this series all but drops any ties to Kingdom Come short of the presence of that series's Superman. The third volume returns to the subject; though ultimately Thy Kingdom Come might've been told without Kingdom Come at all, Ross and Johns flesh out a couple of the original's scenes, and integrate enough of the new and old in the end that one might almost believe Thy Kingdome Come really fits between the pages of the original. I for one wouldn't have minded the Kingdom Come Superman sticking around a while longer, though likely that would cause more confusion for new readers than it would be worth.

At the center of Thy Kingdom Come are Gog and Magog, and I found the latter as fascinating as the former ridiculous. No reader very well believed Gog would turn out to be the benevolent god he seemed, but his downfall left me shrugging; I was sure that the "gifts" he provided had some ulterior motive (restoring Dr. Mid-Nite's sight at the cost of his powers; sending Power Girl to her home universe, except everyone tried to kill her), but it turns out instead that Gog's just a very bad gift-giver. Gog turns out to be in the end just what he says he was, a god of the Third World buried underground, and ultimately how the Justice Society members fought over Gog's presence was far more interesting than Gog himself.

The new Magog, however, provides one of the most chilling chapters of Thy Kingdom Come. Writer Peter Tomasi steps in for a surprisingly bloody chapter where Magog, former Lance Corporal David Reid, seeks out his captured former unit and takes gory revenge on their captors. The chapter, which comes right in the middle of this volume of Thy Kingdom Come and at a time when much of the Justice Society is at odds with one another, reveals Magog quite nearly as a villain, certainly someone Superman would sooner put in jail than team-up with. It posits Magog as nearly the Black Adam of the new Justice Society (though he's back, too), a time-bomb waiting to go off, and it's a harrowing example of the powerful digressions Thy Kingdom Come contains. Based on this, I'm not running to read a new Magog series, but I'll be curious to see how it goes over.

Another of Thy Kingdom Come's digressions is Power Girl's trip to Earth-2, supposedly her long-lost home until that world's own Power Girl shows up (see "Gog-the-really-bad-gift-giver"). Here, Geoff Johns turns DC Comics's revamped Multiverse concept on it's head; Power Girl, we learned in Infinite Crisis, is the last survivor of the Earth-2 that was destroyed in Crisis on Infinite Earths, though seemingly at the end of 52 Earth-2 returned. Except, what we come to understand is that the "new" Earth-2 isn't the same planet as the old Earth-2, but rather a recreated Earth-2 with its own Power Girl. Maybe it's better that Power Girl can now see "our" Earth as her home, but it seems Johns causes no end of confusion here -- Power Girl is the last survivor of Earth-2 "but not that Earth-2, the other one." The Earth-2 sequences in this book (with art by Jerry Ordway) are much fun, but I'm stymied as to the story's ultimate purpose.

Geoff Johns reunites us for a while with the Kingdom Come Superman in Thy Kingdom Come, in a powerful story that shows the depth of the Justice Society characters even if it winds and rambles and doesn't tie all of its strings quite together. Ultimately Thy Kingdom Come strikes me as nearing what may be the next iteration of trade paperback comics, something that reads more like a series of novels than a collection of comic book issues; I'm curious if anyone else had the same reaction.

[Contains full covers, character bios and summary section, sketches and thoughts from Alex Ross.]

A bunch of new Superman reviews coming up!
Collected Editions 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

1 comment:

  1. That's a very interesting take on the length of TKC and how it translates into the trade format. To be honest I'm not averse to it, as that was and is basically how I read several lines anyway, such as the Bendis run of Amazing Spider-Man and Fables.

    ReplyDelete