Lately, a lot of conservatives have argued that the right should give up on Marvel, DC, and similar properties like Star Wars and Star Trek. Their idea is that leftists have taken them over and that instead of fighting back, the right should create alternatives to replace them. For example, popular YouTuber Eric July argues for a “cultural revolution” to displace the comic incumbents, envisioning that “[the posters] on your wall… [will celebrate] RippaVerse characters” rather than the Marvel and DC classics. Comicsgate, an organization founded to support indie comic creators who are against woke initiatives, takes a similar stance. In their view, alternatives are the future and the old properties are too far gone.
I partially agree with July and Comicsgate. Regardless of where we are as a culture, alternatives are good insofar as they push innovation and give us more great superhero and comic book stories. However, the idea that Marvel and DC should be left to rot is disingenuous and wrong.
Even if the single-minded pursuit of alternatives were desirable, it is not realistic; Marvel and DC’s characters and stories are titans. Stories like Watchmen, Spider-Man: The Night Gwen Stacy Died, All-Star Superman and many more will live on as definitive takes on the genre long after the franchises fade away. Anything that is written from here on will be influenced and inspired by the masterpieces that preceded them.
Thus, we need to fight for these characters. Don’t let the left destroy them. Don’t let them win. And though it seems dark now, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, especially since we’ve gone through all of this before.
A Comics History Lesson: The Dark Age of Comics
The 1990s were a dark time for comic books, despite plenty of great stories featuring characters both old and new. This era was characterized by violence and the prominence of anti-heroes. Instead of the traditional morals of heroes like Superman and Batman, characters like Cable, Lobo, and Spawn were the leaders of the genre. These characters, drawn as dark and gruff, killed without discrimination. The industry’s morbid turn was reflected in the storylines as well: Superman died, Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern turned evil, and Venom went from villain to anti-hero. Heroism was no longer the focus—violence, darkness, and cynicism took center stage.
Alex Ross and Mark Waid were keenly aware of heroism’s departure. Ross is a legendary comic book artist whose art is hyper-realistic and iconographic, whereas Waid is a legendary comic writer best known for his iconic eight-year run on The Flash, one of the most celebrated runs in the character’s history. Both creators had a great deal of respect for the traditional characters and morals of superhero comics. Unhappy with the industry’s trajectory, they decided to team up to critique the current age and demonstrate why heroism was so important to an audience that didn’t appear to be interested in it anymore. The result was one of DC’s very best books: Kingdom Come.
Kingdom Come: The Epilogue to the DC Universe
Kingdom Come tells the story of a DC universe set in the future. Ten years before the story begins, the Joker destroyed the Daily Planet and killed Lois Lane while Superman was unable to stop him. In Superman’s stead, a violent new “hero” named Magog killed the Joker. He was acquitted in court and the public took a liking to him over Superman. This led Superman, along with many other classic DC heroes, to go into hiding.
The heroes’ departure ushered in a new era of violence and destruction. Pretended heroes like Magog fight meaningless battles with no care for collateral damage, essentially acting as villains, and evidence no moral compasses.
Eventually, the old heroes re-emerge to right the wrongs of this new world. They attempt to enforce their brand of justice as the only one, imprisoning anyone who doesn’t adhere to their strict guidelines. For example, they prohibit all killings, arresting the pretended heroes who wrought destruction upon their world.
The heroes’ hardline approach completely backfires, and the new “heroes” break free from prison, culminating in a final climactic fight between them. The United Nations even sends a bomb to kill metahumans, and most perish. Superman survives and attempts to kill the U.N. council for the attack, but after a pastor appeals to his humanity, he decides against it.
The story ends on a note of hope, with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman uniting to make the world a better place in the wake of the tragedy that previously befell it. The ending also emphasizes the humanity of the characters rather than focusing on their powers.
The Importance of Kingdom Come
At its core, Kingdom Come offers a message of hope. Despite its depiction of a world devoid of morality and a cynical, jaded Superman, the ending is hopeful. Superheroes act as purveyors of hope and righteousness while being human. Despite what critics like Martin Scorcese say, the humanity of the heroes and how that informs their heroism is the core of the genre, not spectacle and action (as fun as that may be). Superman isn’t a great character because he can pack a punch and leap tall buildings in a single bound. Rather, he’s great because he’s both human and the ultimate symbol of hope and morality. Kingdom Come was about recentering the heroes around that humanity, not emphasizing the super over the man.
In producing Kingdom Come, Ross and Waid vindicated the criticism that Dark Age characters weren’t heroes and often had no humanity. Through their dishonorable emphasis on violence and darkness, the Dark Age comics lost what made superhero comics compelling in the first place. What comics needed was to recenter on these great characters and their stories of true heroism.
Importantly, Ross and Waid understood that the solution was not to impose their preference for “old-fashioned” heroes and morality, hence why Superman’s forced morality fails. While Ross and Waid wanted a rebirth of what made the past great, they understood forcing this on readers wouldn’t work.
Kingdom Come had precisely the effect they desired. The industry generated great new comics that celebrated moral heroes, such as Grant Morrison’s acclaimed run on JLA. Additionally, Geoff Johns, a historically important writer known for his love of the Silver Age heroes, came to DC Comics a year after Kingdom Come’s release.
What Kingdom Come Tells Us About the Modern Age and the Future
Modern Age comics experience a similar problem as those of the Dark Age. Instead of violent and dark characters, we now have characters created to fill diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) quotas and champion leftism. Rather than Cable, Lobo, and Spawn, we have Amadeus Cho (Hulk), Jess Chambers (Flash), and Nichelle Wright (Captain America). Instead of darkness and violence, we have woke talking points. Some of the DEI characters may well stand the test of time; Miles Morales has been successful as Spider-Man, with a video game and two films under his belt (in addition to comics). But the franchises are plagued by the same problem as before: instead of creating great characters, Marvel and DC are pandering to cultural fads—they merely traded in cynicism and violence for diversity and political correctness.
Nonetheless, Kingdom Come brilliantly demonstrated that turning our backs on the heroes of old is not the solution. When Superman left the world, the violent “heroes” destroyed it and everything became worse. Similarly, if conservatives abandon comic heroes to the left, these heroes will be twisted into unrecognizable purveyors of leftism and our indifference will make us complicit. Instead, we need to stand with these important heroes and their stories and fight for them.
We cannot fight by simply pushing our own values on leftists. This would result in failure just like Superman’s attempt to imprison pretended heroes. Instead, great writers need to focus on writing great stories for these characters; brilliant narratives will eventually shine through the DEI fog.
In Kingdom Come, the ending was hopeful and led to a new era of comics centered on traditional heroism. Heroism has won before and, with our assistance, it will triumph again.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.