Armagideon Time

Critical and popular acclaim is not an infallible indicator of enduring artistic value. Check out a list of “best picture” Oscar nominees or (especially) “best new artist” Grammy winners over the years for proof of that maxim. For every work or artists that retains a level of appeal over the ages, prostate there are countless others that flickered brightly within the context of a given moment — be they a one-hit wonder pop band, Taylor Caldwell’s assorted novels, or Sidney Franklin’s 1932 romantic fantasy Smilin’ Through — then guttered out of the public consciousness.

There’s nothing necessarily shameful about being “great in the moment,” even if such a status is often obtained by naked pandering to the zeitgeist. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Bret Easton Ellis.) The majority of today’s darlings are destined to be tomorrow’s historical footnotes, the vaguely familiar answers to trivia questions yet unwritten.

Unless you’re talking about the superhero comics genre, a place where even the faintest brush with success will force a property into an eternity of unlife fueled by diminishing returns.

Such was the case with Kingdom Come, a prestige miniseries released with a tidal wave of marketing fol-de-rol by DC in 1996.  Intended by creators Mark Waid and Alex Ross to be a statement about the Chromium Age excess which had overtaken (and damn near wrecked) the comic industry, it is the comics equivalent of two old farts shouting at those damn punk kids for cutting across their lawn.

As far as messages go, Kindgom Come was as vapid as it was self-contradicting.  It enshrined the illusory integrity of artifices past without stopping to consider that red kryptonite and oversized leg pouches are merely generational window dressing for the single underlying mercenary principle which had guided the superhero genre for decades — a straight-up appeal to the part of childhood’s collective lizard brain that responds to high concept silliness.  The real issue was whose inner child was being served — an eleven year old kid’s or a forty-something fanboy’s?

The lack of a coherent narrative aside, Kingdom Come turned out to be incredibly successful, its sales bouyed by that segment of fandom prone to be impressed by stiff, commercial-grade painted artwork and pompous psuedo-Biblical allegories aimed at adding literary pretentions to a work which was as overblown and absurd as the Image titles it was railing against.

Despite being very much a commentary on a specific period of comics history, the success of Kingdom Come guaranteed that DC would revisit the franchise — first through various one-offs and tie-ins and then by actively incorporating several aspects of its grim alt-future into the main DC Universe.  As the brutally grim satire of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns was ludicrously shoehorned into the Batman mythos (thus reducing Batman’s character into a flat caricature), Kingdom Come‘s ham-fisted, cautionary metaphor was adopted as the encroaching status quo. This was especially the case in the Justice Society titles helmed by Alex Ross, where the accent on “legacy” characters made it easy to drag and drop the ludicrous fruits of Ross’s speculative continuity via horrible costume design…

…which, finally, brings us to the matter of Magog.

He was Kingdom Come‘s straw man, intended to symbolize everything that was wrong — ethically, morally, sartorially — with the Chromium Age’s take on superheroics, a Liefeldian badass (despite having visible feet) willing to meet injustice with lethal force.  He was not so much a character as a plot device used to explain Superman’s retirement and subsequent return…

…though the implied relationship between the extreme-force methods employed by Magog and his ilk  and their horrible consequences was never quite addressed in the miniseries.  As far as I can tell, the main difference between the old school heroes and new bloods is that whenever the former threw a bus or punched a guy through a building, the creative team decided to ignore any depictions of collateral damage.  (This is why smart heroes always slip their book’s penciller a twenty before a major donnybrook.)

When the time came for the walking metaphor to crossover into the DCU proper, the character was kitted out with a temporary identity as “Lance,” a Marine granted some energy projecting hoodoo by a Babylonian artifact during America’s hugely successful effort to stop looters from pillaging Baghdad’s antiquities museum.  He was also revealed to be a “legacy hero” or a different sort…

…because, honestly, once you hit a certain magnitude of offensive stupidity, there’s no point in holding back anymore.

To the surprise of no one, Lance was killed by the long-heralded Gog (a Kirby-esque godlike being, only lacking any of the wonder or genius the King used to bring to the table) and resurrected as Magog…thus paving the way for a short-lived solo series, a JSA spinoff title, and many other projects destined for a quick trip to the quarter bin.

The only thing worse than ineffective satire is ineffective satire that decides to take itself seriously, which is why I’ve selected Magog to be this week’s Nobody’s Favorite.


Related posts:

  1. Nobody’s Favorites: What ill was done
  2. Nobody’s Favorites: A sad twist of fate
  3. Nobody Else’s Favorites: Quantum dynamic

13 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: Whose swill be done?”

  1. Nate

    Why FDR and not DDE?

  2. bitterandrew

    Because FDR created the original JSA! GET IT? GET IT?

    …I wish I didn’t.

  3. Jacob T. Levy

    Really, the most astonishingly stupid thing that’s happened in the pages of JSA since the book was launched. I can’t begin to understand why anyone thought this was a good idea.

  4. bitterandrew

    I wonder if it was a bet, like “I bet you can’t think of a worse idea than Cyclone.”

  5. Andres

    Hopefully the teasers are correct and Magog is going to be axed soon.
    I give Cyclone some slack, she has potential if she was used in a kid-friendly title.

  6. Brian Smith

    I never will forget the ending of “Kingdom Come” 2, when Batman reaches out to Lex Luthor for help in assembling an army to stand up to the totalitarian world being created by Superman and Wonder Woman…and I realized, to my astonishment, that I was just reading “Squadron Supreme” again.

    And if “Kingdom Come” really IS DC continuity, then I want the Monkeemen to start showing up.

  7. Sallyp

    Good gosharootie, I hate Magog. I keep PRAYING for him to die painfully…and for keeps.

    Seriously, with all of the GOOD characters that have been killed off, why oh why is one like Magog still drawing breath?

  8. Dave Lartigue

    Man I hate Kingdom Come.

  9. Joe Fourhman

    Oh, I get your snark, but I still like Kingdom Come. The spinoffs and constant JSA threat were/are nothing great, but as a 20-something fanboy at the time KC came out, I enjoyed the scenery-chewing overblown melodrama coupled with (at the time) novel Norman Rockwell art.

  10. Decker

    It’s not really fair to say that KC was railing against what kids were into. They didn’t lock up a bunch of Gameboys and Magic cards in Kansas. Waid railed against the generic, group-think properties that were being pushed on the kids. Ross went on to show that he couldn’t write his way out of a bag created from the high-grade paper that they printed Justice on. THAT was unreadable.

  11. stavner

    Decker, but aren’t most superheroes “generic, group-think properties”?

  12. Allan

    I would protest Magog’s conclusion if only because he was always intended to be hated by readers, which makes the fact that no one likes him today not very surprising. And since his recent appearances are clearly leading to a villain turn, a role that’ll suit him quit well, I don’t begrudge DC foisting them upon me.

    But then I don’t harbour the same negative feelings about Kingdom Come expressed by some (seriously, Andrew, don’t sugarcoat it!).

  13. LCB

    Incidentally, there was a comic shop I used to frequent at around the time Kingdom Come was released – it had come under new management and the new clerk was pretty much a real life Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons – more in attitude than phsyical appearance but he had that odd sort of diction. I remember the day I was in the store and suddenly, out of nowhere he said loud enough to be heard throught the shop and to no one in particular: “Kingdom Come has an inferior resolution. The heroes who (SPOILAHZ) got caught in the bomb blast at the end should have been turned into mutants. That would have been a superior ending.”
    There was an awkward silence for a few seconds as he went silent again, going back to the old Star Trek fanzine he’d been reading.

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