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Zack Soto on Kingdom Come


Cartoonist and publisher Zack Soto joins me in the Talkie Hutt for a chat about the DC Elseworlds classic Kingdom Come. Written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Alex Ross, this 1996 series tells a story set in a dark alternate DC universe, where all the fondly remembered iconic superheroes of our childhoods have stepped aside to make way for a new breed of irresponsible "gritty" metahumans, who are more interested in fighting one another than protecting Truth and Justice. It doesn't take too deep a reading to see this plot as the old-guard superhero writers and artists grumping about the comics publishing upheavals of the 1990s, when grim antiheroes like the Punisher and Wolverine reigned supreme, and upstart, "undisciplined" comics publishers like Image burst onto the scene.


This book was a tricky one, because it's very hard for me to reconcile how I feel about it. Which is apt, given that so much of that probably has to do with nostalgia, and Kingdom Come is nothing if not a several-hundred-page long, lushly watercolored wallow in the nostalgia pond. Zack and I spend a good amount of time talking about Alex Ross, and how unlike many Image cartoonists from those days (most notably Rob Liefeld), Ross doesn't seem to have enjoyed a redemptive reevaluation amongst what you'd call the current "art-comics" crowd.


Also in this episode: an extended excerpt from a paper written on Kingdom Come by comics academic and Cartozia Tales publisher Isaac Cates, entitled "On The Literary Use of Superheroes; or Batman and Superman Fistfight in Heaven", published in American Literature. Isaac was gracious enough to allow me to read a lengthy portion of his writing, which I am grateful for, as I felt it helped dig into the plot and themes of Kingdom Come in a direct way, and set up the ensuing conversation with Zack very well.

Zack Soto lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Krista and their son Caspian. He’s the publisher of Study Group Comic Books, co-editor of Study Group Magazine, and creator of The Secret Voice and Ghost Attack comics.

Isaac Cates is the editor of Cartozia Tales. Teamed up with Mike Wenthe, he is also one of the core contributors. Isaac has been teaching, making, and writing about comics since 2001. With Mike, he has published eight issues of Satisfactory Comics. He has drawn alphabets of animals both real and imaginary, and he's working on an alphabet of robots.

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18 Responses to Zack Soto on Kingdom Come

  1. Joe S. Walker says:

    Alex Ross, the worst artist ever to work in comics; monstrously pretentious, devoid of originality, crushing all trace of vitality or charm out of other people’s creations.

  2. Ralphe Ostrander says:

    Indeed. And preparing and encouraging an entire generation of fanboys for “realistic” expectations of superhero swill via Hollywood movies. Of course Chris Ware is friends with him, so let’s watch what we say, or the Komix Yakuza will use your nuts to butter their bread.

  3. Oliver_C says:

    Like motion pictures shot at 60 FPS, I’ve never been convinced there is any aesthetic need for painterly superheroes. Assuming it does exist, Ross has yet to surpass the bar set by Mick Austin’s ‘Warrior’ covers, 30-odd years ago.

  4. Ralphe Ostrander says:

    Yeh, it’s all kitsch, like Warner Sallman’s famous portraits of Christ. These fanboys want to BELIEVE, man.

  5. Zack Soto says:

    You guys are making some incredibly tired arguments up in here like it’s 1997 or something. LEVEL UP

  6. Ralphe Ostrander says:

    We get it, the mouthbreathing NERDS WON, we live in an infantile culture of blame shame get along or get out and serious literature is to be scoffed at, good on you, etc. Humanity no longer makes its bed, it makes its crib and before long we’ll all be wearing diapers in public.

  7. zack soto says:

    If that was directed at me, I don’t think you have any clue what you’re talking about, much less what I’m advocating. I’m all for critical appraisals of Ross’ work, and if you’d listened to the podcast you’d know that Mike and I aren’t the biggest fans. But this comments thread is an embarrassingly cartoonish / knee-jerk collection of non-thought. It’s like the 1997 caricature of the “tcj snob” came out to play with nothing new to say and an actual antipathy towards nuance. Bummer.

  8. Joe S. Walker says:

    I can assure you that Ross’ work has made me think. It’s made me think “this is aesthetically inferior to any Silver or Golden Age comic”.

  9. GVmanX says:

    I actually read Kingdom Come without being familiar with DC comics (or much of any American comics at all), and I loved it. I liked the overwrought, ham-fisted dialog. I didn’t get a single one of the references, and I still enjoyed it. Part of it might have to do with the fact that I grew up with a bunch of grumpy old men, so that’s what I’m used to, but a big part of why I liked it was Alex Ross’ art. As someone who primarily reads manga, where people looked so abstract, it was very refreshing to look at.

    I suppose my tendency to read manga might also have a lot to do with why I enjoyed the writing. It felt good to read something where one generation had to put the next in its place, when so much of the manga I’ve read has been filled with teens whining about how adults and society just doesn’t get it.

  10. LordJulius says:

    Wow. Ross’ art certainly leaves a LOT to be desired, from the lack of storytelling abilities to the often awkward choices in coloring. But some of the statements here are so ridiculously hyperbolic that one can only come to the conclusion that these people are just trolling or have no business talking about comics in the first place.

  11. BVS says:

    US to me was a much more interesting comic, although I don’t have these comics in front of me and haven’t read them in years. It seemed like after Marvels Ross had reached a level of fame and fandome where he could have done anything he wanted and rather than just doing trading cards, launching a a line of titles for other people to draw, or make toys, or do the usual things “wizard magazine famous” comics artists did in the 90s. he actually hunkered down and did another book that was something that seemed to be an attempt to actually say… uh something? I have to respect him for that. maybe the comics community or his minister father chided him for actually making a political statement of some kind and then he just retreated into nostalgia and cover art of floating action figures of superheroes as senior citizens.

  12. Joe S. Walker says:

    If having zero tolerance for Alex Ross is “trolling” then there aren’t enough trolls about. The source material – like any readable comic – was all about briskness, spontaneity, imagination; all qualities banished by Ross, their place filled by an absurd fetish for the “iconic” and pointless technique.

  13. Matt Baron says:

    Alex Ross has never really done much for me, but in regards to painterly superheroes I am not in the same boat as Oliver as I absolutely love Bill Sienkiewicz.

  14. Oliver_C says:

    Sienkiewicz did slip my mind, I confess! I still maintain that Mick Austin (who now works in fine art) was superior technically and compositionally to Ross, the Jack Vettriano of superheroics.

  15. Andy says:

    Look, I dislike Ross’ work too, but statements like “I can assure you that Ross’ work has made me think. It’s made me think “this is aesthetically inferior to any Silver or Golden Age comic”” is the opposite side of the coin from brainless Wizard magazine uber-enthusiasm. Responding to this healthy debate with such gibberish because it’s not on some 80s black and white alt comix approved topics list is just simply idiotic. Let me guess, you guys are still mad about Jim Shooter, right?

    I think Ross hasn’t gotten his reevaluation yet partially as a result of the effusive praise he received when he was a fresher talent. Much of the rhetoric around Liefeld lately is bone-exhaustion of the kneejerk attacking of the man, not to say that his defenders don’t like his work, with or without reservations. Making fun of Liefeld is pretty much the airline peanut joke of comics at this point.

    One of the most interesting things about Ross is how willing he was to dump his childhood creations in service of nostalgia and corporately owned icons. From what I understand, characters such as the man in the cathedral-shaped battlesuit who was beaten up by Wonder Woman are just that. It’s kind of symbolic that he just put them in the story to fall before the might of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. I’m not sure where I got the impression that some or all of the “new generation” Ross created for this book were Erik Larsen-esque childhood creations, it’s probably some interview lost to the depths of time, that I can’t dig up. I might be wrong so perhaps that should be taken with a grain of salt.

    Anyway, I think Ross has found his niche as an illustrator of comic covers. His art, lacking dynamism, is more effective at those sort of frozen moments anyway.

  16. steven samuels says:

    “and how unlike many Image cartoonists from those days (most notably Rob Liefeld), Ross doesn’t seem to have enjoyed a redemptive reevaluation amongst what you’d call the current “art-comics” crowd.”

    Liefeld’s “redemptive reevaluation” as I understood it was framed mostly in ironic terms, where people regarded him as a sort of “idiot savant” for the more, uh, unique aspects of his work. I don’t remember hearing any reappraisals of his equally useless storytelling-impaired cohorts. Needless to say, there is no serious case to be made for any of them.

    I guess I could close by simply saying “Kingdom Come” is a piece of shit. Which it is. But let Domingos have the final word.

  17. Daniel says:

    Just gonna point to this series of articles by Colin Smith that tries to meet Kingdom Come on a different set of terms.

  18. Jake the Jake says:

    Alex Ross is just fine. He’s not the best, but he’s not the worst. Completely up to the task of painting pictures of Superman that will be greatly reduced in size.

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