Kingdom Come (Mark Waid & Alex Ross) - A classic epic that treats DC's heroes almost as myths, as gods, legends, icons, their feats and adventures rendered glossy and titanic through Ross' slick paintings. I'm usually no fan of Ross, but his style is undoubtedly suited to a project like this, that aims for such a purposefully overblown, biblical style. In this book, the "classic" heroes have been replaced by a new, more violent and abrasive breed — an obvious metaphor for the 90s comic industry - until Superman returns from self-imposed exile to inspire the old guard heroes anew. It's all about what kinds of heroes we want, and how superheroes are poised between godhood and humanity. The series is an impassioned argument for superhero comics that inspire readers instead of merely wallowing in nihilism and violence — it's about getting back in touch with the glossy archetypes, through these alternate versions that are aged but very resonant of their most iconic antecedents. This is big, bold, glossy, colorful, an idealized vision of what superheroes mean, tinged with plenty of nostalgia for the simpler times in which these old heroes were born.
The Kingdom (Mark Waid & various artists) - The sequel to Kingdom Come, done without Ross since he and Waid couldn't agree on a direction. It's a worthy successor, though, with an interesting structure: two bookend issues comprising the meat of the tale are built around a series of one-shots about some important characters, most of them children of the iconic heroes who were at the center of Kingdom Come. This sequel is even more metafictional than its predecessor, making itself more or less explicitly about the process of changing time and the nature of the DC heroes. It's about continuity, really, about recovering from the loss of the multiverse in Crisis on Infinite Earths. In the especially meta conclusion, Rip Hunter wonders why anyone would prefer the boring straight lines of a linear continuity to the chaos and possibilities of multiple timelines and multiple realities.
With that in mind, this series reintroduces such possibilities, courtesy of Grant Morrison's hypertime concept, which provided an elegant way of celebrating divergence and alternatives and elseworlds, and which of course nearly everyone ignored after this series was done. That's a shame, because the idea's great, and it's just one of the dazzling ideas that Waid throws out here. I especially love the Planet Krypton issue, which is seemingly disconnected from the rest of the series — beyond some hints and a thematic emphasis on heroism — and tells a nice street-level story, but which brilliantly ties in to the finale. Also poignant is the way the series deals with superhero legacies and the relationships between parents and children — particularly in Offspring's eventual embrace of his similarities to his goofy joke of a father.
Hourman (Tom Peyer & Rags Morales) - Yet another spinoff from Grant Morrison's JLA, taking a minor character from "Rock of Ages" and DC One Million and developing him into a full-fledged character with a rich and vibrant supporting cast. Hourman was a near-omnipotent android, a plot device allowing for time travel, but Peyer makes him genuinely compelling, a naive youth saddled with cosmic greatness. Hourman settles down on modern-day Earth, the distant past for him, with former (now disgraced) JLA sidekick Snapper Carr, who teaches the robot about humanity and fallibility and second chances. It's fun and fast-paced, crackling with humor and wit, loaded with heart, with a real love of language in the contrast between Hourman's stiff formality and Snapper's beatnik throwback cadences.
A particular highlight is #5, in which Hourman swallows a Miraclo pill and relives the life of his predecessor, Rex Tyler. Illustrated by Morales in a variety of different pop-art styles, this issue is a standalone masterpiece that encapsulates this series' considerable charms. Beyond Peyer's great character work and sharp writing, there's also the appeal of Morales' art, with its distinctive weight and strong sense of motion. Of particular note is Bethany, Snapper's ex-wife and Hourman's current main squeeze, who Morales draws as an impossibly sexy cheesecake confection in ridiculous outfits, even as Peyer makes her a fun and compelling presence beyond the visual va-va-voom. The continual evolution of Amazo as Hourman's nemesis over the course of the series is another great component in an overall fantastic assembly.