One of the more surprising announcements of Comic-Con International: San Diego was news that actor Brandon Routh, already Ray Palmer a.k.a. the Atom in the CW Arrowverse, would be returning to the role of Superman during the 5-part 2019-2020 crossover "Crisis on Infinite Earths."
Routh will play the role alongside and not replacing actor Tyler Hoechlin, who played Superman in the interconnected shows previously.
The news immediately had fans speculating whether Routh would be playing the very same Man of Steel he portrayed in 2006's Superman Returns, director Bryan Singer's continuation of the original Richard Donner films starring Christopher Reeve.
With actor Burt Ward - Dick Grayson/Robin from the iconic Batman TV series - also appearing in the CW crossover but in a so-far undisclosed role and actor John Wesley-Shipp having reprised his 1990s role as the Flash in last year's Arrowverse crossover "Elseworlds," the multiverse of the DC-CW family of shows seems to be opening the door to any and all past films and TV shows related to DC characters.
But before the question of exactly which Superman Routh would playing was even answered, the actor threw another surprise question in the mix - showing off a t-shirt at a Saturday SDCC panel with a variation of the iconic Superman symbol that suggests his Superman could be a version of the Kingdom Come Superman from comic books.
Whew! Got all that?
So before the quesion is tackled as to whether or not this means the Reeve-Routh Superman from the films will be revealed to be a Kingdom Come Superman in the DC/CW multiverse, we thought some fans might need a refresher course on what exactly Kingdom Come is and why it matters.
Kingdom Come 101
Taking place in a “possible” future of the DC Universe, Kingdom Come is one of the best-selling "Elseworlds" stories in comic books.
At the center of its plot is an older Superman with gray hair at his temples and a different version of the “S” symbol on his chest — the black-and-red Kingdom Come Superman symbol that Routh revealed at Comic-Con.
The four-part series was published in 1996, a time when more brutal vigilante anti-heroes like Marvel's Punisher were becoming more popular with readers than old-fashioned icons like Superman.
The series pushed back against that idea, specifically pitting Superman’s brand heroism against the harsher kind dished out by ’90s heroes.
Kingdom Come set the conflict between these ideas in the far-distant future of the DC Universe, allowing its creators to emphasize how violent justice might eventually get out-of-hand.
The series' plot came from the mind of superstar painter/writer Alex Ross, who enlisted the help of co-writer Mark Waid to bring it to fruition. Kingdom Come used striking, realistic gouache paintings by Ross to tell its story and introduced a slew of new heroes of the future, some inspired by current-day heroes and others the offspring of well-known icons.
Goodbye Clark Kent
Kingdom Come takes place in a world where Superman has retired after the Joker killed Lois Lane.
Fans of the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us might recognize that idea, since the Joker’s murder of Lois was the game’s inciting incident. But 1996’s Kingdom Come explored it first, although from an alternate angle.
While Injustice featured Superman avenging Lois’ death by killing the Joker (which caused Superman to turn bad), Kingdom Come had a different approach. In that story there was a different, younger hero named Magog (an homage to Marvel's then-popular Cable) who did the retaliatory killing of the Joker.
Superman arrested Magog, who was tried for the murder of the Joker. But the court found Magog innocent and the world hailed the young character as a hero.
After the verdict, Superman was so disappointed in the world’s acceptance of brutal justice that he quit being a superhero.
He no longer lived as Clark Kent in the world of human beings, choosing to retire to the Fortress of Solitude and live in isolation as a farmer.
And Justice for All
Without Superman as the guiding force in the superhero community, the line between hero and villain blurred. It was difficult to tell who was the villain and who was the hero, and the fighting between them began to claim the lives of innocent bystanders.
Not to spoil the entire story, but as you can imagine, Superman has to eventually return. And the good guys have to fight the not-quite-as-good guys.
And while various DC heroes take different sides in the story, Superman holds fast to his belief that brutality is never justified. Superman and his values of truth, justice and the American way are unchanged by the blood-thirsty world around him.
By the end of the story, Superman comes out of retirement, taking on the responsibility of the world again and finding contentment in a new life without Lois. In the final pages, the aging Wonder Woman and Superman announce to gray-haired Bruce Wayne that Wonder Woman’s pregnant with their child.
After the publication of Kingdom Come, this version of Superman became a familiar and beloved character among die-hard DC readers.
Kingdom Come Superman was featured again in The Kingdom, a sequel Waid wrote for DC without Ross’ involvement, and the publisher released a novel that told the Kingdom Come story in prose, adapted by Elliot S! Maggin.
In 2008, the character eventually came to DC’s mainstream continuity, traveling from his alternate Earth (by this time nicknamed Earth-22 and part of continuity) to interact with DC heroes in Geoff Johns’ and Dale Eaglesham’s Justice Society of America.
If Routh does indeed play the Kingdom Come Superman in the Arrowverse, it will be the first time this version of Superman has appeared in any live-action or animated project.