Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rough Justice, the DC comics artwork of Alex Ross, edited by Chip Kidd

Alex Ross is a DC artist well-known for his painted and almost photorealistic style. In the past few years, he's done art for a series of comics about the JLA, and special ultralarge comics like "Shazam: Power of Hope", "Superman: Peace on Earth", "Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth", "Batman: War on Crime", as well as his groundbreaking work on "Kingdom Come", which came out much earlier, but the comic which I think brought the beauty and power of his art to the wider world was the even earlier "Marvels" about a normal man's view of superheroes.

Ross takes us through his own work, opening his sketchbook to show how he works, from sketches and pencil roughs up through marker coloring and right up to finished work. Along the way, we get to see his redesigns for various characters, and character ideas he came up with, like a compromised Oracle/Batwoman who had gotten healed of her Paralysis in a Lazarus pool, leaving her almost vampiric and designed with a red cape interior, brighter red hair, and a red bat-symbol on her chest.

Other sketches and marked colored roughs show a more Kandorian-designed Nightwing, and a Robin design where the yellow cape had been changed to a green not unlike that of Green Arrow, and included a cowl. A more Spectre-like Martian Manhunter with tentacles, and a very futuristic Atom.

Many of the sketches are from "Kingdom Come", showing characters he redesigned, like Mr. America, Atom-Smasher, Sandman, and Starwoman. Some of them only showed up as costumes of the children of original heroes.

My personal favorite of the drawings is an idea for the redesigned Shazam, using the actors from the 1970's television series. And of course, plenty of pages and story ideas not only from Kingdom Come, but from shows like "Batman Beyond" and "Justice League".

I love Alex Ross's art style. Well, his painted style. Its so different from other artists and the usual rather overblown comic style of other artists. But his art, once you see it, simply blows you away. There something iconic, and almost indefinable about it, that, in addition to the almost photorealistic look of his art lends it a more heroic and measured quality than anything else you see in the comics world today.

I looked at every piece of art in this book, and I couldn't find anything I disliked. It was interesting to see how he lays out and plots his pages, and the character ideas that are implicit in his sketches and drawings- most done in black and white, and others done with small splashes of color. I loved the idea of an older Billy Batson based on the 70's "Shazam!" show, and it certainly fits in with my memories of that show.

I wished I could have seen many of his ideas for the characters he portrayed in the sketchbook- from revamped character designs to changes in the characters. I enjoyed all of it immensely. This is a wonderful book, filled with amazing work, and its much cheaper than buying originals (original painted pages from Kingdom Come sell for $9000 on his website- some less, but ones with major characters are way up there.

I would tell anyone interested in comic art, anyone who really loves the characters that DC owns, to at least read this book, if not buy it. The art can only be described in exceptionals- amazing, wonderful, incomparable, and this is a book you are going to want to own the minute you start reading it. Highly recommended.

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