Well, it sure looks like Superman’s about to have a bad day:
Brainiac. Lex Luthor. Bizarro. Any of these villains alone is a match for the Man of Steel. But what if all three teamed up and attacked Superman at once, in his civilian guise of Clark Kent? That “how can he possibly get out of this one” premise is one of the draws of Justice 4’s cover. The other, of course, is that the cover is painted by the “Norman Rockwell of superhero comics” himself, Alex Ross.
Ross’s style, which blends the fantasy of superheroics with the reality of portraiture, has always been one of my favorites. Even now, nearly 30 years after Ross’s debut, there is still nothing quite like it. While most who discuss Ross’s work focus on the wrinkles, musculature, and other features that give his characters their three-dimensional, realistic appearance, I want to take a second to point out one of Ross’s less-discussed strengths. Which is that despite his realistic style, Ross never forgets he’s painting the fantastic.
Some artists who draw “realistic-looking” superheroes focus too much on the word “real” and not enough on the word “super.” As a result, their work lacks the splendor that a superhero comic should have. Ross, on the other hand, never forgets he’s dealing with characters who, no matter how realistically they’re depicted, should stand out and make readers feel a sense of awe. On this cover in particular, you can see one of my favorite ways in which Ross makes superheroes super: He nearly always draws their chest symbols as large as he can. Whereas other “realistic” artists might shy away from this outrageous element of the superhero costume, Ross always embraces it. And here, he makes Superman’s symbol the cover’s central focus. It, as well as the blue and red of Superman and Bizarro’s costumes, draws readers’ eyes and sets Superman and Bizarro apart from the dark Metropolis sky. The pair of them are a bit of the fantastic, set against the real. Which is about as apt a description of Alex Ross’s style as I think I’m ever going to write.
(Want to check out more posts in the Cool Comic Covers series? If so, click here.)