Art Commentary: Superman Peace on Earth by Alex Ross

Rio

Hi everyone!  For the next few weeks, I plan on writing some commentary on a specific page of a comic from an artistic standpoint.  Hope you enjoy!

I am an unabashed fan of Alex Ross and think he is one of the greatest comic book artists of all time.  His work is breathtaking, and encapsulates the spirit of many characters in ways that few, if any, can.  When Alex draws a superhero, it’s as if the essence, the very spirit of the character is extracted and the “comic bookness” of the character melts away.  The end result can be absolutely stunning.

Among the many projects Ross has worked on is Superman: Peace on Earth.  I have written about this book several times on both of my blogs because I love it so much.  The combination of one of my favorite comic characters with one of my favorite artists within the context of a brilliant story makes for absolute magic.  Each page invokes a striking emotional response and is just pitch perfect.  I’ve often called it my “It’s A Wonderful Life,” because not only does it take place at Christmas time, but because no matter how many times I experience it, it can still bring me to tears.  If I’m going to do an art commentary series on my blog, I might as well start with this and, forewarning, Alex Ross will probably be featured early and often.

Brief synopsis: Peace on Earth is about Superman trying to eliminate hunger in the world for one day. He begins this Herculean task after receiving the endorsements of nations around the world, who provide him with grain and staples for distribution.

(That right there should be enough to make you want to read the whole story! What are you waiting for!)

The middle section of the book is a montage of Superman flying the provision to several parts of the earth. Ross shows Superman giving food in war torn Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and the American Southwest, each time accompanied by a distinguishing landmark or topographical feature.

Among the many locales Superman visits are the favelas in Rio di Janeiro, Brazil. In my opinion, the giant, two page spread seen above is for Alex Ross- the son of a pastor- his greatest triumph in this book.  It is a shot of Superman, with tank of grain above his head, flying past the the statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer). One of the most famous statues in the world, the Catholic Circle of Rio once proposed its construction on Corcovado Mountain to fight what they perceived as godlessness in their country, and to encourage peace. It took nine years to build and was completed in 1931, with heavy Art Deco influence. Here, it immediately signifies where Superman is at this point in the story.

The similarity in the shape of the two figures is unmistakeable and deliberate. One is a piece of art depicting the Savior of all Brazil’s people, the other a man who is acting as savior for one day. The statue is depicted with outstretched arms to encompass all people, the other figure’s outstretched arms carrying something to help all people. Despite the many Messiah metaphors in the Superman movies, this page is the most direct one I have seen in any Superman comic.

There is so much within this shot that can be picked apart and analyzed with much enthusiasm, but I’ll mention just a few that stand out for me. First, the angle depicted gives the impression that the movement is going from the sky above down to the city below. The lighting, one of Ross’ great strength as an artist, is perfectly shown coming from the same direction on the whole city. Dawn? Noontime? There is a feeling of a new day, physically, as well as a new day for the people below. The size of the container Superman is holding is also clearly massive, effectively giving us as readers a feeling of how much help is going to be distributed to those below.

The beauty of this story for me is the painstaking effort that Superman makes to help. Here, he clearly is undertaking something on a grand scale. I look at this and am inspired to do the same. In this book we see a fictional character embodying Christ for a day, but as Christians we are called to embody Christ to others for a lifetime (and as a priest, even more so!). “How am I helping?” I ask myself. One only needs to look at this page for one minute to begin wondering.

If superhero stories are meant to inspire and make you feel good, than this is a superhero story par excellence. After all, psychological studies have been done many times studying why helping feels so good to human beings. Giving of oneself activates areas of the brain otherwise dormant. Combine the feeling of giving with a good superhero story and you have a perfect match.

If the word “Christian” truly means “Christ-like,” then being like Christ is something which all Christians should think about regularly, every moment of every day. If a piece of art depicts someone doing just this, and it moves us to action, then thank God!

All glory to Him, at all times and in every hour. Amen!

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” – Psalm 19:14

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