We’re running short of shopping time before Christmas, so this’ll be our last look at the gift bag for the season. If you’ve got a comics fan on your shopping list, there’s a pretty good chance they already own these next two comics… but if they don’t have ’em yet, it’s a fairly sure bet that they want them.
Alex Ross, a comic-book painter who actually grew up here in Lubbock, has produced a lot of great comics, but these are some of his best.
Ross exploded onto the comics scene in 1994 with “Marvels,” which focused on a newspaper photographer named Phil Sheldon and his views of Marvel’s superheroes. The comic, written by Kurt Busiek, let Sheldon take a front row seat at battles between the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch, at the Fantastic Four’s epic battle against Galactus, and at the death of Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy.
Sheldon is a bit of a hero-worshipper — he’s constantly frustrated by the cynical view most citizens have of superheroes. In the Marvel Universe, superheroes are celebrities, and they get a lot of celebrity media coverage. One week, everyone loves the Fantastic Four and loves the fairy-tale wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm — the next week, everyone hates ’em and thinks they made up the battle against Galactus to boost their Q-ratings. Sheldon sees the heroes, a bit unrealistically, as the greatest, most noble people in the world, and public reaction to heroes drives him up the wall. But he’s also dead terrified of mutants, and in the best chapter of the book, he has to confront his own prejudices about mutants when his daughters meet and befriend a mutant on the run.
The artwork Ross produced was certainly a revelation for folks used to normal comic book art. There’s no painted-on spandex here — the clothing is realistically rendered, with wrinkles, folds, and everything. Faces are just gorgeous, expressive and realistic. And the lighting — Ross understands light sources, and some of his most beautiful paintings — the Silver Surfer reflecting blasts of fire, mutant-hunting Sentinels hovering over a city at night, Dr. Octopus sitting in a dim jail cell — are so striking solely because he uses lighting effectively and dramatically.
“Marvels” is available in softcover — you should be able to pick it up at your friendly neighborhood comic shop or at your average chain bookstore for about twenty bucks.
After “Marvels,” DC really wanted to get Ross on board for a miniseries of their own. So they got him to collaborate with Mark Wait to produce 1996’s “Kingdom Come.” Where “Marvels” was rooted in Marvel’s early comics, “Kingdom Come” focused on a possible apocalyptic future for DC’s heroes. About 20 years in the future, Superman and other superheroes retire as more violent heroes start to take over. The Spectre, foreseeing the end of the world coming soon, takes Norman McCay, a minister (based on Ross’s own father), as his human anchor to help him view the final days and render his judgment.
Just about everyone in the DCU gets some major changes — Batman has to wear an exoskeleton to move, the Flash is a constantly moving blur, Hawkman is a bird-human hybrid, Captain Marvel has been brainwashed by Lex Luthor, etc., etc. The forces are divided between multiple different factions, including Superman’s Justice League, the new violent superheroes, Lex Luthor’s Mankind Liberation Front, and a few others. Every step, no matter how well intentioned, moves everyone closer to the metahuman war prophesied to destroy the world.
“Marvels” is the book with the stronger emotional impact, but “Kingdom Come” is all about epic, world-shattering action. I always find myself comparing it to epic, big-budget, widescreen action movies.
“Kingdom Come” is also available in softcover. It’ll set you back about 15 bones.
And if you’d like something a bit more traditionally Christmasy, you might try to track this next one down.
Superman: Peace on Earth
This is an oversized coffee-table book about Superman trying, with only limited success, to feed all the hungry people in the world. It’s basically a great big, lushly painted Christmas card. Unfortunately, it’s out of print right now, so there’s not much of a chance of you being able to buy this one before the holidays are over.
If you can find ’em, go pick ’em up.