I was originally planning to start a blog posting about Battle of the Planets, but I decided I’d rather share my admiration for someone I consider to be the best comic book artist of all time: Alex Ross.
I have a strong appreciation for artists who are able to use their skills to transcend their medium or genre and elevate their source material. Even today in the age of the superhero blockbuster, actual art from comic books is not considered “real” art. Even worse, the entire profession of illustrator itself is seen as a serious step down from “real” artists, a concession to commerce rather than genuine creativity.
Ross’ art pushes up against these limitations. His work demands that you take it seriously. It doesn’t really matter which characters he’s portraying. All of them are treated with a deep reverence that would make Michelangelo blush. Indeed, the main vibe one gets from one of his pieces is one of striving for a state of perfection. Comic books have always portrayed ideal forms. While some criticize this practice on the grounds that it’s sexist, exploitive, and socially corrossive, Ross’ idealization hearkens back to the Renaissance or, further back, ancient Greece and Rome. When you consider that superheroes are in so many ways modern pagan gods or demigods, then this connection makes sense.
I think another reason I like Alex Ross is that his work has a positive vibe to it.
Contrast Captain Marvel with the “gritty” style that began to dominate in the 80s.
But maybe underneath it all, the reason why I connect with Ross’ art is that he’s my age, and like me, has a soft spot for the same kinds of retro media, more from TV and film than comics themselves.
Andy Worhol’s message in making art out of pop culture was mostly one of satirizing its emptiness or crass commerciality. But Alex Ross treats all his subjects with a level of seriousness normally devoted to fine-artists covering religious themes.
A big part of my disillusionment with entertainment these days is how remakes and reimaginings are executed by people who do not understand the magic of the source material. Even those in showbiz who proclaimed themselves fans too often demonstrate a misread or corruption of the material, or they come across as merely skilled copyists.
When I see Ross’ artwork, I instantly know that he understands the source material at a soulful level that few others do. It’s unfortunate that his medium is limited to paintings because that understanding could otherwise translate into more successful attempts to remake and reboot. This is especially tragic with Battle of the Planets (Gatchaman) which has been languishing through one failed reboot attempt after another.
As for Battle of the Planets in particular, there’s little I can say about its lasting merits that Alex Ross himself doesn’t already cover in these two Youtube clips that were part of the DVD set that I own. If you watch these clips you’ll immediately understand how his passion as an artist comes from trying to channel what was great about the original through him.
In contrast to Ross, so many others make the mistake of trying to fix, subvert, update, or deconstruct the originals, and in so doing, they accidentally destroy what was best about it. This sort of cultural devolution is especially true in the superhero domain, whether it be films or the comics themselves. So I celebrate Alex Ross for continuing to use his art to teach us what was great and timeless about my generation.