Revenge of The Fanboy

Alex Ross, painter of supermen and superwomen, makes it easy to believe in heroes

Kingdom Come also was turned into a novel...

"Oh, dear God," Ross groans. "Why don't you take out a pin and poke me in the ass right now?"

Not one to miss taking a swipe at greed, Ross' follow-up to Kingdom Come was the ultimate downer: Uncle Sam. The two-book series for DC's Vertigo offshoot told the story of a homeless man, who indeed looks like the title character, suffering for our country's sins. Bouncing through time, Sam finds himself in a mental asylum, in the middle of battlefields, speaking to Abraham Lincoln, and, finally, face to face with a grand, glib version of himself who speaks in George Bush platitudes. Ross' vision of America as "a big advertisement for a product that doesn't exist" sold poorly (around 20,000 copies). He could have expected no less.

The two sides of Alex Ross: Kingdom Come's Superman and Earth X's Captain America, painted for Wizard magazine
The two sides of Alex Ross: Kingdom Come's Superman and Earth X's Captain America, painted for Wizard magazine
A scene from Batman: War on Crime
A scene from Batman: War on Crime

Early last year, Ross debuted his own follow-up to Kingdom Come--using Marvel, not DC, characters. Titled Earth X, the series also was set 20 years in the future, where everyone on earth is a superhuman, the result of a mysterious plague that has rendered all of humanity, in essence, mutant X-Men. Spider-Man has become a fat slob, Daredevil is invincible, and Captain America is a scarred relic out to save the earth from itself. This July, Ross and his collaborators will present Universe X, in which humans, when presented with a "cure," reject it, deciding they no longer wish to be mortal. Ross will then follow that up with his third "big book" for DC, this one starring Captain Marvel: Shazam! Power of Hope.

Ross insists he loses money doing these oversize books for DC, that he can make far more doing a single cover illustration for a comics mag such as Wizard--a couple thousand bucks a pop, and he's finishing two this very afternoon. And most of the proceeds from the sales of Superman: Peace on Earth and Batman: War on Crime, in addition to original pieces of Ross' art, go to various charities, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and UNICEF.

Ross likes to say it's his small way of acting like a superhero, of doing some good when he could easily do nothing. "These characters are about action beyond yourself," he says. Ross then chuckles, realizing he could easily be confused with a man who takes himself--and his comic books--quite seriously.

"Hey, I'm as big of a prick as anybody else," he says, his voice rising. It's what that character is capable of. It's what that concept is good for. The hope is that you begin to instill in other people a sense of the passion and the understanding of the values that those characters are supposed to represent. I mean, ultimately superheroes were created as not just entertainment icons, but as metaphors for virtuous thought. The entire concept of the superhero is an altruistic act, so, therefore, there's a philosophy behind that that is generally lost on modern society. Are these comics going to be part of rekindling a little bit of that? I can only pray so, but you never know if that is going to be the case."

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