Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches Of Alex Ross book review

Paul has a look at Rough Justice, a visual treasure trove of Alex Ross' masterful DC superhero comics sketches...

Over the years, artists have moved superheroic adventures to more sophisticated and ambitious heights. The simpler delights of those early four-colour strips of the 40s have matured over the years into the complex dynamic tales we love today.

Artists such as Will Eisner, Jack Kirby and Frank Miller have combined definitive interpretations with their unique narrative powers that have helped revolutionise the whole medium. One artist in particular, Alex Ross, has brought the comics world into sharp focus, viewing their world as if through the lens of a camera. 

This lavish book is a kaleidoscope of his recent works at DC and it’s as if a magician has opened up his box of tricks to reveal the secrets of his trade. No wonder his talents have earned him his multi-award winning reputation as one of the industry’s leading craftsmen.

Alex Ross has been in the unique position of applying his photorealism style to the worlds of both Marvel and DC, but it is the latter’s output that is the focus of this book. Taking the Kingdom Come mini series as his main starting point, Ross opens up his sketchbook to reveal his creative thought process in a state of continual flux. Many drawings are seen for the first time in their raw form, complete with notes scribbled in the margins, shaping ideas as much as images. Panel layouts morph and change in those preliminary concepts, shaping each hero in increasingly dynamic sinew-stretching poses. 

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This is a celebration of the art of design that takes us through an artist’s creative thought process as well as through the movers and shakers of the DC Universe.

There’s a collection of covers and splash pages, alongside character studies portrayed from all dynamic angles. Superman and Batman figure prominently, but so do Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and the Flash. Facial expressions are shown in fine pencil lines and they gain more depth of feeling from the half-tone shading. In many ways they carry a greater immediacy than the fully realised painted versions that brought these heroes to flesh and blood in their monthly adventures.  

The attention to anatomical shape is self-evident. Their bodies feel like they’ve been sculpted from his pen, made flesh with his ink and shading so that his personal favourite, Superman, for example, is given a broader, powerfully-built body to reflect his Man of Steel status. This is evident still in the designs for a whole range of action figures defining the essence of each hero in the simplest of terms.

In contrast, the battle scenes are planned with meticulous attention to visual impact, calculating the angles and poses which show his eye for composition is as keen as any artist in any medium. Sometimes the pencils are loose and free-flowing, other times they are crisp and tightly rendered.

The framing of the drama also shows he frames a story like any film director, devising every camera angle and shot. Ross shows a devoted attention to details, as well as to overarching storytelling techniques.  

Whilst these drawings reveal the secrets origins of his comic book paintings, this volume also give us the opportunity to see his formative concepts for projects that were never fully realised, such as his Shazam/Capt Marvel and many of the individual Batman family proposals, including Batwoman and Batboy.

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We may have been denied these ongoing series under Ross’s watchful painterly eye, but the inclusion of those drawings, alongside more technical designs for variations of the famed Batmobile, only heightens the gleeful delights of poring over each page of this sketchbook.

For any artist wanting to break into comics, Rough Justice is a visual treasure trove to guide them, as surely as any Da Vinci or Michelangelo, but more importantly, it’s a volume that gives any comics fan a rare opportunity to celebrate a top artist in action. Alex Ross is justly a master shaper of superhero worlds. 

4 stars

Rough Justice is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.


4 out of 5