I’m getting into art books lately, and there’s quite a few coming out in the next few months, including those focused on Adam Hughes and Jim Lee. Staying in the DC family is this handsome collection, with the full title of Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross. The American painter has carved out a niche for himself over the last 2 decades with his realistic work portraying the power and dynamism of spandex clad icons. DC has been blessed with the majority of his output, with covers for Superman and Batman, as well as series such as the future-set Kingdom Come and nostalgia-laden Justice. It’s the latter which takes the bulk of these 224 pages, but there’s plenty of other pieces for the Ross fan, or simply those who like staring at great art. That’s the beauty of Ross’ work. It shatters the confines of the comic shop. I took this dazzling tome to work today and the few people I showed it too were almost drooling.
Designer Chip Kidd who has worked with Ross before on his similar Mythology book here guides the layouts and appearance of the content. It may be tempting to think that he doesn’t have much to do as Ross’ work speaks, or shouts like Brian Blessed, for itself. However, after a few reads (you won’t be satisfied with just one) you’ll realise that the variety is a key part of the book. Going with the “rough” theme, you won’t find many of Ross’ trademark glossy paintings, but what you will find is a treasure trove of character sketches, draft cover layouts, action figure designs and costume re-designs. It’s that latter aspect of Rough Justice that long-time DC fans will find most appealing.
Before All-Star Batman and Robin became what it was (insert joke here) Ross went to artist Jim Lee with his new Robin design, involving a hooded cape and scale armour, a la Aquaman and Captain America. Martian Manhunter looking like a tentacled Spectre, a sleek Atom, Nightwing and Flamebird from Return to Krypton and other rejected character re-designs, including Dick Grayson as Batman, are presented here. Ross’ passion for the Marvel Family shows in a series of great art pieces for a 2005 proposal for new Shazam adventures, which surprisingly yet fittingly involved Black Vulcan from the 1970s Super Friends cartoon.
Kingdom Come, Justice Society, logos, posters, TPB covers and more are also highlighted, as are a proposal entitled Batboy, Grant Morrison as Brainiac and brief comments from the man himself. Really, Ross’ pencils are so tight they they can’t really be called sketches, and any page in here could proudly hang on a wall.