The top 10 super hero paintings of artist Alex Ross, by Alex Ross

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Aug 6, 2015, 7:52 PM EDT (Updated)

Alex Ross is one of comic-book-dom's most recognizable artists, with a classic arts style that lends gravitas to our favorite characters. As someone who has been called "the Norman Rockwell of the comics world,"  his name appears in too many "top 10 greatest comic-book artists" lists to count. 

So what do we ask one of the world's top 10 artists? We ask him about his top 10 favorite pieces of art, of course. Ross describes, in his own words, why he feels these particular pieces deserve special attention. In no particular order, they are:

The variant of Justice #1: Heroes

The variant of Justice #1: Villains

Alex Ross

"I did two variant covers of the issue: one featuring the Justice League kind of pointed off-camera, and the other one has the Legion of Doom basically pointed in the direction of the Justice League. 

For this cover, I did a bizarre kind of high-contrast lighting that’s not realistic at all. It’s super bright, solid light. The villains are lit by kind of an opposite lighting scheme, with somewhat bizarre lighting effects throughout. This experiment, I feel, paid off—and not all of them do. 

They weren’t one work of art, but they are for one issue, and I kept them both. That’s probably the biggest vote of confidence I could ever give for something. There’s hundreds of covers, if not a thousand covers I’ve done, and if I kept them all, I would run out of room."

Kingdom Come #1 

Alex Ross

"The first issue of Kingdom Come had to be an introduction to this world of the future that was populated by all brand-new characters and costumed types. In doing that, it created a certain level of chaos with the cover. The figure placement is far less stoic than the ones I did with well-known superheroes, and there’s a sense of rule-breaking that I felt was accomplished.

To separate [each cover], I had a slight color tint shift. Whereas #2 was bright yellow, #3 was blue, and I made #5 red, by default it kinda winds up that #1 is green. And one of the institutional rules that I’ve heard is, 'No green covers...on the racks' (although I don’t know how it would apply to characters like Green Lantern). Either way, I thought it was a fun thing to pick almost a downbeat color palate and have it actually feel haunting and interesting and a unique way to start the series. [The use of green] certainly didn’t impact the most successful project I’ve ever worked on."

Earth X #5 

Alex Ross

"This is only one chunk of a large composite cover design of all fourteen covers I did for that series, where they all link up into one enormous piece of horizontal art. But the one part I liked was what was my then-innovative take on Thor--a female version. It was definitely not the first female version of Thor; I was only repeating something I had already read in Marvel comics from years before. 

But it was just the manner of the composition, the way her figure came across, the background figures mixed in, all the elements coming together, the grandiosity of it: I don’t necessarily like the all covers I did creating this one montage image, but this one in particular meant something to me. It clicked."

Astro City #2 

Alex Ross

"This was the original first series we did for Image back in 1995. I was 25 when I did it. I was basically getting beyond the sophomore…whatever you call it, not jitters...but getting past that kind of psyching yourself out for launching a series.

For me it was one of the cleanest-looking paintings I felt that I had done to date. It’s a composite image between the protagonist, sitting at a typewriter, looking down with kind of a glum expression, and behind him is a memory of the event he’s trying to chronicle. 

What he witnessed was the battle between this Captain America-archetypal character we invented, called the Silver Agent, fighting a shark-man creature. There’s nothing important about these made-up characters in the background, but I love how the Silver Agent figure captures a kind of prototypal Jack Kirby energy of a buccaneer-booted superhero dominating the scene.

The painting itself was as smooth, creamy, the best use of gauche I had done."

Batman War on Crime 1994

Alex Ross

"I had a lot of challenges in trying to bring some kind of individual voice to Batman, because I knew I didn’t want to illustrate him in ways that were typical: To draw a face through this black mask that...fits the face to the point that's it’s really just a layer of makeup.

I thought the intensity of actually seeing his eyes could be unique, and that’s where the cover lay out, in just having this light going up and catching his eyes. I was intending to make something feel very real in otherwise would feel very removed if he had this cartoonishly shaded-out white eyes.

I felt there was a photographic quality to the cover that I felt was more engaging to the headshot ones that I did beyond that."

Universe X

Alex Ross

"This cover, for an offshoot book called Universe X Omnibus, has an overlapping of figures, where you're seeing through one man’s body and into the face of a child, and into a smaller image of another man, and so on and so forth.

I love the figure drawing and the painting in its execution of all these elements. Even though this is certainly not my most famous, well-known project--or most appreciated--it’s a painting that I’ve had some of the greatest appreciation for."

Superboy print

Alex Ross

"[This print is] a portrait of Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes, which was a major part of my childhood in the version that existed in the '70s. It’s a tall, vertical piece that has a very bright blue background and vivid colors for all the various members. They’re flying in unison, up towards the top of the piece, following Superboy. 

This was a careful drawing meant to evoke the style of the artist that worked on it in the early '70s: They went through a kinda sexy costume phase, where [there were] lots of bikini superhero costumes for the women and even some of the men as well. But it has a certain timeless quality that means something to me, and it’s one of the pieces I’ve kept all these years. This was never a cover; I did it purely as a print for the Warner Bros Studio Stores, way back in the late '90s."

Top 10 #1

Alex Ross

"The composition [of Top 10 #1] is is striking to me because, here I’ve tried something different: I’ve done all these other versions of hero groups flying off toward a viewer, flying off toward the side, flying upwards. This was an attempt to try something slightly different by having them kind of leaping downward, and their eyes are focused down. There’s no background. A pure white is behind them, and there’s a solid color effect of blue light on all these figures in this falling formation.

It was certainly a book I’m extremely proud to be a part of, because Gene [Ha] is one of my favorite artist of the modern age, and also Alan Moore is probably the biggest comic influence I’ve had in my life, artist or writer. 

I forced somebody to make Alan Moore call me directly, too. I felt like, 'Come on, don’t have him go through other people. He’s just gotta call me himself.' It was an exercise of power that I don’t really regret, and I look back and shake my head at my own audacity. The last thing that Alan wants to do is talk to people like me.

Batman #682 

Alex Ross

"Batman #682 is actually half of a cover composition to match the cover that follows it. One regards images of Batman’s past, where he’s hanging out with Robin and fighting all the classic bad guys...and the other side shows more the Modern Age elements of a darkening tone for his storyline. In the center spine between these two images is a headshot of Batman: The one in the future has the head bowed down, the one in the past has the head held high.

The one I really, really love is this original one, where I did this psychedelic color effect. All the darkest shadows are painted with a pure bright plain red, and all the light on this background image is pure yellow, with detail painted in vibrant green. So, this was a way of hinting at the Pop Art sensibilities of the 1960s television show, without doing specifically versions of the characters that were Adam West and Burt Ward. But if one looks at my version of Mr. Freeze in the illustration, you’ll recognize that he is holding the gun from the TV show, and you see grafted in the background 'Biff,' 'Bam,' and 'Pow.'

I really loved this painting and always wanted to see it turned into a print, but I could never convince the person who had license to do it. For some reason, she never clicked with it, and they made lots of copies of the dark ones. Shows what I know.

I felt [this cover] never got appreciated as much as I seemed to like it."

What do you think of Alex Ross's picks for his best artwork? What would you put on the list? Let us know in the comments!