Justice is Served: Inside Alex Ross's Rough Justice

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Edited by Chip Kidd and in bookstores and comics shops now, Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross is a hardcover collection showcasing Alex Ross's pencil and ink preparatory work on DC characters. Broken Frontier takes a look between the pages of this deluxe hardback edition as we enter the imagination of this fan favorite artist...

Encompassing the full range of Alex Ross's work in the DC Universe - from cover art to character concepts, all the way through to toy designs - Rough Justice is a comprehensive examination of the artist's design sensibilities and project planning approach. With the vast majority of the art being printed here for the first time the book is a unique look into Ross's thought processes at the "ideas stage" and how those dynamic, ultra-realistic portrait pieces are shaped.

To get the obvious point out of the way early on, this book should be considered as a look into the creative process and not as a showcase for Ross’s finished artwork. Those wanting coverage of the latter need to look elsewhere. Rough Justice is an intriguing mixture of largely black and white visuals (with some color) that run the gamut from full pencil sketches through to raw thumbnail designs. In addition Ross provides accompanying text to talk the readers through his decisions and vision for the featured characters and concepts.

Whether you’re a huge fan of Alex Ross or not, his influence in the realms of super-hero comics over the last few years is undeniable. Committed enthusiasts of Ross’s work will be in their absolute element here as they embark on a whirlwind tour of the artist’s recent DCU work and gain valuable insights into the beginnings of those covers/interiors/concepts that have enthralled readers over the last few years. The journeys from thumbs to sketches to realized artwork detailed here is a fascinating one, especially when accompanied by Ross’s commentary.

For fans of the DCU in general, however, it’s the wider perspective of Ross’s influence on the DC pantheon and his unused series ideas that will most spark the imagination. His collaboration with Paul Dini on a reborn Barbara Gordon Batgirl proposal and the part it played in the new Batwoman’s look is a strong example of this. Or the "What if..." thoughts that go hand-in-hand with some of his more intriguing unused character/costume redesigns - from a truly alien Martian Manhunter, to a Kandorian-influenced Nightwing through to a Boy Wonder who accentuates the Robin Hood element of the character’s mythos.

As the book progresses the "might have beens" extend far beyond character designs. Regular DC readers will find Ross’s ideas for a proposed Shazam/Captain Marvel re-jigging of note given the various attempts to reintroduce the Marvel Family over the last few years and fandom’s very differing responses to them.

Those of an older vintage will no doubt rue the missed opportunity of his mooted "Batboy" series, which borrows liberally from the old "Super-Sons of Batman and Superman" imaginary tales of yesteryear; while newer converts to the DCU have the opportunity to see unused ideas for his recent Batman and Superman cover work.

If Rough Justice does have a failing, though, it’s in the depth (or lack thereof) of Ross’s self-analysis which is often fleeting and somewhat to the point. It’s a shame that his textual input could not have been more expansive in a book where it’s really not enough to let the pictures speak for themselves. I can’t help thinking in this respect that the book could have benefitted from an interview-style presentation. As readers we are left feeling slightly dissatisfied that, despite the nuggets of intriguing information provided in the prose sections, greater elaboration could have made this a far more impressive work.

However, Rough Justice still remains a tantalising glimpse into the creative mind and reinforces Ross’s status as an artist who cuts to the intrinsic heart of the iconography of the DC heroes. Ross completists will find it essential but there’s enough new information here to tickle the fanboy funny bone of every DC collector. Trust me when I say that seeing how Grant Morrison nearly became the visual inspiration for Braniac in Justice is almost worth the price of admission alone…

Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross is available from Titan Books in the UK priced £19.99 and from Pantheon in the U.S. priced $30.00.


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