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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pieta-esque Imagery In Comic Books

For years, the Pieta, a sculpture made by Renaissance artist Michaelangelo, remains to be one of the most iconic Christian images in history. The statue - showing the lifeless body of Jesus Christ in the arms of her mother, Mary - is probably one of Michaelangelo's finest works, and one that is depicted countless times in all forms of media.

It has been used (or abused?) by comic book artists too  as a subject to portray unbearable sorrow and death in their works - particularly when a very popular or known character is "killed" in a specific comic book issue. And due to the "holy" nature of the imagery and its origins, such graphic novels with the Pieta on or in it become commercially successful most of the time - if not all the time.

For example - the following page/cover in DC's 1992 controversial story arc titled "The Death of Superman" shows the first superhero, the "indestructible" Superman, himself, dying slowly in Lois Lane's embrace after a gruesome epic battle with the kryptonian monster-villain Doomsday.  This was the first time that a major character was killed and was viewed  by some as a big publicity stunt by DC. Nevertheless, the book garnered a lot of attention and sales from fans all over the world. The issue still remains to be one of the company's most popular titles.

More comics have adapted the Pieta as the perfect way to symbolize grief and helplessness in their stories, with some of them you might have seen before due to their mainstream popularity. Here are some of my favorites: (Click on the jump for more.)

Art by John Bryne
One of the most popular Marvel saga's of all time and one of my favorites too: the Dark Phoenix Saga. This is a very emotional and bittersweet storyarc with Jean Grey committing an act of suicide in order to save the X-Men and the world  from the hands of her other-self, the all-powerful cosmic entity The Phoenix. Killer storytelling at its finest. 

Cover art by J.G. Jones
Simply put: "The Day They Killed Batman". Though I wasn't surprised at all that Bruce Wayne was still alive (he was just teleported back to the Stone Age apparently) after getting "fried" by Darkseid's "Omega Beams", Batman's  scene where he fires a radion-loaded gun to wound one of the most powerful entites/Gods in the DC universe is as epic as it could possible get. Talk about "coming in full-circle" for our Caped Crusader.

Art by George Perez

In 1985, DC had to do a complete "restart" of their 50-year old history in order to simplify things for readers. They had to get rid of the "Multiverse" concept which basically got everybody reeling in confusion because of the different worlds and "duplicate" heroes. Their solution:  create epically-massive Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover to end all the crap.

Several characters died saving the entire DC universe from the brink of destruction against the Anti-Monitor - most notably Barry Allen (The Flash) and the Silver Age version of Supergirl, Kara Zor-El (pictured above). This cover art is from issue #7 - one of the most recognizable covers  (if not the most recognizable) of all time.

Art by Jim Aparo
A 1980's Batman story arc that features the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd.  A brutal and haunting tale as even Batman himself wasn't able to do anything to stop his sidekick's death at  the hands of The Joker.  Interesting part is, Jason Todd's death was decided via a phone poll conducted by DC - with 5,343 votes in favor of his death against 5,271 votes to keep him alive. Pretty close. But not enough.

This cover alone by Jim Starlin is one of the best covers out there due to his perfect/actual portrayal of the Pieta... and he used the Grim Reaper for Pete's sakes. Truly legendary.

But these are not the only ones, there are other comic book out there that uses the same style, like these three covers from Thor, The Flash and Hellblazer:

... and many many many more

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