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Superheroes in Art: Critical Essay

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Do you ever wish you could be a superhero like Batman, The Incredible Hulk, or Spiderman? Growing up, I idolized seeing superheroes go as far as to even dress up as them for Halloween and watch movies with friends for hours and hours. The heroes captured my imagination and made me want to know more about them, and I assume that you felt the same way about these masked heroes when you first saw and understood what they were. That is why I wanted to discuss superheroes as my theme of this paper because it was something that always made me ponder the work that goes into creating these heroes, and by taking some time to research these artworks, hopefully, I may have a better understanding of what it takes to create their costumes and characters. In this essay, I'm going to discuss the first accounts of superhero drawings, the use of superheroes in films, as well as some more recent artworks such as graffiti work, paintings, and drawings of superheroes from all kinds of different talented and underrated artists in the world.

To begin, the earliest account of a superhero drawing or artwork being created that I was able to find was done by a man by the name of Phil Davis who created ‘Mandrake the Magician’ all the way back on June 11th, 1934. Some of his powers consisted of invisibility, teleportation, and shape-shifting, as well as countless others that helped him fight crime. This went against the most commonly referred to the ‘first superhero’, Superman, who came along four years later. Mandrake the Magician is an important figure to discuss in my paper because he was the first attempt at creating someone who has supernatural-like powers, while his powers were very simple and dumbed down, I think they are a very cool and interesting way of pushing the culture of heroes forward. To discuss the overall look of Mandrake, there would have to be a white male dressed in a very sleek dark blue trimmed and flashy suit that demands your attention, as well as his top hat that glosses and shines which was the source of some of his powers. Mandrake also has a vibrant red cape that flows in the wind behind him as he fights crime and overall adds to the aesthetic that Mr. Davis was attempting to create, as well as being the color of passion that shows the drive he has to protect those he loves. The tone of Mandrake’s character would have to be smooth and friendly from the clean suit and top hat to the thought-provoking, inviting personality vibrantly echoing from his appearance. However, arguably the most interesting part of the comic is that the magician was a representation of an actual magician named Leon Mandrake which allows us to make a more personal connection with the hero because we know he was just like us.

Furthermore, one of the very first attempts at a ‘superhero-like persona’ in a film would be ‘Zorro’ created by Johnston McCulley nearly one hundred years ago, in 1919. Zorro was a vigilante who fought for justice for the poor and mistreated and wore a mask to hide his identity from those he battled with his trusty sword. I know what you may be thinking Zorro isn’t a superhero, he doesn't even have any powers, and while that may be true, he is still a hero for standing up for what he believes is right, and that is deserving of making it on this list of superheroes in my opinion. In the film, Zorro dawns a dull black mask with eye holes cut out for him to see. I believe because we know little about Zoro’s personality, he does not carry any color in his outfit to draw attention to himself, he is also donning a black Spanish originating like suit that is very subtle and is used to give off the feeling of mystery of who is behind the mask. The tone of Zoro's character I believe is best described as a light or hope shrouded behind dark clothes, representing the awful things he must do to save those being put down by the villains of the film. As many know, ‘Zoro’ is a romance movie with him fighting for the love of his life, and I believe his costume gives off a passionate vibe when looking at it very actively and fits the meaning of the movie wonderfully. I really enjoy the simple design of the outfit as a whole.

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Next, I’m going to talk about one of the world’s greatest graffiti superhero artists in the world – Adam Brazier. Adam Brazier, a young man from London, England, made a career out of spray painting companies’ walls to make them more inviting and interesting to look at and is most notably known for his work with re-creating superheroes from comic books, avengers films, as well as D.C. films and comics. My personal favorite artwork from Brazier’s collection has to be Iron Man, who is my personal favorite superhero growing up and one of the most beloved heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Iron Man was first created in 1963 by a group of four men who worked for Marvel Studios at the time, the first being Stan Lee, secondly Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, and lastly Don Heck. While Tony Stark himself does not have any superpowers, his Iron Man suit does consist of superpowers such as the ability to fly, withstand an unbelievable amount of damage to his super suit, and an array of weapons. In the graffiti artwork done by Mr. Brazier, he created the effect of three-dimensional space on a flat building wall by using a white canvas with old Iron Man comics appearing to pop out from the wall, as well as Tony Stark in the mark four suit he created in the films that contain an outline around the shape of the suit that guides my focus around the image. The suit itself is visually stunning to look at, from the metallic red gunmetal look to the glowing eyes that nearly pierce your soul, they are so intense to the base almost tan-looking face piece that makes the suit appear as a robotic man, which I believe it accomplishes wonderfully. Brazier’s artwork also contains natural lighting that gives the face a glowing effect throughout, as well as shadow toward the back of the costume to show which way the sun is affecting the artwork. Outside of the visible image is Iron Man’s power core, which is a vibrant, almost crystal-like, heart-shaped core that keeps him alive from the metal shrapnel that is lodged in Tony’s heart.

In addition, to graffiti superhero works there were also amazing drawings done during this time one being Jim Lee’s ‘Batman: Hush’, in which he captured the pure size of Gotham City, as well as the costume that Batman and Catwoman dawn in the comics and films. Batman was first created back in 1939 and he is considered D.C.’s Iron Man because the characters are very similar with both not having any natural superpowers and rather gaining them from their suits. For example, some of Batman’s superpowers are genius intellect, great hand-to-hand fighting skills, as well as an arsenal of weapons at his disposal at all times. Mr. Lee’s artwork ‘Batman: Hush’ uses very dark tones to emphasize the troubled place that is Gotham, as well as using bright lights on the scaffolding of the skyscrapers to show the hustle and bustle of the city at night time. The artwork also appears to be using a three-point perspective, as we have used and even drawn in our own art class on the buildings in the background appear to all be going to imaginary origin point off the visible plane of the drawing. From analyzing the characters themselves, you can get the mood that both Batman and Catwoman are in a romantic relationship by the way that they are looking at each other very intently. Mr. Lee’s characters’ costumes appear to be drawn with colored ink pen of sorts to give off the moonlight color effect that is beaming off of them from an artificial source of light. Batman’s suit in the drawing appears sharp and extremely detailed as you follow from the legs up toward the head in which he is wearing a mask with horn-like ears on the top to illustrate the head of a bat, and he wears a gold tool belt that he grabs his weapons and useful items from, and lastly, he wears a dark cape that flies in the wind behind him as he pounces on his targets from out of nowhere. While Catwoman wears a tight-fitting ‘sexy’ suit to seduce those that she is fighting to take advantage of them to get what she wants, and wears a mask that has a pair of ears at the top as well to symbolize a cat’s head, and goggles uses to hide her eyes from evildoers.

Lastly, I would like to talk about one of the most unique and amazing forms of superhero art being superhero body painting with makeup. This idea was created by Lianne Moseley, a makeup artist and comic book enthusiast who uses contour lines throughout the makeup to sharpen and enhance the structures or bodies she is painting. One example in particular that I loved the most was her painting of Aquaman on a normal, everyday, average Joe. In her artwork, she painted the man using these ultra-realistic representational pieces that are so exciting to look at, they make you wish you knew how to do it yourself. Throughout the body of the man, you can make out clearly distinct thick, smooth, and bold black lines that help give the persona she is creating shape and depth. On the man’s stomach and arms, you can see a fish-like set of gills that would allow him to swim just like he can in the comics. It is painted in a very vibrant and lively manner. I love every bit of her work, it is amazing and like nothing else I have seen in the form of art.

To conclude, I hope that I was able to invite your excitement over the subject of superheroes in the subject of art by showing you many unique and original ideas on what our masked heroes could portray or be. By providing a little background on my discovery of superheroes, maybe someone else may find themselves interested and wanting to know more than what they came in previously believing or understanding about the subject as a whole. To wrap up this paper, I would like to say that this was a fun challenge of trying to learn and or understand the work that goes into creating a superhero, and I’m glad that we decided to do this.

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Superheroes in Art: Critical Essay. (2023, November 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/superheroes-in-art-critical-essay/
“Superheroes in Art: Critical Essay.” Edubirdie, 15 Nov. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/superheroes-in-art-critical-essay/
Superheroes in Art: Critical Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/superheroes-in-art-critical-essay/> [Accessed 2 Mar. 2024].
Superheroes in Art: Critical Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Nov 15 [cited 2024 Mar 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/superheroes-in-art-critical-essay/
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