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Review: A most amazing comic-book artist

'Mythology' collects the work of Alex Ross

By L.D. Meagher

'Mythology' collects the work of Alex Ross

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'Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross'
• By Alex Ross; text by Chip Kidd, photographs by Geoff Spear
• Pantheon Books
• Art/Comic books
• 288 pages
Alex Ross

(CNN) -- If you know a comic book fan, your gift shopping is done. Simply put a bow on "Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross" and you will earn squeals of delight and undying appreciation.

Ross has single-handedly redefined comic book art. His renderings of the iconic DC characters are simply astonishing. In books like "Kingdom Come," "Superman: Peace on Earth" and "Batman: War on Crime," his images don't merely leap off the page. They soar.

(DC Comics is a unit of Time Warner, as is CNN; Pantheon Books, the publisher of "Mythology," is part of the Bertelsmann publishing group.)

Writer and book designer Chip Kidd offers an insightful, if spare, biography of the artist, from his roots in Texas to his blossoming as an illustrator in Chicago. More important, he opens the door on Ross's creative process, including the evolution of his style from the Neal Adams-George Perez school of comics art to a bold vision that is uniquely his own.

(See examples here: Superman, Batman, and a superhero gallery.)

Ross' work has been called "photo-realistic" and "hyper-realistic." Both descriptions are apt, but inadequate: When Ross paints Batman surveying the darkened Gotham streets or Superman hoisting a derailed train aloft, the character isn't simply realistic. It's real.

As Kidd describes it, " ... what makes Ross's approach unique to Superman and the other DC characters is twofold. First, on the page, we simply weren't used to seeing them this way. Second, it wasn't just that we saw them differently, it was as if we were allowed to really see them for the first time. The effect was like finally meeting someone you'd only ever heard about."

His medium -- watercolors -- also sets Ross apart from other comics artists. He achieves a level of brilliance and subtlety rarely employed to depict superheroes.

His attention to detail -- the use of lighting, the emotions etched into characters' faces, even the wrinkled spandex of the uniforms -- yields absolutely startling results. As captured by photographer Geoff Spear, each image pulses with life.

"Mythology" captures the brilliance of Alex Ross in full flower. It is a coffee-table book that will be well-thumbed, captivating anyone who catches sight of the stunning Superman portrait on the cover.

If you know a comics fan -- or are one -- don't walk, don't run. Fly out to buy "Mythology."

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