Superheroes Exhibit Showing Off Marvel and DC Comics Stars Hits Paris

 Courtesy of Alex Ross

The Eiffel Tower sparkles, and across the river -- framed on museum walls -- Batman is poised skyscraper tall, Wonder Woman is wearing a single-minded look of business and Aquaman is standing wide-set, trident ready. For years they've been fighting for truth, justice and the American way -- mostly thanks to the superhuman hand of Alex Ross, Marvel and DC Comics star illustrator for the last two decades. The Mona Bismarck American Center for Art & Culture in Paris is now celebrating Ross' talent with a new retrospective of his original artwork in Superheroes: The Art of Alex Ross, showing through June 8.

On exhibit are Ross' unconventionally realistic and humanizing portrayals of heroes (and some villains). In bright gouache paint illustrations -- POW! BANG! BOOM! -- the Human Torch flares up, Harley Quinn jests diabolically and The Flash bolts just in time to the scene of never-ending conflict between right and wrong.

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Born to a minister and a commercial artist in 1970, Ross grew up in Texas and was drawing comics of the "save the day" good guys by age 13. At 17, he went to study painting at the American Academy of Art, in Chicago -- soon he was breathing life back into the industry's marquee characters, many of which were created before World War II. Interestingly, one of Ross' biggest influences is Norman Rockwell, whose figures share a sense of high-born destiny and a squared talent for justice -- with jawlines to match.

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"People like Superman strike a major chord," says Jesse Kowalski, director of exhibitions at the Warhol Museum and the show's curator, who thinks society needs to believe in righteous characters. Two years ago, when the Warhol Museum showed Ross' work in Pittsburgh, it was their most attended exhibition, ever. Because France is a country with a rich tradition of and huge appetite for comic art, Kowalski rallied to bring the Americanophile show to Paris.

In Hollywood, of course, superheroes are never far from sight. Most recently, Israeli actress Gal Gadot has been tapped to play the title role in the forthcoming Wonder Woman.

"Superheroes have never been more popular," says Kowalski. "We have this ongoing special weakness for them," just like Kryptonite!

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