The Post Modern art world is heavily with influences from all different cultures and ideas. Many of these ideas seem embedded throughout the culture in many ways, from literature to movies. Most recently, the medium of comic books have seemed to permeate pop culture in the United States. Its influences are unmistakable and far reaching throughout the culture. It is also interestingly created in collaboration rather than solo pieces like many other mediums involving paintings or drawings. The artwork created is directly influenced by the writer’s story, giving it a desired mood and informing the styling’s of the artist who’s drew the characters of each story. This gives each panel of artwork a new meaning and in return, gives the story new depth and dimension.
One of the first pieces of art that reflected the mood and direction of culture at the time is Alan Moore’s “The Watchmen”. At story of the darker times during the Cold War Era, the artwork of Dave Gibbons perfectly depicts the cynicalism of the world of the characters. Even without a back story to this particular panel, the Comedian is seemed thoroughly immersed in dark pleasure of the brutality of some act. This dark humor is captured intensely in the sickly grin on his face and the grittiness of the drawing makes you feel as though only darkness surrounds him.Comic movies in the Post Modern era also reflected the desires of the times. The movie “Superman: The Movie” seems to reflect the mood of the Cold War but also a rejection of the darker side of society that seems to have taken hold following years disillusion from the anti-war and youth movements of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The screenplay written by Mario Puzo brings back the image of the golden age of comics. Here, a more innocent and wholesome character comes to save the say, perhaps speaking to an undertow within society to return to more decent times. The movie “Superman” gave society something they craved at the time: the “All American Wholesome” hero, representing both the best of American and the idealized morals depicted from a time gone by. The poster promotes this idea with grey cloudy background being broken up with a ray of color and hope; salvation from up above.
While Watchmen depicted a “hero” rejecting good in dark times and becoming one with it, “The Dark Knight Returns” took a good wholesome character and took it a different direction. While the Comedian was just as dark, it was understood within the literature that he was a sadist and dark character whose actions were equal parts cruel and self-indulgent. Frank Miller reinvented Batman instead into a dark hero who only did what is considered necessary, even if it was brutality at extremes to fight the evil of the times. Illustrated here by Frank Miller himself, Batman is old and tattered looking, while looking grim and angry. You can feel the anguish and pain from the character with none of the pleasure seen in the Comedian; this is business, not pleasure. This story and artwork seems to feel that this is the hero America needs: uncompromising and brutal justice. This is in deep contrast to Superman, Batman is a righteous man willing to do what is necessary, even if it is violent extremes.
Sadly, little innovation took place in the 1990’s. During the 90’s, comics, both their stories and their artwork, became stagnant and repetitive. This was due to the many attempting to use the old successful model for stories to repeat the successes of the past. This is seen in the stream of Batman movies (like the very unpopular “Batman and Robin” film by director Joel Schumacher), trying to capitalize on the success of the darker reboot of the character in the 1989 film “Batman” or the string of Superman movies that were equally disappointing and added nothing to the genre. The comic books and the art within suffered as well, as artwork was created that was amazing but unoriginal or creative. This is perhaps due to the more upbeat and positive look of society at the time. The Cold War was over, the war against the organized crime was proving successful and the economy of the US was at a high point. This created an environment of complacency in society that seems to have unfortunately bled into the art of comics during the era.
However, by the early part of the next century, the industry and its artwork became active again and reflected once again the turmoil of society. Following the attacks of 9-11, comics took a more chaotic turn. Marvel, a major comic company seems to have reflected this mood most accurately. Seen here in a storyline by Mark Miller called Civil War, two of the company’s major characters fight representing the two conflicting ideas of the times. The artist, Steve McNiven , here depicts Captain America representing social freedoms and rights while Iron Man reflects the government’s increased controlling and authoritative stance following 9-11. All around them are the victims of both their policies as the conflict carries on. Neither side is depicted as villain or hero. Instead, only message that the image carries is one of tragedy and futility. This battle still carries on today; the idea of freedoms being surrendered to provide security.
This return to darker social policies is also reflected in a darker version of Batman in the Dark Knight series. Here, much like the “Dark Knight Returns” artwork, Christopher Nolan’s films seems to reinforce the ideas of more control and violence from an authoritative figure to protect the greater good. The “dark hero for dark times” theme seems to flow into the “Man of Steel” movie, which takes the wholesome image of Superman and creates one where only extreme measures can save the day.
Other comic movies seem to take another stance on authoritative control, such as “Captain American: Winter Soldier”. Here, Joe Russo’s film depicts SHIELD, the organization that protects the world, as corrupt and dangerous. This seems to be highlighted by the fact that the Winter Soldier is the pinnacle of corruption on a once decent man. Its secrets endanger the world and only dismantling it can truly save the day. However, the victory is hardly that as the loss of SHIELD opens up the world to new threats. The film seems to be a commentary on the double-sided nature of freedom. Comic art and the different media it inspires seems to have no lack of commentary on the world around it, proving to be a worthy representative of the Post Modern art form of the times.