Thursday, March 3, 2016

Guest Writer - The Pieta: A Comics Cover Genre

Hey, kiddie-winkies! Filed under "careful what you ask for"... Back when we did our last comic book covers post ("Carry On..."), I remarked early in the comments section that it should fall on Martinex1 to shoot us another $1 Challenge as a follow-up to the characters-carrying-characters idea. Wait until you look below and see what the poor guy put himself through! I know you'll stand with me in saying "Great job, partner!"

Mike S: In February, Doug had hosted a post about comic covers and the frequency in which a hero carries another character, toting them along like a sack of potatoes. As he indicated, a subset of those types of covers is the “dead hero” motif. At some point along the way and picked up on the Internet, this cover layout capturing a moment of grief has come to be known as the “Pieta Cover” because of its similarity and reference to Michelangelo’s great work. The most famous examples of the bunch may be X-Men #136 (John Byrne art; cover dated August 1980) and Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (George Perez art; cover dated October 1985). The first Marvel Graphic Novel, The Death of Captain Marvel, (Jim Starlin; April 1982) also employed the theme and mirrored the classic sculpture more closely with a seated and robed Death holding Mar-Vell whereas other examples have a central character standing and holding the injured, unconscious, or dying victim.  

Following Doug’s post, I had set out to create an “If I Had a Buck” post based on covers with the Pieta design.  Little did I know how daunting a task that would be.   As I explored examples, I was quickly overwhelmed and astounded by how frequently and often the pose occurs.   I decided to drop the $1 Challenge this time because I didn’t think it could do justice to the magnitude of the repetitious covers and I wanted to share the findings.  

There are many spots on the internet that cover the topic, but I have yet to find an all-inclusive list.  A special acknowledgement goes to the great Mike’s Amazing World of Comics site where I was able to dig deep on my archival hunt. My catalog grew so quickly, that I decided to focus just on DC covers (and I am absolutely sure I have not found all of the occurrences yet). My favorites are the two Lois Lane issues which went to the racks only about 30 months apart. I have no idea when the trend started; my earliest example is Batman # 156 (June 1963). It is up to you to find the countless examples from Marvel and other publishers (a coveted BAB no-prize for other DC covers and for the earliest cover date).  So without further ado, with a tip of the hat to Michelangelo, enjoy the DC procession of pietas.

Adventures of Superman #567 (Tom Grummett; May 1999)
Batman #156 (Sheldon Moldoff; June 1963)
Brave and the Bold #84 (Neal Adams; June 1969)
Captain Action #3 (Gil Kane; February 1969)
Captain Atom #8 (Pat Broderick; October 1987)
Captain Atom #44 (Pat Broderick; August 1990)
Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (George Perez; October 1985)
DC Comics Presents #56 (Gil Kane; April 1983)
Detective Comics #574 (Alan Davis; May 1987)
Firestorm #21 (Jamal Igle; March 2006)
Flash #305 (Carmine Infantino; January 1982)
Freedom Fighters #5 (Rich Buckler; November 1976)
Legion of Super-Heroes #296 (Keith Giffen; February 1983)
Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #102 (Curt Swan; July 1970)
Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #128 (Robert Oksner; December 1972)
Major Bummer #12 (Doug Mahnke; July 1998)
Our Army At War #167 (Joe Kubert; May 1966)
Supergirl #79 (Ed Benes; April 2003)
Superman: The Man of Steel #10 (Jon Bogdanove; April 1992)
Tales of the Teen Titans #45 (George Perez; August 1984)
Tomahawk #121 (Neal Adams; March 1969)
Valor #18 (Stuart Immonen; April 1994)


J.A. Morris said...

Nice detective work, I'm sure it took some time going through years of comics at Mike's Amazing World.

Anonymous said...

I have to say I'm not entirely convinced by the Pieta thing - the Death of Captain Marvel or those two Captain Atom covers are clearly referencing the original, but most of the rest...?

All the same, enjoyed the post, Mike; comparing the same basic idea on the cover of Batman 156 and Detective 574 says quite a bit about changing approaches over time.
My favourite DC cover on this theme is probably Green Lantern 86 by Neal Adams, although - or maybe because - the figures of Green Arrow and Speedy are a smaller part of the composition.


Doug said...

Actually, there was more than one Pieta sculpted by Michelangelo. He worked on others (see one here), including one that was in progress when he died. I believe what makes an image a "pieta" is the giving of comfort and the sense of loss, one figure to the deceased. I am no art major, however.


Redartz said...

Wow Mike, great job tracking down all those examples. I was struck by how closely the two Captain Atom covers follow Michelangelo's classical design (an obvious homage to the original in this case).

Going to have to go 'fishing'through some boxes to find some of those Marvel examples...

Anonymous said...

Referencing the Pieta as general theme rather than specific work? Fair enough, Doug.
Although I do wonder whether for some artists its become just a classic comic book image (if you see what I mean). Although I suppose that wouldn't prevent it having a wider resonance for the reader/viewer.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doug said...

Sean, I'm going to guess that there are many comics readers who would think first of Crisis #7 rather than of a Renaissance artist.

But this is "our" Renaissance art, isn't it? Kirby, Adams, Buscema, Leonardo, Raphael...


Doug said...

Can I assume, looking at the covers supplied for our consideration, that it is easier to draw a woman's arms in that posture than a man's?


Edo Bosnar said...

Interesting how many times this cover type features Kara Zor-El/L in some way...

Humanbelly said...

Yeah, Doug, I noticed that arm-thing on the supported figures, too. It just seems difficult to get it to look "right"-- possibly because it's not a common, natural position to see someone in? Sgt.Rock's position on the Brave & the Bold cover is, in fact, almost disturbing-- flailed up overhead from the from the front that way. It's very reminiscent of images from the Holocaust. . . of the bodies of victims being sadly removed from the camps upon liberation. Tendons and musculature prevent the limbs from hanging limp in that position, which makes it all the more effecting.

I do like the true-to-model Captain Atom covers a whole lot. That title really had a lot of nice covers, I think.

I think what I kinda don't like are the couple of covers that treat it as fodder for a parody treatment. Sorry-- that's just a level of snarky cynicism that has no appeal for me. . .


Martinex1 said...

Thanks for the comments everybody. I have to say it was not that hard to find examples; once you start looking they kind of leap out at you. And as I said, others on the Internet coined the term and started collecting examples long before I did. Dare I say that Marvel may even have more than DC. And it's fun to see that even companies outside the big two, and in genres up to and including funny animal books use the pose. Now, after researching it, I tend to think this is the most homaged (not sure if that's a word) pose. Although FF #1, Amazing Fantasy # 15, or Superman lifting a car ala Action Comics may have more homages. Anything else?

I agree that a Pieta can have a lot of variety to the pose position. For me, it is capturing that moment of pain and grief while giving comfort to or mourning the dying while holding the loved one. There are some kneeling Pietas that I didn't use, but there are plenty of those as well. An example would be Batman holding Robin in " A Death in the Family".

Edo, the amount of Superman and Kara examples is indeed interesting. The Crisis example is so well known that I assumed that is where it started. And obviously a lot afterward mimicked that. I find the "DC Comics Presents" fascinating because it came out a couple years prior. I also am interested in the Teen Titans example because Perez drew that earlier than the Crisis issue. It is just a classic, meaningful, and dramatic pose.

Doug I agree drawing women's arms may be easier. I am not sure why. Maybe they bend outward more naturally. It may also be their overall size and how they fit in the grasp. One known fact about Michelangelo's Pieta is that Mary is oversized and/ or Jesus is undersized to fit the position comfortably and focus the drama. Take a look.

Redartz I love the Captain Atom covers as they kind of bookend Captain Atom and Plastique's relationship. They exchange positions in each.

Sean, GL 86... Good catch. I missed that one.

And yes Doug, maybe the greats were new Renaissance men. Many WWII vets and contemporaries, family men (and women), creating a new mythology that resonates, through art that is referential yet new.

Anonymous said...

Other homages? Steranko covers get referenced a lot.
And images from DKR seem to get homage quite a bit (although that might be in splashes more than covers)

Have you seen much of DCs recent Adamsfest, where Neal does a load of variant covers referencing his late60s/early 70s classics, Mike/Martinex?
Easy enough to find online...Includes a cover referencing Brave and Bold 84 referencing the Pieta!


pfgavigan said...


No love for Mighty Mouse Vol. 1 issue 4 ??



Anonymous said...

Cool post, fellow Mike! As for other examples, there's always Daredevil #164.

And I found a whole bunch more at Crisis on Earth Prime and at Comic Coverage.

Mike Wilson

Martinex1 said...

Thanks for the links Mike! So many examples I never saw. Great.

Humanbelly said...

That Michelangelo-- cripes, he was brilliant, wasn't he? I'm no art buff at all, believe me-- but the whole proportional figures thing mentioned above? It's incredible how well he disguises it! All of the fabric and wrap that Mary is cloaked in does a fantastic job of obscuring the fact that the body underneath would have to be somewhat larger than it appears. And, am I correct that her head and face are still scaled down somewhat to more closely match Jesus'?

I do think that even back in the Renaissance this particular kind of image-- this depiction of intimate and immediate sorrow, shock, and grief-- was probably universally recognizable. It speaks to every person who has ever lost a loved one in circumstances beyond their control. I imagine we would have seen it in the theater of ancient Greece, in fact. Jason entering with the body or bodies of his children, slain by Medea, for instance.


Martinex1 said...

Sean I have not seen the Adams covers I will have to look those up.

HB both your comments struck a chord with me. I too did not particularly like the parodies and more humorous configurations. I think it is inherently such an emotional subject matter that the humor feels off. Now I know they are commenting on the frequency of the cover action itself, but that alone is not enough for me. I was 12 or 13 years old when the character Jean Grey died, and I remember thinking about it if it was a character I had gotten to know and there was a sadness around even the fictional loss. It is interesting when that feeling emerges from fiction. And when it doesn't. When it was earned and when it wasn't. (Off topic and a tangent for sure, but I felt for Quint's death in Jaws but not for Obi Wan in Star Wars; perhaps there is another post in there somewhere).

And it is interesting you bring up theater and Greek tragedies as Antigone and Polyneices came to mind with her urgent responsibility to bury her fallen brother.

Michelangelo and his forced perspective are amazing when you take into account that it's not a drawing and somehow he had to envision that spacial relationship and the emotional relationship as he chiseled away. I cannot speak to the size of their faces, but I wish I could find a reference I once saw that compared the figures respective limb sizes and height.

Humanbelly said...

Antigone was the other one I was thinking of too, MX. I couldn't quite recall if there was actually a scene where we see her physically holding Poly-- surely there is, yes? (Believe me, I'm not as well-read as this might be making me sound--)

Fictional losses that either do or do not earn an emotional response (and why). Man, THAT would be a much heavier-than-normal topic for this board-! But I'll tell ya, I'd be all over it. I am just about the softest touch for tears that you'll ever come across--but at the same time, I'll scoff at artless manipulation. Maybe it should stay comics-contained. . . otherwise it might turn into an Agony Aunt & Confession column. . .


Martinex1 said...

Ha ha HB I don't know if Antigone has that scene either; sure seems like it would fit though.

If you ever want to team up on a "Cry or Crud" column, let me know. May be fun.

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