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X-Men Guernica

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Another week of The Line it is Drawn! This week's theme was "Alternate Reality Character Designs", and my pick was X-Men, designed by Picasso.

See the other contributions here: goodcomics.comicbookresources.…

This piece is based on the painting Guernica: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia…

X-Men Guernica - SKETCH by Theamat

X-Men Guernica - INKS by Theamat

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beccablast's avatar
:star::star::star::star::star-half: Overall
:star::star::star::star::star: Vision
:star::star::star::star::star-empty: Originality
:star::star::star::star::star: Technique
:star::star::star::star::star-half: Impact

The Spanish Civil War, if thought of at all today, is usually discussed and dismissed as "the dress rehearsal for World War II", in that it involved active participation from Hitler's Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Soviet Union. The glibness of that phrase glosses over what that really means -- despite the brutality of the First World War, the Second was exponentially worse -- most certainly in terms of the destruction visited on civilians. That was something all sides engaged in in Spain, most famously in the annihilation of a Basque town called Guernica by the German Luftwaffe. Pablo Picasso, an expatriate Spaniard living in Paris, took the atrocity as a subject for a mural -- a painting that he vowed would never be seen in Spain until democracy was restored. "Guernica" is the best-known and perhaps greatest artwork of the 20th century, and virtually synonymous with Picasso.

When a comics artist is given the challenge of "show the X-Men as designed by Picasso", the bait is tempting -- the X-Men are by far the series most concerned with bigotry and intolerance -- one of their members is the descendant of Holocaust victims, and their greatest rival/ally is a direct survivor. Not to mention that when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby invented the series, it was a direct metaphor to the racial issues of the 1960's. The Xavier Institute for Gifted Students has been devastated and rebuilt over and over. This is not the Justice League in their oh-so-safe satellite -- these are heroes under siege in a world that hates them. Their home HAS been bombed. If any comic characters can say to have experienced what happened in the original work, it's them.

The way of determining whether the piece is worthy of the concept is a different matter. We can admit the concept and not like the piece; we can admire the craft and dislike the subject. The craft here is exquisite -- even in the chaos of the piece, the X-Men are clearly identifiable. The use of angle light and shadow to create the cubist effects of the original piece -- Cyclops' eye beams, the small lightning bolts from Storm, making sure the white streak in Rogue's hair is visible -- are dead-on in the style prescribed. The arrangement of characters matches well with the original work (with a few exceptions I'll get to in a minute. We have in the original a wailing woman with a dead child under the eyes of a panicked animal -- here we have an anguished Rogue cradling Nightcrawler's body under the gaze of a panicked Beast. Two women appear like shrieking wraiths with candles and pleas -- here we have a fearful Storm and Emma Frost, of all people, in full desperation -- perhaps Emma because Cyclops is in danger; I would have thought Kitty to be more suited for her position. Where the original had a man on his knees hands up to the sky, the mandatory Wolverine has claws out but looks particularly helpless.

There are some differences, though, and that causes some troubles. Possibly the most famous of all the images in the mural is the panicked horse who has thrown his rider and readies to trample his prone master. That gets transformed here to a rampaging Magneto about to stomp the prone Cyclops. Storm seems to be casting lightning at Magnus as much as anything else; is he the one who attacked, ripping the iron gate in the foreground (no such barrier in the painting) apart? Or is he merely another victim? His inclusion in the position he is in adds an ambiguity that reinforces another problem, but this issue is with the very concept.

Part of the inhumanity of the Guernica attack, and the power of the piece, is the anonymity of the victims. The very evil Picasso was decrying was the dehumanization of the people. Making them famous characters like the X-men, with roles and backstories, adds a layer that works against the intent of Picasso. By cleverly slotting the characters, Thea manages to avoid this most of the time -- Beast mirrors the animal, for example, and Nightcrawler is dead. Magneto is the major problem, and he's in a bad place for ambiguity. If I had to answer, I'd say he's being attacked like the rest, but there is that question.

Inserting the Phoenix and the fence, items without a parallel, point this out more than they fill necessary gaps. Is the Phoenix supposed to be a replacement for the light bulb? Or is it simply, like Wolverine, something you have to have in the piece if it's going to be an X-work?

Because, I really miss the light bulb, or any equivalent to it. The electric light shaped like an eye is one of the great images in Western art; Picasso uses it to attack the viewer, and the culture that saw this happen, and yet did nothing in response. That eye is a challenge to the viewer of the painting to respond to the work. The viewer watches the painting; the eye is "watching" the viewer to see if they, like everyone else, lets this pass.

Which brings us back to the question of whether including the X-Men is damaging to the work. The best X-comics, such as "God Loves, Man Kills" or "Days of Future Passed" have always contained that element of challenge to the reader. (The only thing that makes modern Cyclops tolerable is that you can see how years of this struggle can warp even the best of people.) Through creative skill and a sense of arrangement, Thea has certainly done that. The questions are important, but the overall work is sublime. I have seen few others who would even attempt this, so give her full credit for audacity and vision and nearly full for execution.

OH, and before I forget -- this was done in her SPARE TIME, over the course of perhaps a week at most. That is nothing short of phenomenal!