I can’t get enough of…

…the superhero redesigns over at Project: Rooftop! Jemma Salume’s winning entry for the Canary on the Catwalk contest was my first (and possibly still greatest) love (if I could marry an illustration…) (IT’S JUST SO PERFECT), but there’s always something new to catch my eye, often accompanied by tantalizing snippets of imagined storylines.

I wish Denis Medri’s 1950’s Batman reboot were a real thing, for starters; it’s just the perfect blend of retro glam and grit, down to the muddied-up candy hues of the color palette. Betty Paige as Catwoman, hot-rod Batmobile, and leather jackets everywhere – sigh.

Project: Rooftop is also fun in that it highlights one of the most fascinating elements of the superhero genre: the relative freedom that different creators have to weld new themes, aesthetics, and cultural anxieties onto the preexisting chassis of a given character or series. I can’t think of any other contemporary media that enjoy both the long-term continuity and short-term adaptability of a comic-book hero who’s remolded and rebooted (and occasionally resurrected) over the course of countless issues, in the hands of dozens of artists and writers, each seeking to carve out new narrative space and (ideally) to reflect some aspect of contemporary culture. Hellblazer (which has been running continuously since 1988) has to be given particular props in the continuity department, since its timeline progresses and its characters age more or less in real time – in my mind, that level of verisimilitude can bolster the series’ effectiveness as a work of cultural criticism, though I haven’t really read far enough along yet to judge how well John Constantine ages as a character past the ’80’s.

Of course the eerie agelessness of most superheroes simply adds to their status as modern-day quasi-deities. I can’t remember who it was whom I first saw drawing a parallel between the teeming universes of Chinese folk traditions and superhero comics (possibly Barry Hughart? I can’t find the quote, at the moment), but it’s an apt comparison.

– E

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