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We’ve featured pop artist “Butcher Billy” Bily Mariano da Luz several times. His comic book-related mash-ups are sometimes designed just to entertain, but sometimes to raise debate. His latest series definitely belongs to the latter group: the “War Photography X Vintage Comics Project” skirts good taste in order to make the viewer ponder all kinds of questions.
Superhero comics, a genre born at a period of global chaos, have seldom shied away from apocalyptic levels of horror and violence. Consider 1941’s Human Torch #5A, wherein Namor drops a tidal wave upon New York City. My personal benchmark remains Alan Moore and John Totleben’s Miracleman #15 (as described by Tim Callahan as “a vile disgusting condemnation/celebration of superhero violence (take your pick)“), which managed to be genuinely hellish and affecting, with none of its punch lessened by being frequently ripped off and swiped from by multiple lesser talents over the years. However, things get more sensitive whenever fictional characters get superimposed into real events, such as the howls of protest over J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man #36, with its crying Doctor Doom.
Billy inserts classic superhero imagery into some of the most shocking and iconic photography ever taken. Sometimes the results resonate, sometimes they offend, sometimes they amuse, and at least one falls so flat as to be utterly banal. He describes his project as:
“The contrast between the colorful vintage superheroes and the grey shaded real world.
The visual experiment ended up bringing different results to each piece – from giving a whole new meaning to the picture by modifying the original concept, to reinforcing the same idea by making clear just how the elements were influenced by the history depicted in the photos, or even saying a lot about the psychology behind fiction and reality.
While we see the contrast between the black and white photos and the colorful vintage comic books elements, it’s interesting to notice how the superheroes and supervillains world was actually “black and white” in a metaphoric way, while the strong war scenes are established in the real world, where the grey shaded line between good and evil isn’t always clear.”
Craig Collins tweeted to Billy, “normally find your work quite interesting and entertaining Billy, but this is frankly pretty distasteful.” His response was “lately I’ve started to get this feeling of been too appreciated, it was quite uncomfortable.” I liked that answer: It isn’t necessarily art (or the artist)’s place in the world to be in good taste. That said, it seems to me that Billy is taking some of humanity’s lowest moments, and using them just to comment upon the nature of superhero comics. See the full gallery, which includes images some readers may find offensive, on Billy Butcher’s blog.