Superhero supper

This morning I stumbled on an odd vein of art: superhero parodies of the Last Supper. Two examples:

(#1) by Michael Kozlov; note Thanksgiving turkey

(#2) by Luis M. Hernandez

The intersection of two genres, both of them substantial: art works in which superheroes are assembled in a group; and parodies of Leonardo’s Last Supper.

Superhero assemblages on this blog:

on 12/1/12, “ab-vengers”: pastiche of superheroes

on 1/4/16, “Urinating superheroes”: Hrjoe superhero compositions

And one Last Supper parody:

on 8/24/11, “Marisol”: Marisol’s Last Supper: translation, reinterpretation, burlesque?

Leonardo da Vinci background. From Wikipedia:

(#3) The Leonardo original: Jesus in the center, with two groups of three apostles on each side of him (an arrangement preserved in #1 and #2)

The Last Supper specifically portrays the reaction given by each apostle when Jesus said one of them would betray him. All twelve apostles have different reactions to the news, with various degrees of anger and shock. … From left to right, according to the apostles’ heads:

– Bartholomew, James, son of Alphaeus, and Andrew form a group of three; all are surprised.

– Judas Iscariot, Peter, and John form another group of three.

Judas is wearing green and blue and is in shadow, looking rather withdrawn and taken aback by the sudden revelation of his plan…

Peter looks angry and is holding a knife pointed away from Christ, perhaps foreshadowing his violent reaction in Gethsemane during Jesus’ arrest.

The youngest apostle, John, appears to swoon.

– Jesus

– Apostle Thomas, James the Greater, and Philip are the next group of three.

Thomas is clearly upset; the raised index finger foreshadows his incredulity of the Resurrection.

James the Greater looks stunned, with his arms in the air. Meanwhile, Philip appears to be requesting some explanation.

– Matthew, Jude Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot are the final group of three.

Both Jude Thaddeus and Matthew are turned toward Simon, perhaps to find out if he has any answer to their initial questions.

On the Kozlov, from the Harlequin Tea Set blog on 11/25/14:

I thought it was pretty interesting that Superman is put in the middle (I have read comparisons of Superman to Jesus so it makes sense), and it’s cute that Batman is in the role of Peter (the jealous disciple in this painting) – aka, Superman’s biggest rival. Also, Wonder Woman as [Mary] Magdalene is a pretty good choice – the only other alternatives I can see there is Cat Woman or a X-Men heroine…

I like how all the major superheroes are in this painting – although I’m not sure how fans would like the mixing of DC superheroes with Marvel – although there is a good message of tolerance in this Last Supper!

Then for the Hernandez, the artist’s own detailed comments:

As much as ten years ago I had envisioned the Last Supper involving superheroes. I came to see the apostles themselves and Jesus as superhero characters who influenced western thought and culture in the past, every bit as much as many people believe comic book characters influence the present, or at least embody the sensibilities of many of these historic and significant religious characters.

It always intrigued me which characters would play each disciple; and who would play Jesus? Where would the event take place?

It ended up being Superman, to be the obvious choice as the first and foremost superhero. As the first superhero to be published regularly in his own series, Superman possesses many Jesus-like qualities. Like Jesus, Superman displayed miraculous and powerful feats even beyond that which the other superheroes are capable of. Like Superman, Jesus was more than a man even as Superman is more than a superhero. How many times has Superman sacrificed himself for the world? Like Jesus, Superman has also died and resurrected. Like Jesus, Superman was sent by his father to help the world.

In my interpretation Superman is betrayed by a trusted hero, one of his own colleagues exploiting two of his most significant weaknesses; the first is physical (the Kryptonite, which can be fatal) and the second is emotional (Superman’s nobility, purity, and trusting nature).

As for disciples, I made Spider-Man play John because he was addressed as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as is quoted from scripture. It is also said that John was the “youngest disciple” and I suspect that as Peter Parker, Spider-Man may well be the youngest superhero at the table, probably as young, or even younger than Robin. John is also a key figure in scripture; according to the scholars John, under the influence of the Holy Spirit wrote the Book of Revelation. He alone is the witness to the end of days and final battles between the forces of good and evil; and of all the heroes, Spider-Man is the everyman, the one lucky and crafty enough to survive to tell the tale.

Being the physically largest characters, Hulk is Bartholomew and Hawkman is Simon the Zealot merely to balance out the painting and anchor the other figures into the composition. Thor is James son of Alphaeus and Iron Man is Andrew expressing bewilderment and shock at the betrayal of Superman.

Wolverine played a pivotal role in the modern age of comics by being one of the pioneering characters to blur the lines of morality by freely embracing extreme violence, and having no qualms about taking a villain’s life. Wolverine ushered in the new era of the “anti-hero’; when killing criminals is embraced and accepted as the norm; since then many similar, darker superheroes have been introduced into comics. Wolverine represents a stark contrast to the nobility and grace of Superman, who would strive to use humane methods to subdue evildoers rather than using extreme force to take their lives. Thus I felt it appropriate for the controversial Wolverine to portray another controversial character; the infamous Judas Iscariot, one of the most sordid, if not interesting and misunderstood characters in the scriptures. In a way, Judas contrasts Jesus (in servicing himself) as opposed to Jesus’ selfless sacrifice (for mankind) as sharply as Wolverine’s questionable morality contrasts Superman’s idealism. Another way to look at Judas would be as the man who had to step up and betray Jesus so that God’s will could be fulfilled; in a way Judas is as much a sacrificial lamb as Jesus. As both men fulfill biblical prophecy, in which Judas sets in motion the events that would lead to Jesus’s crucifixion as both men shared the same goal; to fulfill the redemption of mankind through Jesus’ fate. This could be parallel to Wolverine and Superman fulfilling their own common goal; to act as heroes, saving innocent lives however at odds their methods may be. Like Judas, Wolverine tips over the salt container with his elbow (symbolism for “spilling the salt”, which means “betraying one’s master”)… Obviously the bag of coins clutched in Wolverine’s fist symbolizes materialism, greed, monetary wealth, opportunism and the comic book industry’s effort to capitalize on whatever new sociological trend is popular (violent heroes, giant robots, big guns, hyper-sexualization, zombies, whatever is popular, etc). Perhaps symbolizing the degradation in storytelling and cheap commercial gimmicks that negatively affected comic book sales in the 90’s (multiple cover variations and other cheesy frills such as “gold” covers, “silver” covers, and other money-making schemes).

Just as Peter held a knife (pointed away from Jesus in Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece), foreshadowing his violent reaction to Jesus’ arrest in the garden later than evening, Captain America holds his shield. Peter would later become the leader of the Apostles, the Rock of the new church of believers, and Jesus’s most reverent supporter. In a way Captain America is very similar in beliefs and noble, wholesome ideals as Superman (truth, justice and the American Way, etc.). The Captain is a true believer in right and wrong, black and white, every bit as much as Peter was convinced that Jesus was “the way, the truth and the light”. If DC and Marvel were united as one common universe, there would be no doubt that Captain America would be Superman’s most stalwart supporter.

Thomas is played by the Green Lantern, who (as in Leonardo’s masterpiece) portrays a clearly upset Thomas’ incredulous, skeptical nature by holding his finger up indignantly at Superman (Jesus), only to show his famed ring glowing with defiant power.

Wonder Woman (as James the Greater) looks stunned, her arms in the air as the Flash (portraying Philip) appears to be denying any involvement in the current predicament.

Batman portrays Matthew the tax collector; as he and Robin (as Jude Thaddeus) turn towards a perhaps confused Hawkman (Simon the Zealot) to attempt an explanation. Despite outward appearances Batman and Matthew’s each share an analytical mind which serves Batman well in fighting crime and Matthew in collecting taxes. They is also a sense of mistrust against them; all the other heroes do not fully trust the dark, enigmatic Batman and question his methods of inducing fear and intimidation into the “superstitious, cowardly lot” just as the much as the apostles did not trust Matthew because of his profession as a tax collector, who were regarded with contempt and revulsion for using intimidation and fear; threatening legal penalties and harsh punishment (such as Roman flogging) on defiant citizens.

As one of the most famous paintings in the western world, the Last Supper has been parodied again and again, even to versions with poker-playing dogs standing in for the apostles. And many famous images have been re-worked with superheroes as the figures in them. Two that have tickled me: Kozlov’s version of the Abbey Road cover, and Dan Avenell’s interpretation of the 1932 photo Lunch atop a Skyscraper:

(#4) George, Paul, Ringo, John

(#5) Spider-Man, The Hulk, Batman, Superman

(#6) Lunch atop a Skyscraper (New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam)

is a famous photograph taken [on September 20, 1932] atop the steelwork of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, during the construction of the Rockefeller Center, in Manhattan [The authorship of the photo is disputed, and is currently listed as unknown by the owners.] (Wikipedia link)

(#7) Avenell, Breakfast of Champions

“Breakfast of Champions”, the Wheaties slogan penned by adman Knox Reeves in 1927.

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