The peculiar truth about comic book covers
is that they're on comics, but they're not comics. Covers are generally single images, not sequential, which makes them a separate art form, one that owes as much to poster ads and book design as it does to the comic panel or page. If comics are an under-appreciated art form, comic covers are even more neglected. They have developed their own language, conventions, conceits and cliches, yet for all their importance to the medium -- they are the billboards of the industry -- they never get as much attention as they deserve.
Starting this month I'm going to cast an appraising eye over the new and reprinted covers hitting the shelves. I'll be writing as an enthusiastic aesthete with no professional qualifications beyond a D in high school art, but I want to add to the conversation and to celebrate the best that the medium has to offer.
With that in mind, here are the Best Covers Ever (This Month).
Legion of Monsters #4 (Marvel); cover by Juan Doe
"Too busy" is a common problem for comic covers given the small amount of real estate they have to make their pitch in. This cover skates close to that line without passing over it, and it's elevated by energetic character designs. I especially like how Juan Doe manages to evoke Stuart Immonen's version of Elsa Bloodstone without aping his style.
Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive #528 (Marvel); cover by Francesco Francavilla
Francesco Francavilla is one of my favorite cover artists, and I admire his passion for pulpy vintage design. Even when I don't immediately recognize a piece as Francavilla's, something always catches my eye - usually his use of shadow or, as here, his simple bold palettes.
Operation Broken Wings 1936 #3 (Boom); cover by Trevor Hairsine
You will believe a Volkswagen can fly! This cover actually is a sequential page, and I like the idea of experimenting with the cover as a place to preview the narrative beyond the usual hero shots and action snapshots. This feels like the comics equivalent of the Battlestar Galactica opening credits.
Dark Matter #1 (Dark Horse); cover by Garry Brown
This cover immediately evokes '70s sci-fi, maybe because the guy in the back looks like he's wearing a black turtle neck. What I like about it is how it takes three distinct elements -- the ship, the man and the team -- and elegantly brings them together with clever use of color, texture, and negative space.
Conan: Road of Kings #12 (Dark Horse); cover by Dan Jackson
Conan covers have historically been a bit one-note. Take one musclebound bloke, give him an axe or a sword, and color everything brown. Or, if it was old Marvel Conan, color the background blue. Recently I've noticed more diversity and originality on Conan covers, though of course they will always keep the musclebound bloke. This one seems to take a more Conan: Black and White approach.
Supergirl #5 (DC); cover by Mahmud A Asrar
A strong wind seems to be blowing these capes in two different directions, but I'm prepared to overlook it, because this is a lovely dynamic image with a great sense of moment and movement.
Fangbone #3 (Penguin); cover by Michael Rex
I've never heard of Fangbone, but I think I could confidently guess the premise, which is one mark of a successful cover. This charming image not only tells you what the series is about, but it gives a solid sense of what to expect from this story. Schoolboy Conan and the monstrous bird!
Cobra #9 (IDW), by Antonio Fuso
As we all know, Snake Eyes is awesome. He's not the sort of ninja to do an embarrassing chicken dance. Take note, Psylocke. This is a great hero shot and -- crucially -- it still looks good turned upside down. (Or right way up?)
Wolverine & The X-Men #4 (Marvel); cover by Nick Bradshaw
It's a real challenge to pack a cover with characters and still keep it readable. I think this one by Nick Bradshaw
does a nice job of letting the eye explore while leading the reader to a punchline.
Green Wake #9 (Image); cover by Riley Rossmo
The clever mixed media effect of this cover creates two layers of reality. On a literal level we read it as a three-dimensional man against a two-dimensional background, but it also shows both the character's physical condition and his mental state. Visceral and intriguing.
Batgirl #5 (DC); cover by Adam Hughes
Adam Hughes is rightly known for his sexy cheesecake covers, but this is not the sort of image that should bring the word "sexy" to the forefront of the reader's mind. Thankfully there are many more strings to Hughes' bow, and he's damn good at everything he does.
Dark Shadows #4 (Dynamite); cover by Francesco Francavilla
Another Francavilla cover, but utterly different from the Black Panther piece. I suspect this is meant to evoke both old school horror paperbacks and the Gold Key Dark Shadows comics of the '70s, but Francavilla has toned down the camp and amped up the atmosphere.
Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1 (Dark Horse); cover by Dave Johnson
In a feature called "Best Covers Ever" you will doubtless see the name Dave Johnson quite often. The man takes the business of covers very seriously
. Here he has combined pulp noir with the art deco shading of Tamara de Lempicka and a touch of Mark Chiarello's excellent Terminal City
covers to excellent effect.
American Vampire #23 (DC Vertigo); cover by Rafael Albuquerque
A deliciously subversive take on 1950s American advertising. The framing puts the focus on wit rather than salaciousness.
Diablo #2 (DC); cover by Joseph Lacroix
Women with implausibly supple spines are a popular feature on comic covers, but this one is a little different; more operatic than osteopathic. It's the dramatic color contrast that makes it effective.
Thunderbolts #169 (Marvel); cover by Joe Quinones
It's rare to see a cover with flat colors, but it's a welcome change of pace. Given the medieval setting, I assume this is intended to evoke a stained glass window. The blacks aren't thick enough for that, but it's striking none the less.
The Lone Ranger #1 (Dynamite), by Francesco Francavilla
Wonder Woman #4 (DC); cover by Cliff Chiang
The third Francavilla cover on the list, and this one isn't a pastiche, but a sincere and evocative portrait of an iconic character. The Lone Ranger isn't exactly relevant to modern audiences, but this cover almost fooled me into thinking that he is.
I love that Chiang's Wonder Woman feels like a direct modernization of HG Peter's version of the character. As for that monstrous take on Poseidon, with its nearly unfortunate tentacle, it reminds me of the freakish creations that used to escape the head of the greatly missed Seth Fisher, and that's high praise.
Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic: War #1 (Dark Horse); cover by Benjamin Carre
You can almost feel the heat from this cover, but it's the contrasting eerie green glow of the lightsaber that makes it effective. What a great lighting option! I might get a lightsaber for the foyer.
The Jungle Book (Campfire); cover by Amit Tayal
If someone mentions Mowgli and Baloo to you, it's a safe bet that the Disney versions of the characters would quickly come to mind, so it's a bold artist that takes on any visual embedded in the culture by the House of Mouse, especially in an animation style. Judging by this cover, Amit Tayal has tackled that challenge with cheerful aplomb.
Creepy #7 (Dark Horse); cover by Sanjulián
Old school zombies and a booby reaper lady! What's not to love? Sanjulián is an old school horror and fantasy painter, best known for his work on Warren comics, including the original Creepy
. He knows his stuff. But this cover already told you that.
Wolverine #300 (Marvel), by Geof Darrow
Key of Z #4 (Boom Studios), by Nathan Fox
Darrow's vibrant "Where's Wolverine?" vision of downtown Tokyo is huge fun. Wolvie is a little lost in the composition, but I think Darrow has subversively made this cover about his crazed, colorful caricature of the city, not about the angry little mutant.
The subway pop-punk aesthetic of Fox's covers really sets this series apart from certain other zombie apocalypse comics, and there's something strikingly ugly-beautiful about the vibrant color choices.
Batwoman #5 (DC), cover by J.H. Williams III
JH Williams III is another name that's likely to crop up a lot around these parts because he makes so many interesting choices that other artists are unlikely to touch. This cover, for example, combines dramatic immediacy with narrative complexity. The image is strong and simple, but there's a lot to unpack in the significance of those layered faces.
Kramer's Ergot #8 (PictureBox), by Roger Beatty
This design steps away from anything you might expect an indie anthology to look like, as if to remind readers that there is no single aesthetic for what an indie anthology should look like. It reminds me of the sort of '70s science albums I used to find in crates at the back of garage sales when I was a kid, and it conjures up the same sensations of wonder, nostalgia and discovery.
Suicide Squad #5 (DC); cover by Dan Panosian
BPRD Hell on Earth: Russia #5 (Dark Horse); cover by Dave Johnson
The Hellboy universe makes great use of medieval, mystical and political iconography, but here Johnson forgoes Mignola's preferred blend of statues, bats and Swastikas for a glorious Communist propaganda/Lovecraftian sci-fi mash-up.
Harley Quinn pops on this cover thanks to a restrained palette and simple composition. This may not be the Harley Quinn that fans recognize and adore, but Panosian has infused the character with nihilistic charm.
The Stand: Night Has Come #6 (Marvel); cover by Tomm Coker
This is my favorite cover of the month. A strong, sinister and brilliantly realized horror image with cleverly counter-intuitive colors. Unfortunately this is only the version in the solicitations; the comic that hit the shelves
was darkened and framed with a blurry black border that diluted the effect.