This is part 2 of my Best 100 Comic Book Covers from the period 1980-present.
Astro City #1, 1996 series -cover by Alex Ross.
I am not as in love with Alex Ross’s work as I once was, (there’s good Alex Ross and bad Alkex Ross) but this cover stands the test of time. Here he uses his photorealistic style to good effect, depicting a sunlit, idealized world filled to the brim with heroes. The buildings in the background are lavished nearly the same attention as the characters, (is that the Rockefeller Building back there?) instead of being breezed over, as a lesser artist might do. Another great thing is the number of Alex and Brent Anderson’s great character designs that this cover shows off.
Batman: Legends of The Dark Knight #43 cover by P. Craig Russell.
Craig Russell’s operatic sense of drama is in full effect on this cover. A dark silhouette and five miles of drapery turn Poison Ivy from a Batman Villain to a Art Nouveau horror queen. The bats are grouped together so thickly they become a swirling, spiny, near-abstract cloud of menace. The eye-searing color-scheme offsets Russell’s design sense which is unusually decorative for comics. When I was in Jr. High, I remember a few times when my mind was fixated on Legends of the Dark Knight and the idea of different kind of Batman book. I didn’t buy any then, because they weren’t to be found in the small town I lived in. If I had seen covers like this, I would have longed for those comics even more. P. Craig Russel’s website is here.
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #54 cover by Mike Mignola
Here we have a cover by occasional P.Craig Russell collaborator and Hellboy Creator Mike Mignola. I love the way he balances the minimal aspects and oodles of details. The overall shapes of the design are super strong, and the colors are pervasive, but when you look closely, you see that some of the bones in the pile of skeletons belong to Batman himself, as his lower have transforms into bones. Batman’s eyes are merely tiny white dots, but thos dots define the position of his head. And when you see that the even-weight lines in the red sky are actually elegantly drawn tentacles, forget about it! Plus he draws an early-American style tombstone that Edward Gorey could appreciate.
Batman: The Long Halloween #6 by Tim Sale
The design work on this cover is stellar, but then again, I’m a sucker for geometric Art Deco letterforms. The stacked form and the contrast of the typefaces in the logo is great. Tim Sale is an artist that excels at perspectives and creating backgrounds that act as emotionally enveloping environments, but he has none of that here. Simply with shadow and color, he creates a lot of depth in the creeping clover that makes up the hair of Poison Ivy. The clover is a clever way to fit this issue’s subject of this thematically structured series (each of 13 issues was a holiday.) Also great is the way that Sale breaks the rule that a female villain has to be attractive by making Ivy ugly. The Batman necklace around Ivy’s neck is just like a cherry on the top.
Captain America #332 cover pencils by Mike Zeck, inks by Klaus Janson colors by Ken Feduniewicz
The broken posture of Cap packs an emotional punch on this cover. At the same time, this cover doesn’t overdo it. This image doesn’t go the route of the trite images of Superman weeping that seem to be trotted out for each summer’s hyped crossover ‘event.’ (Phil Jimenez’s teaser promo for Countdown, I’m looking at you.) This image holds back. If you look closely, you see that there isn’t any blood dripping from Captain America’s hands. But it feels like there is. The title is nicely integrated in the image, simply by being set on a diagonal. The cover also avoids clutter by having this issue’s sell copy combined with the title, and man, the picture of Honest Abe in the publisher box just kills me!
DMZ #4 cover by Brian Wood
This cover uses white like nobody’s business. Brian Wood inverts the relationship of positive and negative space with confidence. The white makes the treetops look like poisonous fungi, or conversely, makes the black invading the white space look like oil dispersing in pristine water. The humans at the bottom give everything a sense of scale and drama. I feel a little bad that the white background of this blog doesn’t hold the image together like it deserves.
Daredevil #230 cover by Dave Mazzuchelli
If you’ve read Daredevil: Born Again: you know what this moment is about. Mazzuchelli sets everything in a bird’s eye perspective that’s near isometric, and surrounds Ben Urich’s desk with just the right accoutrements to describe who he is and set the scene. It’s a compelling picture of fear, the sense of being powerless and small– an unusual thematic hook for a superhero cover.
Detective Comics #855 cover by J.H. Williams III
In the last couple of years, few comics have been praised more for their art than the Greg Rucka/J.H. Williams Batwoman stories, and deservedly so. Here, the blood-red of Batwoman’s costume makes a V and highlights the heightened emotional state betrayed by her pose. The bottom third of the image uses calm colors and old-world decorative details for a contrasting sensation. The face of Batwoman’s adversary reflected on the razor blade adds the last vital ingredient -story. J.H. William’s website is here
Doctor Strange #56 by Paul Smith
Doctor Strange has one of the most expressive (and some would say over-the-top) costumes in comics. Paul Smith makes it work with a worm’s eye view to give the good Doctor a sense of power and grandeur. On an abstract level, the cover is almost completely built out of curves, from the breeze blowing through space to the curve that leads through from Doc’s forearm to his pinkie.
Doom Patrol #48 by Simon Bisley
There are times when art is not about making beauty out of pretty-ness, but out of making a compelling picture of ugliness and horror. This is one of those times. Unlike other comic book artists that turned to paint (John Bolton, John J. Muth, Alex Ross) Simon Bisley isn’t that interested in using paint to create realism or smooth attractive surfaces, but rather to show a crazy place filled with steroidal figures. I’m not sure of everything that’s going on in this picture, but I like it. Here is a website that acts as a gallery of Simon Bisley’s work
Doom Patrol #49 by Tom Taggart
I’m not familiar with the work of Tom Taggart, but I can’t help but love this cover. The glow from the eyes of the robot-figure, the texture, the contrast between warm and cool colors– what’s not to like! The fact that the cover seems like it exists somewhere as a three-dimensional assemblage sculpture, with no obvious Photoshoppery is icing on the cake. Tom Taggarts’s site is here.
Daredevil #259 John Romita, Jr. inks by All Williamson
This scene, which shows a bruised and battered Daredevil about to be worked over by a gang of freaks, is staged so effectively that I can overlook its violations of perspective and the weird position of Daredevil’s left leg. The solidity and three-dimensionality of Romita Jr’s figures certainly doesn’t hurt. And mainly, I love how JR JR draws Kingpin as huge, just like Bill Sienkiewicz used to make him, while still fitting in a crowd of characters.
Eightball #15 by Dan Clowes
Here, Dan Clowes tones down the off-kilter retro design elements of some of his other Eightball covers, and comes up with something that’s honestly beautiful. The picture framed in the faux-TV set is like a family photo from someone else’s family that you find crumpled up on the sidewalk. This issue is from the odd and affecting ‘Caricature’ story.
Fables #31 by James Jean
I don’t think I’ve read the storyline that this cover comes from, so I’m not sure if the cherubs have anything to do with anything, but doggone it if James Jean doesn’t make them work. The whole image has a sense of warmth and light, and autumn that’s hard describe. I also have to give James Jean credit for combining some elements that are obviously drawn with some photographic blurring effects, and doing it in a way that’s not annoying. James Jean’s website is here.
Fables #49 by James Jean
On the other end of the spectrum, here is a Fables cover with minimal color, and a logo that sits just flat on top of the image. But the image still sings, from the wolf’s shadow-stained and cavernous mouth to the aggressive curves of his fur which bristle in white, black, gray and blue. I don’t care if this isn’t exactly the way that a wolf looks, this is how they should look. I may have a soft spot for this certain kind of wolf, as one of the few gig-posters I own has a similar one.
Fantastic Four #276 by John Byrne
Here John Byrne throws linework away so he can define the image by shapes alone, and in only one color. He also delineates a character’s power with only light and the reactions of others. No physical violence, speed-lines or Kirby Crackle auras are needed. He gets bonus points for applying the shadow effect to every detail, including the title lettering, the publisher box,the tagline, and the direct market box where Spidey’s head replaces the barcode for the direct market. It’s a neat trick cover, somewhat similar in effect to illustrator Cole Phillip’s fade away girls. (Here’s a link to some Cole Phillips art) http://www.americanartarchives.com/phillips,c.htm
Finder #21 cover by Carla Speed McNeil
I’m pretty sure this is a painted cover, but Carla Speed McNeil uses paint as just an extension to her drawing, in a similar way to some of Eddie Campbell’s and James Kolchalka’s paintings. I like how everything outside of the flame is washed out and desaturated, while inside the flame the covers are warm. Additionally, I really dig how the character holds her hands to the flame like she’s warming herself at a campfire. The fact that blue flames are shooting from a levitating book is not a shocking, supernatural event here, it’s a cozy metaphor. As a lover of books, the cover (and the story it comes from) sum up how I feel about them. Carla Speed McNeil’s website is here, where she is currently serializing Finder.
Flinch #5 by Tim Sale
In an otherwise black and white picture, Tim Sale uses the one bit of color to transform an altogether benign image into a macabre, grisly scenario. He shows a copious amount of blood, but just as interesting is what he doesn’t show; what body part is in the bag? The words painted on the pavement, such as we have all seen before, also become a chilling warning.
Fables #71 cover by James Jean
Here James Jean ups the sexiness quotient on a character, while having her wear a heavy winter coat, oddly enough. I’m not sure if the reddish tints around the face are an accurate reproduction, but the character of Cinderella is (figuratively) smoking, while her gun is literally smoking. The gun is also well fitted to the character, looking like a mother-of-pearl handled lady’s gun, without being so small as to be toy-like.
Fables #76 cover by James Jean
I love this picture. The colors used with this street-corner crowd are so good at expressing the fast-pace of the city that the picture throbs and pulsates with life. There’s nothing fantastical here, but it still has the magical feeling of a fairy-tale picture, which is SO appropriate for Fables. I was reading about this cover and was surprised to learn that it was inspired by the work of pixel illustrators eBoy, but a good artist gets his inspiration from as vast an area as possible.
Gangland #1 by Tim Bradstreet
Like a dark reflection of Norman Rockwell, Tim Bradstreet uses single-image storytelling to show the moment directly before a mob execution. Even without the violence, the scratched, textured, brown-hued surfaces of this bathroom would make it a filthy place, but here Bradstreet conflates the dirty business of the mob, the dirty business of murder, and the dirtiness of the bathroom.
Global Frequency #1 by Brain Wood
On the other end of the spectrum, this cover gives no specific story situation, but gives us Sun Francisco bathed in sun-drenched and smoky orange texture. This cover drips with mood and atmosphere with a hint of menace. It’s like the first moody and mysterious shots of a movie, before the title comes up on screen, and the story begins. Brian Wood’s website is here.
Here Brian Wood uses white-on-white to paint a mysterious wintery scene. I have never scene a more X-Files-looking image on a comic book rack.
Global Frequency #5 by Brain Wood
Green Arrow #1 by Matt Wagner
Here Matt Wagner boils the concept of Green Arrow down to its most basic elements– an extreme close up on a face in a mask, and the tip of an arrow. He executes it with panache, using dramatic lighting and what seem to be some airbrush effects. On top of that, a sharp object next an eyeball is always psychologically compelling.