Each month, hundreds of comics are released to stores for the hungry masses of fans around the world. To stand out on the shelves, you have to put the great art up front. You can judge a book by its cover.
Welcome back to our continuing monthly column. Last year was a huge year for comic book covers and artists, and we ultimately awarded Mike Del Mundo the Cover Story Cover Artist of the Year in the 2014 Panel Awards.
It’s a whole new crop of artists and in some cases titles this year. Variant covers have already taken a strong lead in 2015. DC Comics released their Flash variants in January, placing the character in classic situations from DC history. Meanwhile, Marvel launched their first Star Wars comic in almost thirty years with no less than 69 variant covers.
Don’t forget to vote for your favourite in the comments section below! This is COVER STORY.
Action Comics #38 (DC Comics) – Artist: Aaron Kuder
In an issue that involved the Horror of Smallville, Kuder manages to maintain this creepy horror vibe while emphasising the classic heroism of Superman. The red cape becomes the light in the darkness of the black and white background. The ‘KENT’ etched into the porch speaks not only to his heritage, but to the sense of foreboding that comes from what lurks within. After all, in the New 52, Jonathan and Martha Kent are dead…
All-New Ultimates #12 (Marvel) – Artist: David Nakayama
Found him! The most disturbing game of Where’s Wally? (or Where’s Waldo? depending on which side of the equator you’re on) comes to life thanks to concept and cover artist Nakayama, who is best known for his All-New Ultimates and Deadpool covers. It a potpourri of violent discovery.
Angel & Faith: Season 10 #10 (Dark Horse) – Artist: Scott Fischer
Scott Fischer is not a name we’ve seen around these parts too much yet, but we hope to see that change this year. He’s traditionally known for his role-playing game art, children’s books and novel covers, a skill that carries nicely into this fantasy-driven world of Buffy. This stunning cover mixes tribalism with the modern, although it’s interesting to note that the more contemporary “tools of man” are just mere sketches around Faith’s waist.
Ant-Man #1 (Marvel) – Artist: Mark Brooks
With all eyes on the character for his movie debut this year, Marvel’s relaunched series comes with an iconic cover. Brooks has been knocking it out of the park for the last few years with his innovative Deadpool covers, his cinematic Original Sins pieces, and plethora of other art. Unlike the trailer for the film, Brooks’ beautiful art shows the shape-shifting abilities of the hero. The addition of ants crawling in from off-panel is a wonderful touch, immersing the potential reader deeper in the narrative.
Capture Creatures #3 (Boom! Studios) – Artist: Maryanna Hoggatt
Hoggatt is another artist who brings extensive influences from outside the immediate comic book circle, not least of which is her Animal Battle illustration/sculpture series. Here she brings those sensibilities to Becky Dreistadt and Frank Gibson‘s Capture Creatures, an awesome mix of storybook whimsy, lush colours, and a decent amount of “awwww.” (See more of Maryanna’s work at her official website).
Colder: Bad Seed #4 (Dark Horse) – Artist: Juan Ferreyra
Ferreyra has appeared in this column several times for his cover work on Constantine (DC Comics) and this title, and had a terrific year in 2014 with his covers and interiors for Prometheus: Fire & Stone for Dark Horse. He continues a theme of optical illusions with this piece that not only plays with duality of good and evil and the ambiguity within that notion, but as he did with the aforementioned works, he frames his subject inside those darker elements.
Criminal Special Edition (Image Comics) – Artist: Sean Phillips
After the success of their movie magazine style variant cover for the first issue of The Fade Out, the same creators have replicated the gimmick to celebrate the arrival of their Criminal at Image Comics. This time the influence is more directly the Savage Sword of Conan (1974 – 1995), perhaps taking note of the work of Richard Hescox or one of his contemporaries to give it an authentic 1970s feel. The possible difference is that this “damsel” is armed and dangerous, and far from being in distress.
Day Men # 6 (Boom! Studios) – Artist: Brian Stelfreeze
Veteran Stelfreeze made his return to an ongoing series with Day Men, and this deceptively minimalist art shows why he is so highly regarded in the industry. Taking the backlit silhouette and making it his own, the scarring detail and the diffused shadows and thick cloud of stylised smoke congregate to form an iconic poster.
Deadpool’s Art of War #4 (Marvel) – Artist: Scott Koblish
Clearly taking a leaf out of Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai and his most famous of paintings The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Koblish has had fun with the whole series in this style, here outright mocking one of Japan’s most iconic images with Deadpool surfing the great wave. If this doesn’t make it into next year’s film, there’ll be stern words with Fox.
Deathlok #4 (Marvel) – Artist: Mike Perkins
A very cool throwback to retro spy covers from films and novels, from the white silhouettes to the huge blocks of colour space used for the dominoes. Indeed, on first look the pieces may not be immediately evident, but the curve if the figure that frames Deathlok becomes evident the longer one studies it. Another very cool example of optical illusions.
Fables #148 (Vertigo) – Artist: Nimit Malavia
The series may be winding down to its last few issues, but its doesn’t seem as though anything will stop Fables from being the reigning monarch of covers. Nimit Malavia has covered the last few issues, and this delicate piece from the Canadian artist highlights Rose Red in a way that pays tribute to the last 13 years of storytelling.
Fairest #33 (Vertigo) – Artist: Adam Hughes
The sexy wraparound cover with splashes of propaganda style imagery from Adam Hughes is undoubtedly a stunning piece. Then one starts to ponder the relationship between Goldilocks and Baby Bear a little deeper, and it all gets a little more than we can..bear.
Gotham By Midnight #3 (DC Comics) – Artist: Ben Templesmith
One of Australian artist Templesmith’s more complex and visually striking covers of late, it’s a textured mix of 19th-century mysticism, sepia-toned decay, and the kind of stuff that the artist must have pulled from only his darkest of nightmares. Gotham By Midnight is one of DC’s best and spookiest titles on the shelf right now, and this cover doesn’t pretend to hide the horrors that lurk beneath.
Grayson #6 (DC Comics) – Artist: Mikel Janin
Another throwback to the golden age of spy imagery, Mikel Janin’s swirling lines draw the eye to the focal point of the action, and impending punch that will forever be locked in time and space.
Grindhouse Drive-In #3 (Dark Horse) – Artist: Francesco Francavilla
This is the kind of exploitation imagery that Francavilla has repeatedly proven he is an expert hand at, and attaching him to a series called Grindhouse is one of the wisest moves in the comic book industry. Revel in the groovy.
Guardians of the Galaxy #23 (Marvel) – Artist: Christian Ward
This was a piece that was originally created for Multiversity’s Guardians Month, aimed at benefiting the health needs of Rocket Raccoon’s co-creator Bill Mantlo. Of course, the phenomenal work of Christian Ward was too good not to be used as a cover for this month’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
Harley Quinn #14 (DC Comics) – Artist: Bruce Timm
It might have been The Flash that was the subject of this month’s variant cover theme at DC, but Harley Quinn co-creator Bruce Timm makes sure his puddin’ is the star of her own cover. A wonderful throwback to Batman: The Animated Series, where the character was first introduced, and the little note that reads “Murder Muffins” is what really sells it.
Lady Killer #1 (Dark Horse) – Artist: Joëlle Jones
Like Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT covers, or any David Lynch film for that matter, the juxtaposition of perfect suburbia with bloody murder is a striking image. One of the best debuts of the month also has one of the most memorable covers, a twisted version of a 1950s homewares advertisement. Plus those drapes are to die for.
The Names #5 (Vertigo) – Artist: Celia Calle
We’ve all been there: trying to do something complex with wires and circuit boards while taking a heel to the face. Like her previous cover pieces, it’s a sublime mix of sex and tech.
Operation S.I.N. #1 (Marvel) – Artist: Michael Komarck
We’ve seen Michael Komarck put both Iron Man and the Hulk in messianic poses over the years, so it’s only fair that Peggy Carter gets the limelight here. Stylistically inspired by the likes of the late Russian artist and proponent of Productivism Alexander Rodchenko, it’s angles and colour schemes capture the Cold War era poster art perfectly.
Revival #27 (Image Comics) – Artist: Jenny Frison
Frison’s covers for Revival really deserve a permanent place in this column, and while some comic book characters might be content with beautiful fishnets, here Frison nets some beautiful fish.
Sabrina #5 (Archie Comics) – Artist: Robert Hack
This cover immediately wins points for referencing the 1922 Swedish silent film Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, still one of the spookiest horror films in history. The original poster showed a woman being led into the ways of the Devil through temptation. Here Robert Hack flips the script a little bit with a female demon in the tree. Another example of how Archie Comics is taking things to the next level right now.
Secret Avengers #12 (Marvel) – Artist: Tradd Moore and Matthew Wilson
This highly stylised art may challenge conventional notion of anatomical proportion, but that’s just one of the brilliant things about this cover. It just one giant cloud of awesome, and while Matthew Wilson’s colours make this pop, it’s also cool to have a look at Moore’s original pen and inks to get an idea of the fine level of detail that has gone into this cover.
Secret Origins #9 (DC Comics) – Artist: Bryan Hitch
Last year saw writer/artist Hitch debut his creator-owned series Real Heroes, and his cover work this year has kept him literally front and centre in the DC universe. An iconic Swamp Thing, you can practically hear the buzzing of the insects and the murk of the swamp in a piece that is teeming with life.
Secret Six #2 (DC Comics) – Artist: Dale Eaglesham
One of the most dynamic covers of the month, the lines pointing towards (or are they shooting away?) seem to be moving if you stare at the page (or screen) long enough. They are far more detailed than you might initially notice, with the phrase “WHAT IS THE SECRET?” spelled out along the ornate handles at the bottom.
Star Wars #1 (Marvel) – Artist: John Tyler Christopher
As mentioned, there were no less than 69 variant covers for the return of Star Wars to Marvel, and John Cassady’s original cover and interior art is phenomenal. There were some massive names on those variants too, a number of whom regularly appear in this column: Alex Ross, Joe Quesada, Mark Brooks, Amanda Conner, Alex Maleev, Frank Cho, David Petersen, Jenny Frison, Alan Davis, Mike De Mundo, and of course, Skottie Young to name but a few. Yet for our money, John Tyler Christopher’s Action Figure Variant (one of three covers he contributed to the series) is pure genius, perfectly aping the Kenner Toys packaging.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 (Marvel) – Artist: Arthur Adams
The main cover for the most unlikely hero of the year, by the awesome Erica Henderson, is a delightful reflection of the zany antics inside. Yet it was very hard to look past the unbeatable combination of the legendary Arthur Adams, a pile of beaten-up villains, and the amazing Squirrel Girl.
Zombies Vs Robots #1 (IDW) – Artist: Ashley Wood
Because it’s January, and we just did our Australia Day(ish) podcast special, it’s only fair that another Australian-born artist should make the list. Regardless of the calendar month, Ashley Wood is one of the best artists working today, as his cover for the first ongoing Zombies Vs Robots series (a concept he co-created) is slice of amazing. His technique combines traditional painting with digital photography, although this one feels like you could run your fingers across the canvass.