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. We can say again because we’re back on schedule. Why wouldn’t we be with such a fabulous selection of covers to choose from? It’s been an amazing month, thanks partly to several variant initiatives, not least of which is the Batman 75th anniversary covers. There’s even a JIm Steranko Detective Comics cover. That’s right: Steranko on Batman!
As a result of this bumper crop, this is the biggest edition of Cover Story to date. In some cases, we couldn’t even choose between the variant and the original covers so we’ve included both. That’s another first for Cover Story. Lazy, you say? Well, that’s some attitude you’ve got there! Plus, it’s more covers for you to drool over.
This is Cover Story.
All-New Ultimates #5 (Marvel) – Artist: David Nakayama
A simple, but incredibly effective idea, it stands out on the racks this months. In the words of artist Nakayama, “From a distance, the cover simply looks like his mask, but a close-up view reveals the Ultimates surrounded by a horde of well-armed gangbangers, with Crossbones at the fore (the skull’s nose).” The black and white makes it pop even more, and that little splash of red draws our eyes to his.
Samnee is no stranger to Angel & Faith, having drawn an issue in the previous season. This year, he has produced several variant covers for the season. Another simple design, with Nadira framing Angel, the use of heavy shadows contrasted with bright lime green and reds of the background makes the hero stand out.
Jae Lee would be highlighting all the women of Batman and Superman’s world, were it not for Batman creepily hanging out in the foreground. One of the standout features of a Lee cover is that all the figures are predominantly black silhouettes, with the flash of red in the Man of Steel’s cape making his absence all the more keen.
The only thing better than Phil Noto on Winter Soldier is Phil Noto on Black Widow. So why not have both for the price of one? The split cover might say something about the duality about both of these agents with a chequered past, and the split lives that they lead. It might also just be a particularly cool piece of art.
Bodies #1 (DC/Vertigo) – Artist: Fiona Stephenson
Stephenson’s is described on her website as “a modern retro Pin Up artist”, inspired by the glamour art of the 1940s and 1950s. With the cover of Bodies, the UK-based artist plays with the surface sheen of the beauty shot. Splattering it with blood stains subverts the perception, like a David Lynch film that has decay lurking just under the frame of the white picket fence. The interior art of the book has four different artists, one for each time period the book follows.
This month, news that Sam Wilson would be taking over the mantle of Captain America took over the mainstream press following its announcement on The Colbert Report. So the cover of this month’s issue of the title highlights the heroic history of Steve Rogers, from his scrawny beginnings, through his battles beside Bucky during the Second World War, assembling with the Avengers to the iconic figure he is today. Nobody but Alex Ross could bring an image like this to life, evening segueing the wartime planes to other American birds of prey at the top of the panel.
Maybe characters framed within other people or things is a theme of this month’s column? John Constantine has always walked a line between the darkness and the light, and Juan Ferreyra is giving a literal interpretation of that on this issue. Lit by his famous and ubiquitous cigarette, the elephant in the room is the wolf standing behind him. Is the threat actual, or a representation of an aspect of Constantine’s darker side? We’d probably have to read the book to find out.
Samnee continues to knock them out of the park, with an Original Sin tie-in cover. Samnee’s skill with the Daredevil covers is that he has been representing the wider themes of the book while creating something that stands alone as a unique and framable piece of art. As writer Mark Waid plumbs the depths of Matt Murdoch’s past, and the truth behind his parents, Samnee captures not only the nature of the relationship Murdoch has with his mother, but the Catholicism that has always pervaded the series. The deliberate use of whitespace at the top and bottom, partly a convention of the Original Sin covers, actually makes the central image stand out all the more. We especially like the way Samnee has incorporated the ‘S’ from ‘Sin’, allowing it to disappear into the inky black.
The Fables maestro brings his pen and ink to the cover of Dead Boy Detectives, and appropriate move with what seems like a modern spin on Red Riding Hood motifs. The innocent girl alone in the woods, once again with red being the only prominent colour (another theme this month, it seems). Instead of the Big Bad Wolf, the threat is something a little less earthly. The maelstrom of debris and other ephemera highlights the chaos stalking this girl, dare she look behind her.
Mark Brooks pays attention to the little details, which is what makes this cover something special. Apart from the obvious gag that Deadpool is the one who is being trusted with a blowtorch to do some repairs, the manga-influenced style is heavy on the techno-detailing, much like Geof Darrow or the tragically short career of Seth Fisher. The detail carries over to the creases on the belt pouches, or the wear and tear on the tank. Like those artists, he manages to make it “fun” rather than cold and sterile, which is always a danger in tech-heavy art.
We’ve got a Batman piece by Steranko, and you need us to go into why that is awesome? Actually, there’s a great story behind this one. For the 75th anniversary of Batman, Steranko wanted to “fix” the original layout of Bob Kane on Detective Comics #27. As he explained to 13th Dimension: “Had editor Vince Sullivan access to a time machine and assigned me the task of creating the cover of Detective 27, the result would be the image on DC’s recent Detective 33 — the first appearance of Batman. One of the reasons I created it is because that monumental moment is so deeply flawed. The problem is the original cover has more compositional and elemental screw-ups than The Man Who Laughs has teeth!” He goes on to call the original’s urban setting “laughably inept”, and how elements were lifted from Prince Valiant and The Shadow. The results on this new print are fabulous, with the recoloured landscape far more fitting for the Dark Knight’s exploits.
Francavilla brings his distinctive style, seen in The Black Beetle and Afterlife with Archie, to occult detective Doctor Spektor. The character originally appeared back in Gold Key Comics’ Mystery Comics Digest #5 (July 1972), so Francavilla’s retro 70s style is pitch perfect. As with many of his pieces, Francavilla mostly uses a reddish/orange hue with heavy doses of black, the only highlight being the actual lit gem on the left.
This nightmarish demon is typical of Pavelec’s style, creating creatures that only he really knows the names of. He has described his approach on the artist statement on his website as an attempt to be “iconic; modern day visions of godlike beings that existed in my imagination. I pushed myself to incorporate jagged structures and impossible atmospheres which these demons would call home, thus fleshing out the world that had been in the recesses of my mind since my youth.”
Legendary illustrator literature artist Michael Hague lets his freak flag fly in this cover. Hague uses a classic fantasy and storybook style of art for a new original work, bringing the same levels of detail and vivid splashes of colour that his other work has been celebrated for, but also some psychedelia.
This is where we got a little conflicted, and just couldn’t choose between the two covers. On the right, there’s Andrew Robinson’s main cover, which is iconic and hypnotic and using a much bright set of tones that the former Nightwing is used to. What’s interesting about this original clean solicitation version is that it differs from the final version, where they changed Dick’s hair. The other cover is a 75th anniversary of Batman variant, where inimitable Jock reminds us that Richard John Grayson will always live in the shadow of the Bat.
One of the strangest comics of the months gets one of the best covers. With Comic-Con International in San Diego taking place in late July, co-writer Amanda Conner provides one of the best examples of what she does artistically: joyful chaos. Capturing the strange, weird and wonderful world of a ‘Con and introducing the anarchistic Harley Quinn into the mix, Conner can’t help but provide a few nods to her previous work, including a cameo of a cosplayer as “her” Power Girl. While the interior art was provided by a variety of artists, it makes us want to see a full issue using just Conner’s spectacular art.
With Guardians of the Galaxy hitting cinemas in the next week, Marvel launched two more solo series for Rocket Raccoon (see below) and the legendary Star Lord. This primary cover by Steve McNiven was one of about six variants, but there is something so iconic about this particular print. Indeed, with Quill in his helmet and red coat, it’s a modern day Han Solo ready to shoot first.
Archie is dead. Well, at least one version of him is. Just as he commemorated the metaphorical “death” of Captain America this month, Alex Ross has put brush to paper to depict the kids of Riverdale. Part of this is actually terrifying. Jughead looks smugly on, as a maniacal Archie death-stares the reader. Meanwhile, Betty and Veronica exchanged forced smiles. Something is rotten in the state of Riverdale, and Ross may have just uncovered it in this darker side of Norman Rockwell.
Jenny Frison’s art for the Revival covers is next level stuff. Here Frison takes several objects known for their beauty and reverence and subverts them. At the centre is the very masculine image of the stag, with strong branch-like antlers, but it is delicately contrasted with the traditionally feminine symbol of whitish-pink roses. Yet Frison’s real artistry here is in the lighting, taking this “deer in headlines” and making it something more ethereal and creepy.
Did we mention that there’s a Guardians of the Galaxy film out this week? Those familiar with his Wizard of Oz chronicles, or infinite number of ‘baby’ variant covers for Marvel, will already know what to expect from Skottie Young’s cover. Yet liberated from simply re-crafting existing characters, he adds more layers and detail to his depiction of Rocket and Groot, all the while keeping with his distinctive style. While there were also a number of covers for this title out, undoubtedly the one to get most excited by is the wonderful David Petersen’s take on Rocket. The creator/writer and artist of Mouse Guard is no stranger to animals, and over at his blog he goes into detail about the creation process for this piece: “This being a cover, I spent a bit more care with the fur textures and tones. I also went a little nuts on the background mushrooms under the mantra “if ten are good then three-thousand are great!”.”
Holy. Hell. A phrase that might be the literal truth in J.H. Williams’ mesmerising cover. It’s difficult to put this one into a box, sitting somewhere between postmodernism and abstract expressionism (or vice versa) on the technical end of the scale, this is one of those ‘void staring back at you’ kind of situations. The fence between us and the maelstrom is a barrier: is it stopping us from falling in, or simply acting as a dividing line? The longer one stares at this piece, shapes emerge: there is a distinctive face, but there could be more.
Lee Bermejo’s grotesque realism has been applied to the Joker most famously, seen here in the background, but it is hard to describe his take on Harley Quinn as grotesque. This is certainly one of the grittier depictions we’ve seen of her outside of the Batman: Arkham video game series, and it will make many a fanboy somewhat conflicted about what she’s readying to do with that giant hammer. Bermejo’s painted vinyl boots look like they are about to pop off the page even more than any of the actual 3D covers due out later this year.
If you see a man wandering about with a house hat, there’s a good chance that it’s Chip Zdarksy (recently outed by his newspaper as Steve Murray). We’ve been to his tumblr: there’s a pretty damn good chance he’d do it too. There’s probably some metaphors and stuff too, but stuff it. It’s the Eisner Award-winning Sex Criminals. Just go read it.
Having not read the book yet, we pondered what the significance of a rhino sniffing an oddly-gardbed bearded man was. Then we saw it was by Ted McKeever and just thought “Oh, right.”
Look at this: you’ve scrolled almost all the way to the bottom, and you’ve discovered a wonderful piece of art from Tula Lotay. Warren Ellis has brought back an alternative take on Supreme, with Diana Dane being very much an analogue for Lois Lane. This striking and powerful image, accompanied by a kind of power animal, tells you everything you need to know about the character, but dares you to scratch beneath the surface. Just like a good investigative journalist.
Yuko Shimuzu continues to apply elements of traditional Japanese art (think Hokusai or Utagawa Kuniyoshi) with classic Western imagery, showcasing the ongoing quest for the maanim akin to the biblical quest for the Holy Grail. The knight of the cover literally rides out in a blaze of glory, arm outstretched on his dark steed (or is a “night mare”?) towards a particularly famous icon of Christianity.
The final deuce of covers was just as hard to choose between. There is the main cover by the always excellent Cliff Chiang, who is depicting a wounded Wonder Woman, face obscured and doubled-over in pain, yet still undeniably the Amazon princess. It almost gives the illusion of colour with the simplicity of black, white/off-white tones and (you guessed it) a splash of red. The Batman 75th cover by Josh Middleton is magnificent for a whole bunch of different reasons. There’s Wonder Woman shining a light of truth over all she surveys, while it perfectly blends in the Art Deco landscape of Batman’s shadows and fog underneath. We would love to see Josh Middleton do something similar with the whole DC trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.
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