Welcome to yet another installment of Judging by the Cover (Nostalgia Edition) . Here, we celebrate comics past as the industry (and the world at-large) plans ahead for a (very different) post-COVID world. Consider this an essential little crossroads for past, present, and future.
The Lone Ranger (Vol. 2) #21
Cover by Francesco Francavilla
Dynamite’s Lone Ranger series has been a great update to the iconic character. Through a few different creative teams, they’ve managed to add a new layer of grit and slight edginess to the more “wholesome” canon of America’s most beloved cowboy (that isn’t the Marlboro Man). Case in point: this cover from volume 2 in January 2014. There’s something deeply American and uber macho about this piece from Francesco Francavilla, even as the Ranger looks almost inhuman and otherworldly. That blend of ideas and aesthetics makes for something both deeply familiar and unsettling, and that’s the perfect little wheelhouse of this series.
Uncanny X-Men #304
Cover by John Romita, Jr.
I may have mentioned this a few times, but this is the first comic cover I ever remember seeing. My brother bought it, and he forbade me from even touching its holographic cover. So when I finally got that gem in my tiny little hands, it felt like a huge moment. My first genuine act of rebellion came in the pursuit of nerdiness and great art, which probably means less than the importance I’ve attached. Regardless of that, or even the power nostalgia at play here, John Romita, Jr.’s cover is really great, a snapshot of the intensity and deep muscular lines that defined ’90s comics. Even if I haven’t always followed X titles over the years, this issue and cover remains a pillar of my comic-loving identity.
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #17
Cover by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
The one book I’ve collected consistently over the years is Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight. For those unaware, it was a great monthly series with rotating creative teams born in 1989 in the wake of Tim Burton’s Batman film. Across the 200-plus issues, there’s a boatload of truly great covers, but for some reason, #17 (released in March 1991) always stands out for me. In a story about Batman getting addicted to Bane’s Venom super-steroid, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez expertly captures the desperation and perversion of the whole narrative. It’s one of the first times I recall looking at Bats and feel a mix of terror and disappointment. That’s what this series did best: make us reconsider our assumptions of the Bats family in the best ways possible.
Moon Knight #1 (1980)
Cover by Bill Sienkiewicz
I’ve spent the last few months really diving deep into Moon Knight. He hasn’t had a ton of solo series, but what’s actually available is great (Warren Ellis’ 6-issue run is near perfect, and both Jeff Lemire and Max Bemis had really awesome takes on the moon-based crusader). But it all started in 1980, with the powerhouse duo of writer Doug Moench and artist Bill Sienkiewicz. What makes this cover so great is that it sort of gives everything away right off the bat, with Marc Spector’s multiple personalities and scary badass vibes displayed brilliantly. But then that’s why I’ve become obsessed with MK: even if you see him coming, you’ll never really guess what he has in store.
52 Week #15
Cover by JG Jones
If you’re like me (and if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you are), you followed 52 in real-time. Say what you will about the series (and there’s plenty of upsides and legitimate criticisms alike), it was one of the first times in modern comics that felt like a true and proper event. Every new weekly cover was a delight, but there’s something really special about week #15. Namely, the whole death of Booster Gold angle, the mostly great Supernova plot, and how this most feels like a snapshot from TV, complete with hyperbolic chyron. If the goal of the series was to push buttons and pull heartstrings, this cover does just that with true expertise.
Cover by Emilio Lopez and Khary Randolph
To be fully and utterly honest, I picked up Excellence as it was a free first issue on ComiXology. But it’s a generally great series, a thoughtful and thought-provoking story of black magicians addressing fate, father-son relationships, and identity. The combined efforts of artist/co-creator Khary Randolph and colorist Emilio Lopez are a huge part of the title’s appeal, and I’d shine extra attention to issue #3’s cover. It’s the balance of the fantastical and the gritty, plus the sense of chaos balanced with a clear sense of thought and order. Oh, and you can’t help but love the colors (so vivid, I can nearly taste them). It’s that story magic and visual sorcery that makes this (and I’m so sorry) an excellent pick.
Cover by Matias Bergara
It was announced recently that BOOM! Studios had inked a deal with Netflix to adopt several comics to the small screen. While there’s so many options from the studio, one that’s certainly worth ample consideration is Coda. Not only is Si Spurrier’s story of a magical apocalypse the sort of weird and wonderful that Netflix needs more of, but Matias Bergara’s visuals would make for the best kind of aesthetic (be it animated or live action). Case in point: the cover for issue #9, which feels like the very best fever dream ever, a rush of colors and emotions and ideas and influences that soothes and confronts at the same time. It’s the sort of visuals that make this story feel like something truly magical exists in the actual universe.
The Flash #75
Cover by Hi-Fi and Howard Porter
I’m not privy to any official company documents, but I bet there’s a memo in DC somewhere saying “85% of Flash covers must feature running and lightning.” And, look, from a creative direction, it’s the choice that’s most on-brand, even if it does become a little derivative. So it’s the little shifts to this popular scene that always stand out, as is the case by this cover from Hi-Fi and Howard Porter. It could be that we’ve caught the Scarlet Speedster mid-costume change, leaping into action while adjusting his mask. Or, it might also be the immediate sense of danger from his ornery rogue’s gallery. It might just even be that glimmer of rage from an otherwise perpetually boyish Flash. Either way, this is a cover that actually seems to crackle with energy, intent, and emotion.
Doctor Strange #8
Cover by Kevin Nowlan
Admittedly, I haven’t read much of Mark Waid’s work with Doctor Strange (though it seems like a perfect character for his unique yarns). But a lot of the visual work accompanying Waid’s stories are really great, and that includes Kevin Nowlan’s cool cover(s). There’s something very pulp-like about the cover for #8, from the sweet angles and overall glamour to the extra cool belts (great belts are central to pulp comics). It’s also in the slightly bizarre quality to the faces of the two doctors, a placement in the uncanny valley that’s somehow still whimsical. But you can’t ignore the importance of placing Strange in deeply human situations (like straight fighting a dude) that does wonders in playing with the character’s motifs and larger narrative.
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