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.
Y: The Last Man #60 (Final Issue)
Cover by Massimo Carnevale
Recently, I went through my third read-through of what is perhaps my favorite comic book series of all time, Y: The Last Man. Throughout 59 issues, we have seen Yorick Brown, his monkey Ampersand, Agent 355, and Doctor Allison Mann go through all the emotions in their adventures travelling across a post-apocalyptic world that is entirely ruled by women. As we were approaching the end, twists and turns occurred, including some major deaths, one which shakes the very core of our male hero. When you look at the cover of the finale, it is a haunting issue with a level of mystery, like who is the elderly man in the straitjacket, who is the little boy sitting next to him, and what’s the deal with the monkey doll? Answers were revealed and loose ends tied up in a double-sized issue that gave you an ending you did not expect.
Detective Comics #587
Cover by Norm Breyfogle
This one is a bit older, but it’s easily one of my all-time favorite covers. Breyfogle is one of the best to ever draw the Dark Knight, and when I think about the covers I was drawn to as a kid, his tend to be the ones that spring to mind. I’ll even go one further and say that this cover in particular has been burned into my brain for a good 25 years or so, ever since I first laid eyes on it. I love the silhouette, the clenched fists, and the rain-slicked street. I love the narrowed eyes and the almost wild look to the cape, which mirrors the jagged lightning cracking the sky behind Batman. There’s so much subtle iconography in one image. This is street-level, business-minded Batman at his most intimidating.
The Beauty #5
Cover by Jeremy Huan
Given the series’ entire premise — a disease makes people super crazy gorgeous before killing them — the visual aspect is such a huge narrative device. In turn, a lot of that begins with Jeremy Huan’s covers, and their presence throughout the run fostered the major aesthetic of this generally solid series. It’s an aesthetic that knows how to perfectly tow the line between the gorgeous and the frightening, the divine and the totally sickly. So much of the series is about the ugly side of beauty and the beauty within the ugly, and Huan’s covers drive that message/motif in a totally unflinching and earnest way. You’re shocked and delighted all at once — now that’s a beautiful thing.
Animal Man #2
Cover by Travel Foreman
Travel Foreman’s a genius. He managed to sneak a whole heaping helping of grade-A body horror into a DC title. Sure, comics nowadays are fairly open to the idea of portraying deeply disturbing stuff with mangled, monster-ized bodies, but none like this series. Foreman’s work reaches some David Cronenberg-esque levels of unsettling (case in point: this cover for issue #2), the sort of deeply visceral and wildly fantastical imagery that makes you question the sanctity and value of organic life. And an extra special shout-out to Lovern Kindzierski, whose colors bring home the wondrous discomfort of this straight freak fest. Here’s a semi-controversial opinion: even more than Grant Morrison’s run, it’s this thoughtful and demented take on ol’ Buddy Baker that lands the best. Not unlike a rotten case of sauerkraut.
Cover by Todd McFarlane
With a stellar color scheme and an uber moody cape (you’re sooo jelly, Dracula and every supervillain ever), Spawn always shines bright on his covers. (And by shines I mean broods deeply.) He’s a character that looks cool in just about every scenario, be it fighting a demon, shooting huge guns, or straight aping Batman covers. But it’s always the simple covers that have the most impact, an idea encapsulated by this piece from issue #2 back in July 1992. It could be the way the cape flows, draping perfectly on Spawn’s on grave. Or, the mix of emotions across Spawn’s face, a balance between focus and violence, serenity and anticipation. It may just be Steve Oliff’s slick colors, which crackle with layers of life and nuance. Either way, covers like this are why Spawn is the bomb.
Deadpool (Vol. 2) #19
Cover by Jason Pearson
I have this theory about the appropriate size of Batman’s “ears.” Too big and it’s comical; too stubby and I can’t take him serious. The same’s mostly the same for Spider-Man. He’s got to be the perfect balance between weird and lanky and uber dense muscular bad-ass. Jason Pearson, though, manages to show the “awkward” vibes of Spidey’s physicality and yet retain that ferocious strength that makes him a true favorite. Does it help that he’s river-dancing on Deadpool’s face? Sure. But like most things in life, that just makes everything better.
She Can Fly #4
Cover by Martin Morazzo
Having only recently picked up this series, there’s only one way to describe it: a gripping and engaging exploration of the cross-over between hero worship, mental illness, and self-actualization. The story proper is this delightful mix of unflinching insights into toxic anxiety (perhaps one of the best I’ve ever seen in comics) and the inherent hope in believing there’s something to live for. And so much of that power comes from the art of Martin Morazzo. Case in point: this cover to the first arc’s finale, which touches on a lot of the intersect between typical comic-style fantasy and a deeply gritty reality. The end result is both glamorous and slightly worrisome, the explosion of shimmery pop culture and our own big bad world where we’re left to sort through a lot of the emotional and narrative implications. It’s the kind of title for those who love both soaring high and the accompanying devastating crash.
Power Rangers #9
Cover by Jamal Campbell
Here’s a funny story: when I was maybe 10, a young girl thought my cousin and I were Power Rangers. (She must have been confused after spending a couple hours in the ball-pit/PlayPlace at McDonald’s.) The only problem with that scenario, though, is she clearly had me pegged as the OG Blue Ranger, Billy, which is a pitch-perfect reading of my very soul and character. Yet I’ve always dreamed of life as Tommy/the Green Ranger, that paragon of virtue and badassery. I’d argue an entire generation’s complex moral code is because of that terrific Green Ranger storyline. It’s that appreciation that makes me so very fond of Jamal Campbell’s cover: we’re all a little like the Green Ranger, and we’re better off when we just accept it. I’m sure there’s a deeper storyline reason for this portrayal (Power Rangers is on an ever-growing read list), but it’s enough simple to sing the praises of everyone’s favorite PG (quasi-)anti-hero.
Aliens: Dead Orbit #1
Cover by James Stokoe
This one of my all-time favorite horror comics and easily the best addition to the Alien franchise since Aliens was on the big screen. James Stokoe’s Dead Orbit is downright incredible and a must read for any Alien fan. If the cover art isn’t enough to convince you then, sorry, you’re hopeless. The artwork is the substance of the series and carries it on its back. It’s has a dark and gritty, almost manga-like feel to it, and the detail is astounding. I can’t imagine how long it took to painstakingly put this level of detail into his cover, let alone every page of all four issues — it’s just plain ridiculous. This cover is the perfect example of Stokoe’s prodigious level of talent that you get to experience by reading this series. Thank me later.