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.
Cover by Russell Dauterman
There’s so much going on in this cover from Russell Dauterman, who is the main artist during this run on Jason Aaron’s Thor. For starters, the sheer amount of characters drawn to fit in the silhouette of the new Thor, all of which eventually play a part in the climax of this initial arc. The inventive use of Mjolnir in the very title, along with scribbling the words “who”, “is,” and the question mark adds some subtle humor to the ongoing mystery of Thor’s identity. What makes this cover an extra bit of class is Loki appears among the cast of characters, sort of as if he’s doing Where’s Waldo?
Cover by Dave McKean
The Dreaming is returning this week for its finale at DC Comics, so I had to go back to one of the masters of comic cover artistry with Dave McKean. Each one of his covers in the Sandman series –written by Neil Gaiman — mixed media in such a way to make a surreal experience. He also ingenious used cubby boxes to frame many of the covers, which you can see in use in this issue.
This cover, in particular, is striking as it captures the horror that is Hell as depicted in this series. Originally published in 1989, the artistry here is so profound I doubt anyone could guess its year of origin since the work is so unique. Note the burned up pages on the left and right, the demonic figure at the center, and the use of red throughout. It’s not only frightening but holds a certain Biblical feel due to the scripture overlaying everything. This is just one of many masterworks by McKean.
Cover by Michael Golden
Did I do a Spawn cover last week? You know it! Do I think it’s unfair to do another one this week? Maybe… Is my recent keen interest in the series perhaps indicative of my emotional state in these deeply trying times? I’ll never tell. But I saw this cover by Michael Golden, and I just couldn’t not feature it. While Todd McFarlane’s best associated with some of the most iconic and defining covers, Golden’s work achieves new levels of horror and filth. The normally composed Spawn is puking cockroaches and ectoplasm, which adds a new sheen of dire intensity and animalistic rage to the undead badass. It’s also the way the roaches feel alive, the inhuman angles of Spawn’s face, and the madcap energy of the colors — it feels like the most vivid fever dream ever. And if a little grossness makes the days seem less scary, who can blame my adoration?
Cover by Ryan Stegman
So much of what makes the ongoing Venom series great is its writer, Donny Cates. His love and adoration of the character fostered a more human, and deeply nuanced portrayal, than ol’ Eddie Brock has received before. And so much of that whole dynamic is only capable because of Ryan Stegman’s art. Take issue #5, for instance, which perfectly captures not only something wildly nerd and thus uber dope (demon dragon Venom!), but some of that heart, humor, and humanity that makes this first volume feel like a really important re-introduction of Venom and what kind of person/hero he truly might be. Venom is so many things, and this cover hints at why he’s become this great study in heroism, emotionality, and how to tackle life’s ceaseless peculiarities.
Invisible Kingdom #3
Cover by Christian Ward
The hardest part about writing a modern sci-fi series, I’d reckon, is trying to be different and blaze a new path while honoring the many rich canons that came before. In that sense, Invisible Kingdom is a really exceptional offering, and G. Willow Wilson’s story feels warm and familiar while still breaking down perceptions as it creates this rich new universe. And if that weren’t enough of an incentive, Christian Ward provides some truly amazing art. For a creator whose every line and splash of color hums with cosmic energy and endless humanity, Ward really hits his stride here. I could’ve chosen any cover (or even any panel), but the cover art for #3 just feels like a perfect encapsulation of what makes this series so engaging. Which is to say, a thrilling ride through another solar system that’s brimming with heart and emotionality.
The White Trees #2
Cover by Kris Anka
There’s a whole heaping helping of things to like about White Trees. It’s written by the rascal Chip Zdarsky, who does some of his best work on creator-owned titles. It’s also a perfectly thoughtful and inventive spin on the fantasy genre. And, perhaps more than anything else, it’s a great book emphasizing inclusion and LGBTQ issues. But we can’t ever forget about Kris Anka’s art. His work rides that line between the quaint and fantastical and the more gritty and brooding. And within that space some actual magic happens, and Anka manages to tell so much of the story through the design and overall feel of this fantasy land. Also, almost everyone is straight ripped in this series, and it’s truly amazing.
Deadman #1 (1985)
Cover by Neal Adams
I have a deep and abiding love for Deadman. Even after he’s gotten hype in recent years with the whole Blackest Night/Brightest Day saga, he still feels like the lovable outcast just trying to make his way in the universe. And for my money, no one’s captured that dynamic better than Neal Adams. While Deadman’s appearances in Strange Adventures are perhaps more iconic, it’s Adams that manages to blend the morose and the heroic that defines so much of Boston Brand’s cosmic journey. This cover to his series debut, for instance, is an image that’s always stuck with me, and you can’t help but feel the vast psychic pain Deadman’s experiencing. It’s beautiful and terrifying, and it’s one of the reasons the character speaks to me in so many wonderful different ways.
Hellboy: House of The Living Dead GN
Cover by Richard Corben
Perhaps no other series has created such consistently great covers as Hellboy. And more than just the actual quality of the art by Mike Mignola and his many collaborators, it’s remained great through the endless Hellboy titles. Yet few pairings have been as great together as Mignola and Richard Corben, who’ve won Eisners for their mastery of horror comics. Among those, the cover to the House of The Living Dead GN is an especially great edition to the canon. There’s something about the extra ghoulish appearance of Hellboy, plus the vacant stares of the undead/demonic creatures behind him, that is especially spine-tingling. The best scares don’t need loud colors or ample blood; just something that pokes the brain and fosters the right tension.
Black Canary #12
Cover by Annie Wu
At first glance, Dinah appears beaten and worn down, but there’s actually something oddly comforting about this cover. Yes, Dinah looks tired, but she has her face turned toward the light. Her eyes are closed and she has the smallest hint of a serene smile on her lips. I love that Dinah is still clutching to her microphone and mic stand, even in the wreckage of the stage. This was the last issue of this book (which ended far too soon). This cover elegantly told readers that not only would Black Canary go out fighting, but that everything would be alright in the end.