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.
Spider-Man: Life Story #3
Variant Cover by Aco
I may be repeating myself with yet another cover from Spider-Man: Life Story, but this one was too tempting. When it comes to variant covers, for the most part they tend to be random illustrations that have no relation to the story happening in the issue. What’s fun about this variant cover is how it leans heavily into the ’80s aesthetic, with the title done in pink neon, the use of both the helicopter and the car, and the glamorous Mary Jane bringing an element of cheesiness that is all-tooo appropriate for the decade. Although you do get a couple of nods to the story told in this issue, the cover is more of a fun contrast to the dark narrative that focuses on the Black Suit Spider-Man.
Black Stars Above #3
Cover by Jenna Cha
Throughout Jenna Cha’s debut in this series, she consistently kept her art as enthralling and enrapturing as any painting. The cover for this issue was my favorite from the series, and is deeply reminiscent of Junji Ito’s own spellbinding work.
No One’s Rose #1
Cover by Alberto Alburquerque
Alberto Alburquerque’s visual imagery for this cover is marvelous. It appears reminiscent of Eastern deities and design, which clearly acclimates itself with the unique premise of this series.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #103
Cover by Sophie Campbell
This is probably the most absurd cover image I’ve had the pleasure to see in a comic book series. Sophie Campbell’s visuals of the turtles fighting some mutant weasels are just plain awesome.
Avengers (Vol. 3) #3
Cover by George Pérez
I remember buying this comic at my local comic shop back in the day, and wow, was I lucky to have gotten this volume of Avengers on my pull list. Heroes Return led to the Avengers and Fantastic Four returning to the main Marvel Universe, and a new volume was created with writer Kurt Busiek and George Perez as the returning series penciler. Their first arc had all the Avengers at the time facing off against Morgan le Fay and Mordred in a warped reality cast in a medieval background. Issue two ended with a last-page shocker that Wonder Man had finally returned, so when I saw the cover to issue three, this was quite a sight to behold. Wonder Man in his new (at the time) Ionic Form in beautiful George Perez art (with Tom Smith on colors) is just astonishing. Whenever I think of Wonder Man, this is the image that comes to my mind, and George’s art is hugely iconic when it comes to these specific characters.
Cover by Alan Davis
Here is another great team book that I was lucky to have been reading as the issues came out, JSA (the modern adventures of the Justice Society of America). This issue has a great spotlight cover of Doctor Mid-Nite as done by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, and John Kalisz. This issue was part two of “Darkness Falls,” and I was just learning about the modern day JSA when this new hero arrived to help save the day. This arc made Doctor Mid-Nite appear to be a cool, confident hero, and it definitely shows why he rose up in the ranks of the JSA and the DC Universe. I enjoyed the dynamic pose on the cover, which made this character that much more intriguing to learn about thanks to the heavy noir vibe/influence.
Action Comics #1000
Cover by Jim Lee
I’m so much a Batman fanboy that I instantly despise most Superman covers. My endless Bat loyalty makes my stomach churn at every dove-featuring, patriotism-packed piece of art. It doesn’t hurt that ol’ Supes lends himself to some pretty cheesy covers (and there’s been heaps over the years). But I genuinely enjoy Jim Lee’s offering for the groundbreaking Action Comics #1000. Is it overly cheesy and slams you in the face with its bounty of hope and optimism? Oh sure. But it’s also the more human, somewhat approachable quality to Lee’s Superman, which makes his heroism feel more grounded and nuanced. Belief is something that all Superman covers should ooze in spades, but I’m just glad this one’s a bit more thoughtful in its depiction. Not at all like this one.
Pretty Deadly: The Rat #2
Cover by Emma Ríos
Anyone who read my monthly reviews will know just how much I adored Pretty Deadly: The Rat. This latest chapter of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’ western horror epic pulls no punches, exploring ideas of fame, artistic intention, family, and friendship with grace and power. While it’s DeConnick’s story that directly spin-kicks the reader in the ol’ ticker, Rios’ art sets the mood and tone. Case in point: this cover to issue #2. Does it totally nail the overall story? Only in the most metaphorical way possible (I think). But does it both dazzle and frighten in equal parts, with just a dash of surrealism for added impact? You know it. Rios’ art, and the covers especially, are the thing that draw the heart and prime the mind for the story to then burrow deep into your lizard brain. Don’t worry, though, it’s far more enjoyable of an experience than even I described.
Cover by Ezra Claytan Daniels
It’s not every day you can say. without any doubt, that a cover to a comic or graphic novel is a genuine work of art. Upgrade Soul has just such a cover — really the entire project is a work of art, too — one that truly resonates with its deep, deep mix of emotions. It’s haunting, yet almost comical in its bright use of colors. The way the figure holds the mask is somewhat playful, and part of that is the posture, which forces you to ask yourself what is going on and what exactly are we looking at. It’s no wonder this book’s won several honors (including the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics and the DiNKy Award for Diversity in Comics).
Upgrade Soul is the book club pick of the week at the AIPT Comics Podcast, and I recommend tuning in this Sunday to learn more about the series and our thoughts on Ezra Claytan Daniels’ fantastic work.
Variant Cover by Cliff Chiang
With the recent anniversary of Prince’s passing, I decided to rewatch Purple Rain for the zillionth time. I had somehow forgotten this incredible variant cover that recast Batgirl in Prince’s iconic role. Putting the most purple-clad member of the Batman Family in the place of the Kid, complete with purple motorcycle, is a stroke of genius. Babs absolutely pops in contrast to the dark, damp, nearly realistic city streets. Placing Batman in the background as a sort of disapproving Apollonia stand-in somehow works perfectly, particularly since Apollonia tended to dress in a darker palate than Prince did in the film. This is a cover that just puts me in a great mood whenever I see it.
Cover by Andrew Robinson
James Robinson’s Starman series featured a rather interesting ritual for the length of its run: once year, Jack Knight (Starman) was allowed to talk to his deceased brother, David. These issues always had a kind of dreamlike quality to them, following Jack as he communed with the dead and tried to figure out where he was going in life. The interior artwork always featured the heavenly figures of David and other characters that had crossed over in vivid color, but rendered Jack and the environment in blacks, whites, and grays. This issue marked the last time Jack saw his brother, and this cover illustrates that moment beautifully. Having become a hero in his own right, and facing his future with more certainty than ever before, Jack is now the one seen in color. It’s a simple but striking image that sets the right tone for one of this series’ most emotionally affecting issues.