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Judging by the Cover – 06/19/24 new releases

Comic Books

Judging by the Cover – 06/19/24 new releases

Chris shares his favorite covers from this week’s new comics.

Most comic book fans have a solid idea about what they’re going to buy every week as they descend upon their local comic shop. With that said, there’s still a lot of fun to be had just glancing at the week’s new releases and taking a chance on a book that looks promising, funny, scary, etc. That’s where covers come in. A fantastic image can make the difference between trying something new or saying, “Nah, not this week.”

In that spirit, here are the covers that captured our attention this week, with entries from comics editor Chris Coplan. This is Judging by the Cover.

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Batman #149

Variant cover by Gabriele Dell’Otto

Judging by the Cover – 06/19/24 new releases

Don’t you dare think that this latest series is just an excuse for dope robots and a solid excuse to include the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. Because it’s about some very big things, as Batman #149 expertly encapsulates with the following query: “When confronted with the totality of your life, and all the choices that led you to where you are, do you build on the ashes, or rise from them?” So, then, what’s that have to do with Bane, and is this a daring new chapter or the most painful kind of flashback ever? You’ll have to keep reading to know the wonderful but chaotic path writer Chip Zdarsky is truly weaving, but that doesn’t take away from the sheer power of this Gabriele Dell’Otto variant cover. Because if we’re talking about moments that truly test the Dark Knight, then Bane and the whole Knightfall event/story were up there as both a physical and psychological dissection of the highest caliber. This cover, like the ongoing story itself, is about exploring Batman’s past, finding those ideas that are both shiny and barbed, and using them to confront what we know of Batman and trying to glean new understandings and ideas. Time, they say, is a flat circle, and we can use that to re-engage our fave characters and stories in new, interesting, and sometimes overwhelming ways. There’s more than one way to break a Bat, and we’re seeing that in vivid detail.

The Immortal Thor #12

Cover by Alex Ross

Judging by the Cover – 06/19/24 new releases

If you checked out the June 9 episode of the AIPT Comics Podcast — available where all fine podcasts are distributed — then you may remember a powerful little comment from our own David Brooke. Specifically, how it’s basically “cheating” to pick an Alex Ross cover because he’s so damn good. It’s an idea I’ve mirrored in my own writings here at Judging by the Cover — picking Ross is the same as choosing Oddjob in GoldenEye 007 (almost no one can touch him, and I’m sure he looks dope in a bowler hat). But when it’s a cover this immaculate, you just have to throw all of that out the window and celebrate this artistic deity. I mean, where do I even begin? Even when he’s made to look teeny-tiny, the sheer detail on Thor captures his power and elegance. I love the way that line work here makes me feel the brutal cold and stinging winds as if I were right there. Similarly, I can almost feel the fuzzy blue cloak thing of (who I assume to be) Utgard-Odin. Heck, even the title here is both cinematic in its power and still smart enough to hide behind the glory of all this Asgardian might. So, yes, Ross is clearly in a class of his own, and it’s almost not fair that someone just gets superheroes with such a power and efficiency. But that’s the world we live in, and sometimes you’ve got to give in to the sheer prowess of a proper feat of comics magic.

Blow Away #3

Variant cover by Suspiria Vilchez

Judging by the Cover – 06/19/24 new releases

If you’ve read my own reviews, you may recognize that Blow Away has become a proper fave. Writer Zac Thompson and artist Nicola Izzo are crafting this textured, multi-layered slice of noir that is both obvious in its scope and power and yet weaves enough new bits in to ultimately leave you guessing when it really matters. It’s sort of like what’s going on with this Suspiria Vilchez variant cover to issue #3, as Brynne’s paranoia sharply “turns parasocial in the way she views her suspects, and her impatience reaches a boiling point.” Given that emotional stew a brewin’, leaning into obvious genre hallmarks like Rear Window and Vertigo (both from Alfred Hitchcock) is a direct but nonetheless effective way to connect this series to some grander tradition as well as give us a framework for the specific kind of storytelling to boot. But then there’s little touches that make this all the more varied and nuanced. The birds aren’t just about the wildlife and outdoor setting, but they feel like a nod to The Birds, a Hitchcock film that leans more horror and thus extends this series’ greater scope/interests. The contrast of the red and blue, meanwhile, hints at the uncertainty of perception and how it’s hard to know what’s up and down or what’s real or not. Then toss in the other bits — the bloody mountain peak, Brynne’s sharp gaze of utter dread — and this cover is such a compelling entryway into this story’s guts and heart. Enter now while the getting is good.

The Writer #1

Cover by Jeremy Haun

Judging by the Cover

Of all the trends that have happened in comics in recent years, I find the uptick in meta storytelling to be really intriguing. Like, sure, I get it: it’s a tradition in literature proper, and has even been a part of comics’ lingua franca for much longer, and there’s something so compelling and honest about it. (Plus, it just feels very appropriate for this medium considering a few key factors, like the obvious nature of comics’ storytelling devices and structure.) But at the same time, I think too much of a good thing can easily happen, and not every display of meta-ness is equal to the one that came before it. While time will ultimately tell, I think The Writer seems promising enough. Because in a story where a writer “must become the hero from his pages” to battle a “neo-Nazi occult nightmare,” there’s loads of potential — which is heightened by this great Jeremy Haun cover to issue #1. For one, hats off to a perfect depiction of co-writer/actor Josh Gad; there’s something about that characterization that prepares my mind for peak meta-ness. Then, of course, there’s the obvious but effective trope of having him literally bursting out of the page — 100 extra points for having the actual script available for reading. And, last but not least, the void of non-specific monsters is perfect for this book, yes, but also it just feels like we’re peering into the void of creation or something and that just works to bring me into this “gimmick” even more. None of that even touches on that his pants are wrinkled, and if I had a nickel for everytime I fought Nazi monsters with wrinkled pants, I could buy everyone a copy of this book twice over.

Uncanny Valley #3

Cover by Dave Wachter

Judging by the Cover

And in another book I’ve really been digging, we come to Uncanny Valley‘s third issue. I could very much count this one among the recent “surge” of meta-tinged storytelling; it literally is about a boy finding out he’s a cartoon. And in this third issue, our hero (Oliver) actually find himself in this cartoon-y “two-dimensional place” as he further sorts through his very weird lineage (that’s also about our own sometimes parasocial relationships with beloved cartoons/other media). But to lump in this book with some others just wouldn’t be fair as Uncanny Valley seems to have another take on this whole meta thing — or at least it tries to accomplish similar goals in a new and novel light. Take, for instance, issue #3’s cover from series artist Dave Wachter. This is a very common moment in most old-school cartoons, and yet it’s also just as much a feature of being young and dumb. I hope this has never happened to an actual teen, but you can’t deny that growing up is this wild, sometimes unsettling experience that has your head hurting, your ears ringing, and you trying to sort out what matters, what doesn’t, and what’s all just in your head. Plus, there’s something about a young dude engaging with cartoon imagery like this that speaks to the way youth lingers and how we all move forward in life in a weird way. All of that together, I believe, is what separates this book’s messaging and end goals from being “just meta,” and moves it into a category of inventiveness and thoughtfulness all its own. Plus, off-brand Ryu forever!

Briar #6

Variant cover by Dani Pendergast

Judging by the Cover

Last month, after a rather long hiatus, Briar returned at last. And while it was a continuation of the novel fantasy story in all the ways that mattered most, the infusion of artist Alex Lins clearly had an effect on the book at-large. Namely, the mix of darkness and brevity, humor and heartache became really clear, and as issue #6 sees the group “wrestle with guilt as cold and bleak as the snow-coated mountains they make their way through,” it’s clear that this book is just about breaking our hearts as making us swoon with its singular charm. (Or maybe I’m just looking for a bright spot amid the endless emotional suffering and generally bleak vibes? Who can tell anymore.) But it’s that very dynamic that has informed this really great incentive cover from Dani Pendergast. There’s something sweet, borderline funny about the group here even as they’re clearly fighting for their lives. The pop of roses is really great, until you notice there’s nails and barbs and it’s basically being overseen somehow by the nasty Grendrid. I also love how this “secondary” piece frames the group’s adventures, and without bashing a dead horse, how that light tickle of meta energy really helps us understand the way this story engages with and also counters certain fantasy tropes and ideas. Are the mountains going to swallow our heroes whole? Can they make it to Grendrid’s very doors? Will Briar Rose get her much-desired revenge? All of those are neat questions to ponder as we delve deeper into this robust tale with a deeply effective cover.

Spawn #354

Cover by Puppeteer Lee

Judging by the Cover – 06/19/24 new releases

If you’re responsible for operating one of the longest-running, most routinely consistent comics art features on a site with 600,000 to 1 million monthly views, Spawn is a godsend. The brain-child of Todd McFarlane is continually a place for great artists to get their chance to make super dark, doubly violent artwork with a distinctly gothic-meets-90s “xtreme” vibes. While recent covers have been a smorgasbord from creators like Björn Barends, Spawn #354 has an especially masterful piece from Puppeteer Lee. I’ll get to the obvious highlight of this cover in a second, but there’s some other standout features/elements here. Like, the way that Spawn is jacked, but more like an Olympic swimmer or something, and I love that novel decision that leans away from comics’ usual body standards. Then, of course, the way this feels like some alt history renaissance painting; it really plays up the theatricality and drama that are so integral to the whole Spawn mythos. And now, the most violent act of splitting the wishbone I’v ever seen. Spawn is no stranger to violence (duh), but there’s a level of focus and clarity here that is just especially startling. I mean, if almost hearing this demon’s body snap wasn’t enough, it just feels all the more emotionally complicated. I could stare at this all day — if it didn’t make my eyes sore and my stomach a little uneasy.

Ultimate Spider-Man #6

Variant cover by Mateus Manhanini

Judging by the Cover – 06/19/24 new releases

The promise of the Ultimates (both stories/”universes”) has always been, “What if your favorites but different?!” There’s been varying degrees of success and failure across each title, but you have to give it up to Ultimate Spider-Man. The Jonathan Hickman-penned series has had a really novel but familiar take on Spidey, balancing something elemental about the hero (the humanity and pursuit of truth and justice) with little tweaks that augment our understanding of the grander Spider canon. You can see that especially prevalent in the way Wilson Fisk has been featured. As the owner of The Daily Bugle, his whole “misinformation campaign for the Maker’s Council” isn’t just deeply relevant, but another side of the longstanding gangster. But in case that was too much of a change, we get to se him in all his Spidey-stomping glory on this excellent Mateus Manhanini variant cover (which also adds some design tweaks and other additions to make sure we see this as a new kind of Kingpin). The end result is us reconciling with the newness and the familiarity of the Kingpin, and what this version really represents, the kind of threat he really is, and what are his specific end goals. It’s sweet comics action from the crushing criminal and something else entirely — in short, a shot in the arm in the very best way. That, and those Spidey hands are so good I can practically hear the muffled screaming.

Nightwing #115

Cover by Bruno Redondo

Judging by the Cover – 06/19/24 new releases

Over this run, I’ve featured a few different covers from Nightwing. Be it from other artists or long-time series artist Bruno Redondo, these pieces have emphasized the heart, humor, and swashbuckling tendencies that’s defined this series from day one. That trend continues with issue #115, including a little father-daughter acrobatics from Marco Santucci and this uplifting and joyous Pride Month homage from Bruka Jones. Yet I just had to go with the main cover from Redondo. On the one hand, it fits with the very somber tone of the “Fallen Grayson” storyline, in which Heartless is finally moving into position after months and months of build. It’s just such a simple but effective portrait of the heart-stealing scoundrel, and how obsessed he is with dismantling Dick Grayson’s charitable efforts. At the same time, though, I picked this cause it 1,000% made me think of this scene from Batman Begins. Do I know if it’s intentional or not? No, but either way it creates some really great layers for the existing cover. Like, tying Heartless into some deeper sense of lore while also drawing some thematic connections between this book and that beloved Christopher Nolan flick. If I’m wrong, sue me; great covers should promote that kind of free association and general nerdy excitement. That notion has certainly been a centerpiece of this book with each and every new issue.

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