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Best Comic Book Covers Ever (This Month) – February 2012

A great comic book cover has a lot of work to do. It’s both an advertisement and a work of art; both a statement and an invitation. Sometimes they convey character, sometimes mood, sometimes moment. Sometimes they pastiche the classics or pay tribute to the past; sometimes they strive to show us something entirely new. Always they show us a glimpse of somewhere else through a canvas no bigger than a window pane. In Best Comic Book Covers Ever (This Month), we look back over some of the most eye-catching, original and exceptional covers of the month that was.

As we’re just coming to the end of our special sexy time here at ComicsAlliance – two weeks of coverage devoted to depictions of sex and sexuality in comics – I want to start with a quick look at some of February’s more noteworthy pin-up and T&A covers.

Lady Death #14 (Boundless); cover by Michael DiPascale

I know we here at ComicsAlliance hate pictures of beautiful half-naked women, or so we’re always being told by skittish young bucks who haven’t read our articles very closely, but I think this is a terrific cover that makes great use of the character’s stark white skin — though it is unusually tasteful for Lady Death and the character’s proportions are atypically realistic, so of course I would single this one out for praise, awful effete European liberal that I am. This is dubbed the “Art Deco” variant, but it’s really Art Nouveau, and it’s less of a misnomer than Juan Jose Ryp’s “Sultry” variant, which looks more like an “uncomfortable stomach cramps” variant to me.

Avengers Solo #5 (Marvel); cover by John Tyler Christopher

I would argue that this is actually a better example of “sultry,” though I don’t think anyone has ever used the word to describe Hawkeye before. This is an unusually coquettish pose for a male superhero, and it would even count as a booty shot if that damnable tea-towel weren’t getting in the way (though you’ll notice we can only see his posterior and not, by some miracle of spinal realignment, his chest as well). This cover invites the reader to look at Hawkeye through the eyes of a gunman, to see him as prey, and as a result John Tyler Christopher has given us a sly, teasing, and yes, rather sultry version of the character.

Vampirella #14 (Dynamite); cover by Paul Renaud

There are two versions of this cover, but the other is in full color, while this is the “blood red” variant. The reduced palette makes this much more appealing to my eye; it creates shapes and contrasts that you aren’t evident in the full color version, all the better to complement the yin-yang theme. The blood red variant also feels less salacious, perhaps because it allows the reader to look past the amount of skin on show.

Glamourpuss #23 (Aardvark-Vanaheim); cover by Dave Sim

This is a great drawing rather than a great cover, but I include it here just to note that Dave Sim — not known as comics’ foremost feminist — is pretty damn good at drawing beautiful women in a non-exploitative way. Sure, Glamourpuss speaks the language of fashion magazines, which have their own unachievable beauty standards, and there’s usually something vapid and hollow in the eyes of Sim’s women, but doesn’t this vision of glamor seem old-school and respectful compared to some of the T&A work produced by artist who have presumably never referred to a woman as a “void?”

Cover Girls (Image); cover by Guillem March

On the subject of pin-ups, one might think that Guillem March is public enemy number one for his role as artist on the much derided relaunch of Catwoman, but no-one should blame March for being hired to do what he’s good at. As this vibrant, loud and proud pop cover to March’s art book shows, he’s an excellent pin-up artist; it was DC’s decision to pursue a pin-up approach that was in question.

Enough with the sexy! Let’s look at some of the other great covers this month.

Key of Z TPB (Boom); cover by Nathan Fox

It’s a shame Key of Z ended the first month this column started, as this trade collection is likely to be my last chance to talk about it here. The covers for the series had energy and edge, with raw vibrant colors and a touch of wit. This trade cover isn’t typical of the style of the series, but it has the same punk aesthetic and looks instantly iconic. I see Nathan Fox as part of an emerging wave of artists embracing a Paul Pope aesthetic with dissonant color schemes and ugly-beautiful composition.

Orc Stain #7 (Image); cover by James Stokoe

And if Nathan Fox is one part of a trend, I would identify Orc Stain’s James Stokoe as a vanguard artists of this punk-art movement. I confess, the more I use the word “punk” the more tweedy I feel. If I weren’t feeling so self-conscious about it I would coin a term like “revulsion chic” to put a label on the whole thing. But that’s not me. Suffice to say, few are as good as Stokoe at making the mind revolt in horror at his choices – such as a bloodied pastel rabbit warrior on a throne of intestines – and then come back fascinated for more.

Uncanny X-Force #19 (Mavel); cover by Rafael Grampa

This Rafael Grampa cover (and a few other covers for this series) brings that same revulsion chic aesthetic to the mainstream. The bold coloring is off-center in a wonderfully eye-gouging way; the figures are gnarled, almost awkward, and completely unglamorous. In concept this cover is almost a formula Art Adams team shot at three generations removed, but in execution it’s superbly unconventional.

X-Factor #232 (Marvel); cover by David Yardin

By contrast, this is not a cover that I’d place in the same aesthetic, though it uses a similar palette. In this instance the colors evoke ’60s psychedelia, the native soil of Marvel’s Dr Strange stable of magical characters. I love how one spiral achieves multiple effects; on Madrox’s face it suggests the torture of insanity; on the villain’s cape and the blue flames it creates movement and texture; and in the background it establishes reality in turmoil.

Princess Knight #1 (Vertical); cover by Osamu Tezuka, design by Peter Mendelsund

This is the fourth cover in a row to use yellow and purple, but here it’s a very different look; the colours subvert the classical simplicity of the image. (The second volume cover is in similarly dissonant orange and blue color scheme.) Mendelsund always finds something unique to say with his Tezuka reprints at Vertical.

Xombi TPB (DC Vertigo); cover by Brendan McCarthy

One more purple cover, just for the hell of it. You’ll have seen this cover before on issue one of the series, but I wasn’t doing this column back then, and it deserves a mention now; it’s a sumptuous multi-textured execution of a strong, simple image.

Dark Horse Presents #8 (Dark Horse); cover by Kristian Donaldson

There are two covers for this book; this is the alternate, and the main is by Duncan Fegredo. It tells you how much I like this one that I’m passing over a Fegredo. What’s great about Donaldson’s cover is that you can instantly tell it’s for a Brian Wood comic. That’s powerful visual branding.

Spaceman #4 (DC Vertigo); cover by Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson being brilliant as always. You would never mistake this for a 100 Bullets cover, would you? Same creative team; same cover artist; completely different look.

Valen the Outcast #3 (Boom); cover by Matteo Scalera

If you want to be in with a pretty good shot at making my Best Covers Ever list, I strongly suggest doing a black and white cover with a splash of red, because it may be an old, old trick, but it still works for me. Comic covers are not big spaces; simplicity is frequently an asset.

Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes #4 (Boom); cover by Declan Shalvey

Again, simple colors to create an immediate and arresting effect. The composition is a little off because I can’t tell if those apes are tumbling into a pit or charging into a battle, but I applaud any cover that’s brave enough to use this much white space.

Bionic Man #7 (Dynamite); cover by Alex Ross

A composition masterclass! Why does Alex Ross do so many superheroes-posing-in-pyjamas covers when a cover like this makes much better use of his talents? This is great not only because it tells a story in just one panel, but because of how it breaks up the page with both a pyramid to lead the eye and a 50/50 split between two juxtaposed halves: the man in agony in warmer colors; the woman cold and collected in icy blues. It’s so good that Alex Toth might not completely hate it!

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9 #6 (Dark Horse); cover by Georges Jeanty

A flashback story requires a flashback cover, of course, and this is an admirable recreation of Gene Colan’s cover for Tomb of Dracula #10, the first appearance of Blade.

Doctor Who #14 (IDW); cover by Matthew Dow Smith

TV adaptation comics often try so hard to create a likeness of their actors that everyone ends up looking like they’ve been skinned and stuffed by Chuck Testa. Much better to suggest a likeness with a simpler line. This cover takes that idea to extremes with a posterised eleventh doctor, but with the fez, the bow tie and the muppet mouth, you definitely know it’s him. Just a shame they had to ruin it with that logo.

GI Joe #10, Snake Eyes #10, Cobra #10 (IDW); covers by Tom Whalen

Speaking of simplicity, I love how Whalen evokes the boldness of old propaganda posters with these covers. The main image is GI Joe #10; the line on the left shows the three covers linked together. This is not the sort of cover I expect to see on a GI Joe book, but I welcome the change of tone.

Collected John Carter of Mars Volume Two (Disney); cover artist unknown

This doesn’t belong in this column at all, because (a) this is the centre of the cover, not the whole cover, and (b), this is from Disney’s collection of the prose adventures of John Carter, and thus has nothing to do with comics. But if they will insist on soliciting prose collections with all the comics and this is what catches my eye, am I really to blame? I love all three of the Disney John Carter covers, but this one is my favourite, full of strong, appealing shapes.

BPRD: Hell on Earth: The Long Death #1 (Dark Horse); cover by Mike Mignola

It’s difficult to come up with new ways to praise Mignola’s use of shadow when everyone knows how good he is. This variant cover for The Long Death is typical of his gift for creating a rich world with the simplest lines.

Unwritten #34.5 (DC Vertigo); cover by Yuko Shimizu

Yuko Shimizu has the best “awesome cover” hit rate on a Vertigo book since James Jean on
Fables, and I don’t think she gets nearly enough recognition for it. Medieval illumination seems to be a common touchstone for her work on this series, which makes great thematic sense. It’s used to particularly strong effect in this evocation of the Angel of the Somme. People should be talking more about how great Yuko Shimizu is.

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