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

A great comic book cover is both an advertisement and a work of art. It is both a statement and an invitation. Sometimes a great cover conveys character, sometimes mood, sometimes moment. Great covers can pastiche the classics or pay tribute to the past, or they can strive to show us something new. Great covers always show us a glimpse of somewhere else on a canvas no bigger than a window pane. In Best Comic Book Covers Ever (This Month), we look back at some of the most eye-catching, original and exceptional covers of the month that was.

March brings us a surfeit of monsters, an unholy kick in the teeth, and some giant-sized Jane Austen action, and we take a look at four artist who pulled double duty with two very different covers each.

The New Deadwardians #1 (DC Vertigo); variant cover by Cliff Chiang

I’ve picked a few artists this month who have produced a pair of excellent covers because I think it’s fascinating to look at what one artist can do to distinguish one book from another. For example, Cliff Chiang’s variant cover for the New Deadwardians debut is all about making an effective pitch for the new book’s tongue-in-cheek period horror.

Wonder Woman #7 (DC); cover by Cliff Chiang

By contrast, Chiang’s other great cover plays on the iconic nature of its familiar lead character to create a glorious Soviet poster moment (with a starburst that feels unabashedly American).

X-23 #21 (Marvel); cover by Kalman Andrasofszky

This digitally painted cover for the final issue of X-23 marks a departure from Andrasofszky’s usual sinewy style. The result is a gory scene rendered with beautiful softness. It feels like a perfectly iconic Wolverine-esque image to cap the character’s solo run.

Irredeemable #35 (Boom); cover by Kalman Andrasofszky

Andrasofszky again, but where the X-23 cover is cool and soft, this one is hot and raw. The rage burns off the page.

Batman Beyond Unlimited #2 (DC); cover by Dustin Nguyen

I love the jagged vibrancy of this Dustin Nguyen cover. Sadly the final version features a lot of oddly placed text that saps the kinetics out of the image and turns a hero being thrown by an explosion into a gimp sprawling on a Big Bird rug. The art and the artist deserved better.

Supernatural #6 (DC); cover by Dustin Nguyen

Nguyen’s other best cover this month couldn’t be much more different from the Batman cover. This is a mood piece, a sombre, elegant take on pulp horror, and I think Nguyen has done a great job of abstracting the look of the characters from the TV show.

Daredevil #10 (Marvel); cover by Paolo Rivera

A superb pastiche of a Gustave Doré engraving. If Rivera can keep coming up with concepts like this one and his snow angel cover for Daredevil #7, I could see him having one of the most diverse and defining cover runs on a Marvel book since Kaare Andrews on Bruce Jones’ Incredible Hulk.

The Twelve #11 (Marvel); cover by Paolo Rivera

Another Paolo Rivera pastiche, and again it’s radically different from the last. This time Rivera captures the garish glory of a Street & Smith pulp paperback cover for J Michael Straczynski’s long-delayed throwback series.

Corto Maltese: The Ballad of the Salt Sea (Universe); art by Hugo Pratt, design by Chris McDonnell

It’s heartbreaking to me that this new English-language edition of Corto Maltese replicates the mangled 1994 version of the book. Yes, the edits were approved by Hugo Pratt, but this version does not accurately represent Pratt’s great work, and I can’t bring myself to buy it. Even so, I applaud Chris McDonnell and Meathaus for their design work. I would gladly put this book on my shelf if the interior showed as much respect for the work as the exterior.

Monocyte #3 (IDW); variant cover by Ben Templesmith

This is actually only one half of a wraparound cover, but I really enjoy the unconventional composition of this front half. The strong simple shapes and high contrast colors make this Templesmith at his best.

The Shade #6 (DC); cover by Javier Pulido

Speaking of unconventional composition, this Pulido cover is way out there. It took me more than a second to see what was happening here, but I think it’s a strong cover nonetheless; witty, eye-catching and original. Ain’t that a kick in the head?

Smoke and Mirrors #1 (IDW); cover by Fiona Staples

Fiona Staples’ other first issue cover this month has received more attention thanks to its ‘scandalous’ breastfeeding baby, but I’m more strongly drawn to this charming playing card pastiche, which tells me just enough about the book to make me want to learn more, just as a first issue cover should.

Fables #115 (DC Vertigo); cover by João Ruas

There can’t be many tougher gigs in comics than being the guy who took over cover duty from James Jean, and I know a lot of Fables fans were initially resistant to João Ruas, but he’s been on the book for three years now, and I think stunning covers like this one, which cleverly evokes Alice in Wonderland with an extra dose of creepy, prove that he’s fully on top of the job.

The Unwritten #35 (DC Vertigo); cover by Yuko Shimizu

Speaking of Vertigo cover greats, I will happily continue to bang a drum for Yuko Shimizu as long as she’s spinning wonders like this.

Voltron #4 (Dynamite); cover by Alex Ross

This cover is excessive and ridiculous, and the colors are so loud that it loses all depth – I didn’t see the Voltron toy being crushed in the foreground until the third or fourth look – but I confess I love it anyway. It’s a sugar rush.

New Mutants #39 (Marvel); cover by Kris Anka

Warlock of the New Mutants is one of those rare characters whose aesthetic is enduringly tied to its creator’s vision. He was made to be drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz and rarely looks right in other pencillers’ hands. This cover does not look like Sienkiewicz, but Anka has interpreted the chatracter’s cartoonish mutability to brilliant effect.

Adventure Time #2 (Boom); variant cover by Emily Carroll

I’m not in the loop on the whole Adventure Time thing yet, but I’m definitely a fan of the whole Emily Carroll thing. Carroll is equally adept at capturing character with surprising economy and at conjuring fantastical folklore visuals that I find irresistible.

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #7 (DC); cover by JG Jones

Mary Shelley by way of Fritz Lang. Art deco by way of JG Jones.

Batman #7 (DC); cover by Greg Capullo

I’m really enjoying Capullo’s recent run of Batman covers, which exhibit a compelling but unobtrusive design sense. Capullo has evolved a much more controlled and confident style since his Spawn days, and he produces strong, emphatic superhero covers that put me in mind of a less crazy Chris Bachalo.

Grifter #7 (DC); cover by Scott Clark

This is another example of a superhero cover done right. Any cover with two guys fighting risks being formulaic, busy and uninteresting, but this cover avoids all the traps thanks to dynamic composition, stark contrast and restrained use of the snow effect. This is also the only time I’ve seen anyone make the new Midnighter costume look imposing rather than embarrassing.

Infinite Vacation #4 (Image); cover by Christian Ward

The best proof of a cover is surely if it makes you pick up a book that you’ve never even heard of, and this cover did exactly that. Christian Ward’s stained glass psychedelia snares the imagination, and this is that rare wildly stylistic cover that perfectly captures the look of the interior.

Haunt #22 (Image); cover by Nathan Fox

This looks like a 1960s magazine ad for the world’s most debauched resort hotel, and it makes me want to reevaluate all my prejudices about this McFarlane/Kirkman-originated book, which I always assumed was a Spider-Man-by-Spawn photocopy of a photocopy. This cover pulled the rug out from under me so effectively that I actually had to check that this was the same book.

Clive Barker’s Hellraiser #12 (Boom); variant cover by Tim Bradstreet

I feel like we all got a little burned out on the sort of digital decoupage covers that Tim Bradstreet excels at back in the early ’00s, but maybe they’re due a reevaluation? This evocatively grim cover certainly got my attention.

Hoax Hunters #0 (Image); cover by Steve Seeley

This isn’t a cover that tells you what to expect, but a cover that challenges you to dive in and unravel its mysteries. Simple, surreal, and striking.

Infestation 2: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (IDW); cover by Menton3

This is a fantastic portrait of one of them there Ninja Turtles formerly known as Teenage Mutant, but look at that ugly great crossover banner across the top. Doesn’t it kill the energy? There’s more than enough furniture on most comic covers already. Stripping an ugly squid across the top sixth doesn’t do a cover any favours.

Northanger Abbey #5 (Marvel); cover by Julian Totino Todesco

This cover depicts the thrilling scene in which radiation from the mutant sun above the planet Northanger irradiates our hero Abbey and turns her into a super-strong giant. She bursts through the roof of her printing press prison, marries Tars Tarkas and liberates the people of Mongo. Admittedly I haven’t actually read Northanger Abbey, so this may not be an accurate representation. But it’s a very pretty cover.

Cobra #11 (IDW); cover by Antonio Fuso

I love that IDW has taken its GI Joe variant covers in some very unlikely directions. They still publish a lot of the standard ‘massive gun/dyspeptic grimace’ covers, but they also offer original takes like last month’s posterized faces and this month’s subversively pretty ‘Crouching Ninja, Giant Lily’ piece. I hope the trend continues.

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