Friday, September 11, 2009

The Real Top 70 Marvel Covers: #20-11

We're almost at the end of our countdown of the top 70 covers in Marvel's long history. Today we hit #20-11, the last stop before the fabled top ten. Will your favorite covers make it to the pinnacle? Check in and find out. And, as always, click on the images to enlarge for a better look at these timeless classics.

Plus, as a shortcut, here's the Real Top 70 Marvel Cover Master List.

20) Amazing Spider-man #39

Two days ago we saw the second half of this classic storyline; today, the first chapter takes its rightful place on the list. One of the most famous covers in Spider-man history is also the first cover of the series done by Jazzy John Romita. Talk about making a good first impression. The beautiful graded blue sky behind the characters is the perfect backdrop for the jaw dropping image of Spider-man captured and unmasked by his arch-enemy. For once, the cover blurb from Stan trumpeting a comic book first wasn't hyperbole but a mere statement of fact.

19) X-Men #101

Dave Cockrum provides this great cover, heralding the beginning of the Phoenix storyline and the transformation of boring old Marvel Girl into a force of nature that would help propel X-Men from a struggling, already-canceled-once series into a multi-media powerhouse. To stretch the metaphor, it's almost as though the series itself is rising from the ashes with this cover (which, incidentally, comes on the heels of another great cover for #100 that just missed making the list).

18) Hulk Special #1

Oh, Jim Steranko. There's a reason he's one of the most acclaimed artists in comic history, and this cover is just another bit of proof that factors into that verdict. It's also another example of how Steranko draws Hulk better than any man alive or dead, so it's a shame he didn't have more chances to do it (his Captain America #110 cover showed up on the list yesterday and his awesome Hulk cover for Foom #2 just missed the list; plus, that's technically not a comic book anyway). This cover was recently homaged on the first issue of Incredible Hercules by Art Adams to excellent effect.

17) Captain America #25

The most recent cover on our list comes from the Death of Captain America. Like New Avengers #1 and Spider-man #1, this is one of the few great covers that had to compete against variants for attention, just one of the many, many reasons I dislike variants. It's also another example of how creative design work that incorporates the logo can be a beautiful thing (and one of three such examples from today's section of top covers). But mainly, it's just a powerful, iconic image -- you don't even need to see anything but Cap's open, chained hand to know what happened. It's a bold choice, to focus so intently on such a small aspect of the overall scene, and it paid off beautifully here.

16) Incredible Hulk #340

Todd McFarlane appears again, this time with the cover that made him famous. Now, I'm not much of a Wolverine fan, but this cover pretty much defines the time period it came from. Just as Wolverine was really becoming a corporate juggernaut and Marvel was starting to seriously pimp him out in crossovers and guest appearances, Todd McFarlane was also on the cusp, getting some buzz for his earlier work but not yet becoming a superstar. This cover was the perfect marriage of the two elements, and helped push both the character and the creator -- Wolverine and McFarlane -- into the stratosphere. Incredible Hulk #340 was voted the #1 cover of all time by the dudes who put together the official top cover list, and while I think their rankings were out of whack, I can't deny the legacy of this cover.

15) Amazing Spider-man #50

The second John Romita entry today is the startling and evocative cover for issue #50. From a storytelling perspective, this issue signaled an important change in perspective for the series as a whole. It introduced the Kingpin as a major villain and while Peter eventually decided to return to his role as Spider-man, the soul-searching in this issue marked a more mature take on the character; he was no longer the geeky high school student that he had been under Ditko, instead he was a college-bound young adult. This cover from Romita perfectly illustrates this new maturity and has become one of the best known and most homaged covers in Marvel history as a result.

14) Secret Wars #10

We've been getting a double-barrel dose of Mike Zeck all week, but this time he's hitting us with a full scale thermonuclear assault. This cover, showing Dr. Doom's battle against the Beyonder, just about knocked me out cold when I first saw it as a kid and for a whole generation of comic fans it remains the definitive image of Dr. Doom. It's also one of the coolest covers ever, a fitting way to wind up Secret Wars considering how many memorable and classic covers Zeck produced for that series alone. It might not be the #1 cover of all time, but it's probably the #1 most kickass cover of all time.

13) X-Men #141

Just as Secret Wars #10 was the pinnacle of a great run of covers from Zeck, X-Men #141 is the cap stone for an epic series of covers from John Byrne. Starting with the "Phoenix grabbing the logo" cover for #135, Byrne turned out one masterpiece after another; even the covers with a less dramatic image, like #139, are famous for the text instead. But as cool as covers like "Exit Cyclops" on #138 and the covers that have already appeared on this list are, none of them can match #141 for importance, popularity or flat out visual sweetness. Arguably the most famous X-Men cover of all time, which is saying something.

12) Avengers #4

As I've mentioned before, Captain America's flag costume lends itself to the creation of iconic covers. It's no surprise, then, that the return of Cap to the pages of Marvel after almost a decade of dormancy was heralded with a great cover from Jack Kirby. Strangely, it's not really his cleanest work; it almost seems a bit rushed and rough around the edges in some ways. Yet, this just adds to the feeling of frenetic energy the viewer gets from the image of Cap leaping straight at you, ready to kick your ass if it needs kicking (and from what I hear, it does). Even the elements that maybe shouldn't work, like the inset of Namor, work anyway, and the Frankenstein shout of "Captain America Lives Again!" just adds to the primal call. In other words: hell yeah!

11) Marvel Spotlight #5

This is one of my favorite covers for several reasons, but let's start right at the most basic part: Mike Ploog's art and the great character design for Ghost Rider. Then, we can look at the cover design. This cover is one of the best examples of why I love the frame period in Marvel covers. By all rights, there is way too much text going on here; yet, thanks to the frame, the words and blurbs don't detract from the image, as they are kept separate. In addition, the frame allows Ploog to have Ghost Rider himself break the frame to bleed out and up into the logo. The effect of this is that Ghost Rider almost appears to be coming right off the page; it's a like a 3-D effect without the need for glasses. One of the most striking covers of the day and another bit of anecdotal evidence to suggest that having a great cover for a character's first appearance goes a long way to making that character a success.

Tomorrow: This is it, folks -- the top ten Marvel covers of all time! Will your favorites be there? Will ALF #1 end up taking the top prize? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

Bookmark and Share