Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Real Top 70 Marvel Covers: #30-21

Previously on the real top 70 Marvel cover countdown: we looked at a slew of awesome comic book covers from Marvel's 70 year history. Today: we do more of that, only now we're up into the top 30. Today's buzzword: Jim Steranko. Technically that's two words, but whatever. On with the show! And, as always, you can click on most of these covers to make them bigger and more majestic. It's like internet viagra.

And for a shortcut, here's the Real Top 70 Marvel Cover Master List.

30) Secret Wars #1

Mike Zeck brings us another classic from the Secret Wars mini-series. Of all the work Zeck has done, nothing illustrates the disparity between his cover work and his interior work like Secret Wars. I've mentioned it before, but it's really striking in this series. That's not to say that his interiors are bad; they just don't (or maybe can't) live up to the sweet covers he was dropping during this classic run.

29) Captain America #110

This was the first of Steranko's three issues of Captain America, and the second of those three covers to appear on our list. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm not a big Hulk fan, but for my money nobody ever drew Hulk as well as Jim Steranko. Even I would buy a Steranko Hulk comic. This is even better, though: it's got Hulk in it, but it mostly has Captain America, so that's a win-win for everyone. This is how Hulk should be used, after all: as a scary bad guy busting stuff up in other people's comics.

28) Amazing Spider-man #129

And now, here's Gil Kane. Considering Kane is one of the great cover artists of all time, it's surprising how few Kane covers have made the list. This is perhaps his most recognizable. It's not notable just for the first appearance of Punisher -- who, say what you will, has a striking costume design -- but also for being one of the best uses ever of the "hero in the gun crosshairs" motif we discussed a couple days ago. Plus, the cover is yellow, which is the best color for covers in my opinion. Nothing gets my blood flowing like a nice yellow cover. Mmmmm.

27) Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #6

You pretty much can't go wrong with any of Steranko's classic SHIELD covers, but while this isn't the most famous of the batch, it is certainly my favorite. For my money this is one of the coolest comic book covers of all time. That giant moon and the exploding Earth in the background... just beautiful.

26) Uncanny X-Men #137

Here's a classic case of what might have been. This cover is among the most famous in the long and storied history of X-Men, partially because of the story inside but mainly because of how well this cover dramatizes that story. As I've mentioned previously, Byrne was in the midst of a nearly unparalleled run of great covers (perhaps matched only by Steranko on SHIELD and Captain America or Kirby on Fantastic Four), turning in one classic after another. X-Men #137 should have been his crowning achievement. However... then they put that godawful banner on the top. It's a testament to the power of Byrne's image that it isn't completely ruined by the banner, but this is a cover that could have been one of the top ten great covers in Marvel history if marketing and terrible design hadn't conspired to crap all over it.

25) Fantastic Four #48

Yesterday we saw Jack Kirby knocking it out of the park on the dynamic, action filled cover of Fantastic Four #49. Today we step back one month to the set-up, and once again Kirby is knocking socks off. This time, though, it's the pervasive mood of foreboding on this cover that really hits home. You just want to tear open the comic and find out what terror is so frightening that even the Fantastic Four and the damned Watcher are recoiling in fright. And the masses of people gather on the rooftops in the background just add another layer. Whatever is going on, you know it's epic. A great effort from Kirby.

24) Spider-man #1

Todd McFarlane makes his first appearance on the list with perhaps the most ubiquitous image of the 90's: the cover of his massive mega-hit Spider-man #1. of course, that series left a somewhat bitter legacy, as it began the artist-first era, including the creation of Image and the explosion of the collector's market, all of which eventually led to the near-collapse of Marvel and the entire comic industry as they all chased a cheap buck. So that part is a bit of a negative. But the cover itself still stands up. The existence of multiple variants dilutes it only slightly, but since they are all essentially the same image, we're going to count them as one cover. I prefer this classic version to the black costume, so here it is.

23) Marvel Comics #1

It's only fitting that the comic that launched the entire company should be represented, so it's fortunate that the cover of Marvel Comics #1 is actually pretty cool in its own right. The pulp influence is obvious; indeed, if it didn't have the word "comics" in the logo, you'd be hard pressed to tell from the cover that this isn't a pulp magazine rather than a comic book, which makes sense as it was painted by pulp artist Frank R. Paul. But as out there as some of the sci-fi pulps were getting at the time, the image of the Human Torch burning through his containment shield and melting the bullets as they hit him is still fantastic in a way unique to comics. A great way to kick off the company.

22) Fantastic Four #51

Another month, another all-time classic cover from the pen of Jack Kirby. "This Man, This Monster" has long been hailed as one of the greatest stories in Marvel history, and this evocative cover of an emotionally defeated Ben Grimm is the perfect gateway to that tale. The only tiny quibble I might have with this is the use of the grey-tone machinery in the background, which is a pet peeve due to total overuse during the time period (check out Avengers #36 for a particularly egregious example). But in this case, it actually works, as does the pleading figure of Sue. After the literally Earth-shattering stories and covers of the Galactus trilogy, this sudden shift to the drama of the human heart is like a punch to the gut.

21) Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #4

Jim Steranko lands his third cover of the day with this classic cover. This is essentially the apex of Steranko's mod design work, and the psychedelic, black and white background forms a perfect contrast to the somewhat stiff, conventional color figure of Nick Fury. It's justly famous as one of the most innovative and striking covers of the time period, and has been homaged and referenced untold times since.

Tomorrow: The top 20! More Zeck! More Steranko! More Byrne! What the hell, didn't anyone else ever draw and good covers for God's sake? Time is running out for your favorite covers. Will they be in the top twenty? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

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