Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Real Top 70 Marvel Covers: #50-41

So, you want to know what's number one in the hood, G? Well, first you have to find out what's #50-41 in the hood, which in this case refers to the entire history of Marvel Comics. We're on a quest to determine the real top 70 covers for Marvel, so keep reading and get your awesome shoes on, 'cause it's time to dance. Metaphorically. And for a shortcut, here's the Real Top 70 Marvel Cover Master List.

Oh, and click on the images to make them big and stuff. Let's go!

50) X-Men #190

It's always interesting when artists experiment with cover design, particularly when they incorporate the logo into the image. X-Men #190, which comes in at number 50 on our list, is an excellent example of what can be done when editorial unleashes the artist and allows this kind of experimentation (and we'll be seeing more funky logo work later in the countdown). Drawn by Chris Bachalo, this cover is also just a cool use of Iceman, which is a very rare thing indeed.

49) Captain America #332

Another day, another classic cover from Mike Zeck. This time it's from his great run on Captain America, which produced a number of striking and memorable covers. None of them, however, topped this classic, which began the 19 issue epic by Mark Gruenwald exploring why replacing Steve Rogers with a new Captain America is just a bad plan since the man makes the costume. Given recent events in Cap, this story is more timely than ever; the cover, however, has never gone out of style. P.S. -- Special props for the crying Abraham Lincoln portrait in the corner box.

48) Iron Man #128

In the history of Iron Man, which is close to a half decade at this point, no image is as famous among comic fans or as identified with the character as this cover from Bob Layton. It's just a great change of pace cover -- no action, no fighting, barely even a costume. Indeed, it's really a cover about Tony Stark rather than Iron Man. This image (and the storyline that followed) has become so ingrained in the minds of comic readers that you almost can't think about Iron Man without thinking about this cover. That's not necessarily always a good thing, but it certainly speaks to the power of this image.

47) Marvels #4

The second of our covers from Alex Ross and Marvels brings us another classic comic cover motif -- characters reflected in someone's eyeball. It also is a striking rendition of a classic storyline; in a way, the image is enhanced by the reader's knowledge of what it represents. That sinister grin on Green Goblin's face is a twist of the knife because you know what's going to end up happening to his captive, Gwen Stacy. Ross plays nicely on the reader's familiarity with the subject matter in this classic cover.

46) Thor #337

Speaking of covers that incorporate the logo into the image, here's Thor #337. Perhaps no cover has so successfully used the logo as this introduction of Beta Ray Bill and Walt Simonson to the book. Simonson viscerally shows how he is smashing the book's somewhat stagnant stereotypes by bringing in a shocking new version of Thor and by literally blasting the old logo and corner box to pieces. One look at this cover pretty much tells you everything you need to know about what is inside and what is to come in this title: the old is gone and in its place, anything can happen.

45) New Avengers #1

This cover from David Finch is notable not only because it appears on my list even though my dislike of New Avengers is pretty well known, but also because it's one of the most recent covers I chose. Part of this is because it's simply too soon to tell in most cases just what covers are going to end up being memorable; and part of it has to do with the design philosophy currently in place at Marvel. While pin-up style covers are often memorable and usually attractive, I think Marvel is kind of overusing this these days to the point where many of the covers are almost indistinguishable from each other. For instance, try randomly rearranging the covers for the entire current Thor series and see if you can tell which cover goes to which story. I bet you can't really tell (other than the Iron Man appearance). This inherently limits the iconic potential of the covers. They may all be beautiful, but is one beautiful cover more memorable than the next? New Avengers #1 managed to avoid this -- and also managed to become iconic despite the fact that there were several variant editions as well, another factor in reducing the iconic potential and basic memorability of today's covers (after all, if there are five versions for each issue, how can any one image becomes synonymous with the story?). For those reasons, and for being the top image identified with the industry's best selling title for the past half a decade, New Avengers #1 gets the nod. Plus, it honestly is a cool cover.

44) Daredevil #182

This is probably one of my more controversial decisions on the list (though there's one later that may be a bit more debatable). It's certainly true that the preceding issue, Daredevil #181, is a more famous cover (it's the yellow one with Elektra and Bullseye jumping at each other). However, in terms of the actual image itself, I've always found this cover to be the more powerful cover. #181 is the tease -- what will happen? But #182 is the heartbreak that follows -- it's the real power of the story. Elektra's death is only important because of how it affects Daredevil, after all, and that is perfectly and beautifully spelled out right here. Art, of course, by Frank Miller.

43) Fantastic Four #1

Okay, so you may be wondering why the cover that launched the Marvel Universe is ranked this low. Its historical importance cannot be denied or overstated, its true, and artist Jack Kirby does a fine job of both introducing the characters and providing a visual bridge for readers from the monster books Atlas had been putting out to this new superhero aesthetic. In other words, it's a solid, effective cover. However, it's not a great cover by any stretch (no pun intended); the greatness is in the history, not in the art. Because of this it should be included, but I can't really put it any higher, because there are other books that are both important and feature better art and design. Still a classic, though.

42) Captain America #113

This is one of my all-time favorite covers. Drawn by Jim Steranko during his all too brief but still legendary stint on Captain America, this cover has one of the most perfectly realized moods in cover history. From the monument to the grieving form of Rick Jones prostrate on the ground to the skulking figures of the Hydra squad closing in on him, every detail is perfect, especially the creep moon shining dully above. The green background chosen for the night sky is pitch perfect, which you can pretty much say about every aspect of this cover. A masterpiece.

41) Avengers Annual #2

One of the resources I consulted when figuring out my rankings was Wizard. Don't laugh too hard. Even though Wizard is usually worthless, they do occasionally have a good idea, and probably the best of these is their ongoing feature where they ask contemporary artists to list and discuss their ten favorite covers of all time. Some covers just come up over and over again (most of them are on this list) and one of the most often cited covers is this classic from John Buscema. Here Buscema is again expermienting with the heroes fighting each other on a black background, but this time he's got two entire teams facing off. There may be more famous team vs. team covers, like X-Men #100 or Avengers #141, but none quite have the same level of dynamism as this great example from the legedary Buscema.

Tomorrow: The Silver Age takes over, with a batch of classic images sure to drive you mad with the power of art. Get in your way back machine, because Merry Marvel is on the March!

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