Monday, September 7, 2009

The Real Top 70 Marvel Covers: #60-51

We're counting down the real top 70 Marvel covers of all time as scientifically determined by yours truly. Of course, it's Marvel science, not real science, so there may be some unstable molecules involved in my thought process. Yesterday we counted down #70-61 and saw some great covers by legendary artists such as Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko and John Byrne. If that doesn't whet your appetite for today's smorgasbord of visual delights, I don't know what will; and don't forget, most of these you can click on to enlarge in order to drink in the goodness. And for a shortcut, here's the Real Top 70 Marvel Cover Master List.

On with the show!

60) Thor #126

Yesterday we brought you the cover of Thor #127; today it's #126 making an appearance on the chart. This mega throwdown between Thor and Hercules, but Jack "King" Kirby himself, was a great way to kick off Thor's new title -- this was the first issue after they dropped the Journey Into Mystery name and dedicated the book permanently to Thor. That helped clean up the design by removing the unnecessary textual clutter at the top; Kirby dynamism did the rest. This was part of a classic run on Thor that went on for several issues as Thor met and fought the Olympian pantheon and it brought out some of Kirby's best work. For another great cover that just barely missed our list, I recommend checking out the grandeur that is Thor #130.

59) Conan #24

This was the final issue of Barry Windsor-Smith's classic run on Conan, and what a way to go out. Voted by readers at the time as one of the top five covers of the year, this beautiful cover has only gotten better with age (and if you're wondering what cover beat it out in the vote, don't worry; that cover is on the list as well). Smith's excellent line work and tremendous attention to detail is balanced by the striking use of color here, making this one of the most visually appealing of his many great Conan covers.

58) Fantastic Four #112

Well, it's the Thing vs. the Hulk and as the cover says, that's about "'NUFF SAID". I will add, however, that the all-black background really makes this cover, but it doesn't necessarily make this cover unique; Thing had previously shown up on an almost identical cover a couple years earlier over on Sub-mariner #8. To be honest, I think the Sub-mariner cover is slightly more dynamic, as I like the angle and poses better. However, this cover has Hulk instead of Namor and that pretty much makes the difference for most fans. a striking and well remembered cover to be sure, rendered nicely by John Buscema. Interestingly, Buscema also did the cover for Sub-mariner #8 and would revisit this basic design idea -- heroes fighting each other on a black background -- several other times to even better effect, as we will see later in this countdown.

57) Iron Man #76

Ari Granov brings us this iconic image from 2004. Of all the covers on this list, Iron Man #76 is probably the least well known among comic fans in terms of the actual cover. It's particularly interesting, then, to note that this image is probably also the most well known and famous of all the images on this list among non-comics fans. That, of course, is due to the fact that the ubiquitous poster for the blockbuster hit film Iron Man was a exact recreation of this cover, only photographed. As it happens, though, the original cover is pretty awesome in its own right.

56) Alpha Flight #12

John Byrne shows up for what is certainly not his first or last cover on our list. It is, however, the only one that features Alpha Flight. Here, Byrne uses the classic comic motif of a character appearing inside a gun sight and stretches it as far as it can go. Add to that the blinding neon background and you have a cover that is both memorable and instantly recognizable for a legion of comics fans -- and that's without even mentioning the famous story inside the comic. Yes, believe it or not, Alpha Flight was once actually cool.

55) X-Men #136

Speaking of John Byrne and recurring cover motifs, here's another pieta image, this time featuring Cyclops and Dark Phoenix. This storyline is so well known that it can be a bit difficult to separate the importance of the story from the importance of the image. Several other covers from this era came close to making the list as well (and some will in fact show up later). I don't want this to be the Top 70 John Byrne X-Men covers, but you do really have to hand it to Byrne and inker Terry Austin, because they were on a serious roll.

54) Marvels #3

Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek blew the doors off Marvel with this series and of all the images and covers they produced, this is by far my personal favorite. As it happens, that sentiment is shared by... well, just about everyone. Not only is this a great image that sums up the entire X-Men milieu, it may be the coolest appearance of Angel ever. Just a great, great cover. I also want to add that the design of this comic -- with the acetate overlay so you can see the image with and without the logo -- is fantastic. I prefer it with the logo, but having the option is nice and looks slick to boot.

53) Avengers #223

Remember that one time when I said that everyone seemed to love Marvels #3? Well, truth be told, some people do like other covers on Marvels better. However, this issue of Avengers is a case where there really is a vast and silent majority of people who just love the cover. Done up but good by Ed Hannigan and Kalus Janson, this image may be the best known cover for either Hawkeye or Ant-Man, which is pretty good considering it fronts what is essentially a fill-in issue (but a really, really cool one). Of all the covers in Marvel history that did not make it onto their official list, though, there were probably more comments across the internet asking about the absence of Avengers #223 than any other cover, which I think came as a surprise to everyone. This is one of those covers where you love it, but you assume it's just you so you never really talk about it. Well, it's not just you -- this cover really is an all-time classic.

52) Marvel Mystery Comics #44

Arguably the most legendary cover artist of the Golden Age, Alex Schomburg was particularly known for his intensely busy and detailed war covers, featuring the Human Torch and the other Marvel characters going into battle against legions of enemies. While any of these might be worthy for inclusion on a top cover list, it's the cover of #44 that really stands out and is possibly his best known image. This is thanks to one thing: the Super Plane. It's just the kind of awesome idea a kid reading comics would go ape over, and evidence tells us that this was one of the most memorable images of the series for readers at the time. Not only is the Super Plane cool, though, it also gives Schomburg a single, central design feature to focus on, which is what really makes this cover stand out from his other great (but busy) works.

51) Captain America Annual #8

Mike Zeck strike again with this great shot of Wolverine fighting Captain America. These guys look like they mean business, and the stream of sparks trailing from Wolverine's claws is just a great detail. I'm not sure Zeck could draw a bad Captain America cover and this is no different; these guys really look like they mean business. Just a cool cover.

Tomorrow: Numbers #50-41 hit like an eyeball hammer! Alex Ross! Walt Simonson! Frank Miller! See you then.

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