Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Real Top 70 Marvel Covers: The Top Ten

This is it, true believers! After a week of wallowing in the greatest comic art known to man, we've finally reached the end of our countdown of the top 70 covers in Marvel history. No doubt you've been chewing nails all week, wondering if that beloved Defenders cover is going to be in the top ten, or if Al Milgrom will take number one honors. Well, wonder no more!

As always, I recommend clicking on the covers to enlarge them so you can really drink in the grandeur. And for a shortcut, here's the Real Top 70 Marvel Cover Master List.

10) Avengers #57

Ahhhh. John Buscema returns to blow us out of the water with the classic cover to Avengers #57. The first appearance of Vision, this cover is pretty much made by the monotone red coloring. The brooding figure of the Vision reaching ominously out of the crimson smoke as the Avengers fall back in shock is an indelible image of Silver Age Marvel and is also one of my favorite covers.

9) X-Men #58

Hey, look, guys. It's Neal Adams! It's true that Adams did much more work for DC than he did for Marvel, but you might have been wondering where his classic covers have been as we counted down the list. Have no fear, they're right where they should be: in the top ten. Adams really outdoes himself with the use of color and design here; the concentric circles from Havok's costume merging to allow you to see through him to the X-Men on the other side is an amazing effect, heightened by the choice of colors for Havok. Another instance of a character's first appearance being accompanied by a brilliant cover.

8) Incredible Hulk #377

The third cover on today's list is also the third one to feature bold experimentation with color. I'll admit that it took me a long time to warm to this effort from Dale Keown, but I have to give it up. The black and white Hulk, cast almost (but not quite) entirely in silhouette against the neon green background creates such a vibrant look that it just about strobes right off the page (or screen) and straight into your brain. Combined with the (perhaps questionable) use of the pink logo, the cover packs a massive visceral wallop, perfect for the defining issue of Peter David's long Hulk run.

7) Journey Into Mystery #89

It's interesting to note how many of these covers are first issues or first appearances. Some of this is because those issues have gained fame over the years due to the popularity of the characters or series involved, but another factor is that those issues were about the only ones that featured pin-up style images instead of action shots from inside the comic. Thus they lend themselves to becoming more iconic or memorable. One interesting departure from this, then, is Journey Into Mystery #89. In just the seventh issue of Thor's series, Jack Kirby goes back to the pin-up look to create one of the most indelible cover in Marvel history. It's just a gorgeous piece of art and it's interesting to speculate why they decided to go with this design rather than the type of action shots that the series had otherwise been using. Whatever the reason, though, this image of Thor became the one that stuck in the mind of contemporary fans; in some ways, it was the image that made Thor become Thor, and it appeared on T-shirts and posters for years afterwords.

6) Captain America Comics #1

The cover of Captain America Comics #1, from Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, is famous for a number of reasons, many historical. For instance, it's well known that this cover showing Cap punching out Hitler appeared on the newsstands almost a full year before America went to war with Germany, which resulted in quite a bit of controversy for the publisher. But those sorts of details aside, it also deserves a top ten appearance for a much simpler reason: it's a beautiful comic book cover. The design, with the logo in front of the red white and blue stars and stripes, is crisp, and the layout of the action is well conceived also. But it's the terrifically rendered figure of Captain America himself that really makes this cover. I'd be happy to find art like this in one of today's Marvels; for a comic that came out nearly 70 years ago, it's astounding. Not to mention that the overwhelming, instant popularity of the character that flowed from this first issue essentially provided the backbone of Timely for years to come. One of the greatest comic book covers, regardless of publisher, of all time.

5) Giant Size X-Men #1

Gil Kane makes another appearance on the list, this time assisted by Dave Cockrum, who designed most of the new X-Men who appear for the first time on this cover. The basic premise -- the characters smashing through the cover itself -- is a simple but powerful statement, as they are also smashing through the image of the original, old X-Men, who gape in astonishment. It's a signal that the somewhat staid old X-Men (which, after all, had been cancelled once already and were at the time strictly a reprint title) was gone and a new, more exciting X-Men was replacing it. This is one of the most copied, homaged and referenced covers in Marvel history.

4) Captain America #111

It just wouldn't feel like a real countdown if today's selections didn't include a cover from Jim Steranko, and what better choice than perhaps his most famous cover, Captain America #111. I've said before that Cap lends himself to iconic images, and perhaps no Captain America cover is as famous or iconic as this one. You can see the pop art influences in the bottom half of the work -- the same kind of montage feel as he used on SHIELD #4, for example -- but here it is stripped down, with the flat white background helping to emphasize the figure of Captain America himself as he dominate the rest of the cover. It pushes the boundaries without going over the edge (as some of his more experimental covers could be accused of doing) and as a result has become one of the best loved covers of all time.

3) Tomb of Dracula #1

This may be my favorite comic book cover of all time. It's just a beautiful, moody, atmospheric drawing that perfectly captures the essence of Dracula and set up the series for a long and successful run. Accentuating the image is the pitch perfect, blood red frame and the gorgeous logo, which I think is one of the best comic logos ever designed. So, who drew this great cover? Even though he did a lot of mood pieces during his tenure at DC, I was surprised to learn that this was done by none other than Neal Adams. Usually you can tell a Neal Adams figure from a mile away, but other than maybe a little bit in the face, this doesn't bear his characteristic stylizations, and the piece actually benefits as a result. A comic so beautiful, I bought a copy just for the cover.

2) Silver Surfer #4

Of all the omissions on the official Marvel list, none is as egregious as the failure to include Silver Surfer #4. We've seen over the course of our list how artist John Buscema was playing with this basic design -- heroes facing each other on a black background. Here it's tweaked a bit; the background isn't flat black, it's got just a hint of detail, enough to provide the setting for the readers. But it's really the dynamic nature of the figures, caught in that split second before the violence begins, that really makes this piece. This cover is frequently singled out by today's pros as one of the best and most influential covers of all time, so it's no surprise that the issue itself has become extremely desirable and expensive for that very reason. Of all the covers on the list, this one may be the most "Marvel" of all of them.

1) Amazing Fantasy #15

So here it is, our number one Marvel cover of all time. And whle I don't think there's much doubt about this one, it's interesting that at one point there was a lot of doubt over what the cover of Spider-man's first appearance should look like. In fact, this is actually the second completed cover for this issue, as Spider-man co-creator Steve Ditko turned in a different version that was rejected by Stan Lee. While the original was more in keeping with the essence of the character -- it's less of a heroic figure we're looking up at and more a skinny, awkward figure swinging by at our own level, one of us -- the new cover by Jack Kirby was one designed to sell the character and move copies of the comic. And that it most definitely did. It's hard to say how popular Spider-man would have become if Stan had stuck with the original cover, but one thing is certain: this cover is not only powerful and inspiring, it's also the most famous cover in Marvel history, showcasing their most popular character as drawn by the greatest artist comics has ever produced. That all adds up to one thing: number one on our list.

Tomorrow: Well, that's it folks, the Top 70 list is complete and... wait a minute. Where the hell is Journey Into Mystery #83? What kind of rip job is this?! Tomorrow I'll explain why Thor's first appearance is missing from this list and you, my legion of dedicated readers, can chime in with your votes. Which covers should have made the list? Which ones should never have been on it to begin with? We'll cover it all... tomorrow! See you then.

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The cover of Silver Surfer #4 looks cool. Thor preparing for an attack while standing on the Bifrost bridge. John Buscema did a great job coming up with a cover like that. It is indeed one of the best Marvel comic covers of all time.

Nice effort. But ... in my opinion - yes I say opinion - a lot of balls have been dropped here. First off, Frank Miller is one of the greatest graphic artists of all time and he did countless awesome covers for Marvel. And then ... even worse ... Gil Kane created gold almost every time he drew a cover. He made books that totally sucked inside look like the best comic ever created just by the cover art.

I think you have a childhood affinity for Mike Keck, but come on! Any Miller or Kane cover - any one - is better than all but one of these Zeck covers. That guy is stiff!

Thanks for your post though. Entertaining!

Not space for one Paul Smith X-Men nor a single Dr Strange cover... really???

Yep, really. If Paul Smith were going to make the list, it would likely be for X-Men #173 (the iconic black Wolverine and Rogue cover) or #168 (the equally iconic Kitty Pryde cover). You could certainly make a case for either of these replacing books in the 61-70 bracket. I just chose to go a different route.

As far as Doctor Strange, one earlier draft of this list did include the Jackson Guice cover from Doctor Strange #5. Which is one of my all-time favorites. I could also make a case for the BWS cover of Marvel Premiere #3. But again, these ended up getting cut in the final cuts.

There were certainly other viable options, but with only 70 spots, some had to be cut.

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