Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Real Top 70 Marvel Covers

To celebrate their 70th anniversary, Marvel recently held a vote on their website to determine the top 70 covers in their long and storied history. After a period of voting, where fans were presented with a group of choices and also given the option to nominate their own selections, they tallied the votes and revealed the selections. And the results were, well, pretty much inexplicable.

That’s not to bag on Marvel; if that’s the way the fans voted, then that’s the way they voted. However, for many people it seemed more like a list of personal favorites rather than an attempt to identify a consensus top 70 cover list. Some of the choices were truly bizarre – you have to wonder just who loves Avengers #169 enough to start a voting campaign for it – while others are nice but ultimately forgettable recent releases. After seeing Marvel’s list, then, many readers including myself were left wondering what such a list would look like if Marvel hadn’t put it to a vote but instead had objectively selected the covers themselves. In other words, this is a nice popularity poll of the Marvel website community, but what would an expert in art and Marvel history choose?

Well, folks, you’re in luck, because we’ve recently tracked down just such an authority: me, Scott Harris. Sure, I’m not technically speaking an expert on Marvel or cover design per se, but I do have my own website, and in this day and age that automatically qualifies me as an expert on whatever subject I choose to address. And while I think Marvel’s list isn’t altogether terrible – about half of their covers are probably worthy, though maybe not in the order they appear there – it certainly could stand to be revised a little.

Accordingly, then, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time pouring over cover galleries and other resources in order to figure out what the real top 70 Marvel covers list should look like. When making my determination of whether a cover should make the list, I looked at a few factors:

1) Iconography. Some covers have transcended the actual image on the cover or the importance of the story within the comic to become iconic images. This can happen for several reasons – the first appearance of a major characters, the story within the comic, the issue’s collectability or just the beauty of the art itself – but the result is that the cover has become iconic not just to readers of that book, but to comic fans in general and in some instances to the public at large. If I felt a cover was iconic, I gave it more consideration than other covers of similar design or attractiveness that are not as well known.

2) Importance. This ties in to the first criteria, but some stories are so important for one reason or another than the cover image becomes important as a result. When researching the choices, there were some covers that I personally didn’t feel were particularly great images or designs but which other comic fans cited over and over again as being a top cover primarily due to the importance of the events in the comic. Many first issues, first appearances or character deaths fall into this category.

3) Popularity. No, it shouldn’t be the end all and be all like it was on the “official” list, but how popular a cover is directly ties in to some of the other factors here. What makes a cover iconic or memorable, after all, is mainly the visceral response it (and the story inside the book) provokes in the reader. So while I don’t personally love all the covers on the list, I did try to incorporate other opinions and spent a good deal of time reading different messages boards and studying the official list to see just which covers really are widely popular and which are just personal picks.

4) Art and Design. Some covers aren’t necessarily important or iconic but are so beautifully drawn that they merit inclusion on the strength of the art and design alone (though it should also be noted that some covers have also become iconic solely because of their artistic merit). Of all the criteria for my list, this is the most subjective and there are a handful of covers on my list that are basically personal preference. I tried to be as objective as possible when compiling this list, but art defies objectivity, so this cannot and perhaps should not be avoided. Whenever a cover made it on to my list solely through personal preference it will be noted in my comments.

So there are the guidelines I set out for myself. Over the next week, I will be counting down the real top 70 Marvel covers according to these criteria, revealing 10 new choices every day with images and commentary. Tune in tomorrow for the first part of the countdown and I hope you enjoy the list and the discussion. But if you disagree, please keep one thing in mind: I’m an expert in these things.

It says so right on my website.

Update: Here's the full list for you, broken down into easily digestible bite-size chunks: #70-61, #60-51, #50-41, #40-31, #30-21, #20-11, The Top Ten and The Epilogue, wherein I explain my choices and defend myself against the crazies in this world. And here's the Master List.

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Can't wait, but I expect to see a lot of Alex Ross (and Joe Quesada) on your list or I won't be able to take it seriously. :)

There will be some covers from both of those gentlemen.