Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Top 150 DC Covers of All Time: #130-121

Welcome back to the Top 150 DC Covers of All Time countdown. If you have any questions about what criteria was used to select the covers, you can read the ground rules here in the countdown Prologue. For a complete listing of selections, check out the Top 150 DC Covers Master List. And as always, I strongly recommend clicking on the covers to see larger, better and more detailed versions of these classic covers.

Without further ado, here's your selections for Day Three:

130) My Greatest Adventure #17
October, 1957 -- Ruben Moreira and Jack Adler

The pencils here were done by Moreira, but it's Adler who needs to be singled out, as he perfected the Grey Tone effect used to make this cover such a standout. Over at the Comics Should Be Good page, their regular feature "Scott's Classic Corner" (no relation) ran a series highlighting Adler's work (which I recommend not reading until I'm done with my list otherwise you're going to be spoiled for several upcoming covers). Adler's Grey Tone covers are some of the most striking images of the 50's and 60's and really pop compared to the regular coloring techniques of the time. I suggest enlarging this one to really see the details.

129) Falling in Love #99
May, 1968 -- Ric Estrada

If any genre was ripe for an overhaul in the late 60's, it was romance, which provided the perfect place for enterprising comic artists to explore the pyschedelic movement. Unfortunately, editorial at both Marvel and DC seemed a little hidebound, as few of these examples actually made it to press, but one of the more innovative among those that did is this Estrada cover. And it's nice that someone at DC finally found a good use for those go-go checks.

128) Animal Man #5
Winter, 1988 -- Brian Bolland

Brian Bolland makes his second appearance on our chart with this classic from Animal Man. It's not quite as meta as the famous "Aparo drawing Brave and the Bold" cover (which just missed making the list), but it nicely set the tone for what was undoubtedly the most meta ongoing series in comics history.

127) Star Spangled War Stories #151
July, 1970 -- Joe Kubert

Kubert's war books were really pushing the design envelope, as we already saw back on day one of the countdown, and Star Spangled War Stories was no exception. Rather than incorporate the logo into the drawing, though, here Kubert was playing around with composition, as he changed the logo's shape, size and location nearly every issue to fit it in to whatever picture he had in mind. Besides being interesting from a design perspective, this moody and evocative cover also marks the first appearance of the Unknown Soldier.

126) Sensation #1
January, 1942 -- Harry G. Peter and Jon L. Blummer

Considering this is the first appearance of Wonder Woman, one of the most iconic superheroes in the world, you'd think this cover would be better known than it is. And actually, it's a pretty cool cover; I like the big circle behind Wonder Woman and it's certainly an action packed cover (weirdly, the figure of Wonder Woman was drawn by one artist and the rest of the cover by another). All things considered, I'm not really sure why this isn't as well known as other major milestone first appearances like Detective #27 or Action #1, but it's too bad because this is a comic that deserves to be better appreciated.

125) The Saga of the Swamp Thing #34
March, 1985 -- John Totleben

Okay, so I mentioned in my intro that titles that later became Vertigo series weren't included in my countdown, but technically this issue doesn't fall into that category because they changed the title of this series after #37. So that's the reason for that. But beyond that detail that probably nobody cares about, this cover is widely known thanks to the fact that this is the famous Swamp Thing sex issue, where he and his honey-pie ingest some kind of dope and make psychic brain love to each other. It also happens to feature a really nice cover from John Totleben; those two factors combined are enough to land this on the list despite my complete and total apathy towards Swamp Thing.

124) Adventure Comics #312
September, 1963 -- Kurt Swan, George Klein and John Forte

In a story that has been referenced and homaged numerous times, the Legion of Superheroes in this issue drew straws (well, really tiny lightning rods anyway) to determine which of them would sacrifice their life in order to resurrect Lightning Lad. The impact of this milestone story was emphasized by the bold black background shot through with lightning. It's an unusually bold cover during an otherwise boring period for covers on Adventure and at DC in general.

123) Our Army at War #196
August, 1968 -- Joe Kubert

The legendary Kubert gets his second cover of the day with this unusual Sgt. Rock design. I just love the disorienting effect that the alternating blue and white squares create behind Rock's central figure, along with the slightly skewed, forced perspective. This is also one of those few times when I think the word balloon actually adds to the image as well. Overall, this cover -- which came out in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War -- presents readers with a very different look at Sgt. Rock, one that I think is eye-catching and effective. In other words: cool cover.

122) New Teen Titans #39
February, 1984 -- George Perez

This cover from Perez is an interesting case because it seems to be an homage to a well-known cover from the first volume of Teen Titans, this April, 1970 effort from Nick Cardy. That cover just missed making the final cut for our list, but the homage, which is now the more famous of the two covers, didn't. In fact, though, while Perez himself has admitted that this cover is an homage, it's not to Teen Titans #26 at all -- but rather to Amazing Spider-man #50. We'll be seeing a couple more instances of famous homages later on the list, including one case where both the homage and the original made the cut, but in this case I felt that in addition to the Perez version being better known than Cardy's pseudo-inspiration it was also the stronger composition with the all-white background and the removal of the weird robot pentacle thing in the background. The clothing hanging from the logo is a sweet touch as well.

121) DC 100 Page Super Spectacular #6
1971 -- Neal Adams

And hey, speaking of homages, it's our second in a row. To be honest, I nearly left this cover off the list entirely, because for my money the original (All-Star Comics #16) is better than the copy. I appreciate the fact that Adams has the Golden Age characters on the back cover and the Silver Age versions on the front, and the black background is nice and everything, but to me, it's kind of just a bunch of heroes standing there. Still, I've seen this cover cited numerous times by older DC fans as being a top cover; apparently it was a big deal at the time. Because of this consensus of opinion I included this cover on my list. Not my favorite, though.

Tomorrow: #120-111: Love, 1971! Rex the Wonder Dog! And The Secret House of Sinister Love? WTF is going on?!

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I'm enjoying the list so far. It's quite an ambitious undertaking, and I appreciate you for doing the leg work. A few questions/points regarding the first thirty covers:
1). cover #144 (Showcase #22) I think this cover "falls flat" artistically for a few reasons. The position of Hal Jordan's body isn't dynamic, and as an artist I'll go on record as saying it's a poor design choice to address the first appearance of a character by showing the reader the hero's shoulder blades and the back of his head. Also, the missile needs something directly behind it to show it's true scale. As presented it's impossible to determine if it's four feet long or four hundred feet long (not to mention that it looks like a yellow paper airplane). The muddied, gray background colors do little to help the overall impact of the image.
2). Cover #129 (Falling in Love #99) Can't believe that was drawn in 1968. It looks like something you'd see on a Vertigo book. I wonder if guys like Bachallo, Sienkiewicz count Estrada among their influences.
3). Cover #125 (The Saga of the Swamp Thing #34.) Not many people know this, but this was the issue that made it okay for a generation of women to openly express their fondness for cucumbers.
4). Cover #121 (DC 100 Page Super Spectacular #6). Ah, so THIS is where Alex Ross got the idea for those Kingdom Come covers.
5). Hmmm... I'm sensing a bias here. 20% war covers so far. That's an incredibly high percentage for a genre comic that hasn't been popular for decades. Can I expect to see a Haunted Tank in the #1 spot? ;)
Good stuff so far, Scott. Looking forward to more.

Thanks for the comments, Rob. You're right about the fact that I am a big war fan. I tried to be inclusive in terms of bringing in stuff from every genre DC was publishing (though I don't think I found anything in their funny book / teen humor lines that made the cut). But when the list is done I don't think you'll see nearly as much tilt towards war; the closer we get to the top, the more superhero stuff will dominate. There are just so many classic superhero covers that the war books kinda got shoved to the back of the list, hence the high concentration. Once we get into the top 100 you'll be seeing less war stuff (though the horror is going to pick up starting tomorrow).

There is one G. I. Combat cover in the top 25 though; exactly where it's going to end up I'm still debating.

Boy, those covers from the '60s and early '70s really bring back the memories. Great stuff.