Monday, August 23, 2010

The Top 150 DC Covers of All Time: #20-11

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.

Let's get on with the top twenty!

20) All-Star Squadron #1
September, 1981 -- Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano

This is a cover that's kind of crept up on people over the years. It's not as splashy as some of the other choices on the list, but when you ask people what their favorite covers are, it comes up surprisingly often. As a result, it's been homaged several times over the years. On a personal note, I think Hawkman looks particularly cool on this cover for some reason. Maybe it's just because you don't normally see him, you know, thinking about stuff, but for whatever reason this is just a memorable, fun image.

19) Showcase #34
October, 1961 -- Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson

As we've seen, Gil Kane turned out great covers for decades, but while he has some earlier entries on our list, to me this is the earliest prototypical Kane cover. The Anderson inks do add a different feel from the later stuff that he inked himself -- the guy trapped in the bottle seems lankier than usual, almost Kubert-esque -- but overall it's just a really fine example of Kane's striking figure work. It's also the first appearance of the Silver Age Atom and for decades has been considered by fans to be one of the best covers of the Silver Age.

18) More Fun Comics #54
April, 1940 -- Bernard Baily

Our final cover to feature the Spectre is the standard by which all other Spectre covers are judged. It has most of the elements that would later be used in other great Spectre books -- the mysterious look, the symbolically (?) gigantic form -- though it doesn't have the black background so many others would use. But this one still stands out above the rest just for sheer epicness, with the biplanes flying at him and the mass of soldiers at his feet. I particularly like the plane he's clutching in his right hand. He just looks like a truly frightening, unearthly power.

17) Strange Adventures #110
November, 1959 -- Gil Kane and Jack Adler

A personal favorite, this cover was actually one of a number of "giant hand" covers DC put out during the 50's across their genre books. but none of the others have the sheer visceral whallop of this cover, thanks in part to the coloring and inking job done by Adler. On a personal note, you know those guys at comic shows who have giant poster versions of famous covers for sale, so you can frame them as art and hang them in your den or office? Of all the covers on this (or the Marvel) list, this is the one I would most like to have a framed print of. It transcends comics for me to become a wonderful artifact of a whole era's aesthetic. Just awesome.

16) Batman #11
July, 1942 -- Fred Ray and Jerry Robinson

For the eleventy-billionth day in a row, we have our requisite Joker cover and as usual, it's backed by a nice black background. At least, what little you can see of it. Most of the cover, obviously -- and most of the reason this cover is so awesome -- is covered in playing cards, the high point of which is, of course, the fact that Robin, Batman and Joker are the face cards and Batman is punching Joker so hard he's knocking him clear off the Joker card. Obviously not the last time we'd see the card motif used for Joker covers -- we've already seen another famous example earlier in the countdown -- but the first and still the best use of this simple but visually arresting concept. Just about perfectly done here.

15) Flash #123
September, 1961 -- Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson

One of the most famous covers in comics history, Flash #123 re-introduced the Golden Age Flash to the world of comics after a 12 year absence and in the process revived the entire stable of Golden Age DC character by introducing the concept of Earth-2. Having alternate universes ended up being problematical in the long run, but the idea was never so simply explained as here, thanks to Infantino's depiction of the hapless construction worker calling for help to two different Flashes at the same time. This classic cover has been homaged too many times to count.

14) Batman #404
February, 1987 -- David Mazzucchelli

It's a shame that Mazzuchelli didn't produce more mainstream comics work, because he's arguably one of the best comic artists of the past thirty years. And though his output was small, just about everything he worked on has come to be regarded as a classic of the artform, including this simple but haunting cover, which kicked off Batman: Year One and the post-Crisis Batman reboot. This pretty much gives you the whole origin story in one striking image.

13) Superman #199
August, 1967 -- Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson

Speaking of covers that have been homages multiple times, this latest collaboration between Infantino and Anderson is one of the most popular covers (and stories) in DC history. The action really plays to Infantino's strengths, as he goes an excellent job of depicting the two in motion, something he had perfected in his years of working on Flash. The black background, classic Superman logo and "Who is the Fastest Man Alive" text combine to provide energy that just about explodes right off the cover.

12) Batman: The Dark Knight #1
1986 -- Frank Miller

Earlier on the countdown we saw the fourth issue of Miller's acclaimed mini-series and here was are, back again with the first issue. Like the cover for issue 4, this is a testament to design and iconography, as Miller relies on the reader to pretty much know who the silhouette is and what the imagery means without actually spelling it out. It's also hard to look at this cover without almost hearing in your mind the crack of thunder with this lightning bolt, which is an interesting sensation for a purely visual medium; I have to say it's maybe the only cover on this list that made me think in terms of sound as well as sight.

11) Batman #227
December, 1970 -- Neal Adams

You guys have no idea how hard it was for me to keep this out of the top ten. From a pure artistic stand point, this may be Neal Adams' best cover for DC, and it is certainly one of his most famous. It was covers like this that helped return Batman to his dark roots after the years of TV show camp had damaged the character. This cover is also an homage to Detective #31, which appeared earlier on the list. It was a hard decision trying to figure out whether an homage should actually rank higher than the original, but I felt that the iconic status of Detective #31 was based in no small part to how popular and awesome this cover from Adams is. Based on that and just the sheer sweetness of this cover (which includes what I think is the best Batman logo ever) I had to rank this cover higher. One of the best.

Tomorrow: At last, the Top Ten!

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About the Dark Knight Returns cover: Frank Miller has said that it was Lynn Varley who took his lightning bolt sketch and really made the dramatic background image it ended up being.