Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Top 150 DC Covers of All Time: #70-61

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.

And now, the top 70. This is getting serious guys -- the big guns are really starting to come out. Case in point:

70) Superman Annual #1
August, 1960 -- Curt Swan and Stan Kaye

Classic Silver Age Superman artist Curt Swan provides this iconic image and layout for the first Superman annual. This is also, as it happens, the first DC annual, and the layout for this cover was used for basically the next decade on all the DC annuals and many of the 80 Page Giants as well; central image surrounded by small boxes containing scenes from other stories. This isn't the only -- or best known -- image of Superman breaking chains but it's one of the earliest and best. A Silver Age classic.

69) Jonah Hex #25
January, 2008 -- Rafael Garres

Okay, this is obviously a personal choice. I already discussed at some length some of the reasons there are very few covers from the last decade on my countdown, but this cover illustrates another reason: the fractured reading community. With so many titles being published and so few people reading these days, it's very difficult for a cover to be widely known enough to become iconic. Over the course of researching this list, I discovered entire titles that I never even knew were being published by DC over the past decade. Obviously, no matter how awesome the covers on those comics were, I wasn't familiar with them and this fact is further exacerbated by all the variant covers being pumped out by the industry. This Jonah Hex cover from two years ago isn't a variant, but considering only 11k people read Jonah Hex, chances are you probably have never seen it. Which is too bad, because as a Hex fan, I believe this is the best cover in the character's 40 year history. It also blew away the people I showed it to at the comic store when I bought it -- people who otherwise would never have seen it due to today's comic book realities.

68) Batman #1
Spring, 1940 -- Bob Nake and Jerry Robinson

Hey look, kids, it's Batman #1! Yes, this probably seems kind of low on the countdown, but bear with me. As I've mentioned previously, the competition for spots on this list was especially fierce for Batman titles, because the series and character have just had so many awesome covers over the year. This is undoubtedly an iconic cover, but so are basically all of the other Batman covers above it on the list, and each of those I felt was superior artistically. I will say that this cover does have a certain joie de vivre, I like the yellow background (obviously) and the almost art deco spareness of the silhouetted cityscape is sharp as well. But this is as high as the cover could make it for me.

67) Swamp Thing #7
December, 1973 -- Berni Wrightson

Wrightson didn't do a lot of superhero covers, which is too bad because we can see from this brief glimpse of batman that he probably would have killed them just as he killed everything else he drew. I love the lighting on this cover and the awesomely detailed city in the background. Plus, I always like a semi-frame cover design like this where the logo and other graphics are kept separate from the picture; it just looks clean and in this case it's complimented by a nice color choice. Very cool cover.

66) The Spectre #33
September, 1995 -- Doug Beekman

Another personal choice. The 90's were an interesting time in that the decade produced more crap than any other comic decade but also had a number of really sharp alternative series going on. One of these was Spectre, which regularly featured excellent painted covers, my favorite of which is this image from Doug Beekman. I hadn't realized Beekman did this cover until I looked up the credits just now, but it is a bit funny, as once upon a time I knew Beekman as Uncle Doug. He and my aunt have been divorced for a long time now, but when I was a kid I had the chance to see him work on a number of awesome comic covers, mostly for Savage Sword of Conan (my favorite of which is this gem from 1986). Family politics suggest I should have taken this choice off my list, but you have to give props where props are due: this is one sweet cover. Blow it up for a look at Spectre's creepy side (as opposed to his giant, looming side, which he seems to display on almost all of his other covers on this list).

65) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #4
June, 1986 -- Frank Miller

Like Batman #1, I'm going to guess some people will think this should have ranked higher, but hey: them's the breaks. Though this silhouette of Batman fighting Superman is memorable and undoubtedly a classic, it's not even the most famous cover from this four issue mini-series. I do appreciate the iconography with the illuminated logo on Superman's chest pretty much eliminating the need for any other details or colors. But I just couldn't justify it going any higher than this on the list.

64) Mystery in Space #90
March, 1964 -- Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson

Don't look now, but it's another Mystery in Space cover from Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson. Earlier we looked at a cover that helped define the character's dilemma of being torn between two worlds; but while that cover was cool and had a giant magnifying glass and everything, this is the true Adam Strange classic as he struggles to keep those worlds from actually colliding. It's just a great, epic visual.

63) Action Comics #583
September, 1986 -- Ed Hannigan, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson

Despite the fact that this is signed "Swanderson" -- meaning it was done by the team of Swan and Anderson -- the comics database says that Ed Hannigan actually did the layouts. Okay, why not. But there's no doubt that it's Swan who takes center stage here; this classic cover, which fronted the equally classic story "What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" by Alan Moore, is the perfect send-off for the Silver Age Superman that Swan did more to define than any other artist. A perfectly fitting end.

62) Batman: Harley Quinn
October, 1999 -- Alex Ross

Alex Ross is one of the most popular and famous comic artists of the past 20 years and covers like this illustrate why. The Joker, like The Spectre, lends himself to dramatic covers because his white coloring pops off the page, especially when contrasted with black backgrounds and he so often is. This finely rendered painting of Joker with Harley Quinn showcases Ross's photorealistic technique and has become one of the best known Joker images of the past two decades.

61) Adventure Comics #40
July, 1939 -- Creig Flessel

The first appearance of Sandman was also the first issue of Adventure that featured a superhero instead of, well, adventure stories. And the cover reflects that, as it really belongs more to the pulp tradition than to the emerging superhero school. And this is a big plus, because while superhero books (and artists) may have had an abundance of energy, they weren't the kind of craftsman that the pulp artists, with their decade plus of experience, were. A memorable and exceedingly well drawn DC milestone.

Tomorrow: #60-51 brings you horror! Romance! Superheroics! And more Alex Ross too! Be there!

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