Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Top 150 DC Covers of All Time: The Top Ten

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.

Now, here it is, at long last: the top ten covers in DC history.

10) Watchmen #1
September, 1986 -- Dave Gibbons

I originally planned to place this cover at number two on this list -- yes, even above the cover that is actually at number two. But then something happened that changed my mind -- I actually looked at this cover again. Not that it isn't a great cover, because it is -- it introduces the great design for Watchmen, with the big bold logo down the side and the iconic smiley face button and it is, of course, expertly rendered by Dave Gibbons in an almost abstract composition. No, the problem wasn't the cover but what the cover isn't -- it isn't this, more famous cover from the Watchmen trade paperback. Which presented two issues for me. Firstly, the TPB cover is much better known simply because far more people have read Watchmen in TPB than in the original comic form; and secondly, the TPB cover is also superior artistically. It's just a masterpiece of minimalist design. So as great as this actual cover for Watchmen is, I couldn't justify it any higher than tenth because it's really just a prototype for the justly revered TPB cover.

9) Justice League of America #21
August, 1963 -- Mike Sekowsky and Murphy Anderson

The first crossover between the Earth-1 Justice League and the Earth-2 Justice Society also provides one of the great covers in DC history, courtesy of Mike Sekowsky and, of course, Murphy Anderson, who seemed to have inked just about every awesome cover DC had during the Silver Age. I love the design of this cover; there's just something fun and almost joyful about the Justice Society coming out of that cloud, even though this issue likely caused thousands of kids to horrify their parents by attempting their own Earth-2 seances. This issue also, of course, was the first of DC's many "crisis" stories, as well as the first in the annual JSA-JLA crossovers, a tradition that would last for over two decades. Just a fun, nostalgic cover for any fan of superhero comics.

8) Justice League #1
May, 1987 -- Kevin Maguire and Terry Austin

Since its publication over twenty years ago, this shot of the JLA looking up at the viewer with folded arms and grumpy expressions has been one of the most homages and parodied covers in all of comics. I would have sworn that this logo wouldn't have worked if I hadn't seen this cover, but the art and the unusual perspective are so powerful that they elevate everything, even that unfortunate font.

7) Crisis on Infinite Earths #7
October, 1985 -- George Perez

Both the DC and Marvel countdowns were filled with Pieta-style covers (such as the famous "Robin Dies at Dawn" Batman cover we looked at last week), but they all pale in comparison to this timeless cover by the master of detail, George Perez. While his covers can occasionally be accused of being too cluttered, this time around he find the perfect balance, mixing the powerful and unforgettable central figure of the weeping Superman holding his slain cousin with the background detail of the gathered heroes of the DCU looking on in mourning. Even that wonky DC 50th Anniversary banner can't detract from this indelible cover.

6) Green Lantern / Green Arrow #76
April, 1970 -- Neal Adams

While the Silver Age belonged to Marvel, in many ways the Bronze Age belonged to DC, as the company pushed the boundaries both in terms of design as well as innovation in storytelling and developing new characters. The DC revival and the Bronze Age in general -- an entire era of comics, really -- is summed up and represented in full by this renowned cover from Neal Adams. If you want to get really deep, the shattering of Green Lantern's lantern symbolizes the way DC itself was smashing their own traditions and cliches to try and form a new paradigm through stories like this one, the first of their "relevancy" comics; a symbolism, by the way, that I think Adams completely intended. Add in the fact that it's just really cool looking; brings back the classic (and much better) Green Lantern logo from the golden age; and features the new Green Arrow in full badass mode and there's no wonder that this is one of the best known comics of the past 40 years.

5) Star Spangled War Stories #138
May, 1968 -- Joe Kubert

I know I've said this before, but this time I'm serious: you have to click on this and see it at a larger resolution. As we've discussed before, War comics aren't exactly the most popular genre these days, so you may not be familiar with this cover; and though it's the first issue of Enemy Ace's ongoing series, to be honest there's not a whole heck of a lot of historical significance to it considering that series lasted less than 15 issues. Here's what is significant: this is probably the best war cover in comics history due to the fact that it's also, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, the best cover Joe Kubert ever did. Considering he's one of the greatest legends in comics history, that's saying something.l But most of all, it's just beautiful in design, detail and execution. Look at it and you'll see why it makes the top five.

4) Superman #14
February, 1942 -- Fred Ray

I've featured this cover before basically just because I wanted to look at it, so everyone pretty much knows how much I love it. It's not just one of the best and most famous war covers to come out of the Golden Age of comics, it's also an enduring and iconic image of Superman, directly associating him with America through the symbolism of the shield and eagle. What's more American than Superman, right? but when this came out, he had only been around for four years. It's covers like this -- or rather, it was this cover -- that really began to seal that link in people's minds. And it just is so damn nice to look at.

3) Batman #9
March, 1942 -- Jack Burnley

What's interesting about this cover is that just about everyone -- not just people in comics, I mean everyone in general -- is familiar with this image, it's just that most people don't know where it came from. Not that this cover has been reproduced all that much in broader media or anything, but the idea of Batman and Robin that people have in their minds was essentially generated here; this image has been so influential that it's become pervasive to the point of almost losing the origin. Basically, this is Batman and Robin. And beyond all that, of course, is the fact that's is a really sharp, effective and beautiful cover in its own right. It's fitting that it goes back to back with Superman #14, because the two covers share a DNA; not the first appearances of the character, maybe, but the genesis of the legends.

2) Detective Comics #27
May, 1939 -- Bob Kane

I actually struggled with the placement of this cover, strange as that sounds. There are so many classic, iconic and awesome Batman covers (as we've seen just over the last two days) that it's hard to pin all the importance on a cover like this one, even if it is his first appearance. On top of that, nearly every element of this cover was swiped by Bob Kane from other sources and sort of stuck together in this (admittedly very effective) pastiche. So I moved it around several times. IN the end, though, despite my reservations, I decided I couldn't justify putting this cover anywhere other than at number two (though if I had decided to make TPB covers eligible, that Watchmen cover might have snuck in). But, here it is, probably right where it belongs after all.

1) Action Comics #1
June, 1938 -- Joe Shuster

Could there ever be any other choice?

Next: What?! Where's All-Star Superman #1?! OMG!!! NOOOOOO!! Okay, calm down, dude. Relax. In a couple days I'll be posting my inevitable follow-up where I explain why stuff like All-Star Superman #1 and Justice League of America #1 didn't make the list and I'll also answer any questions or concerns that have cropped up during the countdown. So if you think I blew anything or left any important covers off, let me know now. Who knows -- I might even change something if you're persuasive enough.

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Thanks so much for doing this list. It was a blast to look at and read.

Just found this and read it. Tremendous fun. Say, I'm looking for an online comics forum that's not completely defunct....suggestion(s)?