There are some comics covers that transcend themselves. Certain images just stick in the mind and become completely emblematic of a certain comic, a certain attitude, and a certain set of characters. It’s not just that there have been a huge amount of pastiches of many of these covers that make them so famous, though that’s part of what makes them iconic. These are the covers that have become iconic to comics fans.
10. Love and Rockets #1 (Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez)
This cover is thoroughly emblematic of a certain era in comics and a certain approach to the medium. This first Fantagraphics-published, magazine-sized issue of Love and Rockets is a declaration of artistic freedom. This cover announces, loudly and proudly, that a new era of comics had arrived. It presents a world that’s a bit in-between. The women on the cover are mostly dressed in sci-fi genre clothes, but their attitude is dismissive, bored, screaming to all the world that all that sci-fi junk displayed on this cover just didn’t matter to them.
This cover feels revolutionary and thrilling. A certain amount of artistic freedom is implied in this cover, which is exactly what the comic delivered. It’s proof of the iconic power of this cover that the Bros Hernandez have revisited it several times, as a piece that’s thoroughly representative of their work.
9. Limited Collector’s Edition #C-41 (Alex Toth with an assist from Al Plastino)
Even for those in the generation that never saw the Super Friends cartoon as anything other than pure and ironic silliness, this amazing image by Alex Toth has real power and familiarity. With its joyfully happy characters and awesome art-deco background, this cover is pure illustrated joy. My favorite reference to it is in Cliff Chiang and Brian Azzarello’s great Doctor Thirteen: Architecture and Morality, with its amazingly fantastic combination of characters – but how could they be any weirder than Superman, Batman, Robin, Superman and Aquaman hanging with Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog?
8. Amazing Fantasy #15 (Jack Kirby / Steve Ditko)
There he is, comic fans in 1962, front and center, your latest hero. Who would have guessed that this extremely odd-looking hero, with a hidden face, odd costume and weird rope would become one of the most recognized heroes in comics history, and idol of millions?
There’s no ignoring the power and excitement of this image. It was smart of Stan to have Jack Kirby illustrate this cover even if Steve Ditko would turn out to be the artist best known for his work on the web-slinger. Kirby was always known for power and energy, and this cover is really full of pure Kirby muscle. What fan of Marvel Comics hasn’t dreamed of having this terrific cover in his or her hands?
7. The Brave and the Bold #28 (Mike Sekowsky / Murphy Anderson)
Most comic fans know the famous and possibly apocryphal story of how the Fantastic Four was created. Supposedly Marvel publisher Martin Goodman was playing golf with either Irwin Donenfeld or Jack Liebowitz, top executives at DC at that time. The DC exec supposedly bragged about the success that they were having with the Justice League, which prompted Goodman to order Stan Lee to create a new super-hero title.
As we all know, there are lots of reasons to dispute the truth of that story: Goodman didn’t golf with his rivals, the members of the FF are very different from the members of the JLA, Stan apparently made plans to create the FF before the book was launched.
But there is one awfully interesting overlap between the cover of Brave & Bold #28 and the cover of Fantastic Four #1 – the giant monster. Just look at the weird feeling of this cover, with the giant starfish at the center of the image rather than the heroes that were at the center of the DC line. It seems a bit improbable that the editors of this comic would de-emphasize the heroes that were driving their line at that time, but of course this was the era of the giant monster comics from the major publishers.
Who knows if Stan was influenced by this cover, but it’s interesting to think of how much Stan thought of his competitors when he developed his new and exciting series.
6. All- Star Comics #3 (Everett E. Hibbard)
Oh look, it’s a bunch of guys in weird costumes sitting around a table! How exciting! But that’s not the point, of course! The point is that this gorgeously simple and almost hokey image has a certain beauty, power and even mystery to this cover that a flashier cover just doesn’t have. It definitely prompts the reader to ask a bunch of questions – who are these strange beings and what brings them together on this cover? If this new Justice Society of America is a new club, it was undoubtedly a club that many fans wanted to join!
The pure, beautiful simplicity of this cover is really surprisingly compelling – even when compared to some of the more spectacular covers are compared with it.
5. Amazing Spider-Man #50 (John Romita Sr.)
What? This cover appears higher on this list than the iconic Amazing Fantasy #1? That just seems wrong, doesn’t it? But this cover is so iconic that it was even quoted in one of the Spider-Man movies.
But even more importantly, this cover really captures the spirit of Spider-Man comics, with their angst and inner conflict and personal stress and worry. Peter Parker was always a conflicted soul, and this cover brilliantly captures those internal conflicts.
4. X-Men #1 (Jack Kirby)
Two things just occurred to me when I was looking at this cover. One is that Magneto is kind of a coward. He doesn’t have the pose of a fighting man on this cover. Instead he’s hiding be
hind his force field, seemingly taunting our heroes while really playing the coward. Meanwhile, he’s facing an attack from some heroes who appear really kind of pathetic. Iceman is throwing snowballs at Magneto, while the Beast seems filled with inept fury, and Marvel Girl seems to be swooning at Magneto. Meanwhile, the Angel seems to be carrying a bazooka to fight Maggie – did he ever actually carry a bazooka in the actual comics? Only Cyclops, steadfast brave and boring Cyclops, is the only one who actually seems to have a chance against the Master of Magnetism?
How did this image become so iconic when it’s so silly and kind of uncompelling? Of course we all know what it is. This cover was the first. It was the image from which thousands of mutants have sprung over the years. And it does a great job of telling a little bit of a story on one charming cover.
3. Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (George Pérez)
This is one of those covers that was clearly an instant classic from the moment that it appeared. Parodies of this cover began appearing just a couple of years after the original, and no wonder. The eye-popping detail and thoroughly super emotions of this cover make it almost operatic in all its grandiose glory. This might be the single greatest piece of art ever created by the great Pérez – which is definitely saying something, considering all the spectacular detail he’s delivered in his comics. But how can you argue? Just look at the full splendor of the 1980s DC Universe on display in this one image – unfortunately including that horribly wretched costume Supergirl is wearing? How sad is it that this immortal cover featuring Kara’s death has to have her in that ugly-ass suit?
2. Action Comics #1 (Joe Shuster)
The cover from which it all sprung. Like Athena bursting from the skull of Zeus, the brand new genre of super-hero comics sprung from the heads of Siegel and Shuster, with this breathtaking image at the front of the story. Sure, this cover looks normal to us now, when we’ve seen super-hero comics for some 70 years. But to fans in 1939, they must have felt like the terrified man at the bottom left of this cover. Who in the world is this man in tights at the center of the image, and why is he able to throw a car? It must have felt like a stroke of lightning to see this comic on the newsstand. Who could resist it? And how could this cover not remain immortal?
1. Fantastic Four #1 (Jack Kirby)
What’s really crazy about this cover to me is just how rotten it really is. This cover breaks so many of the rules of what makes a good comic book cover. The giant monster at the center of the cover is thoroughly nondescript and boring. The heroes – who don’t look at all like heroes – are off center. The flying man at the center of the cover seems intended to capture our attention, but it’s impossible to tell if he’s another monster or a man. The background is colored a dull color of gray, the car that the Thing destroys is colored in a way that deflects the viewer’s eye from it, and even Mr. Fantastic’s stretchy arm is buried on the bottom right corner of the cover.
But this crazy cover works, maybe because it’s yet another example of Jack Kirby’s unerring eye for capturing powerful images. This cover has come to perfectly represent the beginnings of the Marvel universe in all its old-fashioned, awkward, hokey glory. More than that, this cover has come to represent the entire Marvel Age of Comics, an explosion of creativity and energy that helped to revolutionize the comics industry. Against all the odds, this cover is a classic.