Best of 2012: Best Covers

best coversYou know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but that doesn’t mean you can’t judge the cover on its own merit. Some covers are so excellent that they back all the drama, excitement and emotion of the whole issue into one succinct image. Sometimes they end up being their own surreal experience. And other times, we’re just exciting to see our favorite heroes kicking ass one more time. These are our top 12 most awesome, creative and graphic covers of 2012.

12. Animal ManSwamp Thing 12 – Steve Pugh and Yannick Paquette with Nathan Fairbairn

The best covers manage to symbolize the issue’s main conflict in a single image, but this dual cover for the start of the Rotworld crossover event manages to do that for an entire arc — and for two series simultaneously. What’s more impressive is that each of these covers work on their own to symbolize each character’s struggles against the rot, giving the act of placing these issues next to each other a narrative significance that isn’t always true of “gimmick” covers. It’s clever far beyond the “gee whiz” factor of a two-part cover — and pretty, to boot.

12 Swamp Thing Animal Man 12

11. Justice League Dark 9 Ryan Sook

The classic “team stands together and gazes out at the audience” cover often looks a lot like “the team poses for a picture,” which is to say, it’s not always the most dynamic choice. This cover turns that expectation on its ear, largely by being more than it initially appears. Sook manages to convey something telling about each character (I see you being stand-offish back there, Black Orchid), to the degree that we might just believe that Constantine knows exactly what’s creeping up behind him.

11 JLD 9

10. Death of the Family Die Cuts – Greg Capullo and FCO Plascencia

Of course there are other ways to add interest to images of your hero staring at the camera. Take Greg Capullo’s inventive covers for the Death of the Family crossover event, which covers each hero’s face with a die-cut of Joker’s. There are certainly more inviting images than the Joker’s horrific face-mask, but there’s something elemental about wanting to know what’s under it. It’s a safe gamble that you’ll keep turning the pages after you’ve peeled back the mask.

10 Death of the Family Die Cuts

9. Flash 6 – Francis Manapul

We’ve been impressed with the art on Flash from issue 1. Every panel is a joy, but Manapul shines when he can really work the contrast. Sometimes, that contrast is about weight and speed, but here, it’s all about color. Sure, the relative postures tell you a great deal about who has the upper hand in this issue, but the colors make it readily apparent after even the quickest glance. That kind of smart attention to detail is the perfect advertisement for the characteristically rich issue behind it.

09 Flash 6

8. Batwoman 8 – Amy Reeder

Colonel Kane opted for red on Kate’s uniform because it is hard to see in low light. Lucky for DC, it also pops like hell on the comic shop shelf. The hero, crouched like a gargoyle in the rain is a classic bat-family image, but Reeder’s touch of specificity — that Kate is surveying a hospital room — turns the mood from disciplined patience to one of wrought anxiousness. It’s still badass, but it’s not just badass.

08 Batwoman 8

7. Batman 6 – Greg Capullo and FCO Plascencia

Some covers opt to represent the issue expressionistically, rather than literally. Shockingly (especially to those who didn’t pick up Batman 5), this surreal cover only looks like it falls into this category. Coming at a point where Batman’s subjectivity is rapidly deteriorating, this cover both abstractly represents and accurately depicts Bruce’s tenuous grasp on reality. That dual nature of the art is borne out in the issue, which questions exactly how fundamentally Batman has been affected by his struggles.

07 Batman 6

6. Wonder Woman 10Cliff Chiang

While we could quite easily have populated this list of Chiang’s Wonder Woman covers, this one in particular bears a symbolic weight unusual to even this preternaturally symbolic title. By this point in the series, we’re kind of used to the idea of Diana being in hell, and while the ferry over the river Styx and Eros’ guns do end up playing a role here, Wonder Woman’s skeletal appearance is purely figurative. It’s an intriguing note of ambiguity, but true to form, the issue doesn’t offer any solid leads as to what it might mean.

06 Wonder Woman 10

5. Animal Man 5 – Travel Foreman and Lovern Kidnzierski

AHHHHHH! Holy shit is this cover terrifying. Face-eating will always be unsettling, but especially when it’s child-on-parent. Unfortunately, this isn’t just mood-setting — this scene plays out more-or-less as implied here (though thankfully in a dream) — which makes it paradoxically more inviting. It’s a stomach-churning tease for an issue that is totally willing to back up this gruesome image, if you’re game enough to give it a chance.

05 Animal Man 5

4. Batwoman 5 – J.H. Williams III

Like Wonder Woman, Batwoman is a title rich in symbolism. Also like Wonder Woman, it regularly features breathtaking covers. This one in particular features an array of symbols, as an amalgamation of a bat, and old urban legend, and the actual woman consigned to being that urban legend drip a tear into Kate’s eye. That tear runs into the ocean, which reflects Kate as her own twin sister. All of this (and the flames on the weeping woman’s arm) come into play in the issue, but are all deployed with this same level of mystery and elegance.

04 Batwoman 5

3. Hawkeye 2 – David Aja

Aja’s deceptively simple pencils have become a key component of Hawkeye, and this image distills it down perfectly. Breaking Clint’s impossibly perfect shooting skills down schematically makes it seem like a simple set of vectors to calculate, but we all know it’s not quite that easy. This cover features the same clean, cool (but never cold)  design work that gives this series it’s distinctive look, all while managing to make a “dork with a bow” way more badass than it has any business being.

03 Hawkeye 2

2. Swamp Thing 7 – Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn

Fans of Yanick Paquette (and especially fans of his current run on Swamp Thing) were already familiar with his deft handling of organic design, but nobody could have been prepared for the stunning sequences in Swamp Thing 7. This cover teases everything gorgeous about this issue — the expressive characters, the alluring shapes, and the jaw-dropping colors — before you can even read the copy teasing the rebirth of Swamp Thing. Enhanced particularly by Fairbairn’s carefull attention to detail on colors, it’s absolutely breathtaking.

02 Swamp Thing 7

1. Batgirl 6 – Adam Hughes

Like the best covers on this list, Adam Hughes’ cover for Batgirl 6 transcends its relationship to the issue, becoming a totally standalone work of art. His florid colors and vivid textures require no further explanation, which makes the tight connection to the issue all the more rewarding. Batgirl is nestled in Batman’s profile, but is that a sign of support or of intimidation? This issue takes us from one interpretation to the other, but this stunning cover manages to support both perfectly. It’s an emotionally complex, symbolically significant image that also manages to be absolutely gorgeous.

01 Batgirl 6

19 comments on “Best of 2012: Best Covers

  1. Man, even though I was a part of picking these, seeing them all together like this kind of takes my breath away. I LOVE GOOD ART.

    • I collected all these images and couldn’t really believe how awesome this page is. We ended up leaving a lot of Batwoman and Wonder Woman titles on the table, but holy hell, these look great.

    • Some other ones I liked that didn’t quite make the cut:

      Daredevil 20, which has an incredible sense of perspective, and is just littered with detail. It’s clearly a very figurative image, but it is so rich in symbolism, it really embodies the whole issue.

      All-New X-Men 1-2. It’s a very basic “team looks at the camera” image, but I love that there are three separate factions with three separate interests here. I also like that issue 1 had two-thirds of this triptych, which really drove home the conflict between old Scott and new Scott.

      Wonder Woman 11. I’ll admit that there’s not a ton going on in this image, but it’s so fucking badass, I don’t really care. We talk a lot about female empowerment on this site, but what could be more empowering than three confident women daring you to try something.

      Saga 6. I could have made the list of just Saga covers. (I was also particularly fond of issue 5, which was a portrait of Prince Robot IV. Maybe I have a soft-spot for really un-dynamic images, but the fact that this has all the trappings of a nobleman’s portrait, but with a robot head just tickles me.) This one is about as intriguing as they get, and is just plain pretty.

      I know Shelby and Patrick also had some pet favorites that didn’t make the final list, so be on the lookout for those.

      • I listed the Rorschach 3 cover, which I talked about at length in our write up of it just a few weeks ago. It’s already kind of an optical illusion that simultaneously looks like a door being kicked in AND Rorschach, but it also serves as a pre-first panel for the comic. Which is a style of cover I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else. Maybe not the most beautiful thing in the world (though, Lee Barmejo makes sure it DOES look awesome), but few cool concepts rolled into one.

        • Yeah, I loved that. I spent so much carefully inspecting that cover that when I opened it and saw the first panel I practically did a double-take

  2. To me, the more the background is detailed, the more the cover is worthy. That’s why, in a normal situation, I would say that Batwoman # 8 is the best cover of the year. In this case, that cover doesn’t even get a spot on the podium: the 3rd prize goes to Batwoman # 5, the 2nd one to Batgirl # 6 and the 1st one to Swamp Thing # 7. Special mention for Animal Man/Swamp Thing # 12.
    Of course, all my choices are based on my personal taste, so I’m not telling you all these things in a “I am right and you are wrong” way.
    Talking about Swampy, I can’t wait to know who will be Snyder’s heir. I can’t even make a forecast, and this makes me crave for knowing it even more.

    • That’s a great point – all of this is is based on what the three of us liked in a vacuum and then compiling our lists. No doubt we missed a lot and our personal tastes skewed this list pretty severely. Still – some pretty pictures.

      • Totally agree. I remember your prediction about Jim Lee leaving JL for Man of Steel (and not for WildCATS) was right: now who do you predict as the new Swamp Thing writer?

  3. I mentioned it already over on le Facebook, but looking at the covers every month to make the title images for each of our posts is so rewarding. There are so many incredible artists out there, and it’s easy to lose site of the artistic value of their work underneath the title and DC label and price and bar code. I love it when I can’t decide how to crop an image because the whole thing is so good I feel bad about it.

  4. Oh man, I am too much into the swing of New Year’s Eve festivities to do it tonight, but I am going to really take time and post a response to this tomorrow. It’s really a great list idea that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. We pull a lot of different stuff from each other and also seem to often have a different aesthetic preference so I bet my list will end up being a lot different from yours, but there’s no denying this is a handsome page of artwork neatly posted in a row. Good job, all

  5. Okay, here I go. In no particular order:

    Aquaman #12 Robot Chicken Variant – This Robot Chicken-produced cover image uses the MEGO-style “DC Retro-Action” 8″ figures to depict Aquaman defeating the entire remainder of the Justice League. Beautiful art? Some may argue not, but it makes me smile every time.

    Action Comics #9 by Gene Ha – This is the kind of silver aged multiverse weirdness I live for, and Gene ha makes it look SO damned iconic.

    Batman #6 by Greg Capullo – What’s to say that you haven’t said? An iconic cover of 2012.

    Joe Kubert Presents #1 by Joe Kubert – Those uninked Hawkman pencils reveal so much about the late master’s work and the beige/brown paperstock they reproduced it on is so tasteful. RIP to the comics legend.

    Buffy Season 9 #16 by Phil Noto – The actor/actress likeness couldn’t be more spot on here and it ranks with my 1:6 scale Seth Green doll and the Season 9 #3 cover by Noto as one of my absolute favorite pieces of Buffy memorabilia that I own.

    Demon Knights #10 by Bernard Chang – An undead King Arthur closes in on Etrigan and, wow, that horse looks scary as shit. Don’t know why, I just love it.

    FF #1 by Mike Allred – I just love these four characters as drawn by this artist. There is literally nothing more to it than that.

    Spider-Man #700 Marcos Martin New Year’s Eve Variant – Nothing says NYE like fireworks in Times Square, and there’s just something about the tiny detail and layout of this; Aunt May looks worried as she gazes out the window at the party while Spidey chases Green Goblin through the night sky right through the fireworks.

    Masks #1 Alex Ross 1:4 Cover – I never grow tired Ross’ art and this was the most exciting image I believe he’s produced at Dynamite if only for the premise and characters. Pulp heroes unite!

    Star Trek/Legion Of Super-Heroes #5 Cover A by Phil Jimenez – As a longtime fan of both franchises this shot of Kirk with the various females of the Legion just had me at “hello”. As an added bonus, one of the last pages of this issue was a shot of various time machines collected and preserved which run the gamut from HG Wells’ Time Machine all the way to the Hot Tub Time Machine.

    TMNT Micro-Series #5 (Splinter) Cover A by David Peterson – I just love the attention to detail in this beautiful image of Splinter. It beat out TMNT: Infestation #2 for this list, which has an extremely awesome, dimly-lit shot of Leonardo in battle with the tentacles of a Lovecraftian monster.

    Justice League #15 Stanley Tucci Variant – This gorgeous thing made 2012 right at the buzzer. I LOVE IT.

    • I sent an email around about that Justice League 15 cover as a late addition to our best covers ballot. But then I guess I straight forgot about it. I also loved most of the TMNT (main and micro) covers – especially 16 (which has the four turtles fighting Slash’s GIGANTIC looming face.

      FF1 and ASM700 are also great picks that we didn’t really consider because a) we weren’t reading FF and b) ASM700 came late.

      Actually, good picks all around. I wish there was a social networking component to comixology, so fans could share these kinds of lists (complete with the images) without, y’know, having to all get blogs or something.

      • LOL I sure did botch Billy Tucci’s name somehow, though… Stanley Tucci would be the famous actor. The one thing this website has made me consistently regret is not pulling Swamp Thing and Batwoman from issue 1. I’m so stubborn in my attempts to collect complete runs that it’d probably cost me a small fortune to get all of those highly-sought-after floppies at this point

        • Let’s collectively live in the fantasy where Stanley Tucci drew that cover. It’s just more whimsical that way.

          Batwoman is so interesting – it stubbornly plays by its own rules, not just with pacing and characterization, but also by commanding its own version of Gotham City that seems to be totally divorced the rest of the N52. The Kate Kane saga is going to be just as satisfying if you pick it up in trades (even on DC’s absurdly slow trade-release schedule).

        • I actually did pick up 13, 14, and 15 of Batwoman based on your praise for the title but haven’t given them series reads. I think I read 13 and the first part of 14 before deciding the title is very dense and that it would be difficult to jump into the middle of. I think I will be continuing to get the floppies and try and grab a lot or two on ebay to complete it when I have a little more money sooner or later. The other stuff I’ve been missing (Swamp Thing, GL: NG) I’ll most likely end up deferring to trades for

  6. I just remembered that I really should have included the last Wonder Woman cover with Diana reflected in Orion’s helmet in my list. I really love that. Also don’t know how I completed a list like this and never included a Flash cover. You even listed one to remind me. Oh well

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