You 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
6. Wonder Woman 10 – Cliff 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.