Best of 2015: Best Covers

best covers 2015

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 pack 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 10 covers of 2015.

10. Lando 1 – Alex Maleev

11 Lando 1

Charles Soule and Alex Maleev’s Lando series played a simple game: that Lando Calrissian could talk his way out of any situation. The subtext being that he should be able to win any battle without firing a shot. Maleev’s cover ends up Trojan Horsing this theme disguised as a straight-up main-character-on-the-front-of-the-book cover. Mind you, it is also that: Maleev’s gift for expression perfectly sells Lando’s likeness and personality with having to draw the draw the character photo-realistically. That personality is really the selling point of the series, and Maleev captures it perfectly here — Lando may be facing down a shadowy figure with a gun, but he couldn’t be more relaxed.

9. Justice League 45 – Francis Manapul

10 Justice League 45

You can’t accuse Geoff John’s Darksied War of being simple. As the war between the forces of Apokalips, New Genesis and Earth (and… Qward, I guess) arrange themselves in the multiverse to do battle, readers could be forgiven for asking “wait, who is that again?” Which is why Francis Manapul’s breathtakingly clear pencil work was a godsend for this story — his clarity acts a salve for all this DC uber-mythology. That streamlining is evident from this cover which folds the major players into a simple stark graphic design. Manapul’s experimental use of discrete coloring techniques is also on-display here, making Wonder Woman, Mister Miracle and Darkseid all look like they’re being articulated with totally different visual vocabularies.

8. Batman Eternal 50 – Cliff Chiang

9 Batman Eternal 50

Goddamn, do we ever love stories about the Bat-family getting the everloving snot kicked out of them! As Batman Eternal picked up steam heading into its final issues, superstar artist Cliff Chiang did a few covers that played with the designs of the main cast members, but it’s his most by-the-numbers cover that makes the strongest impression. Their costumes are shredded and the only non-moody-blue coloring on the cover is the alarming red blood oozing from their all-too-numerous wounds. In spite of that apparent darkness, Chiang’s strength with expressions shines through — there’s no hiding the palpable sense of determination that these four characters are expressing through their faces and body language.

7. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 4 – Erica Henderson

8 The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 4

We’re suckers for a good gimmick here at Retcon Punch, and this 16-bit style cover for Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 4 is one of the best. Erica Henderson’s pixel-y designs look so natural and lived-in that I had to double check to make sure Doreen wasn’t actually in a Marvel vs. Capcom game at some point (she’s not). The frivolity of the cover also underlines the silliness of pitting these two characters against each other in a fist-fight. I mean, come on: it doesn’t make any kind of sense in a comic and it doesn’t make any kind of sense in Street Fighter II. When Ryan North’s script finds a much more logical conclusion than what this cover would imply, we can come back and fully appreciate Henderson’s wonderfully retro irony.

6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 45-50 – Mateus Santolouco

6 TMNT-45-50

Cheating? Maybe. It’s a little weird to suggest that six covers together are number six on our list of best covers of the year, but holy cow, have you looked at this thing? This was a big year for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as the creative team found ways to regularly double down on, and then re-express, the simple concepts set forth in Cityfall. This ur-cover does an amazing job of highlighting the series enormous cast of characters, using these graphic red banners to set up compelling dichotomies over and over and over again. Series regular artist Mateus Santolouco even stages little battles everywhere, with all lines of action either leading to or away from the scroll in Karai’s hand, which represents the future of the Foot Clan. It’s a dizzying achievement that more than does justice to the stories of the issues within.

5. Hawkeye 22 – David Aja

5 Hawkeye 22

Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye finale was a legendary release — delayed for months and months and capping off a universally celebrated series. Hawkeye has been so influential to Marvel’s publishing strategy that now it seems like every new series is about an under-appreciated Avenger with hilariously down-to-earth problems. All due respect to that pithy distillation of Hawkeye‘s tone, but the series was also deftly dark and hopelessly cool without being detached. With this relatively simple cover, Aja manages to express that graphic darkness with some stark coloring and a reminder of the hook of the series: Clint’s apartment building. It’s half idyllic and half terrifying, as gentle splatters of red and yellow paint vie for the eye’s attention. Of course, there is one thing in the middle of the page that we can count on, even if it’s upsidedown and hanging from a clothesline: Hawkeye’s purple shirt. It’s graphic, it’s cool, it’s vulnerable — it’s everything the series ever was.

3. Ant-Man 4 – Mark Brooks

2 Ant-Man 4

Some homages are too silly not to love, such as Mark Brook’s impeccably recreated Miami Vice cover for Ant-Man 4. Beyond the joke, it’s sort of startling how effectively cool Ant-Man and Grizzly are on this cover, even if it’s a very affected kind of cool. Plus, Ant-Man itself was incredibly stylish, going for a joke or wacky premise over plotting or verisimilitude, much like Miami Vice. The two series might have tapped into different cultural inspiration for their crackle, but a common focus on style over substance is keenly observed and expressed in this jokey cover. Plus, I mean, come on: Grizzly’s wearing white slip on shoes. What’s not to like?

3. Thor 4 – Russell Dauterman

4 Thor 4

There was a lot of hullabaloo about the new Thor — she’s a lady: can you believe it!? That change did leave an hugely intriguing question mark in the form of Thor, the Odinson. He’s lost an arm, and carries a god-killer ax and readers could be forgiven for just wanting to spend time with him. Striking that balance never detracted from Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman’s excellent Thor series, and this cover plays with all those cards on the table. Dauterman has such a gift for clear, compelling characters with an uncanny mastery of weight, light and shadow (seriously, check out the shadows on Odinson’s chest), and this cover plays to his strengths as simply as possible. Just draw both Thors. Though he doesn’t take up any less space, Odinson is clearly the guest-character here — that upsidedown positioning assures that. It ends up being concise celebration of both what Thor was and what Thor will be.

2. Grayson 8 – Mikel Janin

3 Grayson 8

Is there any comic book character who’s easier to cheer for than Dick Grayson? Mikel Janin’s cover for Grayson 8 bets that no, there is not. Even when he’s just expressing a satisfying face-punch, Janin graphically expresses the series’ Morrison-esque espionage identity with the persistent swirl of Mr. Mino’s hypnos. Of course, he doubles back to the satisfying part of this equation — the violence — and smears some of those swirls into blood.

1. Mighty Thor 1 – Russell Dauterman

1 Mighty Thor 1

If there was one thing holding back Thor, it was the insistence on Thor’s secret identity. Only on the final page of the series did we learn that she was Jane Foster, and that Thor was dying of cancer. Mighty Thor shouts this juxtaposition from the rooftops, and Russell Dauterman’s triptych cover illustrates this beautifully. Not only is the three-fold format wildly evocative of religious art, but Dauterman manages to pack in a blistering number of Thor’s supporting characters, from Heavens and Hels and all the nine ten realms. It’s like a classic Star Wars poster, but benefiting from Dauterman’s clean lines and occasionally baroque embellishments. But the most effecting part of this awesome widescreen spectacle is the meek, yet determined, body of un-transformed Jane. What do you see in that? Strength? Weakness? One despite the other? It’s the whole promise of the series, expressed with blockbuster energy and angelic clarity.

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9 comments on “Best of 2015: Best Covers

  1. I’m not in front of comics right now, but I have to say the Star Wars #1 Luke Skywalker Action Figure variant and Darth Vader #1 Action Figure Variant were close to the top of the list for me. The Luke Skywalker one because it started the action figure cover mania of 2015 and the Darth Vader one because it looked so damn real.

    And I have no disagreement with any of your selections as far as quality goes, although to me the weakest of the bunch is the Batman Eternal cover. I still don’t like the coloring on Dauterman’s art, but that’s a me thing, not a quality thing.

    • I don’t know how the rest of our contributors prepare for our nomination process, but I just went back through all the comics in our comixology account and looked at everything we’d purchased in the last 12 months, which means that I miss virtually variants. I don’t even know where I’d begin compiling a list that could also include variants… We don’t have a hard and fast rule against them (and a few were nominated), but I think Retcon Punch tends to be biased for the original covers.

      I mean, if we opened it up to variants, we probably could have done a 10 Best Star Wars Comic Covers of 2016.

  2. There are so many great covers, that I’m not going to try and state which ones I would choose, as I would have to spend an age searching, just that these are all great choices, and I would struggle to put anything other than the Mighty Thor 1 as first. ANd you guys are certainly right when you say the strongest part isn’t the sheer scale or the number of beautifully drawn supporting characters, but that emphasized in the middle is the meek, untransformed Jane. Not only a captivating image, but the entire thematic basis of the series summed up in one image. A masterpiece

    In response to kaif’s issues with the Batman Eternal one, I feel I should also call that one out as great. What I love about it is that unlike many of them, which attempt to push layouts and do ‘interesting’ things, the Eternal cover goes for stark simplicity. No bells and whistles, just the four of them battered, bruised and still standing. Creates a cover with an astonishing level of grit.

    While I don’t want to get to into the ‘why wasn’t this or that cover featured’, I’m surprised by the lack of Secret Wars covers. I don’t treat Alex Ross as the true legend many do, and there are certain times his style doesn’t work as well as it should, but I think he has killed it with his Secret Wars covers

    • That’s a great point about Secret Wars. As is the case with all of these things, we take nominations from our contributors and editors – I don’t think we even nominated any Secret Wars covers. I wonder if part of the reason for that is that we tend respond to covers that are extra representative of the story, and there’s an inherent disconnect between Ross’ covers and Ribic’s distinctive interiors. A couple of those covers are fucking great (and are just as complex as the TMNT or Thor covers we posted above), but maybe that’s why we weren’t as excited about them.

      Although: Chiang sure didn’t draw that issue of Batman Eternal, so what the fuck do I know?

      • Yeah, Ross and Ribic certainly have different styles. Yet Ross’ covers are certainly perfectly tuned to the story itself. The best thing is that they are not just complex, but purposeful. There is no other way to properly see what is inside, except to create something so complex and massive. Because even if the interiors look different, nothing sells the story inside better.

        Certainly deserves some sort of honourable mention at least, if you were using them.

        From a quick look at my comixology account, other honourable mentions should go for Omega Men’s defaced propaganda posters (not only a truly amazing poster design, but one of the few that truly uses the title of the comic in a way that enhances the cover). Batgirl 45, the wedding issue, is a truly amazing cover (though I have a soft spot for the sheer kineticism of Batgirl 46, with Batgirl and Spoiler charging at you), and Black Canary, We Are Robin and Spider-Gwen had more than a couple of great ones. Capullo has a couple of stand out Batman covers, including the Mr Bloom one. And at the very start of the year, Loki: Agent of Asgard #10. And any chance to see Jock do a Batman cover is always going to be great, and Batman 44 is a good one, even if it is nowhere near the masterpiece of Detective COmics 880 (http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/scale_large/5/56044/2380309-detective_comics__1937___880.jpeg), a cover so great, I almost purchased a framed version for my wall

        On the indie side, Low had some great covers, while the covers of Revival should never be forgotten, as they have been consistently amazing. Wytches was always frightening and atmospheric, a sort of cover where you almost can’t explain why it is so good except for ‘I’m scared shitless by it’

        Not sure which ones would go in my top 10, and would need a hell of a lot of time to go through it, but a quick overview of some series that often had some good stuff

    • I think covers serve two purposes. As art on their own and as a striking representation of the story inside. As I didn’t read Batman Eternal #8, I’m only judging it based on its properties as art, and to me, it’s not exceptional. It’s fine. I like it ok. I wouldn’t put it up on my wall, I don’t particularly like the Liefeld-like toothy grimace on Batman, and I don’t understand the shadow.

      I don’t even know which Robin that is. I think it’s fine, it just doesn’t bring as much to me as others in this gallery. Most likely my lack of a relationship with three of the four characters in the image as the art itself.

      • I agree with you on what a cover should do, I just think that this one does.

        It is a deceptively simple cover. It looks like just an action shot of the Batfamily. But that simplicity hides the story it tells. It isn’t like the Mighty Thor, telling the story of a small, sick woman in the realm of legends, or anything like that. It is telling the story of tone. The story it is telling is quite simply tiredness. It is the story of four heroes who have been fighting for far too long, starting to feel it and want to stop, but also knowing that they have to keep fighting till the very end

        That’s what makes the cover work for the rest of us. That story of being beaten into the ground, can barely keep fighting, and yet they still do. Even as you see the tiredness, sense the tiredness, they wait the next round, and the next round, and the next round.
        As I said, deceptively simple. When I said ‘an astonishing level of grit’, I didn’t mean it in the ‘dark and gritty’ manner. I meant it in the courage, the resolve.That these characters show their grit because they are waiting for the next round even as they are too tired, too wounded to continue

  3. Spending a couple of minutes looking through my current collections:

    I like the modern Carnage covers. Maybe 1 is best, I like 3 also.

    Daredevil 1, reviewed here, had a cover I really liked.

    Descender #5 I also liked:

    Doctor Strange #1, reviewed here, had a kick ass cover.

    Manifest Destiny #11 was gorgeous and I could even talk a little about the not so subtle symbolism in it.

    Every cover in the Spider-Man 2099 series. Francesco Mattina should be a household name.

    Scarlet Witch #1: It turned out to be an interesting (if clumsy) read, and Aja puts out a cover that shows… well, he’s incredible.

    The Spire #1 or #5, reviewed here. I think maybe Stokely deserves mention on the artist of the year list. His work in The Spire has been gorgeous and his creative depiction of Sha and her abilities is noteworthy.

    Let’s throw in Squirrle Girl #3 with the tribute art in the background.

    Lastly, another Robinson title! Squadron Supreme #2: Hyperion cradling Namor’s decapitated head, smiling grimly as he closes one of Namor’s unseeing eyes while bathed in an eerie red light… it’s pretty striking.

    (I hope these actually show as links or are at least copyable to see the covers.)

    • (Sorry for the late approval of this comment — I think the links caused this to go into the “pending approval” folder rather than getting approved automatically, which happens so rarely, I never actually check it.)

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