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 2016.
10. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 4 – Erica Henderson
On paper, there’s nothing about Squirrel Girl’s powerset (proportional strength and speed of a squirrel, ability to talk to squirrels, etc.) that should make her “unbeatable,” but that’s precisely what makes her winning record so remarkable. Writer Ryan Q. North and artist Erica Henderson have celebrated Doreen’s resiliency at every turn, coming up with ever more resourceful ways for her to save the day. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 4 doesn’t ultimately find Doreen defeating Doctor Doom via a Katamari of squirrels, but Henderson treats us to the image on the cover, anyway. Like many of our favorite covers, it’s a figurative approach to the conflict in the issue, one that manages to capture the tone (and humor) of the series in one unforgettable image. It’s fun, silly, and just a little bit nerdy, just like Squirrel Girl (and her eponymous series).
9. Wonder Woman 6 – Nicola Scott and Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s origin story for Diana of Themyscira is intentionally obtuse. Her history is revealing its own self-contradictory nature, and as such, we’re kind of left to “feel” our way around her past. In one of the series’ strongest — and still more undefined — moments, Diana is visited by animals in a Disney-Princess-esque bequeathment of divine power. Scott puts that moment on the cover of issue six, smartly keeping the bars from Wonder Woman’s cell firmly in the frame. Also, it should be noted that Scott’s one of the best figure artists in DC’s stable right now and her talent for shape and grace extends fantastically to the animals that make this cover so goddamn majestic.
8. The Fix 4 – Steve Lieber and Ryan Hill
The black bars at the top and bottom of The Fix 4’s cover make this image appear like a frame of film, a single moment of a larger narrative frozen in time. In that instant, though, Steve Lieber and Ryan Hill manage to tell one hell of a story. The idea of a dog flying a plane is humorous on its own, but the seriousness with which Lieber and Hill treat that concept is far funnier; the horrified stewardess, overwhelmed pilots, and plane in distress are straight out of a melodramatic 70’s disaster movie — just, y’know, with a dog. While nothing even approaching this moment takes place within the issue itself, Lieber and Hill still manage to channel the themes of the issue: Pretzels’ competence vs. Mac’s helplessness, and the way Mac comes to care for Pretzels and lean on him for happiness. That’s impressive storytelling.
Plus, c’mon: it’s a dog flying an airplane. What else could you possibly want in a cover?
7. The Vision 10 – Mike del Mundo
Family trees are complicated affairs even for the most normal family. Steamrolling complex (and ever-changing) family relationships into a two-dimensional map is a tall order, even when you don’t have to capture the parentage of robots who received psychic imprints from humans. Mike del Mundo is able to capture an impressive amount of nuance in his schematic of the Vision’s family tree, hinting at some of the bizarre relationships while maintaining the familiar structure of a more traditional family tree. It’s that marriage of the familiar and the bizarre that makes this cover such a perfect match for this issue, which finds the Avengers’ attempt to impose a sense of normalcy on the Visions. Del Mundo reminds us, though, that this family tree isn’t quite normal, haloing it in branching circuitry. It’s a strikingly abstract cover, standing in sharp contrast to the rest of del Mundo’s covers for this series.
6. Mockingbird 8 – Joëlle Jones and Rachelle Rosenberg
Like many of the entries on this list, Joëlle Jones and Rachelle Rosenberg’s cover for Mockingbird 8 is a perfect summation of both the series and its star, distilling Bobbi Morse’s swagger, politics, and control over her own narrative down into a single compelling image. What makes this cover so iconic, though, is the life it’s taken on beyond this issue. When Mockingbird writer Chelsea Cain came under fire from misogynistic Twitter trolls, this cover became a rallying cry. Cain’s defenders donned their own “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda” shirts, and many fans and creators alike are still using this cover as their avatar. Mockingbird has become a symbol of resistance for all those tired of abuse, a symbol of power for all those ready to fight back and stand up for what they believe in, and that alone may just make this the most important cover of the year. Bobbi would be proud.
5. The Vision 3 – Mike del Mundo
We know, we know; selecting another of Mike del Mundo’s gorgeous, clever covers for The Vision comes at the expense of honoring a different artist, but these covers are just that good. Where the cover for issue 10 went abstract, this cover went figurative, manifesting Virginia’s flailing attempts to sweep her murder of Reaper under the rug. This cover not only highlights del Mundo’s knack for distilling the themes of this series down to single images, but also exemplifies how his idiosyncratic style matched those themes perfectly, landing somewhere between a Norman Rockwell and del Mundo’s own surrealist work on series like Weirdworld. The result is a cover that encapsulates the narrative at virtually every aesthetic level, perfectly capturing the otherworldliness beneath the veneer of domesticity that made this series so alluring.
3. TMNT: Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything 1-5 – Nick Pitarra and Michael Garland
The premise behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bebop and Rocksteady Destroy Everything is as convoluted and complicated as the series’ name. The creators twist time-travel logic back over on itself so tightly, it all but breaks. Fittingly, master of visual anarchy Nick Pitarra brings that Gordian Knot of a plot to bear on the five-part cover to this mini-series. The titular duo appears like eight times in this spread, which first appears to be a trick so the single image can be used for multiple covers, but the reality is that we get to a point where we see all of these versions knocking skulls together. By comparison, the Turtles and Utroms and Time Masters (don’t ask) that litter the page seem quaint and orderly. It’s enough to convince anyone that these two knuckleheads are indeed capable of Destroying Everything.
3. Superman 10 – Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and John Kalisz
Let us all rejoice — Patrick Gleason is drawing Damian again! We Retcon Punchers just love that little motherfucker, and Gleason’s powerful-yet-childish take on the character is no small part of our love-calculus. Sure, sure, sure, this is an issue of Superman, but the Damian / Jon dynamic seems to dictate this whole image, bringing out the inherent tension in Bruce and Clark’s relationship. F’real — check out the body language on each of these characters and tell me that they don’t all share the same chips on their shoulders. The issue’s symmetry and total lack of background draw even further focus to the conflict that will drive the issue. And, hey, any issue that can make the internet chant “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” is alright in our book.
2. Saga 34 – Fiona Staples
If there’s a sure-fire way to a Retcon Punch editor’s heart, it’s Marko and Alana’s hyper adorable seal-pup fisherman buddy Ghüs. Never one to rest on her laurels, series artist Fiona Staples doesn’t just turn in a charming day-in-the-life portrait of Ghüs and his faithful walrus-y pal Friendo, but elevates that simple beauty with stunningly gorgeous color work. The calming symmetry created by the reflection in the water promises order in a series that is overwhelmingly ruled by chaos and chance. It’s no small coincidence that these two characters are at the center of this serenity. The issue itself flashes around to host of uneasy character-pairings: Upsher and Doff traveling with The Will, Hazel and her teacher, even Sir Robot and his son with Marko and Alana. The only friendship that appears to come without judgement or agenda comes from these two.
1. The Mighty Thor 11 – Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson
Russell Dauterman and Jason Aaron have been playing a fascinating game of superhero Three Card Monte with Jane Foster and Thor. They are the same — Jane is pointedly not “Lady Thor” or “Thoress” or something like that — but the agency and identity of Mjölnir reveals a seemingly bottomless pit of mystery about how they’re different. Mighty Thor 11 puts both Jane and Thor on the cover, charging in against colorist Matthew Wilson’s otherworldly electric blue background, highlighting both the alien and godly aspects of the Thor character. Dauterman’s covers have also found fascinating ways to challenge the role of the title on the page, here rotating it 90 degrees, and almost acting as a vanguard for its pair of singular heroes. It’s also exhilarating to see the frail Jane charging in with the same fervor as the decked-out Thor.