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. This year found us marveling at covers that weren’t just carefully designed and lushly colored, but that actually did a great deal of storytelling, cramming all of the drama, excitement and emotion of the whole issue into one succinct image. Some did it literally, some did it metaphorically, but all moved us in some way beyond simply broadcasting which of our favorite characters would appear in the issue. These are our top 10 covers of 2017.
10. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 8 – Robert Hack
Capturing everything we love about this series, this cover’s retro trade dress (and price!) makes it look like an artefact from the character’s earliest appearances in 1960s Archie comics. But, of course, the macabre image of a half-faceless Sabrina reveals the darker, anachronistic heart of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Er, “anachronistic” probably isn’t the right word — as ever, Robert Hack captures the style and substance of his period setting with remarkable attention to detail, but the darker aspects of this series could never have existed in a comic at the height of the comics code. This was an issue that leaned into that tension especially hard, so this cover’s distillation of those themes couldn’t be more perfect.
9. Godshaper 6 – Jonas Goonface
The portrait and the group shot are classic compositions for comic book covers. The first focuses on an individual, perhaps highlighting some key trait that will be important in the story itself. The other focuses on a larger segment of the cast, offering some hint of their group dynamics. Different issues may be better served by one or the other (or any number of other choices), but artists usually have to pick one. Not so with Godshaper 6, where Jonas Goonface manages to pull off both a group shot of almost the entire cast and a portrait of Bud. Much more than just a striking way to include Bud in the image, this approach makes Bud the negative space between the characters, hinting at the issue’s ultimate message of the unifying power of art.
8. Deadpool 31 – David Lopez
Deadpool is frequently an amoral anti-hero, but he always knows enough to trust in the unimpeachable character of Steve Rogers. Well, 2017 saw the biggest heel turn in comics, and David Lopez’ cover for Deadpool 31 did a great job of capturing what’s so scary about it. The red and white stripes of the flag flow from Cap’s shoulders, and Deadpool emerges from one set of stripes while Coulson emerges from the other. It’s inexplicable corruption woven from the embodiment of the stars and stripes, making it one of the most effective covers of the most harrowing Marvel event in recent memory.
7. Black Widow 10 – Chris Samnee & Matthew Wilson
More of a fanciful riff on the central relationship of Black Widow 10 than a hint of what the issue might actually contain, this issue works beautifully as a standalone pin-up. It’s an image that elegantly captures the high-flying tone of the issue without giving so much as its location away. Chris Samnee’s expressions here are impeccable, capturing the affection between these two characters, however coyly they may want to play it, all within a scene that makes both more and less sense as you think about it. Bucky’s metal arm shouldn’t be tattooable, but converting his signature star into a heart (to match Nat’s own red hourglass tat) is so perfect, we can’t help but love it.
6. Hawkeye 5 – Julian Totino Tedesco
There were a ton of Julian Totino Tedesco’s Hawkeye covers on our ballots — many featuring similarly fun team-ups — but the storytelling in this one made it our runaway favorite. Jessica’s haughtiness and Kate’s withering side-eye are spot-on, but there’s story everywhere on this panel, from the nonchalantly replaced nameplate on the desk to the quiver of purple arrows slung over the back of Kate’s chair. But our favorite detail has to be Kate’s “World’s Best Detective” mug — a title she clearly gave herself with only a minimum of ironic self-awareness. What could go wrong when these two team up?
5. Injection 15 – Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire are a cover dream team, and have been particularly prolific this year, cranking out gorgeous covers for everything from The Punisher to The Hellblazer. But they found a new depth on their covers for Injection this year, which all revolved around master hacker Brigid Roth. That singular subject allowed them to get very specific with their choices — Shalvey experimenting with gesture and scale, while Bellaire let loose with digital effects that made for dazzlingly electric covers. It was hard to pick a favorite, but Brigid’s determination as she emerges from the pit paired with those shockingly bright whites made this a standout.
4. Black Bolt 5 – Christian Ward
If a picture is worth a thousand words, I suppose a picture in a picture is a thousand words squared. That’s the sense that we get from this cover, anyway, which manages to condense both the wistful flashbacks and desperate present-day of the issue into a single image. A Sears-style portrait of young Black Bolt (in a costume his mother must have bought knowing he’d grow into it) with his trusty Lockjaw is an adorable sight, but Christian Ward carefully places us in the perspective of a torn and bloodied Black Bolt in the present day. It lends the memories an extra level of melancholy, keeping them in sight but frustratingly out of reach. It’s a clever superimposition of the issue’s main themes that just happens to also feature the adorable kiddy versions of two of the Inhuman’s most recognizable characters.
3. The Mighty Thor 701 – Russell Dauterman & Matthew Wilson
Every year, we end up making the following pitch: “Top 10 Thor Covers.” And every year, the joke becomes more and more plausible. Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson’s rainbow soaked covers are always dynamic, exciting and perfectly emblematic of the story within. This cover to The Mighty Thor 701 makes a statement by pushing its subject — Mangog the Asgardian Slayer — into the out-of-focus middle distance and lingering on a demolished Mjolnir. The issue itself sees the end of War Thor at Mangog’s gnarled, three-fingered, hands, and all of the devastation that comes with is conveyed here. The rainbow bridge of the Bifrost makes for an oddly bright setting for the death of a god, but it allows Wilson to bath the page in dazzling colors and blinding light like only this team can.
2. Ms. Marvel 18 – Nelson Blake II & Rachelle Rosenberg
The conventional wisdom of a two-shot is that the subject of the image is the relationship between the characters. In that way, this cover provides us with two separate portraits of Bruno and Kamala’s relationship: on the bottom, we see their real-world distance as they each sit alone, divided by a thin line that actually spans thousands of miles; but on the top, we can see their desired closeness, as they share the wish of a warm embrace. They’re together in their dreams (and together in having those dreams), but those dreams seem to give them little comfort. Leaning into these characters’ nerdiness, Nelson Blake II slightly chibi-fies Bruno and Kamala’s daydream, heightening our sense of just how heartbreakingly imaginary that scenario truly is.
1. Spider-Woman 17 – Javier Rodriguez
It was hard saying goodbye to Spider-Woman in 2017, but this final cover certainly helped soften the blow, allowing the series to drive off into the sunset with a satisfied smile. Breaking the cover up into sequentials helps artist Javier Rodriguez give each member of the cast their due, but also allows us to see them through Jessica’s eyes, her affection for them echoing our own. She’s putting her last few years of adventures behind her, quite literally into the rear view mirror, but it’s not a moment of sadness for Jess — it’s an accomplishment to be proud of. The same can be said for Rodriguez, Dennis Hopeless, Veronica Fish, and the rest of Spider-Woman’s talented creative team. This cover is not only one of 2017’s most distinctive, but a beautiful note to close a series, or a year, out on.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because your list is almost certainly different from ours. What were your favorite covers of 2017?