I've been reading comic
books for most of my life, and as much as I will complain about them
from time to time, I love them and always will love them. Comics are my
religion and the comic store my church. The first comic book I ever
bought (or begged my mom to buy me, I should say) was G.I.JOE 31,
back in 1983. I was six years old, and I've been buying comics ever
since. I'd had some Disney comics and whatnot before that, but this was
the first one that I picked out myself.
Well, when I was six I didn’t notice that Destro
can’t even point the gun in the right direction...
The cover had a
particularly memorable image of Destro standing in the doorway of Snake-Eyes's
log cabin, while Snake-Eyes himself lay wounded on the ground, about to
be shot and presumably killed. It was a striking image, particularly to
my impressionable six-year-old mind. Unfortunately for every striking
image like that on the shelf, there are about ten boring,
run-of-the-mill crap images that present nothing new or interesting or
creative at all. Comic books kick ass, but a lot of covers are sad sorry
things. I've already discussed some of them in the
last installment of Tales From the
Longbox, but I'm afraid we've still only scratched the surface. I’ve
gotten a lot of great ideas submitted by readers, some of which I’d
already thought of, and some of which hadn’t occurred to me, so I’ll
include some of those as well.
So without further ado, here's another fresh batch of my favorite comic
book cover clichés, you know the drill:
By this point there are probably more variations of the Gen-13 #1
cover than there were total issues in the series.
This was another fad that had been around a little earlier but really
took off in the early 90s. Anytime anything at all noteworthy happened
in a comic (and it could be as unexciting as an issue number ending in
0), that was a good enough excuse to have a whole batch of variant
covers, in the hopes that the avid readers would buy them all up and
they would sell however many times more comics as they had covers. It
wasn't uncommon for a half dozen variant covers for some books, or more
if they could have some "cute" tie-in to the book's title. I remember
when the ongoing Gen 13 series started, they actually had 13
variant covers (and have since added more with reprints and 3-D
editions) to celebrate the event. And there are some wankers out there
who bought them all, even though some of them were only available in
limited quantities so they were naturally more expensive. Fortunately
these days a book will typically have only one variant cover, and they
tend to be a far less common feature than they used to be, usually
reserved for first issues or huge events. Ever since people became more
inclined to choose one rather than scoop them all up, they've really
stopped glutting the market. Although the brand new Red Sonja #4
cover shows that some bad trends die hard...
Four different covers, same titillating story and breast-bouncing action
under each one.
The Smashed Logo
I guess Banshee's just upset that he didn't get invited to the Hulk
I love this one. This one is a sure sign that whatever events take place
in the book are so cataclysmic, so horrifically damaging and threatening
to the status quo that things will NEVER BE THE SAME! Except that it's
usually not as bad as all that, but hey, it looks pretty neat when they
mess with the logo in one way or another. The villain in that issue
hates the team so much that even the logo isn't safe! Sometimes they'll
smash the logo, sometimes, they'll eat it, and sometimes they'll zap it
with a laser. And still other times the villain will even CROSS THE LINE
and replace the normal book logo with an insidious design of his own!
My god! Bizarro's turned everything all backwards! That's crazy!
Meanwhile, Lex Luthor contemplates going one step further and turning
the JLA logo upside-down!
It's not much of a "trading card" when there's only one
and it comes in every single copy of the issue, is it?
This was another horrible abomination of the early 90s (notice a trend
about the 90s? Yeah, comics really sucked then). It was common practice
during that era to enclose some kind of "gimmick" in with the book, be
it trading cards, a fold-out poster, file cards, or something equally
undesirable and useless. Sometimes the comics were bagged for no
apparent reason at all, apart from discouraging people from actually
READING the book, thus ensuring that devoted fans would buy two copies:
one to open and read, and one to keep forever sealed shut for posterity.
This sort of behavior from the comic companies also encouraged a lot of
"collectors", people who bought the comics like crazy but never actually
read them for fear of damaging them with fingerprints or tiny bends and
thus decreasing the value.
A lot of goths were tricked into buying the "Death of Superman"
issue because of the beautiful sad, black bag it came in.
(thanks to Donnie Van)
Welcome to the Gallery of Pretension! We hope you enjoy your stay.
Originally I wasn't going to include this, because I'm such a Vertigo
whore, but reader Donnie Van sent me an email and convinced me to add it
after all. These kinds of covers usually appear under the auspice of
DC's Vertigo line, which is probably my favorite single imprint in
comics. But the style has become so commonplace that it has become
cliché and often times they come across as overly pompous. Dave McKean
is one of the best artists in the business, but sometimes I have to
wonder what the hell pop tarts molded into baby heads wrapped in chicken
wire in front of a backdrop of newspaper clippings has to do with the
contents of the issue. Unfortunately, ever since the popularity of
Sandman his style has really been overly emulated by other artists,
and he's even retraced his own steps more than a couple times.
Is this the way out of the gallery?
Help, it's a maze in here... everything looks the same! I'm lost!
She-Hulk has always had a habit of trying to be funny and crack jokes
directly to the readers. It's not funny, She-Hulk. Please stop!
In this one, either the characters on the cover or the text on the cover
itself talk directly to you, the reader. And when the characters talk
directly to the reader, they break the fourth wall (meaning
acknowledging that they are part of a fictional work being read by
others) and unless you're an insane experimental book written by a
drug-crazed Grant Morrison, you probably shouldn't be having characters
talk directly to the reader. Or the cover might ask you how you can
possibly live without knowing the secrets contained within, or some
awkward question that a twelve-year old can't answer like "What price
victory?". I'm not a fan of text on covers at all (apart from the logo),
so I've never particularly cared for these.
"What price innocence?" I think a more appropriate question is "What
price all the property damage Colossus is doing all over that cover?"
Marvel seems to have an unhealthy obsession with
turning their characters into undead lately...
This is where an artist decides to pay homage to a classic comic book
cover by someone like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko so they decide to
recreate the cover with the same characters and poses, but with more
modern sensibilities to the art. Kinda boring, but they'll sometimes put
an unusual or interesting twist on it, like have a zombie Spider-man
swinging away with a victim instead of someone he's just saved. And
those covers are definitely cool, though lately they've been done a bit
much. There are also a lot of good parody covers done in this style. As
for whether or not the original artists would be flattered or pissed,
well, it's hard to say. Unfortunately a lot of the old school comic
artists have passed away so we'll never know about some of them.
Look, they've replaced the Fantastic Four with a bunch of lameass
monsters who keep screwing up! Do you think anyone will even notice?
(thanks to Barthalen and Donnie Van)
So confident am I in Professor Xavier's ability to drive people away
I'm betting he has something to do with Spider-Man quitting too.
This cover truly inspires the hero in all of us, because it depicts a
major character leaving their team, or putting away their costume and
retiring from the life of superheroism. The character is usually shown
sulking, walking away from their shocked and saddened teammates in a
downtrodden manner, often with a duffle bag over their shoulder. The
only thing that always seems to be missing is a can for them to kick as
they walk off sullenly. Another variant of this is that they'll show the
character's costume draped over a chair or the logo of the book, as if
to say that the fact they're not wearing it must mean they've quit,
because they never take the costumes off to do laundry or you know,
pretend to be normal in public.
Merely laundry day? Or cross company machinations of Professor X?
The Team Vs. Team
(thanks to Barthalen and Oskar Öman)
Spider-Man even had to join the bad guys because the
teams were uneven and they didn't line up right.
This cover always features two super teams barreling like freight trains
toward each other, at which point they will inevitably attempt to beat
the tar out of the opposing side. It always seems to be depicted from
the same angle, with one team rushing in from the left and one rushing
in from the right. And they conveniently pair off with one another and
race in a straight line. Sometimes the source of the conflict is
obvious, as a goal or point of contention will appear in between the two
teams, but other times they're going at it for no readily apparent
reason. Given that oftentimes it's two teams of good guys rushing
towards each other, this can be a little confusing.
Put a prize in the middle like a crazy bald man or a guy on
a stick, and it's like watching sharks after blood, I tell ya.
The Grave Event
(thanks to Barthalen and Gregory Hampshire)
Spider-Man particularly sucks at keeping his friends and family alive.
Sure, it's great when a superhero book actually injects some realism
into the story and characters actually do die (and stay dead), but how
many times do we have to be treated to the same scenes over and over of
the hero visiting the grave of the person he failed to save? Yes, it's
an effective image, but not when it's done over and over. It's also not
a particularly effective means to conceal a secret identity when you
regularly show up at the graves of your family members in costume and
take off your mask in a sobbing fit of grief. Bonus points for the
artist if it's raining on the character as they sink to their knees and
shake their fists towards the sky, crying to the heavens above.
Yes, that's right folks. The circus has come to the cemetery.
The Flimsy Justification
(thanks to Mike P)
Of these three demanded things, only Birds of Prey is still
These are the covers that proudly proclaim that whatever transpires
"BECAUSE YOU DEMANDED IT". That's right, thanks to your impressive
letter writing campaign and picketing outside the company offices, and
probably also because of the hostages you kidnapped when you hijacked
that school bus, the comic company in question is finally ready to
listen to your ridiculous demands. And then all the fans just kind of
stand around embarrassed and act like they had nothing to do with it
when asked "Are you responsible for that new Namor, the Sub-Mariner
ongoing series? Because who in their right mind would want that?"
Sometimes the event that was in such big demand is to actually END a
title, or to kill off an annoying Robin or something. But most of the
time the big event that was in such demand isn't all that exciting and
doesn't really last all that long anyway.
Please god! Make Dazzler stop! I can't take anymore!
The WTF!? Moment
(thanks to Jaimas Mikado)
It's okay... just don't make eye contact and walk away slowly.
This isn't so much a cliché anymore as a rare gem: a cover that's so
completely batshitzania insane that you honestly have NO earthly
idea just what the fuck is going on. It's like the artist was possessed
by the ghost of Salvador Dali and then dropped about fifty sheets of
acid and coated their eyes with a thin layer of mayonnaise before
getting to work on the cover. I honestly have no idea if what's on the
cover has anything to do with what's in the issue—I really don't see how
it possibly could relate in any way whatsoever, but I've never actually
checked to find out! These are the kinds of comics that bring madness,
the kind that H.P. Lovecraft warned us about.
If only they made movies this awesome.
about does it. I hope you've enjoyed this tour of my favorite comic book
cover clichés. If there's anything I've left out or you just want to
give me some feedback on this piece, please drop me a line.