Comic Books Judging by the Cover
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Consider this a year-end clips show, if you will.
It’s that time of year again.
Not when you have to wear six sweaters to walk down to the corner store, or talk in-depth with your great aunt twice removed over appetizers.
No, another special edition of Judging by the Cover.
For last year’s very special edition, I shared some of my favorite covers with a little less analysis. My hope was to minimize myself and allow “great comics-centric art [to] exist in a different space for celebration and understanding.” This year, though, I’ve spent as much time taking pride in myself and the work I do (especially at AIPT). I may have a tendency for the long-winded, but my hope is that it comes from a place of pure love and devotion.
So, I want to really embrace that and share not only my favorite covers but their accompanying blurbs. That way, I might forge a kind of year-long journal of sorts about where I was and my relationship with certain books. It’s an approach that I hope has been at the heart of my efforts here at Judging by the Cover.
I hope you enjoy this recap — consider it the online comics journalism version of a clips show. It’s because of both great creators and engaging fans that I assemble this column every week in the small chance I might repay all this boundless creativity and passion.
I’ll be seeing you again on Monday, January 2.
One-Star Squadron #2 (Released 01/05/2022)
Cover by Steve Lieber and Dave Stewart
I was a really big fan of the first issue of One-Star Squadron. I may have remarked somewhere recently that silly superhero stories aren’t really my bag, but that this one really does a damn fine job in balancing the shtick (C-list superheroes use an app to fight crime, say what?!) with some emotionally poignant storytelling (it’s about the ups and downs of our modern gig economy as much as it is exploring the very nature of superheroes and their commitment). Aside from the story by Mark Russell, a huge part of that success has been the work of series artist Steve Lieber (with an assist from colorist/artist Dave Stewart). The cover to issue #2 feels like the most amazing sort of encapsulation of this title, a brilliant gag about ruining a child’s birthday party and the sheer majesty of superheroes in general (even as they do crush little Billy or Susie’s dreams). It’s that power of playing two very different images off of one another, and letting the reader see the overlap as well as the sheer cognitive dissonance between it all. It’s a powerful image that speaks to the heart of this very series: we need heroes, but they’re just as much in need of our help and support. It’s such a great idea, and something that moves from the cover to the story proper with such grace and power. Also, the more Red Tornado appearances in the world, the better things start to feel.
Cover by Zoe Thorogood
There’s a lot of stuff hyping up Rain before most of us have even seen a single panel. For one, it’s the first book from Syzygy Publishing, a new imprint of Image Comics headed up by Chris Ryall and Ashley Wood — and that’s certainly a big enough deal in and of itself. Still, in case those names weren’t enough, the book itself is created by quite a few all-stars, including David M. Booher (Canto) and Zoe Thorogood (The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott). And if all of that still weren’t enough, the whole shebang is a “five-issue presentation” of the mostly good Joe Hill novella of the same name. But don’t just trust all of that regarding the book’s potential, and instead peep Thorogood’s cover for issue #1. It brilliantly captures not only the apocalyptical vibes (skin-destroying magic rain?!) but the sheer heart of romance and interpersonal connection that exists at the book’s core. Plus, the balance of colors and negative space just adds to the sheer drama and humanistic focus. Come for the endless hype and name-dropping, stay for a genuinely gripping tale of love at the end of the world.
Cover by Jordi Armengol
The debut issue of Cloaked was a truly wild ride. It set up the story — the case of a missing vigilante hero — and the vibe — part action film, part noir — with lethal efficiency. Now, as we enter into issue #2, the story gets deeper as P.I. Jake Stevens tracks down the hero known as the Sentinel/the Reaper — only to find himself also being tracked/hunted by some unknown agent. Now, as far as “teases” are concerned, the cover to issue #2 is interesting for a few reasons. Of course it’s a good idea to show the hero in action, and that slice of badassery will always hook the ol’ eyeballs. However, it’s an interesting choice to have him fighting a clown, especially given that it can go either way for a rogue hero story to lean into or reference anything Batman related. But this book’s smart to do so, and it makes me think that whatever actually happens (clown-related or not), we’re not likely to see it coming from this smart, super sharp series. Or will we?! Dun dun dun!
Variant Cover by Amanda Conner
I get a lot of people are always jazzed about the Halloween and Christmas specials from DC. And why not — they’re always a great blast of fun, overt cheesiness, and a dash of nostalgia. But while most of us have plans on Valentine’s Day that leave little room for reading comics (or is that just my household?), you should always pay special attention to the V-Day editions. After last year’s totally great Love Is A Battlefield issue, we’re grace this year with Strange Love Adventures #1, which features contributions from writers and artists like Devin Grayson, Phil Hester, Ran V, Stephanie Phillips, Hi-Fi, and many, many more. And everything gets started with some truly great covers. Sure, I could have gone with the great main cover from Yanick Paquette, which is so cute and deeply self-aware that it makes me swoon endlessly. But I’ve got to give the nod to this variant from Amanda Conner, which is the best version of The Dating Game perhaps ever. Whether that’s because Ambush Bug’s the host, all three contestants are thinking both right and wrong answers, or I could actually see Black Adam making an appearance here, it screams everything that’s right with DC’s Valentine’s coverage. Even if we all know this is a sham and Harley Quinn is toes going home with Poison Ivy.
Cover by Alex Cormack
If you read this feature about a month ago (and I assume you will, for the sake of my ego), you may have noticed I gushed about the cover to The Crimson Cage #2. And by gushed, I mean I spent 150-ish words talking about my favorite pro wrestling titles. (That is, at least as of publication, the WCW United States Heavyweight Championship.) And while it seems like the series is that perfect mix of silliness and seriousness where one could express just that kind of view, the cover to #3 makes one thing clear of this rasslin-based retelling of Macbeth: s–t is about the get serious. Especially since The Abominable Grudd may be ready to screw over his BFF, world champion Chuck Frenzy, in order to get the glory he believes he so rightly deserves. It’s a simple image, one that plays up the prominence of blood across both stories, but that also feels more ethereal and otherworldly at the same time. The end is result is a rush of ideas and influences, and it makes this book seem all the more compelling. You’d be wise to grapple with this one before the final two issues drop.
Cover by Sebastián Piriz
I mostly thought that We Ride Titans would be another recent entry into the sudden explosion of kaiju-centric comic books. But while it does deliver and then some in regards to giant robots fighting massive monsters, it’s so much more than that, and the book tackles romance and family relationships in such a novel and compelling way. Can you tell as much from the main cover to the series’ second issue? Maybe not, though it does hint at some important story threads and interactions between main characters. And that’s sort of what makes this such a great book so far: it creates a story that you want to follow, and by keeping things tight and cohesive, it makes the reader engage with the story in order to uncover all the rich layers and general subtext and nuances. Once you’ve done a little work, though, the book more than rewards your efforts. Plus, you still get to see dope kaiju fights, and that’s like eating a sundae with heaps of candy on top.
Cover by Colin Lorimer
This Dark Horse Comics series got some sturdy love from us early on. And while it hasn’t been featured as prominently in this feature since its kick-off, Daisy has continued to tell a weird and wild story about missing family, the pains of growing up, and, um, cannibalistic giants from Heaven. And as we enter into issue #4, we’re at a pretty important point, as Daisy enters a new realm, shedding her old form for something deeply beautiful and glorious, and what this all means regarding Daisy’s burning hopes for the future of others sharing her “afflictions.” However, even the uninitiated reader shouldn’t let that district from the sheer awesomeness of the cover, which sort of captures a lot of the themes/motifs of the book, the larger feel and aesthetic, and even how much of the story takes shape. It’s like the mutant love-child of body horror and a monster movie, and all of that only really scratches the surface of what makes Daisy so deeply compelling. Get in on this ASAP if you love a touching story and weirdness galore.
Cover by Aaron Campbell
If you haven’t read our interview with two of the book’s creators, you’re missing out. Sure, vampires have been done to death (get it?!), but West of Sundown feels a little different than the rest. For one, there’s the whole western elements, and aside from a standout like John Carpenter’s Vampires, there’s a real dearth of southwest goodness in most vampire flicks. That, and it’s really a love story, and unlike some other films (I’m not at all referencing Twilight), this tale feels like a powerful reflection on commitment, loyalty, and the very idea of home. But if none of that sways you, just peep the first cover from co-writer/creator Aaron Campbell. It may not have that overt sense of blood that other vampire properties achieve, but there’s a kind of surreal and almost psychedelic energy that shows you just how unique this book truly is. Plus, little details like the wrinkles and fades across this “poster” just prove that the book’s power is in the little ways it subverts the genre. Take a bite; you’ll thank us for it.
Cover by Ryan Miller
I don’t always spend my time obsessing about the state of Spider-Man, or dunking on Cyclops (especially since it never gets old). But I’ve got other, equally niche opinions, including how Beast Wars is an understated and genius aspect of the rich Transformers canon. And the IDW series is a great kind of follow-up, especially as they publish a multi-creator annual that promises a “glimpse into the Cybertronian’s lives outside of their main series adventures.” Could we see Rattrap’s collection of decorative teacups? Or maybe Dinobot’s love of interpretive jazz ballet? Regardless, we get this excellent cover that encapsulates everything I love about this franchise as a whole: the weirdness of animal-robot hybrids; the power of collaboration and teamwork as the story’s beating heart; and a kind of weird bio-punk thing that just works. Transformers,
turn into wild animals roll out!
Cover by Artyom Topilin and Lee Loughridge
If you promise to appeal to fans of both Home Sick Pilots and Gideon Falls, you’ve got to be able to bring the editorial fire. And, so far at least, I Hate This Place seems to have the very elemental spark to possibly live up to its properly profound predecessors. The story — from Kyle Starks (Assassination Nation) and Artyom Topilin (Ice Cream Man) — follows Trudy and Gabby as they move into a house that’s basically a magnet for all kinds of supernatural horrors. And, based on the debut cover, there’s real promise to the starting lineup of monstrous talent. I love the tinge of body horror with what basically looks like intestine vines covering the house; the real folklore tinge of the house-sized horned monster approaching from the tree line; and even that soft waft of other weird properties a la Twin Peaks. All of that together could make for a great story — even if it can’t live up to the giant-sized hype.
Cover by Christian Ward
From book with shiny covers to something I’m earnestly excited for, Aquaman: Andromeda already feels like a highlight of the mostly-great (but occasionally weird and bloated) DC Black Label line. For one, it pairs two comics dynamos in Ram V and Christian Ward. And if that tag team wasn’t talented enough, the story itself is straight bonkers — a cosmic horror story (that takes place underwater!) about the famed Point Nemo, a possibly demonic artifact, and another epic clash between Aquaman and Black Manta. And if that’s all we had till now, it would be enough insanity and pure comics magic to appeal to even the most stoic reader. But we also have this Ward-penned cover, and it’s mix of biopunk aesthetic and otherworldly psychedelia already affirms that this book understood the assignment and then some. It’s not the most explosive cover, but then that’s the point: it wears its hallmarks with confidence, and if you’re willing to sit with this cover for a few minutes, you’ll know everything you’ll need to beforehand. Surf’s up, dweebs.
Cover by Devin Kraft
I’ll be the first to admit the whole astronaut storyline/trope is played to death at point. Yeah, you want to see the great unknown, but have you also considered space is actively trying to kill you at every opportunity? But if we’re sticking with the whole motif, then I’m happy to have stumbled on to Neverender. The story follows the “earthborn” punk Merrick, who basically joins a fight club where astronauts “must simply get one good shot in on their opponents suit to win.” And if astronauts with swords wasn’t already sweet enough, the rest of the cover (from artist-writer Devin Kraft) just amps it all up. Whether it’s the smack of Toonami vibes; the subtle but effective bits of psychedelia; and/or the slightly abstract nature, all of it just feels like an interesting spin on some fundamental sci-fi. Houston, we have a problem, and it’s swinging a katana right at my face.
Cover by Sam Wolfe Connelly
Joshua Williamson may be the mastermind behind Dark Crisis, but he’s also been putting in work with the recent Rogues title. This neo-noir Dark Label offering turns the Flash’s Rogues gallery into a more menacing Ocean’s Eleven, as they try to steal from Gorilla Grodd and the denizens of Gorilla City. It’s been an interesting way thus far to help reevaluate and recontextualize the Rogues, especially in terms of Captain Cold and the role he plays as a kind of unfortunate figurehead for these sad sacks. But if the book has done nothing else across its three issues, it’s certainly remade Grodd in this writer’s mind. Because, while “telepathic terrorist gorilla: should be a slam dunk, Grodd’s treatment has always felt mostly uneven. Here, though, he’s like a gnarly Tony Montana, and he looks and feels like a true and proper threat in this sleek, sexy golden-yellow cover. Has he always been a threat? Sure, but here it just feels genuine while also being all the more appealing. The clothes make the man, and the pinstripe suit and slick gold chains also clearly make the monkey.
Variant Cover by Lee Bermejo
It’s a new era on Detective Comics, and the sheer talent attached would stupefy more than if they did a shot-for-shot remake of Batman Forever. Writer Ram V. and artist Rafael Albuquerque take over the main story (with writer Simon Spurrier and artist Dani on the backup), and the pair hit the ground running for a much-lauded run with the “Gotham Nocturne” arc. Sure, the other covers — like Evan Cagle’s main piece and this In-Hyuk Lee variant — do a much more effective job at hinting at the arc’s gothic undertones and usage and/or references to music/opera. But the nod has to go to this excellent Lee Bermejo variant. For one, it still screams “gothic” energies (I mean, he’s hanging with gargoyles and bats amid the pre/post-sunset skyline). But more than that, I love the kind of DIY, slightly ramshackle approach to the Batsuit — it feels like Phantom of the Opera meets Castlevania meets The Batman (if that’s not redundant). It’s got the right vibes to compliment the story, and it’s a stark enough image to help ring in an era that could be a shot in the arm for this title.
Cover by Tyler Crook
I’m pretty sure I’ve covered the previous two covers of Tyler Crooks’ great solo comic debut. (You check, though, as I’ve got better things to do.) And how could you ever blame me for being this compelled? Ignore the book itself — a thoughtful and poignant examination of legacies and unlikely friendships — and just focus on the covers alone. The other two were damn solid, and here Crook really steps things up. And what better timing, as the pair of Lupe and Howard are set for a huge confrontation with an “ancient creature” that just might have answers for our intrepid duo. Crook’s work here does a splendid job of balancing the many ideas at the heart of this book. There’s a depth and grit here that’s offset by the unmistakable sense that things are also very wrong here. Or, the way that light and dark interact, and how it fosters both a sense of hope and intimacy as well as, once more, being downright unsettling. Crook knows this book and it’s larger vibe and mission so well, and the covers feel like a powerful encapsulation of the important work he’s trying to do. Just be sure to read the book proper and not spend all your time taking in the cover.
Cover by John Sprengelmeyer
Say what you will about his filmography, but the verdict on Kevin Smith’s comics output isn’t always so stellar. Sure, there’s no denying the man’s love and deep knowledge of the genre, but then it’s resulted in moments like these gems. Still, with Smith now launching his own imprint (the awesomely-named Secret Stash Press), he’s once again picking up the pencil to co-write (alongside Andy McElfresh) the new series Maskerade. Here, the creative team asks the question, “How do you get bloody revenge on the men who killed your family when you’re massively famous and/or well known?” To which series and cover artist John Sprengelmeyer responds, “I think it would be pretty badass, and might look like if Kick Ass took place in the Archer-verse.” There’s so much chaos and palpable energy within this cover, and it expertly captures the range of emotions you might expect from this story while also maintaining that somehow mischievous energy that you’d also expect from a Smith-penned story. And that’s not even saying anything about the design of our “heroine,” who is both creepy and compelling in her full-body murder suit. Let the extra bloody games begin.
Variant Cover by Wes Craig
Of all the interviews hyping series I’ve done in the last few months, I felt especially excited about KAYA. Here, artist-writer Wes Craig (of Deadly Class fame) tackles the story of a young girl (with a magical arm) trying to protect her young brother amid a kooky dystopia with mutants and monsters galore. And the first issue itself is a dang good start, expertly highlighting some of the robust family drama at the center of this book. But then I went out and found out, courtesy of some solicitations, that there’s actually a variant cover I hadn’t seen, as Craig channels the magic and wonder of Jack Kirby for a truly excellent piece. Does it lack some of the more adorable whimsy of Craig’s own debut cover? Sure, but it’s replaced by the sheer madness of a golden laser fist forged in the magical depths of this world. Plus, both siblings look a little more monstrous somehow, and that only adds to the sheer insanity of it all. And none of that even mentions the logo and how it looks like a kind of adventure roadmap — just more proof that this series is already a winner.
Cover by Luana Vecchio
You might have guessed from this cover that it’s meant to be a proper Halloween launch from Image Comics and writer-artist Luana Vecchio. But it’s not actually all that appropriate for the season. Instead, this book is all about an “exclusive, subscribers-only site on the dark web” where the matriarch Domino punishes and tortures her subscribes — all of whom pay for the rare opportunity for said face time with Mistress Domino. Only, some folks aren’t so sex-positive, and they believe Domino is a “deranged succubus” who “must be hunted down and punished.” So all that blood and gore and naughty bits doesn’t have anything to do with the season, and yet there’s no denying that connection between the two as the book feels a little campy and fun (alongside being totally depraved and intense). And because of that “flirtation,” this feels like a “scary” book that transcends the season for a kind of pure and unsettling level of horror goodness. The Court of Owls-looking masks also don’t hurt in making this one a must-grab.
Variant cover by Vincenzo Riccardi
If you recalled, I Hate Fairyland was already a big hit for Image Comics as well as its core creators, writer Skottie Young and artist Brett Bean. So, then, it only made sense to bring Gert back for a so-called revival series in which, now all grown up, she can live a normal life in the real world as a well-adjusted adult. Just kidding, she’s got to make her way back to the land of make-believe and continue her work as “everyone’s favorite green-haired, axe-crazed maniac.” And given that return, Image has tapped a slew or creators for some epic variant covers. That includes Young’s own creepy-meets-cute cover; this bit of monster madness from Joe Madureira; and a little dash of adorable body horror from Kyle Strahm. But the final, extra excited nod does have to go to Vincenzo Riccardi, who perfectly nails the emotional core and larger aesthetic of this book with one image. It’s cute but also utterly violent; sweet and pristine and yet somehow like a psychotic break; and humorous without ever being less horrendous. In short, the sort of shot to the face to remind you of this book’s true promise: to bash you in the face with a magical axe of insanity and emotion.
Cover by Ramon Villalobos
If you’re like me, you’re a little confused about Bad Idea Comics. They started up a couple years ago — only to seemingly close in record-breaking fashion. And yet for some time now, they’ve been release quite a few books. (We’ve tried to get a straight answer and will continue to do so until we crack this particular nut.) But whatever the case, we’re at least glad they were around long enough to release They’re All Terrible. The book itself is a little short on details, other than the fact it’s from Matt Kindt and Ramon Villalobos and is clearly in the “fantasy” category. But who needs pesky information when you have this epic debut cover. It’s not exactly subtle, but somehow they’ve still made an axe to the face an utterly transcendent sight to behold. And there’s even a kind of psychedelic quality, as if we’re somehow intended to question just how real this is all truly is. And beyond all that, it feels like a huge statement from Bad Idea themselves, as if to say, “No, you can’t stop us, no matter what happens.” And if it delivers results like this, may they remain alive-undead for some time to come.
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