O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
I originally intended to pair this column with my “25 Great Superheroine Moments In Comics” post from two weeks ago in honor of Women’s History Month, but then Wonder Woman #7 happened and I felt compelled to write about that. So here we are with the unofficial “part two” in April. So it goes!
Those of you familiar with my blogging over on 1979 Semi-Finalist know I’m a big cover fanatic. I do a monthly post called “Drunk Cover Solicits In Three Sentences Or Less” where I…you guessed it…get drunk and talk about the newest Marvel and DC Cover Solicits. It’s supposed to be a chance to talk about some gorgeous art and also to make good-natured fun of some of the silliness…of course some rage occasionally seeps out (shocker). I also do a “52 Best Covers of the Year” in honor of SDCC every year. But I realized recently that I’d never focused on covers that feature women and thought what better way to celebrate than to do that here.
My criteria was looking at covers from between March of 2011 and March of 2012* and only at saddle-stapled monthly comics that feature a woman as a minimum of 50% of the cover focus. These are entirely North American as that’s primarily what I have access to. I didn’t include trades or graphic novels either. I’m not going to write much about each, just a few lines about what I love about them. Enjoy!
First up, two honorable mentions that absolutely deserve to be on the list, but were never actually “officially issued as covers” so are not really eligible. Had they been, they both would have made the top 10. Total shame.
Should have been a variant for BATWOMAN #4, AMY REEDER. DC COMICS.
Everything about this is wonderful, from the glow of the city and the composition choices, to the incredibly saturated color of Batwoman. Also, according to the solicits this could be the cover to Batwoman #8 – I really hope it is – and if so, it can go on the list for next year – a near guaranteed spot!
Could have been WONDER WOMAN #1, CLIFF CHIANG. DC COMICS.
This promo art, which totally looks like a #1 variant to me is too violent for some people’s tastes for Wonder Woman what with the axe and the blood, but I really love it, and have posted it many times before. It remains a favorite despite me feeling all sad about Wonder Woman now.
25. THE WALKING DEAD #92, CHARLIE ADLARD. IMAGE COMICS.
Michonne is easily one of my favorite characters in comics, but since The Walking Dead has such a vast cast, she rarely gets much cover time. This was a welcome sight, as Michonne and her katana always are. I’m not usually a fan of the “villains reflected in the sword of our hero” thing, but Adlard does a very subtle job of it here and it works well.
24. AVENGERS #21, DANIEL ACUÑA. MARVEL COMICS.
Storm’s another character that doesn’t get as much cover time as she deserves, so it was great to see her here, beautiful, powerful, and clearly in charge on this Avengers cover of all places. I’ve never been a fan of this super swimsuit-y costume (or the heels) but man can Acuña draw the crap out of it. Absolutely gorgeous. And the color palette is perfect.
23. FATALE #1, SEAN PHILLIPS. IMAGE COMICS.
Capturing all the best of the noir genre and the long line of gorgeous femme fatales that come with that genre, Phillips gives Josephine absolutely hypnotic bedroom eyes, and the dark beauty necessary for any good femme fatale. The contrast of light and dark here is bold and beautiful. That said, Josephine is proving to be so much more than just your average femme fatale in their story, which is awesome.
22. UNCANNY X-FORCE #17, ESAD RIBIC. MARVEL COMICS.
So I’m sure this one is a surprise to a lot of people, but I have nothing against things being hott (yes, two t’s) from time to time and I find this HOTT. It’s also a nice throwback to some old comics that have nice nostalgia for me. Even better? I love the way Psylocke is drawn, she’s gorgeous, but she looks real and fleshy, which is so rare in comics these days. Lastly? I’m a sucker for covers that lean monochromatic…especially monochromatic blue and the way that this entire cover is bathed in the blue light of her psi-blade is just fantastic. Super specific Kelly bonus points for it being blue and not purple, which I prefer.
21. ZATANNA #15, ADAM HUGHES. DC COMICS.
The way that Zatanna emerges from the black background is absolutely wonderful and the lights and darks here are a wonderful contrast. The way the text is integrated is fantastic, and something so few covers these days even consider. It’s also a great example of how strong Hughes work can be even when he’s not leaning heavily on T&A. The stars are a nice touch too.
20. GLORY #23, ROSS CAMPBELL (SECOND PRINTING). IMAGE COMICS.
Look at her muscles!!! That’s probably all I need to say, we so rarely get to see women portrayed this way in superhero comics that it’s just completely exciting. Of course it helps that Campbell is an amazing artist that really knows how to deliver powerful visuals. The expression on Glory’s face is just perfect and I find to be a great contrast with her physical state.
19. BIRDS OF PREY #1, JESUS SAIZ. DC COMICS.
It’s so rare to see a group of only female superheroes on a cover in comics, while seeing a group of only male superheroes is pretty common, so right off the bat this is fun for me. Add to it that everyone is really stunningly rendered and with no aggressive male gaze and I find myself already in love a bit. I like how Saiz has worked in a background and lets the ladies interact with it, while keeping it simple so that it doesn’t draw focus away from the ladies who are clearly the main event. I’ve never been crazy about the Birds of Prey title block, but it’s well worked into the image at least.
18. JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #625, STEPHANIE HANS. MARVEL COMICS.
The composition and figure work on this cover is absolutely stunning, but everything is second to Hans choice of colors. Those monochromatic greens, so layered and full of light and life, contrasted with the bright pink petals is absolute perfection. The only thing wrong with this cover is that hideous extra large title and “Fear Itself” banner. So many covers are brought low by things like terrible title block. Hans’ cover manages to endure despite it, but it’s hard not to yearn for the cover free of that block of text. Like this.
17. ULTIMATE X-MEN #5, KAARE ANDREWS. MARVEL COMICS.
Sometimes pretty things are just pretty and then we love them. That’s how I feel about this cover of my girl Rogue, who frankly, has not had a lot of great covers over the years. I think that even beyond this being pretty, the focus on her face and her fingertips actually speaks volumes about who Rogue is as a character and how her powers have defined and shaped her. It takes this cover from being just pretty into being a smart character piece.
16. THE NEW YORK FIVE #3, RYAN KELLY. VERTIGO.
All of the covers for The New York Five were great thanks to Ryan Kelly’s crazy talent and bold choices with color. Here the saturated pink background contrasted with the the almost cut out image of a black and white Ren is stark and wonderful. And this cover is full of fantastic juxtapositions like that – such as putting Ren, clearly sad and in deep thought about weighty issues, on a child’s toy in a playground; another by making the cover very personal in how focused it is on Ren specifically, but setting her amid the vastness of a park surrounded by a looming New York City. All of these things layer together wonderfully and the title block is well-integrated so that it works with the illustration instead of against it. It’s all very smart, bold, and beautiful.
15. G.I. JOE #26, TOM WHALEN. IDW.
Wow. Simplicity can be a great thing. This is beautifully designed from the limited color palette to the stunning composition and stylized figure work. She looks strong and powerful, but playful and not “overly badass” which can get a bit tiresome, and her costume is appropriate and pretty damn cool. Her figure creates wonderful positive and negative space as well as movement and it just leaves me wanting to see what’s inside – the mark of any great cover.
14. DMZ #66, JOHN PAUL LEON. VERTIGO.
Brilliant execution of an idea that despite its simplicity is absolutely layered in what it attempts to convey. A smart, limited color selection helps draw focus to the figures on the map of Manhattan, and little details like the way the streets are laid out, her expression, and even her clothing, are expertly chosen. As with all Brian Wood books, the text integration is well-considered and adds to the cover, rather than detracting from it.
13. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: SEASON NINE #1, STEVE MORRIS. DARK HORSE.
As any regular readers know, I’m a huge Buffy fan, and the covers by Steve Morris for Season Nine have easily been some of the best covers I’ve seen over the last year. This first issue set the tone, not only for where the series was heading, but the standards they would be bringing. Buffy is exquisitely captured here, and Morris is an artist who knows how to make his work look just enough like Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy that we feel perfectly at ease with her, but it’s not so precise that it’s distracting and feels more like Gellar than Buffy. The smart text – both the title block and the story arc name “Freefall” are well integrated and the movement of the cover and everything it says about Buffy’s life are simply on the money.
12. iZOMBIE #23, MICHAEL ALLRED. VERTIGO.
Haunting, disturbing, creative, and very damn cool. Michael Allred has had some amazing covers in his iZombie run, but this is easily the standout from the past year. Bold and incredibly smart, this image of Gwen is somehow both beautiful and horrifying at once. It speaks directly to her character and her story, rather than just being something badass with no substance, and the little details, like the brain burgers the background are the kind of smart touches that take this cover to the next level.
11. BATWOMAN #5, J.H. WILLIAMS III. DC COMICS.
On first sight this wasn’t actually one of my favorite Batwoman covers, but the more I looked at it, the more it drew me, and the more complicated layers I found. Like all of Williams work he’s not content to just do something beautiful, he wants to break boundaries and tell a story. And so here we see not only a villain attacking Batwoman and the tears (which have been a theme of this arc with the Weeping Woman) but we also see a myriad of figures within the ghost shape attacking her. If that’s not enough, Kate’s twin, Alice is reflected back at her, almost like a Janus head in the water, and then there’s another reflection in the water as well. The result is a straight up embarrassment of rich details that you could mull over forever. There’s more here on this cover than in many entire books.
10. WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN: ALPHA & OMEGA #3, JOHN TYLER CHRISTOPHER. MARVEL COMICS.
And this cover is one of the many ways that a cool female character becomes iconic and absolutely unstoppable. Because this is, after all, a visual medium, and one in which we all yearn for something we can say “that’s so cool” about. Armor already has a wonderfully visual power, and one unusual in a way for a female character to possess. Seen here by Christopher, she wields her power with an attitude that makes her unforgettable. And we need more of that in comics, women that we’re reminded are unforgettable.
09. X-MEN LEGACY #262, MARK BROOKS. MARVEL COMICS.
I spoke above about how Rogue doesn’t get a lot of great covers, which is weird because she’s arguably been the star of X-Men Legacy under Mike Carey for many years now and is still front and center under Gage. So it was a treat this year to get the Ultimate X-men Kaare Andrews cover and now this fantastic Legacy cover by Mark Brooks. Brooks has managed to give Rogue that wonderful battle weary look, her costume shredded, her body beat up, but she still looks determined and powerful. A million bonus points of course for keeping her costume zipped up. I’m not wild about the weird “Hope-like” rag/shroud thing she’s wearing, but it’s still a great looking cover. Rogue’s never looked better in her trademark green than with that golden background. Additionally bonus points to whoever is in charge for letting them move the title block to the middle of the cover, which is a huge improvement.
08. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: SEASON NINE #5, STEVE MORRIS. DARK HORSE COMICS.
This insane psychedelic dress alone rates a spot on the list. But add to it everything that is depicted IN that dress, Buffy’s expression, her clenched toes, the details of the chair she perches on, and the clever text and this cover is something I just can’t tear my eyes away from.
07. WONDER WOMAN #6, CLIFF CHIANG. DC COMICS.
Cliff Chiang draws one of the best Diana’s I’ve ever seen. A perfect blend of beauty and strength, and a handle on a costume that I could have hated, but instead generally think looks better than most she’s had (except the choker, we still have to lose that choker). Somehow making a strapless bustier look reasonable, Chiang never fails to impress me with his Diana. Never more so than here as the bright light of her lasso contrasts against the dark blue of Cerberus. The cover has excellent composition, intensity, and of course emotion.
06. CRIMINAL: LAST OF THE INNOCENT #1, SEAN PHILLIPS. ICON.
Phillips does so much with so little here. With an incredibly limited palette he still somehow finds the brightest of lights and the darkest of darks, all while creating a nearly tactile texture, even through a computer screen. The figure work and expressions are perfection, and the clever title block and credits help this stand out from the pack even more…not that there was any concern this would go unnoticed.
05. BATWOMAN #1, J.H. WILLIAMS III. DC COMICS.
A wonderful piece hat would probably rate even higher if we didn’t see this cover and only this cover for about six months while waiting for Batwoman #1 to release. As beautiful as it is, I admit I got a bit tired of it. Still, an excellent conceit and perfect execution. Fantastic composition, color palette, integration of text, and positive and negative space. Williams is a master there’s no doubt.
04. SAGA #1, FIONA STAPLES. IMAGE COMICS.
Apparently this cover was controversial. I don’t really understand it. Especially when we live in a world in which covers like this and this are common occurrences. How is breastfeeding an infant, while showing absolutely nothing, an issue? I’ll never understand some people. Anyway, this is a fantastic family portrait, and given the story inside, it’s the perfect statement about the book. Lovely positive and negative space, Staples allowing her bold character designs to speak for themselves on the stark background, and the simple title block all work together beautifully into an unforgettable image.
03. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: SEASON NINE #2, STEVE MORRIS. DARK HORSE COMICS.
As noted above, Steve Morris captures Buffy with utter perfection. But he’s never so slavishly devoted to the details that he misses out on anything else. The movement and flow of this cover as we fall with Buffy, both speeding along but also some how frozen in time. The darkness of the cover, and with everything popping so brightly out of it is breathtaking. Perhaps best of all however, is Buffy’s expression, one of absolute calm as she faces the latest horror before her.
02. GLORY #23, ROSS CAMPBELL. IMAGE COMICS.
As mentioned before, Glory looks unlike most female superheroes and that alone makes this cover stand out from the masses. Add to that the bold white space, never more ballsy than when so well-considered and paired with an unbelievably grotesque mess of brightly colored carnage. All of that combined with the imposing and impressive figure of Glory in hardcore battle dress and with that fantasy hair and this is easily one of my favorite covers of the past year. The cherry on top is the great smartly designed title block. So many covers ignore that key element. Not so here, an absolute slam dunk of comics covers.
01. BATWOMAN #2, J.H. WILLIAMS III. DC COMICS.
One of those covers that just works on so many levels in addition to being beautiful. This cover speaks to what is actually going on in the book, but doesn’t seem like a compromise. With a stunning color palette and excellent composition but most importantly, images that create an emotional and palpable reaction. Terrifying and beautiful this cover is an easy standout among a sea of gorgeous work.
What about you? What would be some of your favorite covers for women over the last year of comics?
*The March 2011 to March 2012 period is a bit nebulous as we all know covers are dated a bit before they are released. I did my best, it’s not perfect, it never is!
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