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75 Greatest Batman Covers of All-Time: #5-1

In honor of the seventy-fifth anniversary of Batman, we’re doing four straight months of polls having to do with Batman. Future installments will deal with Batman creators, villains and stories, but this month will be about Batman covers.

You all voted, now here are the results! We’ll be doing ten covers a day until the top twenty-five, when it becomes five a day. Here is a master list of all the covers that have been revealed so far.

Enjoy!

5. Detective Comics #31

Art by Bob Kane (1939)

4. Detective Comics #27

Art by Bob Kane (1939)

3. Batman #251

Art by Neal Adams (1973)

2. Batman #404

Art by David Mazzucchelli (1986)

1. Batman: The Dark Knight #1 (The Dark Knight Returns)

Art by Frank Miller (1986)

39 Comments

joe the poor speller

April 1, 2014 at 3:51 am

wow, no son of the demon? my number one choice was detective comics 587, another incredible norm breyfogle cover. good list

My #1 and #7 votes came in at #2 and #1 respectively. Not too bad I guess.

Historical significance aside – I really don’t think those Bob Kane covers are very good at all.

Is it my imagination or were there no Tim Sale covers in the list? And Alex Toth’s sublime cover to Batman: Black and White #4 somehow got criminally overlooked.

I had the top two in the same order. Two classic, classic covers. Thanks for running this, Brian. What’s the next Batman poll going to be?

I voted for the top 3 (obviously lots of other people did too). DKR was my #1. although looking at Year One, I kind of wish I’d picked that to top my list. It brings back some great memories of seeing it on the rack…I’d already planned on buying Year One, the first Miller/Mazuchelli Batman collaboration, kind of a no-brainer, but seeing that cover I knew this was going to be even cooler than I imagined (and that issue certainly was, in no small part ’cause of unexpected kick-ass Jim Gordon).

I’d forgotten about that Detective 31, I really like that one.

I’m also surprised at zero Tim Sale, although I can’t think of any one cover he’s especially famous for, so maybe a lot of his votes got split 25 ways or so.

Thanks very much for compiling an excellent list, Brian.

Bill Williamson

April 1, 2014 at 6:43 am

With regard to the Kane covers, I’m going to have to agree with DanCJ. Detective #27, Raymond did it better. Detective #31, Neal Adams did it better.

With regards to the top 2, I’d switch them around. The DKR cover is nice, but it’s not particularly visually distinctive, whereas that Year One cover is such a distinctive and shocking image.

I’m disappointed that there weren’t more Breyfogle covers but I suppose it’s the internal artwork that’s more distinctive.

figured batman the dark knight returns first issue would be in the top five and would have been surprised if batmans very first appearance did not make the cut though had it as number two

My tastes are apparently very far removed from other voters… although #2 is one of the best Joker covers ever. The other ratings I just don’t understand.

I actually liked the lower selections better because as the countdown progressed it just becomes the most iconic covers over the actual best-drawn. The Dark Knight cover is extremely iconic, but divorced from the story inside and divorced from the significance and quality of the miniseries and judged in a vacuum solely on the merits of the art and design, is it really the best Batman cover ever?

I think a far more interesting experiment would be to do a greatest Batman covers ever countdown, but do it with say 100 people who have never read a Batman comic or any comic at all. Who know very little about which issues or what miniseries are more iconic than others, and which artists are considered legends. I’d love to see how such a list would match up.

@adam & T: I agree. There were a lot of mediocre covers on the list seemingly because of the famous stories behind them. It’s a pity it became a “most famous covers” list rather than “best covers” list. There’s nothing distinctive about the first Batman or the first appearance of Batgirl covers, etc. Also, while I can understand why #1 and #2 are in their respective places, it was lame that essentially all of Year One and all of TDKR made the list. Frankly, some of those covers are poorly executed monstrosities. I did appreciate the mix of eras that appeared, though. A fun time was had by all, even if the absence of Batman 134 pretty much invalidates the entire list.

Naturally this would become a Most Iconic Batman cover countdown. I doubt Detective Comics #27 would be here without the significance of the comic inside.

Detective Comics 31 was my number 1. I figured it would be in the top ten. I did not expect to see Detective 27 score so high. Batman 251 was on my short list, I do not remember if I voted for it though.

As for Bob Kane’s covers not being as good as others, I think the relative crudeness enhances the allure and mystery. Neil Adams may have done the same image better, but Kane’s image has the promise of a darker and stranger story behind the cover. One of my favorite Batman stories, too, so that might help, but I think the cover made an impression on me before I ever read the story.

I agree with T. about the Dark Knight cover. I am sure there is room for it in the top 75, but divorced from the story I do not think it would have made the top ten.

I also agree with Bill Williamson that there should have been more Breyfogle, but I do not think I voted for any (or any Kelly Jones, which surprised me).

ugh that “dark knight returns” cover looks like a fourth grader used photoshop….

its detective 31 – no contest…

“I actually liked the lower selections better because as the countdown progressed it just becomes the most iconic covers over the actual best-drawn.”

That’s why I would love (even moreso than Brian’s other countdowns) to see a quick dump of covers 76-100. (Oh what the hell, 76-200!)

Thanks for a gorgeous countdown!

That’s why I would love (even moreso than Brian’s other countdowns) to see a quick dump of covers 76-100. (Oh what the hell, 76-200!)

Agreed.

Thanks for a gorgeous countdown!

Also agreed.

#1, #3, and #5 I predicted. The other two I did not expect to be anywhere near the top 5. I was thinking before this all started that The Killing Joke would be up there and either Batman #1, Batman #9, or Detective Comics #38 would round out the top 5. Thinking back on it now I guess Batman #244 wouldn’t have been a huge surprise either.

@Jeremy –

Detective Comics #27 is one of the most memorable covers of all time. I honestly think the immediate success of both Batman and Superman was owed in small part to the eye-catching covers of their first appearances.

@mckracken –

Yet it remains arguably the most memorable image ever produced for any comic book cover. I don’t think even Watchmen #1 could beat it in that regard. From a pure design standpoint it’s virtually perfect.

50 Greatest X-Men and Avengers covers since we’re in their 50th year?

Philip, last year was the 50th Anniversaries of X-Men and Avengers and I believe there were some cover appreciation posts. I’m sure someone else who knows how to post links will help slate your appetite!

I know that there was the Top 5 Byrne covers of the X-Men.

So, here was my list:
1. Batman #227
2. Batman #244
3. Batman #234
4. Detective Comics #457
5. Detective Comics #168
6. Detective Comics #475
7. Detective Comics #745
8. Legends of the Dark Knight #54
9. Batman #681
10. Detective Comics #628
A couple of those I really wasn’t expecting to chart, as they’re just not very well-known issues. My top ten would likely be pretty different if I had made it on another day, but I’m pleased with how it came out overall.
It was very nice to see such a wide variety of covers featured in the countdown.

Travis Pelkie

April 1, 2014 at 5:20 pm

DKR 1 is up there for a reason, because it’s incredibly memorable. And the lightning does resonate with the mythic “storm is coming” sturm und drang of that first issue. The design is incredible, the typeface perfect, the fact that it’s a silhouette and we still know it’s HIM.

That was the first (and pretty much only, since I forgot to vote) cover I thought of, and it’s the other one I remember seeing in that summer of Batmania in ’89 when I first started noticing comics and getting into them.

And heathen that I am, I’m not incredibly impressed with the #2 cover. I guess because it’s not like we haven’t seen the Waynes dead in the street before.

Anyway, thanks for the countdown, Brian. Fun stuff, and amazingly I saw a lot of covers I hadn’t seen before. Good stuff, everyone!

I’ve been waiting for that “The Joker’s Five Way Revenge” cover. Glad to finally see it. I’m also very fond of that Infantino cover where Blockbuster is smashing the cover logo.

Bill Williamson

April 1, 2014 at 10:14 pm

@ Travis Pelkie See, this is what people are debating. Is DKR #1 memorable because of its cover or because of what’s inside? If you didn’t know anything about Batman, The Dark Knight Returns or Frank Miller, and you only had time to look at the cover, would you buy this book? It’s just a silhouette superimposed over a streak of lightning.

Whereas, and this is where I’d have to disagree with you, that Year One cover is very distinctive and powerful on its own. Again, same criteria, if you didn’t know anything about Batman, Year One, Miller or Mazzucchelli, and only had time to look at the cover, would you buy that book? I certainly would. Two people lying in the street, dead, with a child kneeling at their bodies, is certainly a shocking image. I suppose it’s telling that whenever the death of the Waynes is depicted they use that exact framing (the positions of young Bruce and the bodies).

I think we’ll have to agree to disagree, Bill. I’m not sure that you can say that barring any other knowledge of the books that one is more powerful and distinctive than the other — I’d think going “blinders” like that, you’d have to put them at about even for distinctiveness.

I think it’s impossible to find anyone in that vacuum that doesn’t know something about Batman and How He Came To Be, either.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Year One has gotten critically reappraised in the last “few” (however you want to define that) years, so that it’s held in higher regard than DKR, even. I encountered DKR first, so I think I’m always going to hold that one higher, but I can certainly see the case for Year One.

Even though, of course, they’re the same Goddamned Batman, just at different ends of their career. Add in Miller’s ASBAR and the Batman/Spawn crossover he wrote (and DKSA, of course), and you’ve got a pretty interesting Bat-life.

So yeah, I hold DKR higher myself (both the cover here and the storyline), but I certainly won’t hold it against anyone who digs Year One better. It’s like asking if you like cookies or ice cream better — if you’re not lactose intolerant, they’re both good ;)

I don’t think you should have to be completely unaware of Batman to be able to judge the cover – that’s a bit silly. On the other hand I don’t think it’s fair to take into account the contents of the book when you’re just voting for the cover. But even without taking into account the contents I still voted for all four of the Year One covers and three of the Dark Knight ones.

Year One part 1 in particular just has an incredible cover. One of the all time best in comics ever.

Bill Williamson

April 2, 2014 at 8:36 am

@ DanCJ I never said that. All I’m saying is that the top 2 are where they are because of what’s inside. If you knew nothing about Batman and had to choose between those two covers, which would you find more visually appealing? I somehow doubt it would be the #1 choice.

And heathen that I am, I’m not incredibly impressed with the #2 cover. I guess because it’s not like we haven’t seen the Waynes dead in the street before.

In point of fact, we really hadn’t seen it clearly until that cover. It’s become a cliche image because Miller was the first to present it so starkly and memorably.

Yet it remains arguably the most memorable image ever produced for any comic book cover

I think it’s more memorable because it’s associated with the emotions and nostalgia of an iconic miniseries that EVERYONE read. I’m not saying it’s not good, but I simply can’t buy that it’s the most memorable solely based on the design merits given the thousands of Batman covers in existence over the past 75 years. That has to be the single most read Batman book among modern fandom ever. That alone is enough to make it memorable: that it’s the most seen.

In point of fact, we really hadn’t seen it clearly until that cover. It’s become a cliche image because Miller was the first to present it so starkly and memorably.

Agreed. it was always done off-panel or in a less powerful way when I saw it done before. That was the first time I saw it so starkly portrayed. The exact poses, the pool of blood, the shadows, everything, It makes me feel it more than any other telling of the origin I read previously did. Although do we know for sure Miller is to credit for that and not Mazzuchelli?

This was a tough poll, and a good job was done. But picking or even remembering all these great covers was a challenge.

Some of the others on my list, not because people really care what I picked, but so they can get some acknowledgement:

I too had Detective 587 pretty high up my list. I think it was the best Breyfogle cover. I think I even have a t-shirt from the Batman movie days that has that image.

http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20081219123408/marvel_dc/images/0/06/Detective_Comics_587.jpg

A bit lower, maybe because it didn’t feature Batman as much (though I did have Killing Joke #1) was Batman 451.

http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20081219180812/marvel_dc/images/c/ce/Batman_451.jpg

My favorite Mignola cover didn’t make the cut either, ‘Tec 583.

http://img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20070301182931/marvel_dc/images/9/95/Detective_Comics_583.jpg

And a not shocking exclusion was Batman Annual 14, which had the double problem of being an annual, AND not featuring Batman. But it’s great work.

http://img1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20080507194754/marvel_dc/images/9/93/Batman_Annual_14.jpg

The rest of mine made the list, though in differing order obviously. I actually took Batman 405 over 404 and 404 was my last cut. It IS iconic. But it feels like a lot of the groundwork for that was already laid out in Dark Knight Returns, if not that exact image. And Dark Knight Returns #1 wasn’t my number 1, but I voted for it because sometimes the art is in the simplicity. And really, at the time it came out, on it’s fairly new card stock style (mmmm, the ink smell on a summer night), it was really a modern looking image, where it has been aped so much since it doesn’t seem all that unique. But at the time it stood out on the shelves. (And to be followed by the contrast of #2, with it’s cross-hatchy style…). So maybe not my #1, but I don’t begrudge it getting there. I mean, it’s total points right, so what was the breakdown on the voting? Did it get the most #1 votes, or did it get voted #2 and 3 more often, while the ones following it were voted either 1 or 2 or not at all more often?

And Detective 31 was the only golden age vote I had, and I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who appreciated it.

Although do we know for sure Miller is to credit for that and not Mazzuchelli?

Yeah, I should’ve credited Mazzuchelli on that cover. Miller, for his part, solidified the “falling pearls” part of the imagery in TDKR a year earlier, and I’d misremembered it as him showing the deaths more explicitly there as well.

Darrell Hempel

April 2, 2014 at 1:30 pm

My favorite made it to #3.

Travis Pelkie

April 2, 2014 at 5:06 pm

One thing I meant to bring up:

Another way to judge the “iconic-ness” of the cover is by how often it’s parodied/homaged. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Year One homage, but I know I’ve seen DKR 1 re-done plenty (Gnatrat, one of my fave parodies, for one).

And yeah, as usual, Omar and T are probably right that Year One’s cover is the first, most clear, and starkest depiction of the actual deaths of the Waynes. And probably if I’d been into comics before either came out, the Year One might be higher on my list because of that first depiction, but coming in after the fact, the DKR appeals to me more.

Although I gotta say, one of the most awesome elements of the origin is right in there at the start, I believe. The bit with Bruce staring down the killer and the killer freaking the hell out about his judging eyes!

Brian-
Great list! I think about 8 of mine made the list. I wasn’t surprised about the 2 that didn’t. All the covers are terrific though. Anyway, would it be too much to ask what made your personal top 10?

Neal Adams did so many great Batman covers over the years, but Batman 251 is not even close to his best. I’m always surprised this one is singled out.

i don’t buy batman comics, but the no. 1 cover on the list is a real eye-catcher.

Cyril Gittens

April 3, 2014 at 6:07 am

Neal Adams …Batman kills Ras al Ghoul…tops everything here…

I think the DKR covers do stand on their own as great pieces of art without taking into account the legacy of the story. Miller is a master of composition and design. Issue one would have been my number one pick, while issue two would have been third or fourth.
With the exception of maybe the third issue, the covers for Year One never really did much for me. What I would have done, if it counted, would be to put the cover of the deluxe edition of YO at number two. It’s the image that immediately follows the last page of the story in every collection-Batman jumping towards the reader with the bat signal behind him. The image wasn’t in the original issues so I figured it’d be a fair pick.

Another way to judge the “iconic-ness” of the cover is by how often it’s parodied/homaged. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Year One homage, but I know I’ve seen DKR 1 re-done plenty (Gnatrat, one of my fave parodies, for one).

No one is doubting that Dark Knight’s cover is more iconic than Year One. That’s kind of our point: that it’s ranking so much higher primarily because it’s so iconic rather than ranking high primarily because of its design merits.

Also, that Year One scene has been homaged plenty of times, just not as a cover. The situation is a bit too specific to easily homage as a cover, since it is not as easy to transfer to new characters and scenarios as the Dark Knight cover, but since that cover came out, it’s been recreated many times whenever people depict the death of the Waynes since. Before Year One, I don’t ever recall seeing that specific scene of Bruce kneeling between the corpses used to depict the Waynes death scene. For example:

http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/original/1/18863/2881957-frankmiller_asbar_child_01.jpg

http://img3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20091116203657/batman/images/6/66/Crime_Alley.jpg

http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/original/0/9241/788966-001.jpg

http://www.littlestuffedbull.com/images/2012/crimealley/06-batmandeathmask1.jpg

http://www.littlestuffedbull.com/images/2012/crimealley/09-shadowofthebat0.JPG

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_pScx8BN4h3s/SbqZ7Rj4bJI/AAAAAAAADIk/u1lE9cwBrO0/s320/sb56-05.jpg
http://www.littlestuffedbull.com/images/2012/crimealley/07b-batmandarktomorrow.jpg

Movies:

http://subcultureforthecultured.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/batman-begins-20050526092913624-001.jpg

Video games:

http://www.blastr.com/sites/blastr/files/styles/media_gallery_image/public/images/Batman-Bruce-Wayne.jpg?itok=bvZY3v34

joe the poor speller ,detective comics 587 was also my top cover

Though failed to get the top spot of my choice, the ranking is nevertheless great.

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