My friend Mike Curry and I share a geeky, wonder-filled heart of a child ('We alternate keeping it in a jar, one week his house, one week mine!', as Forry J. Ackerman would say.) where comic books are concerned. Few things take us on such flights of fancy as memories of great comics, characters and plotlines past, and few things delight us more than finding and sharing with each other modern kernels of creative genius in modern comics. I can't speak for Mike, but these sessions never fail to remind me of rainy weekends spent with cousins reading and comparing and action-figuring our way through the comic scenes that struck our fancy. Magical times.
Mike offered, however, a variation that was terribly intriguing. While it would not be hard to make a list of the 1,000 or so comic stories we've loved over the years, much more challenging would be the task of limiting such a list to smaller numbers. Even the covers. 'Some people have posted Ten Best Comics Covers Ever lists. Can you imagine? I wouldn't even know where to start, much less limit it to ten!' That challenge spoke to me as well, in a happy, nerdy, inner-child way. While there are tons...tons....of comic book covers that should make that list (Marvel's Silver Age origin covers alone could fill it without a sweat, thanks to Misters Kirby, Ditko, Steranko and others), I started to think of a subjective way to narrow the field. Maybe just the comic covers that made my fingers literally itch to read -that- story, to crack open that cover and devour the contents like a chocoholic ripping into a candy bar wrapper.
At their most captialist capacity, isn't that what a good cover strives to do after all? Some would be born aloft by being not only artfully rendered, but offered visually as blurbs in comic I already had. In other words, tempting but at the moment, unatainable. Several of the older covers would fall into that capacity for me. These were the ones featured on interior house ads, sometimes seemingly in every...single...comic I owned at the time, reminding me time and again how very cool an upcoming issue was and how my life would be somehow irrevocably dimmed were I not to bask in the four-color goodness therein. Cruel ads placed by sadistic Silver Age hucksters who never considered the four issues I currently read were all from the ancient Hospital Auxiliary Gift Shop nickel pile and had been published five or more years previous. How, oh how would I -ever- find those elusive treasures of comic book coolness that hit stands four years and 11 months ago in the far-flung past of pre-adolsence??? Luckily, rabid fandom fanned the flames of online back issue outlets like Mile High Comics and eBay as the years passed, making such elusive riches not only accessible but affordable. But I digress...
And so, here are 10 of the top Coolest Comic Book Covers Ever based on the criteria of being ones I most could not wait to open. I've included a blurb with each to better explain why or how they made the cut for me. I've also included a gallery of Honorable Mentions at the end.
This cover makes top of the list because it was just so 'wrong', you knew the story was going to be right. 'Wrong' as in, back lo those many years ago, no DC heroes shared any panels or appearances with Marvel heroes. Ever. Period. But here they were, and not just any old comic heroes, but the veritable iconic comic book faces of BOTH publishers, about to duke it out! Second thought after much blinking and eye-rubbing was: "Oh, Parker...you poor slob. You're about to get your webbed butt handed to you!" Even so, the cover was so inspired, so brilliant, so BIG, as in the Treasury Edition size, that fandom united could not wait to get a copy in our mutually sweating palms to bask in this ultimate team-up/battle nerdgasm.
Ever since an impromptu and shrouded appearance in a mainstream DC comic where costumed parade participants suddenly found themselves enchanted and possessing the powers of the heroes they portrayed, I was fascinated by the Big Red Cheese in the yellow work boots who had some kind of magic word that empowered him to trade punches with Superman. When DC decided to bring back the original Captain Marvel, I was primed...the blend of modern DC comics embodied by Superman's rendering to the left, and C.C. Beck's signature, simplistic, Golden Age rendering of Cap on the right, had me hooked with one magic word.
Marvel's entry into the Captain Marvel copyright wars also snagged me, first with a love of the white-and-green suited Cap of such astonishing covers in the early run of his title. Unfortunately, I wasn't yet a sophisticated enough reader to appreciate the Gene Colan renderings inside the books. But Gil Kane's work and change of the costume held more appeal, and this cosmic cover by Jim Starlin hooked me into the galactic, nega-band powered adventures of the displaced Captain of the Kree.
If there was anything I loved as much as comics, it was monsters. Marvel's 'Tomb of Dracula' and 'Ghost Rider' and later even Morbius the Living Vampire would fuel my young cravings for the macabre eventually. But 'Werewolf by Night' was the my gothic graphic love because of covers just like this one by Mike Ploog, as well as Ploog's interior art that continued the action seen here in panels that could barely contain the energy of the tormented lycanthrope Jack Russell (heh...what a great canine name!)
Below, the Bad Guys get their own Adams cover! Variations of iconic costumes fascinated me as a kid, and none moreso than the Superman-Batman Revenge Squad. There's just something alluring about a subtle change of color, a slightly different emblem, and downright sinister when you incorporate the darker tones with Kryptinie 'S' sigils and death's head bats! Neal Adams, like Ploog above, carried his artistic chops into the interiors as well, and created a story I can still 'see' in my mind's eye even today.
My love of Curt Swann/Murphy Anderson, below, led to many cover attractions in the early years of my fandom. But I think in its own geeky, strange way, this is their coolest. My little 10 year old noggin just couldn't wrap around all the wrongness of this cover! Red Batmobile? Brainiac channeling Mr. Mxyzptlk? Krypto colored like Streaky the Super Cat???? Whu---wha----WHY???? All the answers, plus tons more playful gaffes, waited for me inside that issue. I finally got to explore them fully in 2012 when I scored a copy.
The Gil Kane cover of 'Captain Action' issue 2 was not a typical one; you could barely see the heroes, Cap and his son, Action Boy, in the cockpit of their wonder vehicle, the Silver Streak. But what a great action cover!
I mentioned love of the macabre, right? Leave it to Neal Adams to embody that in a hero who straddled the world between the living and the dead, and between horror comics and costumed adventure tales! Deadman was my first 'oddball' character obsession. B'wanna Beast infatuation would come later, but his Mike Sekowsky covers could not compare.
Sex sells comics. How else do you explain Marvel's 90's Swimsuit issues? If you'd already fallen hard for Batgirl on TV, how could your pre-pubescent heart not fall for this Murphy Anderson cover? His work inside the book below was just as classy, tasteful, and drop-dead gorgeous. *Happy sigh*
And here is the gallery of covers that almost made the cut, each with their own reasons. 'Giant Size X-Men' #1? Same reason that 'Justice League' #1 is here...those covers made me wanna know alllll about these characters and/or how they were going to interact in a team frame work. Ditto on Alex Ross's 'Kingdom Come' and 'Masks'. Hulk #141? It looked like DC's Captain Marvel (albeit with green hair) was clocking the Hulk! How cool is -that-? Only made cooler with the contribution of all-time underrated artist Marie Severin. Captain Atom? Because that villain, The Ghost, was just too cool to 10 year old eyes. By the same token, the Gentleman Ghost fighting the super-science fictiony intergalactic Hawkman of Thanagar made me want to read that strange-opponents-as-bedfellows story because of both theme and Joe Kubert art. And while The Atom Earth One and Earth Two counterpart team-ups were never as satisfying to read as the Lantern's for me, this cover literally explodes! It's also my favorite rendering of the latter version of Al Pratt's costume. And the Phantom? Charlton was never, for me, a big cover contender...until this image. I'd already read some of Falk's books of The Phantom, and the strips, but this image finally...finally....made the Ghost Who Walks look as stunning as he should...without being just one of the slam-bang, pulp covers of those Falk paperbacks. Teen Titans always rocked, often with Nick Cardy covers as their run stretched into the 30-numbered issues. They also had a lot of supernatural, almost horror comic, threats they faced, at least on those covers. Finally, Curt Swan's renders of the Giant Size DC Superman covers often hooked me. Green and orange Supergirl?!? A Kryptonian villain as powerful as Superman and in traditional Krypton garb?!!? And Bizarro...Bizarro meets Frankenstein?!?! Usually, however, I was disappointed by finding the interior reprints were rendered by Wayne Boring or someone besides Anderson. Now I respect Mr. Boring's work tons. But back then, well...after those covers, the comic book candy inside could never live up to the delicious promise of those wrappers.