There’s a lot of great comic book covers out there. This list is my personal All-Time Top 10. Before I get to the list, it’s important to note the criteria I used to determine this list:
#1. It’s MY Top 10. This list is limited to covers that *I* have seen. That immediately rules out hundreds of thousands of covers. I’m not trying to make the Top 10 List of Greatest Covers EVER… just MY Top 10. If I haven’t seen it, it can’t make the list. At the same time, it’s covers that I have ALREADY seen. I didn’t want to spend days exposing myself (gross) to thousands of different covers. There’s just too many out there.
#2: If the covers really are THAT great… I should remember them outright. So, there’s a lot of amazing covers that I have seen, but if I couldn’t think of them off the top of my head… they didn’t make the list. I didn’t think it was necessary to even go through my boxes of comics. I should be able to remember the Top 10 without looking them up.
After putting my 10 covers together, I realized that there was absolutely no way I could actually put them in order from 10 to 1. All of the covers are so important to my history as a reader of comics that there just isn’t a way to determine the importance of one over the other based solely on the cover alone. I did, however, recognize that there were 2 distinct tiers: The Top 3 and The Other 7. What makes The Top 3 different? I’ll talk about that after we get through The Other 7.
The Other 7 (in no particular order)
G.I.Joe #46 April, 1986 by Mike Zeck
This cover has 4 elements that put it in my Top 10 Covers: it was illustrated by Mike Zeck, it features Snake Eyes in his V2 uniform, it’s G.I.Joe and it came out in 1986. Those 4 elements will come up again on several other covers.
The Punisher #3 March, 1986 by Mike Zeck
Mike Zeck cover with The Punisher (my favorite character at the time) in front of a bleeding, paper, shooting range target. I didn’t understand it then and I don’t really understand it now. Was someone standing behind it? I didn’t care then and I don’t care now. It’s just a testament to how badass The Punisher is.
Uncanny X-Men #211 November, 1986 by John Romita, Jr.
Another common element in my Top 10 Covers is Wolverine. He manages to make a record setting *6* of the Top 10 with 4 of them as the solitary character (yes, I’m counting this one). The juxtaposition of the Wolverine mask against the secret identity of Logan (not that he ever tried to keep it a secret) was inherently compelling.
Web of Spider-Man #32 November, 1987 by Mike Zeck
Mike Zeck cover featuring Spider-Man in the black suit rising from a grave? Sold.
The next 3 covers are practically the same cover but they are all independently fantastic.
Uncanny X-Men #207 July, 1986 by John Romita, Jr.
This is one of those covers where I’ve seen it so many times and it was such a striking image the first time I saw it that it has transcended the physical piece of art that it is. I can’t even look at it and see it for what it really is. If I had to do a college art class type of critique I would probably think it was terrible. But for me, this cover just IS comics and it takes me back to the moment I first saw it on the spinner rack. When I was learning to draw this was one of the covers I brutalized by overlaying a piece of tracing paper trying desperately to understand John Romita, Jr.’s lines.
Uncanny X-Men #234 September, 1988 by Marc Silvestri
Man, these 10 covers are so important to me and carry such a deep emotional resonance that I find it difficult to really describe WHY they are in my Top 10. They just ARE. Wolverine in the spotlight half-transformed into a Brood? Yes, I’ll take it! It’s striking, it’s compelling, the colors hurt my eyes, Marc Silvestri on the X-Men is the main reason I read comics for so long.
Uncanny X-Men #251 November, 1989 by Marc Silvestri
To be honest, I don’t remember the stories of most of these books. Is that weird? The point of the cover is to sell the book, and regardless of the story inside, I bought these books. Some of them several times over. I LOVE these books. But the stories didn’t really stick with me. In fact, at this point of the X-storyline, I don’t think I really liked the story at all. But this cover… man, there’s no better way to sum up the angst of late ‘80’s early ‘90’s Uncanny X-Men.
The Top 3 (in no particular order)
What’s the difference between The Top 3 and The Other 7? I will buy these 3 comic books each and every time I see them whether it’s a yard sale, flea market, comic shop back issue blowout sale, private collection… I love these 3 covers so much that I literally get the thrill of the first time I bought them EVERY time I buy them. And, as has happened in the past, if something should happen to one of them, I always have backups.
Now just give me a minute to try to put them in some kind of order because I can’t possibly weight the importance of one over the others…
Captain America Annual #8 1986 by Mike Zeck
Mike Zeck, Wolverine (one of my favorite characters in1986), Captain America (one of my favorite characters in 1986 and my current favorite), and an amazing action shot that shoots energy off the page. Unlike the forgettable stories I mentioned earlier, this story did stick with me and has been the default relationship for Cap and Wolverine ever since.
Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #1 May, 1984 by Mike Zeck
All my favorite heroes on one cover illustrated by Mike Zeck! I don’t care where they’re going or what they’re about to do, I have to have this book. I have to have several copies of it in fact. A 2 t-shirts AND a poster by Alex Ross.
G.I.Joe Yearbook #2 March, 1986 by Michael Golden
In 1986 G.I.Joe was bigger than Jesus playing bass for the Beatles (for 10 year-old boys anyway). Looking back on it now, G.I.Joe certainly peaked with the introduction of Snake Eyes’ V2 costume (the one with the visor, sword and wolf). Nothing related to G.I.Joe has ever topped or even come close to the amazingly bad-assed-ness of that suit. My 3 favorite G.I.Joe characters (that is to say, members of the Joes, so excluding Cobra characters) were Snake Eyes, Ripcord and Torpedo. To have all of them on a single cover that reeks of American patriotism illustrated in the hyper-detailed-but-slightly-cartoonish style of (uncredited) Michael Golden is a childhood dream come true.
As an artist I have been chasing this cover since the day I saw it. I hope to one day be able to render weapons, gear, clothing and gestures with the same kind of accuracy and energy that Golden does. To this day I am dumbfounded as to why Torpedo and Ripcord would feature so prominently on a cover for any reason other than to appease ME. It never happened before this cover and hasn’t since. All I can say is: Thank you Hasbro, Marvel and Michael Golden!
Some stats to roundup this Top 10:
- 5 Zeck, 2 Silvestri, 2 Romita, Jr., 1 Golden
- 6 covers with Wolverine
- 8 Covers depict events that either certainly did or most likely did happen in that book (the exceptions being Punisher #3 and X-Men #207)
- All 10 are between 1984 and 1989 (6 from 1986).
I find it astounding that I’ve been reading and collecting comics for at least 25 years and all 10 of my Top 10 covers came from 4 artists at 1 company over a 5 year period that ended 21 years ago. Every cover I have seen since 1989 has been measured against these 10 images.
Furthermore these covers have been so important to me as a lover of comics for so long that I can’t imagine any cover will ever breaking into that Top 10. No cover will ever be able to deliver the same kind of wide-eyed discovery that those covers did. No cover will be able to inspire that same sense of wonder and excitement. I’ve read so many comics and seen so many covers that there just aren’t any surprises anymore.
Of course there have been lots of covers since 1989 that I have liked, lots of covers that I think are amazingly composed, fantastically illustrated and striking images. Heck, if you asked me I would tell you that Art Adams is my favorite artist and that Alex Ross is one of the greatest comic artists EVER… but neither one of them made the Top 10. For all the great artists and covers that have come along since 1989 they will never have the power of being my first encounter with those characters or concepts. Everything else will just be a variation or imitation of those 10 covers.
See, from 1984 to 1989 I was still naive with respect to the craft of comics, the way the images are made and the REASON the images are made. At that age, I didn’t even realize that there were different artists on different books. All I saw were the characters. Mike Zeck, John Romita, Jr., it didn’t matter, all I saw were Wolverine and Snake Eyes. Once the curtain was pulled back and I saw how things worked, once I started to take apart the lines and figure out how to put them back together, how to create my OWN lines… I lost that first-time reader innocence. I can’t just appreciate that they exist, I have to know how and why.
At 33 years, I can see the strings. I can see how the art is made, how the attempts to manipulate the buyer are crafted, heck, I put these methods into practice as an artist and crafter of commercial imagery myself. But it hasn’t stopped me from reading and collecting comics. It’s merely changed the way that I look at them and what I appreciate about them. There are probably a lot of covers that have come along in the last 21 years that would have made this list were I encountering them as a first time reader of comics.
And now I’m curious. Now I want to know how the Top 10 SINCE 1989 differ from the Top 10. Now I have to go put together my Top 10 Covers SINCE 1989 list.