Comics Buyer’s Guide has been putting out a series of lists in book form, among them Comics Buyer’s Guide Presents 100 Sexiest Women in Comics and Comics Buyer's Guide Presents 100 Baddest Motherf*#!ers in Comics. In this volume, CBG forsakes the “100” concept in order to present 175 covers (including one in the introduction) as well as a consensus Top 10 that includes six that also appear elsewhere in the book. Instead of the countdown used in the other books (or “count-up,” I suppose, since they run from #1 to #100), this book divides the covers up into categories, some clever, some cute, some essential, some unnecessary. Spidey figures in a number of these categories, including one of his own.
In his introduction, editor Brent Frankenhoff quotes Mark Waid’s Secret Origins #40, May 1989 editorial in which he reproduces the 1950s-60s’ “unwritten laws” of what elements produce covers that sell. Gorillas, dinosaurs, motorcycles, fires, purple covers, questions to the reader, and heroes crying. In this spirit, the Secret Origins cover contains all of these elements and is shown in this introduction. It’s not one of comics’ greatest covers but then neither are a lot of the others included.
So, what are the categories? There are 30 in all. Twenty-eight of them feature 6 covers while the last 2 feature 3 covers. Let’s go through them quickly.
Golden Age Gotchas mostly features very familiar covers including Action Comics #1, June 1938, Detective Comics #27, May 1939, Marvel Comics #1, November 1939, and Captain America Comics #1, March 1941. The problem here is that these covers have become so iconic it’s difficult to separate their quality from their historical significance. I agree with the inclusion of Action with Superman hefting that sedan and Cap with the shield-slinger pasting one on Der Fuehrer’s face but not the others.
Dressing it Up is a strange unnecessary category featuring a vague criterion that has something to do with using a cover as something other than a straight-forward cover. Even as vague as this is, I still don’t know how Classics Illustrated #89, November 1951 fits into this. But I do love the cover of Secret Six #1, May 1968.
What’s Next? is another amorphous category that manages to include both the eye injury art from Mister Mystery #12, August 1953 and Thor turning into a frog on Thor #364, February 1986. None of these are worthy of “greatest cover” status. But I do like the “Stop! Don’t pass up this issue! My life depends on it!” cover on Flash #163, August 1966. I remember this one as a kid and, whoosh, talk about putting the pressure on the poor kids haunting the comic rack!
Let’s skip Imaginary Tales and go to Waving the Flag, specifically Superman #14, January 1942; Fred Ray’s illustration of Supes in front of a stars-and-stripes shield with an eagle perched on his arm. This is definitely one of the best comic covers of all time. (And I love the Big Red Cheese rolling up his sleeves while Uncle Sam removes his jacket as they prepare to duke it out with the Axis on Captain Marvel Adventures #16, October 1942.)
It’s a Tribute, Not a Swipe features Fantastic Four #1, November 1961 and five other later covers modeled after it. A clever idea but it has nothing to do with comics’ greatest covers.
Silver Age Stunners has the same problem as Golden Age Gotchas. Are these covers great or just wrapped around historic issues? I would agree with The Flash #123, September 1961 with Infantino/Anderson’s rendition of the Golden and Silver Age Flashes rushing toward us to rescue a man and with Avengers #4, March 1964 with Kirby’s Cap practically falling into our laps but I’m not sure of the others. Spidey appears in the book for the first time here with Amazing Fantasy #15, August 1962 but is it a great cover or just an iconic one?
It’s lightning round time. Let’s skip It’s Not Easy Being Green (Lantern). Got Innuendo? is fun but unnecessary. Entertaining E.C. seems all wrong to me. I could replace five of these covers with over a dozen other EC covers more deserving. Super-Covers takes the easy way out with Superman covers. Nothing very exciting here. Same with Hey Kids! Comics!. (This is the Sugar and Spike cover worth reproducing? Really?) Shazam! has the same problem as Supey. I love Mac Raboy’s Captain Marvel Jr. covers but there are so many better Cap covers than the ones featured here.
Death and Dying brings us back to Spidey with the inclusion of Marvel Graphic Novel (No. 1) Death of Captain Marvel, 1982. Also included here are Uncanny X-Men #142, February 1981 with the “Everybody Dies!” blurb and The Flash #186, March 1969 with the skeleton of the Flash. All worthy choices.
I’m skipping Cheesy Cheesecake (sorry, guys!) which brings us, at last, to Swing with Spider-Man. The six covers chosen are Amazing Spider-Man #33, February 1966, Amazing Spider-Man #39, August 1966, Amazing Spider-Man #50, July 1967, Amazing Spider-Man #252, May 1984, Spider-Man #1, August 1990, and Amazing Spider-Man #641, October 2010. The first three are undeniable. At first, I objected to the last three because I can think of so many better covers but, as a representative sampling, they do the job well. Certainly, the homage to AF #15 with the black costumed Spidey is striking and Todd McFarlane’s 1990 cover exemplifies a decade. And there’s no denying the power of Paolo Rivera’s use of blue on ASM #641. But is this any way to choose the greatest covers of all time?
Bronze Age Blasts includes Incredible Hulk #181, November 1974, an undistinguished cover that is only included because it is Wolverine’s first appearance. Can a cover be considered great in retrospect because of the later heft of the character? I wouldn’t include it.
Hey, That Looks Like- features real celebrities on covers. Spidey shows up twice here; on Marvel Team-Up #74, October 1978 with the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players (a cover undeserving of inclusion) and Amazing Spider-Man #583 4th Printing Variant "Barack Obama", March 2009 with President Obama (a deserving cover). The gem of this category, though, is All New Collectors’ Edition #C-56, 1978, or, as it’s generally known, “Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.”
Gangway! features characters bursting through things toward the reader. War! What is it Good For? is, you know, war comics. ’80s Excitement has no Spidey but does have Beta Ray Bill on the deserving Thor #337, November 1983. Batman: The Dark Knight #1, March 1986 and Watchmen #1, September 1986 are here too.
Let’s You and Him Fight is where you’ll find Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man, 1976. (Check the issue itself for a short feature on how a cover was finally created that felt fair to both companies.) It’s Not Easy Being Green (Hulk) includes Web of Spider-Man #7, October 1985; interestingly enough, one of the few Spidey covers without Spidey on it. In Space, No One can Read Your Comics has some odd choices for SF/space covers, as does ’90s Knockouts, though you can’t argue with Alex Ross’ Marvels #1, January 1994. It’s a Tribute, Not a Swipe (Part Two) is interesting only in that the issue supposedly swiped (Crisis On Infinite Earths #7, October 1985) is shown here to be a swipe itself, perhaps going back to Thor #127, April 1966, also featured here.
Millennial Masterpieces spotlights Ultimate Spider-Man #1, October 2000. Again, is it the cover or the success of the series?
It all finishes up with Getting into the Act with comic creators on the cover and The End with characters departing. Before that one, though, is the consensus Top 10. Here it is.
10. X-Men #1, September 1963
9. Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man, 1976
8. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #4, September 1968 (Steranko!)
7. Mystery in Space #90, March 1964 (Adam Strange)
6. Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, October 1985
5. Amazing Spider-Man #28, September 1965 (a great choice)
4. Amazing Spider-Man #50, July 1967
3. Batman: The Dark Knight #1, March 1986
2. Thor #337, November 1983
1. Avengers #4, March 1964
So what does this all come to? Is this book really presenting the greatest comic book covers of all time? Not a chance. And does that matter? Not really. There are covers you’ve seen hundreds of times and covers you never had to see at all but there are also a lot of cool covers you’d probably never see without a book like this (best examples are Airboy Vol. 5 #12, January 1949 and Doll Man Quarterly #6, Summer 1943). So, that’s fun, but, even in this loose format, there are some odd decisions with the EC, humor, and Shazam! categories standing out as being particularly ill-chosen.
The Top 10 list whets the appetite for a complete 100 Greatest book done in the style of the others. That’s the book I really wanted to see. This one has its moments but it isn’t it.