Tuesday, November 30, 2010

PSA: Submissions for the 2011 Glyph Comics Awards are now being accepted; judges named

(Note: Here's the official press release concerning this year's Glyph Comics Awards. Chances are you've already encountered it somewhere on the comics Internet, but I figured I should post it here as well, given my participation.)

The sixth annual Glyph Comics Awards (GCA) will be part of the tenth anniversary of the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC), and as such, all involved hope it will make the big celebration that much grander. The GCA Committee will now accept submissions for the 2011 awards season.

The panel of judges for the 2011 competition is:

—Jennifer Contino, comics journalist

—Martha Cornog, author; graphic novel columnist, Library Journal

—Joseph Phillip Illidge, comics editor and writer/co-owner, Expo Weekly

—J. Caleb Mozzocco, writer, Blog@Newsarama*

—Chad Nevett, writer, Comics Should Be Good

Any comics publisher—small, large, corporate, independent, self-published—as well as online comic creators and cartoonists for newspapers and other periodicals, are invited to submit black-themed material released from January 1-December 31, 2010 for consideration for award recognition. The Committee defines black-themed work as any comic with any combination of the following: a black protagonist(s), or at least a black character(s) pivotal to the direction of the story; a setting(s) or a theme(s) that explore the black experience within the United States and/or abroad, past, present, and/or future; and/or a comic of any kind written and/or illustrated by a black creator(s).

Anyone wishing to submit their comic book or comic strip for consideration in the 2011 competition should e-mail GCA Committee Chair Rich Watson at rich.watson@gmail.com for further information. Hard copies are preferred, though submissions of a e-files will also be accepted. Online comics creators and newspaper/periodical cartoonists with websites should send a direct URL link to their site or page. Daily cartoonists must have a minimum of one month’s work archived and available for viewing; weekly cartoonists a minimum of two months. The deadline for submissions is January 31, 2011.

The 2011 Glyph Comics Awards ceremony will be held at the East Coast Black Age of Comics Conventions (ECBACC) on May 20, 2011.

About the Glyph Comics Awards:

The Glyph Comics Awards recognize the best in comics made by, for, and about people of color from the preceding calendar year. While it is not exclusive to black creators, it does strive to honor those who have made the greatest contributions to the comics medium in terms of both critical and commercial impact. By doing so, the goal is to encourage more diverse and high quality work across the board and to inspire new creators to add their voices to the field.

The awards were founded in 2005 by Rich Watson as a means to provide news and commentary of comics with black themes, as well as tangential topics in the fields of black science-fiction/fantasy and animation.


The East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (www.ecbacc.com/wordpress) is an annual gathering of comic book creators and retailers who create and sell material that caters to black readers of alla ges. In addition to selling their work, they also take part in panel discussions and self-publishing workshops for aspiring creators. The convention is held in Philadelphia each May. There is also a reception held the preceding night. ECBACC is an outgrowth of the original Black age of Comics Convention in Chicago, founded by Turtel Onli.

For more information about ECBACC, contact event coordinator Akinseye Brown at akinseye.brown@ecbacc.com

*Hey, that's me!

Starfire, no!

This is the cover of the latest issue of Tiny Titans and, as you can see—Wait, what's this?!?!?!I thought you hearted Robin...why are you hearting Superboy and Zatara?!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Reviews of random recent releases

Damaged/Hollow Point (Radical Comics) I hope I got the title right. This is a $1 preview flip-book of two upcoming Radical comics.

Damaged has quite queer credits, with the book “created by” Michael Schwarz and John Schwarz, but written by David Lapham and illustrated by Dennis Calero. It’s a first-person narrated crime story, in which an older detective walks through blank, empty spaces, passing the occasional photo of a car or person, thinking about how The Punisher-like super-vigilante he’s been covering for for many years is apparently back and shooting up criminals by the boatload. In fact, his body count is so high, the other police folks think that the crime scenes are the result of shoot-outs between multiple gangs, not just one big scary dude with “a scar like a cop’s badge.”

There may be some promise to the premise, and certainly Lapham is well within his element, but the art is sparse, hurried, ugly and occasionally even unreadable.

Hollow Point is also “created by” someone who neither wrote nor drew any part of it. In this case, it’s Ron L. Brinkerhoff, who yes, does have an IMDb page, but written by David Hine and illustrated by Elia Bonetti. In this one, a world weary professional assassin goes off to South America to ice a priest but, on a whim, decides to buy him a drink and chat with him before doing the deed.

During the talk, it emerges that, while the priest expected to be killed at some point, he’s apparently not guilty of abusing children, as whoever hired our protagonist alleged.

While the protagonist is definitely a type familiar to anyone who’s been to very many movies rather than an individual, this half of the comic was handled much more competently and professionally. The art is a little too dark, slick and reliant on computers and image reference for my tastes, but it’s brilliant compared to what the other half of the book looks like.

At $1, this is well worth the cover price, but I’d be hesitant to follow either of these stories beyond the covers of this book. I’ve certainly no interest in Damaged, but Hollow Point might be worth a second look at some point.

Feeding Ground #1 (Archaia) Well this sure is an interesting comic book. The cover price is $3.95, and for that you get the same 29-page story twice—in English reading one way, and then, if you flip it over, in Spanish reading the other way. And there are no ads, so it’s certainly a good value.

How is the story? That I’m not so sure of. I read the English version, but I still found myself a bit lost. Writer Swifty Lang jumps right into things, with the details unfolding in a fairly literary or cinematic fashion, but I had trouble keeping track of some of the many characters and the plotlines. It’s something about a Mexican border town, a strange little girl, a man leading immigrants across the desert and into the U.S., an evil businessman of some sort, and an evil, scummy dude named Don Oso, who might or might not be the same person…?

Artist Michael Lapinski uses a muted palette, and limits it to the extent that each scene has only a few colors in it, which tends to have a dramatic effect on each. The characters look quite heavily photo-referenced, but drawn rather than, I don’t know, lightboxed or computer-ed up. Their relationship to the backgrounds, settings, one another and various objects is intentionally forced and awkward quite often, giving the book and uneasy, seasick quality.
I suspect the creators want to evoke anxious feelings in their readers during many of the scenes, but because of the murky plot, the peculiar—if occasionally appealing—strangeness of the book’s look was just one more obstacle for my eyes and brain.

It’s well worth picking up and looking at should you see a copy in your shop, for how incredibly different it is from so much of the other stuff on the shelves at the moment, but I’m hesitant to recommend it any more strongly than that.

Great value, though!

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #4 (Archaia) The fourth and final issue of the anthology series featuring artists Mouse Guard creator David Petersen doing short stories set in his world, is much like the first three.

The format remains unchanged. Petersen writes and draws framing sequences featuring various mouse characters engaged in a tale-telling contest at an inn, and a different creator writes and draws the various stories. Likewise, the quality remains unchanged—the fourth issue is every bit as good as the first, second and third were. The stories are succinct but complete, quirky but of piece with the mice-of-medieval times premise and often highly imaginative, finding new ways of looking at the world through mouse eyes. The art remains beautiful and, most impressively, highly varied from story to story—not two “Legends” look much of anything a like, which has been a great deal of the fun of this book.

This final issue contains three stories, at least two of which are Mouse Guard-ified takes on well-known stories.

Craig Rousseau sets a retelling of the fable about the mouse and the lion with a thorn in his paw in Africa, but of course the mice of Mouse Guard don’t really know what a lion or an Africa is. The storyteller describes the former as a beast “unlike anything you’ve ever seen—hair like straw, bigger than a bear, with teeth that can snap trees in two, and eyes like the sun. And the latter is “a land farther away than we can imagine, oceans away, hot and the color of honey.”

Karl Kerschl draws a short, mostly silent story (there are a handful of sound effects) about a guard mouse patrolling far to the north experiencing a disturbing, thrilling, practically cosmic event, of which there’s no real human equivalent—we’re just too big to see such an event from such a point of view.

And Mark Smylie riffs on the Biblical story of King David and Bathsheba, only his story ends quite differently for a few of the participants.

The end of the series comes rather suddenly, and I suppose it can be seen as somewhat anticlimactic, given how straightforward it is—the series ends when all of the tales are told, with no dramatic complications or conflict. But then, the ending, like the rest of the framing sequences, are simply that—frames. It’s the pictures and events between those frames that contain all the drama.

This is the third Mouse Guard miniseries, but because of the way it was created, it makes for a remarkably strong point of entry into Petersen’s world. Every issue of the series stands alone quite well, and I imagine the eventual collection will make for as new-reader friendly a comic collection as could be.

Speaking of which…

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard (Arhcaia) Archaia sure doesn’t waste a lot of time between publishing the singles and publishing the collections! (Although, to be fair, I think I didn’t have to cover both in the same post, and besides I think I’m coming to the fourth issue a little late and the collection a little early).

This is the 144-page, $20 hardcover collection of the Legends of the Guard series, which contains a who’s who of great comics talent telling short stories involving the mice of Mouse Guard. I think I reviewed all of the issues here at EDILW as they were released, but, if you need a refresher, that great comics talent includes Terry Moore, Guy Davis, Gene Ha, Jeremy Bastian, Ted Naifeh, Katie Cook, Jason Shawn Alexander, Alex Sheikman and several others, including, of course, David Petersen himself, who draws the covers (each of which depicts a legend of Petersen’s devising) and the framing sequences.

The collection features a bonus epilogue story by Joao M. P. Lemos, a beautiful little four-page dream sequence (in which Petersen draws the first and final panels), and some neat back matter, including maps of the inn and The Mouse Territories, a guide to the various inn patrons
and an “About The Authors” section which pairs head shots and a paragraph or so of bio with sketches.I’d highly recommend the trade, even if you’re not necessarily a huge fan of Mouse Guard—the number of great artists it introduces, and the opportunity to see a single, particular style, story and setting filtered through a dozen or so radically different artists for a pretty fascinating reading experience for a fan of comics in general.

Saving Life Vol. 1 (Tokyopop) Mario Kaneda (Girls Bravo) presents a comedy series about Haruhiko, high schooler and heir to the ultra-rich Ayanokouji clan’s fortune, is trying to strike out on his own, which means living in a tiny apartment, working almost every waking hour, and scrimping and saving to an extent that would embarrass even Scrooge McDuck.

He also tries to keep all this secret, which intrigues his school friend Yoriko, one of several beautiful girls he’s constantly crossing paths with. The others include an insanely violent and angry waitress who works with him, his childhood friend, a maid from his father’s home and, by volume’s end, two cute if scheming twins his family is indebted to.

Through various circumstances, usually in the form of an elaborate accident or series of events, the girls tend to end up flashing their panties are falling on top of or into the hands of Haruhiko.

So, it’s that kind of comic—each chapter full of gags about Haruhiko trying to live the life of a miser, constantly broken up with splash panels of girls in their underwear.

Not for everyone, obviously, but it’s quite well drawn, and most of the gags work just fine.

Soldier Zero #2 (Boom Studios) This is the second issue of the first of Stan Lee’s still emerging line of superhero comics for Boom, in which Lee serves as “Grand Poobah” and Paul Cornell, Javier Pina and Sergio Arino handle the script and art. I reviewed the first issue here, if you missed it, but in short I was rather pleasantly surprised by the book—it didn’t radically reinvent superhero comics or give us a new Spider-Man or Fantastic Four, no, but it was certainly a well-crafted, appealing, old-fashioned, all-ages superhero comic that managed to feel of the 21st century and of Stan Lee at the same time.

So, how’s the sophomore issue?

Not bad at all.

Last time we met wheelchair-bound army vet Stewart Trautmann, now an astronomy teacher, and watched him have a secret origin, in which an alien battle-suit of some sort bonded to him. In this issue, Cornell plumbs some of the psychological conflict—the suit will allow Stewart to walk again, thus offering something he’s already come to grips with not wanting; meanwhile, Stewart’s brother is on the opposite side of him from just about every issue an advanced alien war-suit bonding with him raises—and starts dealing with the specifics of the aliens and their conflicts.

The artwork remains crisp, clear and easy to read, without suffering any glaring deficiencies (Here’s a blurb for you then, Soldier Zero: “Much better drawn than Batman: The Return!”)

There’s a tossed-off mention of a group I only recognized because I read Boom/Stan Lee book The Traveler before this (see below), which leads me to believe the various Lee co-created books will start tie-ing together rather quickly; I suppose it will be interesting to see how quickly and how well the books end up tying together. Because the emergence of the DC and Marvel “universes” as shared-setting emerged so gradually and, for a few decades, anyway, organically, even accidentally, it’s always sort of fascinating to watch intentional superhero universes under construction.

For me, anyway.

The Traveler #1 (Boom) The second Stan Lee/Boom Studios superhero book out of the gate, The Traveler has a writing credit for Mark Waid and an art credit for Chad Hardin, while Stan Lee retains his “Grand Poobah” credit; as I mentioned in my review of the first issue of Soldier Zero, setting aside the who-wrote-what questions, credited writer Paul Cornell seemed to at the very least been heavily influenced and inspired by Stan Lee.

This comic seems a lot less Lee-esque, perhaps in part because of the nature of the hero and the fact that the book seems scripted in a more modern fashion. The title character in Solider Zero was a civilian type we got to know, including his common and less common conflicts, and whose origin we watched unfold before us. Bam! (Or Boom!, in this case) There’s everything you need to know in the first issue; add it to your pull-list or drop it.

Here our title character is more mysterious; he literally appears at the beginning of an action scene, and then disappears. Our point-of-view character asks him questions, and he talks around them, explaining bits here and there about his powers and enemies, but by issue’s end he remains an enigma—he’s the exotic other in the story, and beyond the fact that he’s the good other using some sort of limited time-control powers to battle bad others using their own grand powers, we know little else by issue’s end.

Some of those questions intrigued me—like, why he crushed that lady’s glasses, saying, “I’m really sorry. I wish I could explain this part to you.” Others questions were in the “I don’t care to know that at all” category than the “I can’t wait to find out more about this!” category.

And that’s what I mean by the script being done in “a more modern fashion.” Decompressed is the word we used to use, although it has such negative connotations I don’t even really like to use it any more; this first issue is paced a lot differently than the first issue of Soldier Zero, and while it’s not necessarily a worse way to pace a first issue, part of what I found appealing about Soldier Zero was how new-reader friendly it was . When you’re launching brand-new superheroes into the direct market in late 2010, and charging $4 per issue, it seems to me that your first issue has to either be incredibly accessible or just plain amazing because, you know, there’s eight Batman comics over here that cost less, and a dozen or so Avengers titles over here, costing the same or less.

Also, the cliffhanger ending features a woman being killed by a dude with entropy powers thrusting his hand through her torso and dissolving her chest cavity, while she coughs blood.

That’s more super-comics 2010 than Stan Lee-esque super-comics, isn’t it?

I’m a big fan of Chad Hardin’s artwork, and this issue sure gives him plenty of opportunity to strut his stuff. The costume design is nothing special—the villains look pretty uninspired, and the main character’s looks movie-ready, in a rather unappealing way—but the storytelling and rendering in general is quite fine.

Seeing more of Hardin's work, and where Waid is going with this particular story (and where Boom and Lee are going with what looks like an emerging shared "universe") would definitely be the reasons to check out The Traveler #2...even if this particular story doesn't seem to start as strong as its sister title.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Superman seems pretty stressed out.

Maybe he should take a nice, long walk to cool off a little.

(Panels from DC Comics' Justice League of America #51, drawn by Mark Bagley and Norm Rapmund and/or Rob Hunter. Dialogue by James Robinson)

One more thing regarding, Batman: The Return

I really like that big, fat colon in the logo. No sarcasm, no exaggeration, no lie...I honestly think that looks really cool next to the big, fat, Batman font up there.

Maybe I like it because of how unusual it looks. You don't see a lot of colons in the titles and logos of comic books really, despite how frequently they have them. Generally, the colon appears in the fine print inside the book, but on the actual cover the sub-title or whatever phrase follows the colon would just appear under the franchise or character title that appears to the right of this. Like, they could have just as easily lost the colon and just centered the word The Return under Batman up there, and we still would have known that this book was Batman: The Return. The colons are usually implied. But this time, they went ahead and just stuck that colon in there, and made it as big, bright and bold as the letters in the word Batman.

That's awesome.

(Yeah, yeah, I know, the littlest things excite me sometimes...)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Comics shop comics: Nov. 17

Batman: The Return #1 (DC Comics) This $5, 30-page comic special—which includes 16 pages of sketches, parts of the script and a reprint of the cover of this very issue in an attempt to justify the extra dollar price tag—leads into the new status quo of the various Bat-books, most particularly writer Grant Morrison’s new, ongoing monthly Batman, Incorporated and pencil artist David Finch’s new, ongoing monthly Batman: The Dark Knight.

Based on this book alone, the former sounds like it should be interesting, as Batman Bruce Wayne attempts to take his war on crime global by turning his small band of Batman lieutenants into a small army of Bat-soldiers.

The latter sounds like a nightmare, unless Finch proves to be a much better writer than he is an artist. His work here shows that she can draw very well, but is a pretty rotten storyteller, which certainly doesn’t bode well for his own book.

Even allowing for the specifics of Finch’s style—the fact that he gives the bats that are “common on the eastern seaboard of the United States of America” huge pterodactyl-sized wings and werewolf heads, for example, or the early-Image Comics over-rendering of character faces—the kindest word I can think of to describe Finch’s abilities to tell a story through images is “amateurish.”

Check out the sequence on pages nine and ten, in which Batman, a gunman wearing a dynamite vest and a young hostage boy all plummet off the edge of a skyscraper, and we lose one of the figures halfway through, and airbags emerge from…somewhere never visually established.

On one panel on page 11, a father clutches his rescued son to his chest, the dialogue explaining how the boy is his “life,” but in a few panels the boy has completely disappeared along with Batman (Did Batman kidnap him, or did Finch just not draw him? The latter, the story suggests; the former, the art suggests).Or the spread on page 12 and 13, where the various Bat-people are all at rest in comfortable poses, and in the next panel, Batman has covered some fifty yards, to find Oracle has appeared out of nowhere. He mentions the envelopes the characters are holding in the dialogue, which we see they aren’t holding, and then they suddenly appear in their hands. Was Finch drawing the book panel by panel, as he read the script through for the first time…?

Morrison’s script is full of some fun ideas, as both the writer and the title character seem very excited about their new direction, although there is an awful lot of looking backwards to Frank Miller’s Bat-canon. Morrison and Finch re-do the Year One scene in which the bleeding, dying Bruce Wayne sees a bat alight on his father’s bust and rings for Alfred to come stop his bleeding, and, later, echo The Dark Knight Returns in a scene in which Batman battles a big, hulking mutant in a mud-pit.

Morrison introduces a crime organization concept that sounds like Marvel’s Hydra or The Spirit’s Octopus with a name change (although it’s still named for an aquatic monster!) and he’s apparently sticking to his Batman-fights-alternate-versions-of-himself-constantly theme, with Bruce Wayne and Damian facing what looks like a Sandperson from Star Wars dressed up as Batman.

There are a few head-scratching moments involving the Bat-girls——made more head-scratching by the fact that both ladies anchor their own titles by writers who aren’t Grant Morrison, but I guess that’s to be expected in a book meant to reset an entire line of books (Red Robin, meanwhile, appears in the corner of one-panel, but never gets mentioned, and Batgirl Cassandra Cain remains MIA and of no concern to Batman and pals).

Will Batgirl and Birds of Prey pick up on Batman's assignments for Batgirl and Oracle, even if to show them rejecting them, or what? I'm curious about Oracle's "avatar," which seems to involve a Batmobile version of Professor Xavier's hovering action chair from the '90s...

Oh, and since I wrote about the new Batman Incorporated logo previously, I thought I should mention that I liked this one logo from this page of the back matter:The third one down, right before the final logo? I like that one okay. Look how far they came from the original concept here though. Wow.

Brightest Day #14 (DC) This is the next in the series of issues in which the entire issue is devoted to a single storyline. This time, it’s Deadman’s storyline. Seeing the Bat-signal over Gotham, Deadman gets the bright idea to hand the White Lantern ring over to the just-got-back-from-the-dead Batman Bruce Wayne and let him figure out how to complete the quest the ring/Life Entity sent him on.

Batman’s not the right guy for the job, it turns out, but in the process of finding that out, we get to see Ivan Reis draw Batman a couple of times, and put him in a neat-o all-white Bat-costume (I like what Reis and company do with Batman’s eyes on the bottom of page 10, by the way).

We also get a recap of the origin of Deadman, including bits from his childhood that I assume are new, as well as a new development in Deadman and Dove’s working relationship and Batman now knows about the existence of Max Lord.

With the weakest of the Brightest Day artists all MIA, this is an exceptionally strong issue, visually, perhaps the strongest since the almost-all J’onn Jonn’z issue penciled by Gleason.

Green Lantern #59 (DC) I like the part where Larfleeze picks Barry Allen’s pocket. Barry keeps his wallet in a heretofore unseen back pocket in his skintight red suit? I was not aware of that.

This is an exceptionally talky issue, which is only strange in that that Hal and Barry seem to talk to one another for a good 15 pages or so while a coupla space aliens just sort of stand around, three feet away, never butting in to ask who this “Ollie” person they keep mentioning is, or if the two of them would like some privacy or anything.

There are a couple of pretty big plot developments—Salaak want the Guardians to get an earth person to spy on Hal Jordan on behalf of the Corps, the Indigo avatar thingee possesses someone, we learn about the sinister nature of the Indigo tribe, Parallax returns and possesses someone else—but the two parts that stick out in my mind are Larfleeze picking Barry’s pocket and the weird opening sequence about health insurance. It seems like there’s probably a political point being made—or attempting to be made—in that first scene, but I don’t know if I have the energy to look for Geoff Johns’ opinions on federal domestic policy in his book about alien super-cops.

Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy continue to be the best.

Justice League of America #51 (DC) The five-person JLA line-up, AKA “Batman’s Angels,” are trapped inside an impenetrable force field with The Crime Syndicate and some big crazy-looking guy calling himself The Omega Man.

I mean, really crazy-looking. Writer James Robinson hasn’t explained this guy’s whole deal yet—he popped out of a resurrection machine that half the people who built it thought would resurrect a dead Luthor and the other half thought would resurrect Darkseid—but I sort of liked him based simply on how insane Mark Bagley’s desig for the character is: He looks even more bizarre in profile, when it becomes clear his face is basically part of a small sphere full of teeth and bad guy triangle eyes.

Oh, and minor character Blue Jay, who Robinson seemingly killed off in his opening issue for the series, is still alive and kicking. Well, punching. That’s cool—I think he’d make a neat addition to this fairly wacky line-up.

This is a very strange issue of an increasingly strange run on the title, so much so that it’s hard for me to even review it, even in the manner of these just write whatever pops into my head as soon as I get done reading a stack of comics style of “reviews.”

There’s a Crisis worth of cameos, and a lot of DC superheroes running around, shouting and fighting. Mark Bagley draws it all, so it looks pretty cool. Robinson’s not doing anything as grand, sharp and exciting as Grant Morrison did on his run, nor is he doing anything as clever, fun and character focused as Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis did during their run, but he’s not doing anything wrong (he’s even toned down the Brad Meltzer-styled multiple-narrator narration quite a bit).

That’s good enough for me.

Tiny Titans #34 (DC) The central joke in this issue is that the characters Art Baltazar draws every month finally realize that his style is so stripped down and simplified that very little actually differentiates the characters from one another—mostly it’s just their hair and clothes. So naturally two characters of the same age, gender, hair color and hair style—like Superboy and Zatara—look like identical twins in the pages of Tiny Titans.
When Zatara winds up in a Superman t-shirt, the confusion gets even worse, and the issue offers more of Baltazar’s puppy version of Krypto (which I never get tired of looking at), wearing a Kid Flash costume in one panel, and more of Baltazar’s version of Jor-El. None of the Jor-El gags were particularly funny this time out, but I just like looking at a Tiny Titans version of the 1978 movie version of the comic book character.Oh, and this issue contains a kid named Gordon’s drawings of the various super-pets on the letters page. I’ll just scan one, but they’re all pretty awesome:If Baltazar ever needs to take an issue off, I hope they consider letting Gordon draw a Comet story as a fill-in artist.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Some of the best DC Comics covers from 2000-2008, according to DC Comics: The 75th Anniversary Poster Book

The second-to-last cover included in DC Comics: The 75th Anniversary Poster Book (which I swear I won’t write any more posts about after this!) is Gary Frank’s cover from Action Comics #863, depicting Frank’s Christopher Reeves-inspired Superman standing among the members of the new old post-Infinite Crisis Legion of Super-Heroes.

It’s a nice enough image, but when I first laid eyes on it while flipping through the book, my initial thought was “What’s that doing here?”

The section of the book devoted to the last ten years is in some ways the most interesting section, because it’s so difficult to see history when you’re in the midst of it.

Picking out the most important, influential images from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s from the early 21st century was probably a breeze, the biggest challenge being which ones there weren’t room to include. Those covers—heck, those from the ‘80s and perhaps even ‘90s—are far enough away that an editor or compiler can see how they’ve held up over the years, how many homages there have been to them, how the comic under that cover has come to be thought of over the years, what the artist who drew it has gone on to do.

But Action Comics #863…? I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to me like it will be regarded as a necessarily important cover, any more than the story inside will wind up being a classic one, but I suppose it’s too early to tell.

So here are the covers from the 21st century that were included in this visual history of DC Comics (If you have a copy of the book, you may want to whip it out and follow along. If not, I’ll link to the relevant images at comics.org.)

—Dave Johnson’s cover for Detective Comics #745, one of the earlier issues of the post-“No Man’s Land” iteration of the title. At that point, Greg Rucka was writing, Shawn Martinbrough was penciling, the book was colored in single colors approaching a black-and-white effect, and there were back-up stories included, at no additional cost to the cover price. Johnson would hang around until #761, after which point EDILW favorite John McCrea came on as cover artist and Greg Rucka, now teamed with Rick Burchett, Scott McDaniel and Steve Lieber, finished up his Sasha Bordeaux storyline and TEC got swept up in the “Bruce Wayne: Fugitive” crossover story.

Here’s my favorite from Johnson’s run as cover artist: They’re all pretty great though, and Johnson continues to do dynamite cover work, now for DC’s Freedom Fighters title.

—Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman #2, from the 2002-launched volume of the book, initially written by Ed Brubaker. That title was one of DC’s most visually interesting for a few years there. In the first year, there were four covers by Darwyn Cooke (who penciled the first story arc, his art inked by Mike Allred), five covers by Paul Pope, one by Scott Morse, one by Jeff Parker, followed by a few by J. G. Jones and then Javier Pulido and Cameron Stewart, who were by then doing interiors.

Here's one of Pope's covers, a pretty unusual view of the character, seen in the rain through a car windshield:

—Dave Johnson’s 100 Bullets #33, from a series of Johnson’s covers which featured design work so completely different from that of his TEC covers that it seems like the work of a different artist in many ways.

I have to confess to having decided to trade wait 100 Bullets after the first few issues…and then never actually catching up on it in trade. I hear it’s pretty great though. A glance at the cover gallery makes picking just one to represent all of them seem like an unenviable task.

—Adam Hughes’ cover for Wonder Woman #184, which was no doubt a difficult choice, given the fact that Hughes has drawn roughly one million Wonder Woman covers (Okay, it’s closer to 50, still).

Hughes was something of a controversial choice for Wonder Woman cover artist, given the relentless sexuality of his images. His Wonder Woman had a sense of humor, sure, and she could “act,” but it was her scantily clad body that seemed to be the focus of the majority of the covers.

And I think that’s fine. Wonder Woman is a scantily clad woman after all, and most of Hughes’ depictions of her tended toward the good girl end of the cheesecake spectrum, with relatively few ever approaching exploitation (Even ones like this “mud-wrestling” cover generally winked knowingly at the audience).

I didn’t really care for the way Hughes portrayed Wonder Woman’s boots, which were always baggy, and I had a hard time understanding how they even worked, and I wasn’t crazy about the way he drew her lasso, as a thin little wire whipping about as is possessed of its own life, but there’s no denying that Hughes is a great artist, and his version of Wonder Woman is probably the most consistent and pervasive over the past few decades, on account of how long he was attached tot he character.

When I close my eyes and imagine “Wonder Woman,” it’s a Hughes image that comes most immediately to mind.

Here are two of my favorites:The first one is from a multi-part crossover in which the Wonder women team-up with the Bat Family for a few issues. I like the way it says “Batman’s in this” subtly, without actually surrendering the cover to him, and Hughes just plain rendered the hell out of Wondy’s face there. And the bat’s face too. There’s an amusing one a few issues later, showing a bunch of the side-kick types cowering behind Wonder Woman (I think Scarecrow and/or a Greek god of fear were involved at that point).

I really only like about a third of the second one, and that’s the third featuring Wonder Girl. I like her pose and expression, and the fact that Hughes went to the trouble of making her look different than the other two Wonder women.

Actually, looking at the cover for Wonder Woman #186 longer, Wonder Woman actually looks pretty gross on that cover. Her costume seems about seven sizes too small on top, too…

—Jim Lee’s swinging-flying-kick cover for Batman #608...... which seemed an odd choice, give how much more often I’ve seen this one:Lee later repeated the pose and basic composition on the first issue of his less popular run with Brian Azzarello on Superman:I didn’t realize until I read this particular poster book that the pose was at least inspired by Brian Bolland’s Wonder Woman #72 cover.
I like Lee's work a lot more now than I did in the past; he’s an artist who has only gotten better over the years, but revisiting his cover work for Batman, Superman and Infinite Crisis, I see he’s still not all that much of a cover artist. Oh, he does the superheroes posing superheroically images just fine, but there’s nothing special about his covers.

Check out his Batman run on the cover gallery on comics.org, and it’s dullness becomes accentuated.

The cover artist immediately preceding him was Scott McDaniel who, for all his faults, suffuses his work with a weird, awkward energy that reminds me a bit of Jack Kirby’s work in terms of posing and the feeling of bottled up tension either about to explode or in the act of exploding:
And the cover artist immediately following Lee was Dave Johnson again, doing something fresh, new and exciting with negative space and story title for the Azzarello/Risso “Broken City” story that followed “Hush,” and was all but eclipsed by it (I liked that story, by the way, although it read as if it was only meant to be in some sort of quasi-continuity, more appropriate for Legends of the Dark Knight or Batman Confidential than the flagship title.
(Holy shit, let’s stop and think about this for a minute—Jim Lee and Eduardo Risso were drawing Batman comics just a couple of years ago! Now they stick poor Grant Morrison with guys seemingly at random).

—James Jean’s covers for Fables #18 and Batgirl #45. I would wager that these were included because they are exceptional images created by James Jean moreso than because of the particular individual titles or characters involved… although it’s worth noting that Fables became Vertigo’s post-Sandman, default flagship title.

I would further wager that a fairly large part of Fables’ success is owed to the strength of Jean’s work (I know it’s what first got me to pick up a Fables trade, and what I missed the most when I eventually tired of the series; the covers on the trades seemed to result in more visitors to my house picking up copies and flipping through them then other trades I may have laying around, as well).

Jean did 17 Batgirl covers, coming on to the 2000-launched, Cassandra Cain-starring title right about the time it probably should have been canceled, when it’s original creative team left, their story complete. Around that same time, Jean did just shy of a dozen covers for Green Arrow, another title that had begun flailing and failing creatively.
Jean turned out to be a hell of a superhero cover artists, perhaps because his work is so far removed from the typical superhero cover art.

—J.G. Jones’ cover for Y: The Last Man #16, the Ampersand-doing-Hamlet cover. This popular and highly addictive Vertigo series seemed more visually striking on the inside than on the outside, but that’s a pretty great cover. You can’t go wrong with monkeys or frilly, Shakespeare collars, and this cover has ‘em both. And I love how hard Ampersand is acting in that image. He’s not a monkey pretending to act, he’s a monkey acting.

—Tim Sale’s cover for Detective Comics #792, a rather weak cover from late-ish in Sale’s 20-issue run of covers for the title in 2003 or so (Dark, dark days fro the Batman franchise, which was just about to enter into the “War Games” crossover, which would pretty much unmoor the whole family of books until 2006 or so, when Grant Morrison and Paul Dini would take over the two main Batman books.

I can’t imagine why they chose that particular Sale image over the other 19 or so in that run of covers, or why they chose any of Sale’s covers from that period. If you think “Tim Sale” and “DC Comics,” you probably think of one of the striking covers from one of his two signature Batman series, The Long Halloween Not sure why they chose to highlight Sale’s work on this particular title instead of the much more popular and influential limited series he did with Jeph Loeb, Long Halloween and Dark Victory

—Darwyn Cooke’s cover for DC: The New Frontier #6, one of six great covers for that series (I really liked the moody Challengers of the Unknown image on the cover of #3 and the cubist renderings of Justice Leaguers around the coiled tentacle on the cover of #5 too). That sixth and final one is probably the best of the lot though, and certainly the most “DC” of the images, with Hal Jordan reaching for his Green Lantern ring and the other six members of the “Big Seven” JLA all throwing their fists in the air.

It’s stylized, it’s artsy and it’s “Hell yeah!”

New Frontier is probably this past decade’s Kingdom Come, in terms of a high-profile, out-of-continuity miniseries that made a star of its artist and influenced the way in which other creators depicted DC’s superheroes.

I just wish it influenced the art in the DC Comics that followed as much as the writers…

—Alex Ross’ Green Lantern #1, speaking of Kingdom Come. I flipped through the stack of Green Lantern comics in my room before typing up this tidbit, and realized that despite all of the great artists who have drawn this book since it launched in 2005, there aren’t really very many great covers.

Ethan Van Sciver did scary versions of Hector Hammond and The Shark on the covers of #4 and #5, but for the most part the covers from the series that stick out in my memory are the unintentionally funny ones: Green Arrow and Green Lantern blissfully about to make out with a couple of Black Mercy monster flowers on Neal Adams’ cover for #8, Green Lantern and Batman about to angrily make-out on the cover of #9, blood puke and so on.

Alex Ross’ cover for Green Lantern #1 may actually be the best one in the series then, as static and uninteresting as it is (although it’s worth noting that it’s actually an incredibly dynamic image for Ross).

As the title neared the end of Blackest Night, and Doug Mahnke started doing the covers, I think we started to see a lot more higher quality images, but this book was assembled before that.

—Dave McKean’s cover for the 2005 Arkham Asylum Anniversary Edition seems like a bit of a cheat, as the book itself is from the late eighties. Nice, scary, evocative image though!

—Paul Pope’s cover for Batman: Year 100 #1, from the fairly incredible, alternate future Batman series from 2006 that I’ve devoted an awful lot of verbiage to before.

It’s worth noting again though that Pope’s cover there was his version of the first appearance of Batman on the cover of Detective Comics #27: Man dressed as bat, legs folded, rope, some pipes. See?

—Frank Quitely’s cover for All-Star Superman #10 is a really weird choice, given the unique strength of the smiling-Superman-resting-on-a-cloud image from All-Star Superman #1:When I think about All-Star Superman, that’s the cover I think of. All of this book’s covers are pretty great though; #6’s featuring Superman and Krypto at Jonathan Kent’s grave and the wacky Bizarro World cover for #8 are particular favorites.

—Gary Frank’s cover for Action Comics #863, which we already discussed a bit. Looking at Frank’s other Superman covers from Action Comics and Superman: Secret Origin, that probably is the best image of his Reeves-inspired Superman, although I’m awfully fond of his quiet cover for #869. The original one, without the big, generic “SODA POP” label photoshopped in, of course.

—Alex Ross’ cover for Batman #679, a chapter of the “Batman R.I.P.” storyline, is the final image in the collection. It’s probably one of the most boring Batman images imaginable. Well, you can imagine a more boring Batman image—say, Batman just cold standing there—but Ross already used that one for a poster.

I generally like Ross’ work, and think he’s a pretty decent cover artist, but he seemed pretty out of his element on this particular storyline. It was chockfull of some pretty crazy ideas—Batman was, if I recall correctly, out of his mind on “weapons-grade” meth, hallucinating a magical negro hobo and an alien parasite version of Bat-Mite, while dressed in a homemade red, yellow and purple Batman of Zur-En-Arrh costume, fighting his way to Arkham Asylum where he would face both The Joker and a guy claiming to be either his father and/or the devil.

And Ross just paints a picture of Batman swooping down from a rooftop, an image that could been the cover for any Batman comic book ever published. Here’s interior artist Tony Daniel’s alternate cover for the very same issue:Imagine how scary a Ross version of that Batman would be, his photorealistic eyes with their eye-lashes all looking crazy at the reader from behind a purple cosplay cowl stitched together in an alley.