Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art

Review by KC Carlson

Out next week (at least in comic shops — the real world may have to wait a week or two) is a massive four-pound, 10.25″ x 13.5″, 320-page slipcased hardcover collection of — well, the title neatly explains itself, as well as the contents: Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art.

Of course, it’s a tie-in to Marvel’s 75th Anniversary this year, and nearly 1,000 fans voted for the cover that adorns the back cover of the book, The Infinity Gauntlet #1 (1991) by George Pérez. The front cover is (‘natch) Timely/Marvel’s first cover, Marvel Comics #1 (1939) by Frank R. Paul (signed as F. Paul) and featuring the Human Torch battling the Sub-Mariner for the first time in countless battles. Paul, virtually unknown to today’s comics fans, was better known as an artist for the pulp magazines of the era, andhe may have been specially selected by Timely publisher Martin Goodman to direct attention from pulp fans to the then-new comic book format.

The slipcase covers made me smile, as they really reflect how much Marvel has changed over the decades. The front of the slipcase (as you can see here) features the now-iconic Incredible Hulk #181 cover from 1974 that introduced Ol’ Greenskin battling (the) Wolverine in Logan’s first-ever cover appearance, as produced by Herb Trimpe with John Romita. The back cover displays the variant cover by Adi Granov from Avengers #3 from 2013, featuring Hulk and Wolverine teaming up (with Captain America) to battle some alien beast. How times (and team-ups) have changed!

Avengers #3 variant cover by Adi Granov

Avengers #3 variant cover by Adi Granov

Inside the book are hundreds of covers from the last 75 years, printed in full color at various sizes, and organized by the “Ages” commonly accepted by most comics fans (i.e. Golden, Silver, Bronze, Modern). The Golden Age section is quite sparse but representative of the era with covers by Alex Schomburg, Jack Kirby, Al Avision, Joe Maneely, and including a handful of non-superhero covers by Carl Burgos and Mike Sekowsky.

As you can imagine, the Silver age is dominated by superhero covers by Jack Kirby (who gets a spotlight feature, as does Steve Ditko). Pretty much every iconic cover of the era is presented here, including some by John Buscema, but the two artists given the best presentation are Jim Steranko and Neal Adams. Their work easily illustrates how those two artists pushed for higher standards (especially in terms of production and printing) and are recognized for revolutionizing comic art at the end of the 1960s.

John Buscema, brother Sal Buscema, John Romita (Sr.), and John Byrne get spotlights in the Bronze Age section for iconic Avengers, Spider-Man, and X-Men covers, but artists like Dave Cockrum, George Pérez, Jim Starlin, Bob Layton, Walter Simonson, Frank Miller, Gil Kane, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Arthur Adams are also well-represented. A special treat is how the cover of Nova #12 from 1977 is shown through the various stages of production — from rough sketch to final colored cover. Later, John Romita, Jr.’s 2008 cover for Black Panther #1 gets the same progression treatment.

The Modern Age has only one “Featured Artist” (Romita, Jr.), but this is the largest section, taking up half the book and covering almost thirty years from 1986 to the present. This section also represents the “revolving door” aspect of how many modern-day artists move from publisher to publisher (and more likely, character to character), as well as the need for so many variant covers to help fuel white-hot interest and collectability. Pretty much any modern artist (past or present) you can think of is in this section, including many of the artists who fled Marvel to form Image. Now one of them is co-running DC Comics! (He’s in here, too.)

Hawkeye #1 by David Aja

Hawkeye #1 by David Aja

It’s quite the transition to see the covers in the Modern Age go from the “nuts and bolts” covers of George Pérez, to the “something different every time” of Chris Bachalo, to the highly “designy” Hawkeye covers of David Aja. Integrated art and design has been the best thing to ever happen to comics covers over the past several decades, and that’s hugely on display here.

Each and every cover is presented with an informative paragraph about the cover, or the artist, or the story behind the cover. Or maybe all three! They’re a great addition to all the wonderful comic cover art. These are all written by UK writer (and former Marvel UK editor) Alan Cowsill, who has also written the section overviews. The forward is by artist Adi Granov.

Two of Marvel’s iconic covers are included as “suitable-for-framing” prints — Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962), the first appearance of Spider-Man, cover oddly by Jack Kirby, and Iron Man #1 (2005) by Adi Granov. They are safely stored in a pocket on the inside front cover.

One nitpick: An artist index would have been nice. But since the book is set up by era first, and then character/title within each era, Marvel obviously wants the focus to primarily be on their characters, while also acknowledging the artists. All of Marvel’s iconic* covers are here. Many of your favorite covers are here. Most of your favorite comic book artists are here. What are you waiting for? Hours of paging through wonderful (and memorable) comic book art is awaiting you.

* Remember, “iconic” is subjective. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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