DC Comics Variant Covers: The Complete Visual History
Reviewed by KC Carlson
DC Comics Variant Covers: The Complete Visual History is the latest offering from Insight Editions, who specialize in 11″x14″ oversize hardcovers covering the best of comics. Some of their previous selections include Marvel’s Black Panther: The Illustrated History of a King: The Complete Comics Chronology, The Art of Harley Quinn, Marvel’s Black Widow: Creating the Avenging Super-Spy: The Complete Comics History, Marvel Vehicles: Owner’s Workshop Manual (in case you want to build a Helicarrier in your garage), and DC Comics: Super-Villains: The Complete Visual History, among many others. This particular book is written by Daniel Wallace, who’s written (or co-written) a number of other books about comics and pop culture including DC Comics: Year By Year, The Marvel Encyclopedia, and the best-selling Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Characters.
Like most of the of the other Insight Editions books about comics, it’s an initially impressive volume. There are several hundred covers on display here, some as large as two pages, such as a gorgeous selection of Darwyn Cooke’s already classic “sideways” covers. The horizontal presentation is so much more pleasing to the eye than the traditional vertical comic book cover, so this was a great idea! The selection includes many of my favorites from that month (December 2014) including Supergirl and the Super-Pets, Teen Titans Rock Band, Catwoman on the prowl, and Superman and Wonder Woman in repose.
Much of the book is divided up by variant themes. DC has run many months with the majority of their variant covers tied into a specific topic. Some of these include DC Bombshells (based on 1940s pin-up art, and initially conceived for a line of full-figure statues), LEGO (with DC characters either becoming or interacting with the popular construction toy), and Looney Tunes (DC heroes encountering Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and other wacky cartoon characters). There have also been months devoted to covers based on classic movie posters. Certain cherished artists — such as the aforementioned Darwyn Cooke, plus John Romita Jr. and Neal Adams — have had theme months dedicated to them.
Anniversaries are also good for a themed cover month, especially since so many DC characters are celebrating their 75th anniversaries recently, including The Flash, Green Lantern, and The Joker each getting their own month. There have also been months devoted to Harley Quinn, Teen Titans Go!, Scribblenauts, Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Convergence crossover. There’s the odd stuff: a whole month of steampunk variants, a month of Batman ’66 variants (all drawn by Mike Allred), selfies month, and a very weird month where most of the relaunched series all hit issue #52 at the same time. And then there was MAD Magazine month, where Alfred E. Newman appeared on each of these covers. (Everybody’s favorite seems to be the cover that features Alfred as Green Lantern… using the Power Ring to pick his nose! Ew!)
There’s a lot of good stuff to look at here, but there are also some disappointments. Despite what it says on the cover, this is not a “complete visual history” of DC’s covers. A book that size, that included all the covers, would both be super-heavy and difficult to bind properly. Also, most of the covers in the book only get their issue number, the date of publication, and the artist(s) mentioned. I was hoping for a little more background, but this is first and foremost an art book (and a really good one), just not a “complete” anything.
Still, DC Comics Variant Covers is definitely is worth a look, even if it doesn’t entirely live up to what’s promised on the cover. (The publisher provided a copy for review.)