This week we are going to break down what we believe to be the best Batman covers from each era of comic book history – so expect this to be broken into four different parts encompassing:
Modern Age (1985 – present)
Today we move on to our final list
THE TOP TEN MODERN AGE BATMAN COVERS:
10. Detective Comics #566
You’ve seen this one. They even put it on a t-shirt. Still though, it holds up. Giordano takes ‘rouge’s gallery’ very literally here and by god, it works. Look at that, a cover with Killer Moth made a “best of” list. Congratulations, Killer Moth.
9. Detective comics #699
I’m a sucker for people who utilize negative space in cavalier ways, so I’ll be damned if I don’t love this cover. It is a bit similar to another favorite cover of mine, but this one did it first, so props to Graham Nolan.
8. Batman #453
Mike Mignola did some amazing work on the covers of Batman comics throughout the mid to late 80’s before he went on to create Hellboy. Already though, his voice and his style was so unique that even never having read single Hellboy comic myself (for shame, I know…), I can pick his work out anywhere, just because his Batman covers are so ingrained in my mind. Here he’s doing zombie chic before it became cool again. Graveyard, zombies and Batman – ingredients for a memorable cover if ever there were any.
7. Batman #400
This cover has always reminded me, of Dave Mckean’s work on Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth; the lithe, gesticulating batman, the mad, expressionist portrayal of the Joker, the random faces, bats, the moon, shadows, a skull – all archetypal building blocks of a grand and morbid visual trip. I loved it then and I love it now.
6. Batman #677
Thank god I managed to get an Alex Ross cover in here somewhere. This man stands alone in the comic art world and I’d be so ashamed if I didn’t get to mention that at least once on these lists somewhere. While Ross’ realism is his biggest asset I must admit that it has always been a double edged sword for me when I view his interpretation of Batman – look at his eye(s). You can see his eyes… this still seems crazy to me, but I just cannot help that I prefer the blank, white oblivion which usually resides there. Seeing his pupils makes me think of Adam West or Michael Keaton… I’m not sure what exactly it is that rubs me the wrong way, I just know I feel weird and it doesn’t sit quite right. But who am I to speak a sour word towards the mighty Alex Ross? The man is an absolute, unmitigated genius – so I’ll gladly stare into Batman’s eyes anytime he decides to allow me to.
Beyond that though, this cover is fantastic not only because of the brilliant illustration but also because of the dual visual metaphor we have here; Batman “r.i.p.”, literally “ripped” – and the fracture of his mind that the story is dealing with. Jezebel is inside his head, helping to tear him apart. Brilliant stuff.
5. Detective Comics #880
Jock! Now here is another man who I think is doing just blow-me-down amazing work nowadays. All the work, Jock did during Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics run was fantastic, but this cover stands out to me as his best, most high-concept and successful piece of the lot. This single image perfectly captures the Joker’s mad bat-obsession perfectly, it is just an impeccable portrait of insanity.
As an aside, let me just say that the Bronze era brought us the horrible UPC box which mars the canvas for me on a lot of Modern Age covers, sure- but what’s worse, and what I remember distinctly being nerd-ragey about when I saw it on another beautiful Jock cover, were the unabashedly gaudy advertisements that publishers cram onto the covers now as well. We know you were making a shitty Green Lantern movie DC, you didn’t have to fuck up some of the best cover art you had put out in a long time to remind us yet again that we didn’t want to see Ryan Reynolds in a green CGI suit.
4. Batman 668
The Modern Age has been bringing it “lately” – sure through some shaky beginnings (the mid 80’s were pretty bad for everyone, in every medium, so comics shouldn’t feel too bad – but once we got to the 90’s – yeah, comics should feel bad for that shit), I was worried that the artistry of comic art had been lost, but soon, slowly, it started creeping back in with a vengeance. J.H. Williams III is of course one of the most unique and medium-defying artists working in superhero comics today. His paneling isn’t even paneling, it’s like an acid trip through the story. His cover work, while obviously more constrained to the size and shape of the cover itself, still manages to come off as exhilarating and fresh. This is one of my favorite “Black Glove” stories, the whole Agatha Christie vibe on The Island of Mr. Mayhew is right up my classic whodunnit alley and when you combine such a strong and brisk script with such strong and incomparable art you’ll still have me swooning, years later.
3. Batman #612
As cliche as it sounds and as much shit as I give the crappy “90’s look” of comics I just cannot look at this cover and not immediately want to buy ten copies and open them all up to read them simultaneously. Jim Lee may be old hat, and I’m not even a big fan of his myself, but when he’s on he’s really on – this is one of those arcs where I think he knocked it out of the park. The Killer Croc cover also always gets me to open up the issue to read – but this one has the advantage solely because Supes is finally putting the beat-down on The Batman after always being shown up… well, not really, in the story Bats repeatedly cracks Supes upside the head with a kryptonite ring until he makes him his bitch… yet again… but nevertheless it is still somehow satisfying to see good ol’ boy, Superman choking the shit out of Bats for once.
2. Batman #404
For as big a douche as Frank Miller is, I still love Year One dearly – Mazzucchelli literally started the arc off with a bang – ingraining it into my memory and the memories of other comics fans world-wide. Sure this image had been done before, plenty of times, but (in keeping with the book’s tone) Mazzucchelli made it new again by being uncompromising, by re-creating it with a unflinching and horrific realism. We’ve seen Bruce’s parents lying dead before, but we’ve never watched them bleed out… that’s definitely a memory, right there.
1. Batman #428
Here it is people! After decades of Robin being “dead” on the cover of Batman comics they finally, really killed the fucker! Seriously though, I love Robin and all – but after almost 50 years of constant foreplay they finally made good on their threats! This is the only cover in Batman history to actually give us a dead Robin.
Sure, the whole Death in the Family story was astoundingly mediocre, but still – DEAD ROBIN!!! The fact that they followed up this issue with this cover makes it even better for me, the Joker looks so damn aristocratic and refined, that’s a ballsy look to take on for someone who just beat a young boy to death with a crowbar.