When I volunteered for putting together a Top 10 list, my first inclination was this would be an easy process that essentially wrote itself. Instead, I found myself pouring through back issues and digging into the graphic archives of the Interwebs. My mission statement was clear: The Top 10 Comic Book Covers of the 80s. Who knew that it would be such a rigorous process, eventually taking me approximately 3 hours to compose?
10. Daredevil #181
Our first Frank Miller entry into the Top 10 List appears in the form of Marvel’s Daredevil series. Before migrating to DC Comics, Miller made a name for himself on the other side of the street with Marvel Comics. The series that put him on the map was Daredevil. At first we were introduced to his artwork, but eventually Miller emerged as an equally gifted writer. Many of his Daredevil covers are iconic, but it’s issue 181 with the Death of Elektra that registers on this reviewer’s radar.
9. Moon Knight #23
One of the most original comic artists to explode on the scene in the 80s is Bill Sienkiewicz. His work contains elements of trendsetters such as Neal Adams, but diverges into the area of fine art. With less emphasis on fine line work and more attention on mood, Sienkiewicz proved to be the perfect match for Marvel Comics Batman cipher, Moon Knight. His black and white depictions of Marc Spector are simply breathtaking, and issue 23 exemplifies his talents perfectly.
8. The Dark Knight Returns #1
The Dark Knight Returns chronicles Frank Miller’s stylistic transition from photo realistic noir-inspired imagery to a more stylized approach to sequential storytelling. The debut issue of Batman’s leaping silhouette being backlit by lightning contributed to creating one of comics most striking images. Although Batman’s form was a bit chunkier than we were used to seeing, there was no mistaking that we were looking at a menacing version of The Batman.
7. Web of Spider-Man #32
Mike Zeck is known for in your face, big action sequences. His Punisher mini-series in the 80s put Frank Castle back on the map after a long hiatus. For my money, the best cover from Zeck appears on the Web of Spider-Man series, in issue 32. A spooky graveyard, a tombstone etched with Spider-Man’s name, and Spider-Man himself emerging from the muddy, rain-soaked soil.
6. Uncanny X-Men #141
John Byrne is perhaps regarded as the 80s most prodigious provider of stellar artwork. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Byrne was able to maintain the arduous requirements of the monthly comic. His skills were evidenced by both his interior and exterior penciling abilities. There is any number of Uncanny X-Men books worthy of inclusion, but it’s issue 141 that crafts an image that fills the reader’s head with untold story possibilities. Some of our favorite mutants are branded as being either slain or apprehended. An obviously aged Wolverine is readied against an unknown antagonist, protecting a middle-aged woman who bares a striking resemblance to Kitty Pryde.
5. Animal Man #5
During the 80s, Brian Bolland transitioned from interiors to covers. His intricately detailed, photo-realistic style required more time than the 22-page monthly format would allow. As an example, his 12-issue maxi series, Camelot 3000 featured his artwork both outside and inside the book. As a result, the shipping schedule proved to be erratic, ultimately leading to a 3-year publication calendar. This issue of Animal Man captures Bolland at his best, lending his amazing art skills to the series’ overarching metatextual format. Here we see Bolland’s hand actually rendering the cover’s image.
4. Miracleman #15
Miracleman #15 contains haunting imagery that features thousands of casualties and miles of carnage. As with Bolland’s piece, the cover for Miracleman 15 is highly rendered. However, that’s where the comparisons face. Where Bolland’s cover image is bright and airy, artist John Totlebren’s depiction of Kid Miracleman cradling a bloody, severed head provides an accurate portrait of the issue’s impending violence.
3. Avengers #201
2. Crisis on Infinite Earths #12
C’mon, you didn’t think I would discuss the Top 10 Covers from The 80s without including the King of Minutia, George Perez, did you? No list of top artwork from the ’80s would be complete without some mention of Perez. I could have easily included entries from his work on the New Teen Titans, Wonder Woman, The Fantastic Four and of course, Crisis on Infinite Earths and The Avengers. It’s his cover art from the Avengers #201 and Crisis on Infinite Earths #12. Crisis normally gets a lot of its acclaim from issues #7 and #8, but for my money, number 12 contains the most inherent excitement. Issues #7 and #8 deliver pathos, but the sheer numbers of our heroes combining their efforts towards eradicating the lumbering form of the Anti Monitor still leaves me breathless to this day. Avengers #201 is a favorite because of its quirkiness. Jarvis the Butler is ready to take on the off panel opponent as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes stand behind their defender. With all the other nihilistic, melodramatic entries on this top 10 list, a little levity goes a long way.
1. Sandman #1
Dave McKean was just becoming a known quantity when the groundbreaking Arkham Asylum, A Serious House on Serious Earth was unleashed on an unprepared comics readership. He then transitioned over to providing covers for Neil Gaiman’s much-beloved Sandman. McKean’s sense of creativity eventually moves towards integrating many non-traditional art methods into the production of his covers. As we enter into the 90s, he dabbles with sculpture, photography and digital media. But it’s here, with Sandman #1, where McKean first finds a voice for his unique take on layout, composition and the integration of layered imagery. My Top 10 Comic Book Covers of the ’80s registers McKean’s Sandman #1 as the single best cover.
There are so many honorable mentions that I can’t possibly begin to mention them all. Of course there are dozens of others I would have liked to include, but when it comes down to it, there can only be 10.