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.

The Author

Mike McLarty

Mike McLarty

A San Diego native, Mike has comics in his blood and has attended the San Diego Comic Con every year since 1982. His comic interests are as varied as his crimes against humanity, but he tends to lean heavily towards things rooted in dystopian themes. His favorite comic series is Warren Ellis’ and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan. Spider Jerusalem is the best character ever devised. Mike realizes those statements will alienate a good portion of his potential audience, but those are the facts. You are unlikely to find a single collector with a better Transmetropolitan art portfolio than the one he has in his possession. He is an Assistant Editor for the upcoming Transmetropolitan Charity Book.

He also occasionally freelances for various other comics websites, which he promotes through his homepage (www.comickarma.com), Twitter and other inherently intrusive forms of social media. Mike firmly believes that the best writers come from the UK. This could be because he’s of Irish descent; not so much based on physical geography as the fact that the Irish like to drink heavily.

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19 Comments

  1. Kirby
    November 29, 2010 at 4:23 pm — Reply

    I like your choices, really work. I’m always a bit partial to Kevin Maguire’s Justice League #1, myself. Hope to see more.

  2. TaZ
    November 29, 2010 at 4:28 pm — Reply

    I have 2, 3, 6 and 9 packed away somewhere. One of these days I’m going to have to break out my Final Crisis collection and try to remember what they changed that’s been changed again and again since then.

  3. November 29, 2010 at 4:57 pm — Reply

    I really do like that Avengers cover, I might have to get that.

  4. Anonymous
    November 29, 2010 at 5:55 pm — Reply

    The cover for Sandman #1 is actually pretty boring, in my opinion. If I saw this on the stands, it would not attract me to pick it up and flip through it. Honestly, if this exact same cover was for some other two-bit comic from some two-bit publisher and written by some hack, would you still have it as your #1 comic cover from the 80’s?

  5. tidge
    November 29, 2010 at 6:55 pm — Reply

    Nice choices. I disagree with McKean’s Sandman Cover as number one, only because he also did Arkham Asylum in the 1980s.

    Suicide Squad #10 has one of the most memorable comic covers of the 1980s IMO. It was nearly scandalous then, and even more so today.

    I also concur with McGuire’s JL #1.

    A better choice IMO than Miracleman #15 would be Elementals (V2) #6.

    • Brent
      November 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm — Reply

      This cover?

      http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_YUUAn5bgpwo/RrTA_Kh00WI/AAAAAAAAA-4/sWhi-BMJP4I/s1600-h/squad10.jpg

      Memorable (and good), but why is it scandalous? Is it the high split on Amanda Waller’s thigh? We know Bats was checking her out on the sly.

      • November 30, 2010 at 7:54 pm — Reply

        That’s a great image…without a doubt!

      • December 1, 2010 at 4:42 am — Reply

        I think fanboys would find it scandalous that Waller is making Bats her bitch. Again. But that cover is great, since it sums her up as a character in a simple, iconic way, at least to me.

  6. November 29, 2010 at 7:54 pm — Reply

    Very funny you should mention Arkham…I was strongly considering the cover until Stephen pointed out I was looking at the 15 year anniversary reissue.

    The original book’s covers aren’t THAT awesome.

  7. RBHSOregon
    November 29, 2010 at 7:57 pm — Reply

    Good choices and some fond memories there. I’d drop Perez down one entry, though for any of several LSH covers. Personal favorite, LSH#289, A Cold and Lonely Corner of Hell: http://mylardreams.com/wp-content/gallery/covers/tlosh289vol34.jpg

  8. November 29, 2010 at 11:35 pm — Reply

    That Moon Knight cover is gorgeous!

  9. Frank
    November 30, 2010 at 7:30 am — Reply

    Those are good choices. Very solid. I might have slipped in Action #583.

  10. Lee
    November 30, 2010 at 10:34 am — Reply

    I would have added one of the Watchmen covers (12). Oh and also, Kid Miracleman is holding Miracleman’s head, still attached to his body…

  11. November 30, 2010 at 5:30 pm — Reply

    Some great choices there. A great mix of mainstream stuff that I remember as well as some non-Marvel/non-DC choices that I was too young to appreciate at the time.

    But yeah, that Byrne X-Men cover was something special, wasn’t it?

  12. Alisha Mynx
    December 1, 2010 at 11:17 pm — Reply

    I have a copy of #6 (and the issue after) thanks to my older brother giving me what was left of his collection sometime in the late 90’s when my sister-in-law forced him to get rid of it. It has always been one of my all-time favorite comic covers.

    Visually, I also love #8 because it’s so simple without being simplistic.

  13. Stefanie
    December 2, 2010 at 1:19 am — Reply

    I have that Avengers issue!! John Byrne is one of the few artists I know that can draw a character at different ages and you can totally tell who it’s supposed to be. Kitty and Colossus in D.O.F.P. is a prime example. He’s good!

  14. Damascus
    December 21, 2010 at 4:41 am — Reply

    Here’s a short list of some of my completely arbitrary but favorite covers from the ’80s mostly or entirely from Marvel and DC.

    Suicide Squad #6 – It’s got that cool cover of Deadshot with his gun up and the girl in his sights. Great pose for him.
    The Thing #6 – I’ve always loved this cover, it’s got the black background and he’s lit with some low light from the front as he’s in a punching pose. Simple but great.
    Web of Spider-man #13 – Awesome cover of Spider-man in his black suit with his arm cocked back about to punch J. Jonah Jameson (who looks terrified) with a Daily Bugle newspaper as the background that says “Spidey Goes Berserk”.
    Wolverine Vol. 2 #8 – I just find this funny, Wolverine (as Patch) beside grey Hulk and they’re both wearing white tuxedos with black bowties and Wolverine looks so small next to Hulk.
    Wolverine Vol. 2 #17 – John Byrne’s run begins here and it’s just a classic looking pose of Wolverine diving toward the viewer with his mask with the large points on either side and the red background.
    Star Wars #94 – Stupid, but hey, it’s an Ewok with one foot up on a Stormtrooper’s helmet.
    Silver Surfer #8 – I don’t know why I love this cover so much, but I just find the art to be totally bizarre compared to all the covers before and after this one, but it’s beautiful. It’s got Silver Surfer riding around on a silver Roc (or other huge mythological bird) and facing down a gorgeous looking giant Dragon with what looks like a full Octopus for a head. I just love that cover.

    One I looked at that Matthew might like is The Thing #31 just due to the Thing sharing the cover with Devil Dinosaur.

    All those covers are available to look at on http://www.comicspriceguide.com, I couldn’t find a good link to them otherwise. Also, these aren’t the Top whatever greatest covers, they’re just cool covers that I like for one reason or another that come from the 80’s.

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