By Jarrod Jones. Undercover is our opportunity to lovingly gaze upon gorgeous works from magnificent artists. This week, we single out the most striking covers that graced comic book stands in the year 2016.

Doom Patrol #1, by Nick Derington. (Young Animal)

Listen. The easiest way to endear yourself to me is to confess an undying love for The Velvet Underground. I don’t know how closely Gerard Way and Nick Derington work together when it comes to Mr. Derington’s covers for  Doom Patrol, but I can’t imagine either fella frowned on the idea of paying homage to VU’s first album, The Velvet Underground and Nico. It’s just good business to be awesome. To me, the entire concept of this gorgeously executed cover has become Young Animal’s opening salvo, an instantly iconic declaration that its line of books has no intention of playing it “normal.” (What the hell does that word even mean.) Now. Somebody pop on Loaded.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #0, by Goñi Montes. (Boom Studios)

Sometimes, when a cover is this good, the logo knows precisely what to do: Get the hell out of the way. Boom Studios’ ambitious new series featuring your favorite era of Power Rangers arrived in 2016 with an equally nostalgia-charged #0 issue, and it boasted not one, not two, not four, but SEVEN variant covers, all sporting the iconic (not to mention, massive) helmets worn by Bandai’s Finest. Goñi Montes’ reverential covers might have been the best thing on shelves that week. The hardest part of my day was figuring out which one I liked the most. Then I remembered: Amy Jo Johnson.

The Amazing Spider-Man #9, by Alex Ross. (Marvel Comics)

Peter Parker: Spider-Spy. There’s something undeniably sophisticated about Alex Ross’ cover to The Amazing Spider-Man #9, and it’s not just because the Eiffel Tower or Parliament are thrown up there, neither. It’s the slick, savvy ninja pose Ross gives Ol’ Webhead, who finds himself surrounded by Scorpio, Mockingbird, Nick Fury, Dr. Octopus, and even the Spider-Buggy itself. If there was an image of Spider-Man that faithfully paid homage to Jim Steranko and Robert E. McGinnis and didn’t look completely ridiculous, this was it. Now. Let’s turn this sucker into a print, stat.

Superwoman #1, by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson. (DC Comics)

As we’ve stated in our Casual Wednesdays Podcast,  Superwoman #1 was one of our most eagerly anticipated books of the year, primarily because it puts two essential characters in the Superman mythos — Lois Lane and Lana Lang — front and center, but without all that catty infighting over who get to press Superman’s cape. (The Fifties were a dark time for this country, and don’t you dare let your grandparents tell you any different.) Terry and Rachel Dodson’s cover to Superwoman #1 inspired in me the one thing I always want to feel when I read a book with ‘Super’ in the title: Hope. (Also, fun.)

The Sheriff of Babylon #3, by John Paul Leon. (Vertigo)

It’s a beautiful display of affection, reverence, and respect. A routine, one that takes place just late enough in the morning that the sun pours through the windows to ignite everything in brilliance, fine china glinting back its rays. A cat scampers blithely past, unaware of the weapon dangling precariously over the day’s effects. The hair is braided tightly, but with care; in between sips of chai there are dire things to consider, things that hang so darkly in the shadows that even the lamps cannot illuminate them. John Paul Leon’s gorgeous cover to The Sheriff of Babylon #3 is candid as it is chilling. A fitting cover to one of the most incredible books of the year.

Shekhar Kapur’s Devi Rebirth #1, by Jenny Frison. (Graphic India)

Jenny Frison’s cover game is downright lethal. It’s the hues she employs in every piece — smoky, lush, captivating. Almost like she’s tapping into whatever form of enlightenment that once beguiled Botticelli and refuses to tell the rest of us how. Then there’s her character work: Her subjects always exude power, whether it’s a physical strength, or something more elemental (behold her cover to Graphic India’s Devi Rebirth #1). Frison is always at the very top of her game; she leaves us so staggered by her compositions that we almost neglect that she’s sneaking in some Italian Renaissance into our silly world of superheroes.

DKIII: The Master Race #3, by Greg Capullo. (DC Comics)

*shiver* If Greg Capullo is the master of one thing — aside from the barbell — it’s capturing an iconic moment on the page. Every time Mr. Capullo puts pencil to Bristol it’s a cause for attention, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s for the latest issue of Batman, his big time Image project with Mark Millar, or this variant cover to DKIII: The Master Race #3; if Greg Capullo draws something, you know it’s going to be a doozy. And this image, which recalls one of the most atrocious criminal acts ever performed by The Joker, in any medium, is one for the history books. If you were to put this cover in context, then look at the expression on the Clown Prince of Crime only to not feel a chill run down your spine — check your pulse. It may be time to see a doctor.

The Electric Sublime #1, by Frazer Irving. (IDW Publishing)

The Electric Sublime is a cool comic book. Cool in the way none of us will ever be. Cool like Jarvis Cocker. That’s right — cool like the frontman to an iconic Nineties BritPop band. Nineties like Frazer Irving’s variant to Sublime‘s first issue, submerged in wild, Dave McKean/Bill Sienkiewicz vibes. Emanating vibes. Art bleeding through our eyes and into our dreams. A fitting cover for a book as mad and provocative as The Electric Sublime.

All-Star Batman #1, by John Romita, Jr. (DC Comics)

You have to hand it to DC Comics — they know how to get people hyped. All-Star Batman might have been the biggest post-Rebirth book we’ve seen yet, what with it being the place Scott Snyder decided to head to next after his now-classic Batman run instead of, say, joining the Postal Service. And that John Romita Jr. is kicking out some of his best work in years working with the one character he was born to draw, all DC had to do was say, “hey, lookit this.” But then came this variant, which is either just a really awesome cover, or one of the most iconic Bat-images of the 21st Century. Go ahead. Say I’m prone to hyperbole. Then look at this cover and try to tell me I’m wrong.

Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! #3, by Kevin Wada. (Marvel Comics)

Figured I’d get my “Obligatory Kevin Wada Cover” out of the way. Not that I don’t enjoy talking about Kevin Wada’s work mind you. But every time I begin to research the artist’s output, I find myself violently pulled into the time-suck that is his Tumblr page. Not that I don’t absolutely love spending at least two hours of my workday simply marveling at Wada’s Tumblr page, you understand. But when that Tumblr begins with this stunning cover, a fun karaoke sesh that beautifully captures the spirit and energy of Kate Leth & Brittney L. Williams’ Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat!, you know that work isn’t getting done. Not that I don’t absolutely revel in not getting work done, if you follow me, but…

Revival #40, by Jenny Frison. (Image Comics)

When you think about the concepts rooted the rural horror comic Revival, you come to appreciate Jenny Frison’s gorgeously subtle covers to the Norton/Seeley series all the more. The dead walk among the living — an idea so familiar that literally every image that could convey it has already met your nerdy gaze. And then something like Frison’s cover to Revival #40 happens. Death? Resurrection? Here’s how Jenny Frison interprets “resurrection”: A translucent being, cold-gray eyes staring out, chilling you to your very core. And then you notice the second-hand, “seen better days” hoodie — Frison’s own patchwork Frankenstein monster. It snuck up on you, didn’t it? That’s why this cover is one of the most brilliant of the year.

Shade: The Changing Girl #1, by Tula Lotay. (DC Comics/Young Animal)

Here lies a vista of dreaming, wonder, imagination, and chic, urbane cool. Tula Lotay’s variant cover to Shade: The Changing Girl didn’t hit shelves upon the book’s release (a squirrely printing error appeared to be the culprit), but that shouldn’t suggest that the coolest Young Animal debut of 2016 didn’t soak up all its accolades without Lotay’s utterly stupendous contribution to the book. We turned off our minds, we relaxed, and we happily bought ourselves two copies of Shade.

Superman: American Alien #7, by Jock. (DC Comics)

A blur past your bus stop. A streak over the skyline. A hurricane. It’s Superman. A force of nature made kind by love. We all know the spiel. We’re all intimately aware of the imagery. But this cover to Max Landis’ Superman: American Alien #7 is something else. With Jock’s street level art gallery approach to the Man of Steel, we come to the world’s greatest superhero as though he had just arrived to us. It creates new words. I’m thundersmacked by this cover. I’m incredistruck. I’m schmaued flat by it. Now somebody scrape me off the floor.

Howard The Duck #5 & #11, by Joe Quinones. (Marvel Comics)

I realize that artists grow as the years progress, and there’s no doubt in my mind that every once in awhile they get a bit fidgety behind their drafting boards drawing the same thing over and over again. But if I had the power to doom/honor one artist with the task of spending the rest of their days rendering Howard the Duck, it would have been Joe Quinones. Of course, the book is now closed, archived in the annals of comicdom for the rest of human history. But for an achingly short period of time, the results of Mr. Quinones’ mastery were, in a word, quacktastic. Now *sniff* excuse me, I have to go cry myself up a snack.

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