By Clyde Hall, Brendan F. Hodgdon and Jarrod Jones. Undercover is our opportunity to lovingly gaze upon gorgeous works from magnificent artists. From Charles Soule’s ‘Curse Words’ variant to Lee Bermejo’s demonic cover to ‘Batman: Damned’, here’s what we’re loving this week.
Batman: Damned #1 by Lee Bermejo. (DC Black Label)
JJ: In Batman: Damned, the legacy of the Dark Knight is on the verge of becoming a smoldering ruin. The Joker is dead, finally dead. And it looks like Batman is the one who done it.
Lee Bermejo’s interior art on Batman: Damned is downright legendary. Career-best stuff. But for the cover of this DC Black Label debut, Bermejo went and outdid himself. Pulled something elemental out of the blackness, nursed it, loved it… until it took on a life of its own, lit its own candle in the far reaches of reason. It’s here where Bermejo stokes the coals. Charcoal and smoke, a grimace and a grin. A demon wrestling with man, and the man letting it win. What we’re looking at is a fire just before it catches, that glimmer of madness before it becomes an inferno. This isn’t the Batman we’ve known. This is something more, something both horrible and magnificent.
So let’s say it’s true. The Joker is truly dead. If that’s the case, then Lee Bermejo just not-so-gently reminded us that a little bit of him will always live on inside Bruce Wayne’s demented mind, his dead eyes forever burning from a dark, quiet place. And that precious line the Batman has sworn to never cross has been kicked over with the dirt from his own damned grave.
Black Hammer: Age of Doom #5 by Fábio Moon. (Dark Horse Comics)
CH: The silhouetted hero, backlit by a night-cleaving lance of lightning, his proportions the stuff of legend, his leap a framed portrait of power and grace to make even the most savage jungle predators sigh dejectedly, tuck tail, and run. These elements apply only nominally to the Fábio Moon’s variant cover riff on Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns for Black Hammer: Age of Doom #5. Black Hammer is partially silhouetted and partially illuminated, and probably partially blinded, by the sudden lightning flash. His proportions are more the stuff of normal guys who’re relatively fit. And it’s likely that most wild jungle cats would feel secure in their felinehood on viewing Hammer’s vaulting prowess. At least until he plants that New World mallet on a deserving Anti-God minion.
Moon’s homage, in this way, distills the essence of Jeff Lemire’s and Dean Ormston’s creation. The Hammerverse is a place rendered in familiar and recognizable allegory, but peopled by individuals, human and alien, not so very different than us. Or at least, us with amazing powers and wonder weapons for props. Which allows titles in this setting to not only chronicle the heroic triumphs of a scientific adventurer, but also explore the personal cost of a father who missed his son’s childhood while he was galaxy-hopping to push the boundaries of human endeavor. The pain and uncertainty of a young woman whose father responded to a desperate call to superheroic action but then disappeared, fate unknown. And it doesn’t just examine these private struggles, it manages to tangle you in each character’s plight by hitting so very close to our own.
This is why Moon’s work here is superb. In his cover and in Miller’s, their heroes both make leaps of faith, leaps which place them above the mien of lesser individuals. But while Black Hammer takes his, he’s likely distracted by how the rain has soaked him to the skin. Concerned that the lightning’s impaired his vision, making a solid foothold upon landing less assured. Wondering what his family is doing while he’s away and hoping that the monsters he’s facing tonight don’t separate him from them permanently. Meanwhile, Batman’s leap, while impressive, is mostly about being the Batman. In a way, that makes Hammer’s leap the truer one, and certainly the more relatable.
Mister Miracle #11 by Mitch Gerads. (DC)
BFH: If there is one thing that Mitch Gerads has proven time and again over the course of this Mister Miracle series, both on interiors and his variant covers, it’s that he knows precisely how to blend intimate, domestic quiet with unsettling cosmic dread. As he’s done in the past, Gerads has represented the former on this cover with a happy, bouncing baby. And if one is going to personify cosmic dread, what character is a better choice than Darkseid?
Of course, it is the way that these two elements interact that gives this cover life. The sight of this innocent child excitedly reaching out for the hand of one of the greatest villains in comicdom creates a gnawing pit in the stomach. It represents something that feels implicitly wrong, a violation of what’s good and right. It highlights the existential angst that has been the backbone of Mister Miracle from the beginning, and almost makes you too anxious to actually open the issue to see what’s inside. Almost.
Curse Words #16 by Charles Soule and Ryan Browne. (Image Comics)
JJ: It would most certainly seem that Charles Soule has such things to show you. I know not from what wild place the concept behind this variant cover for Curse Words #16 originated—whether it was Mr. Soule’s idea or some machination from Words artist and known madman Ryan Brown, who can say—but I am so, so happy that it’s here. Inside the mind of this lawyer and best-selling writer lies the heart of an artist.
A lot of folks, including Charles Soule, possibly, will downplay this cover as some sort of whimsy, or joke, but don’t let them. Soule’s been conjuring adversity, profanity and outright insanity for sixteen issues and, alongside co-conspirator Browne, Curse Words has become one of Image Comics’ crown jewels. A book with talking koalas, aging hipster wizards, and demons named Sizzajee requires a certain amount of energy on its cover, not to mention a sense of wonder and abandon. Soule’s variant accomplishes both.
A lot of this energy comes from Browne’s colors, but under all that godly technicolor is the fun Soule clearly had in knocking this sucker out. The cover radiates mayhem, a knockout punch that leaves stars in our eyes. It screams across the land that Curse Words is some of the most fun you’ll ever have reading a comic—but most importantly, it underscores the wonderful collaborative efforts of two of the best creators in the biz, a study in mirth-making brilliance.
Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive #1 by Michael Allred and Laura Allred. (IDW Publishing)
CH: When those suffering hardships during the Great Depression began looking at bank robbers as folk heroes and at the police trying to capture them as inept foils, Chester Gould challenged what he felt was a flawed public perception. In Dick Tracy, the very physical attributes of the criminals reflected their heinous and twisted psyches (Pruneface, Flattop, The Brow, Big Boy), while Tracy was portrayed as a square-jawed, straight-shooting, dedicated professional lawman who utilized scientific principles and advanced technology to bring gangsters to justice. Gutsy, for a strip created in Chicago when Al Capone was only beginning to take heat on charges of tax evasion. Gould also displayed a unique if eccentric bit of fair play for the villains who died in his strip, and they did do just that: He established a little faux cemetery for the fallen foes in his own back yard.
Throughout the years of its pulpish pop culture run, the strip has tackled topical social ills, organized crime, graft, and celebrity status. Sometimes satirically, sometimes head-on. And its focus has ranged from serious neo-Noir crime tales to soap operatic family drama, from space fantasy to secret agent gadgetry fests. No one is better suited than Michael and Laura Allred for applying their unique style in a way that encompasses the Tracy legacy for the cover of Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive #1. And few could match the team IDW’s gathered to embrace that idiosyncratic range of signature Tracy derring-do: The Allreds (Michael, Lee, Laura), Rich Tomasso, and Shawn Lee.
Flanked, literally, by portraits of his most dangerous and deranged opponents along with allies picked up over the years, Tracy is on the move, spurred by a troubled Tess Trueheart communicating via his signature wrist radio/TV. The plainclothes detective’s jaw muscles tighten, tauting his famous hawk-nosed, lantern-jawed profile into a veritable coin effigy. Their depiction of his trench coat, that ever-present, vibrant yellow symbol of justice, defines his brand of heroism. In a city where even law-abiding citizens either truck with the shady underworld or skitter into the shadows hoping to remain beneath its notice, Dick Tracy is easy to find. Even his fashion sense sends an open invitation to all those who flout the law: Come. Face him. Oh, also that business end of a Thompson submachine gun.
Don’t forget to share your favorite covers from this week in the comments section below. Best response wins a pack of DoomRocket stickers!