By Clyde Hall, Brendan F. Hodgdon and Jarrod Jones. Undercover is our opportunity to lovingly gaze upon gorgeous works from magnificent artists. From Martin Simmonds’ cover to ‘Friendo’ to Joshua Middleton’s ‘Batgirl’, here’s what we’re loving this week.
Bedtime Games #4 by Conor Nolan. (Dark Horse Comics)
CH: When a fiend like Mr. Bedtime holds a grimoire bound in human flesh while his duo of nightmare minions covers his six, you feel an ill wind rise. The shadows deepen and contort. Summer’s officially over, and autumn’s taken a turn for the cursed. It also makes for a pretty boffo Halloween season cover as Bedtime Games #4 wraps the mini-series with the fate of three young heroes hovering somewhere betwixt ‘perilous’ and ‘doomed’.
Conor Nolan’s work on Bedtime Games has been uniformly effective, inside and out. But when he gets a chance to spread his leathery wings depicting the monstrous elements of the story, that’s when he’s shined. The sheen’s reminiscent of a bittersweet glow from a full harvest moon, but that fits here just fine. This cover gives him a chance to indulge, to drill into the same nerve his best interior panels struck during the series. His trio of hellish antagonists are familiar enough to echo the dreamthings we’ve all encountered, and his pencils give them a realistic animated quality that expertly hikes up their squirm factor. Given these predatory REM denizens, brought to life through Nolan’s imagination, this bedtime story could end with “As you wish,” or “As you wither.” “Happily, ever after” would be a longshot.
The Punisher #2 by Greg Smallwood. (Marvel)
JJ: Frank Castle’s war on crime is a one-man show. No distractions, no excess, no bullshit. Ridiculous as it is, even his skull-face t-shirt serves a purpose—if you’ve wronged the innocent in the Marvel universe and you see it coming your way, you know it’s time to say your prayers.
Greg Smallwood’s covers for Marvel’s stripped-down, street-level Punisher series are just as lean and mean as the anti-hero himself. They capture Castle’s Lundgren-esque world-weariness and they don’t skimp on his measured savagery. This cover in particular sells the, erm, effectiveness of the Punisher with a remarkable clarity, depicting the driven desire for retribution on his face plain as day even in the blackest night.
But it’s Smallwood’s laser sights that kill me. They tell a story all on their own: These nine murderous red beams stretch outwards from the professional-grade chumps put in Frank’s way, all of them choked by the smoke of the already countless spent bullets in this dark, final place. They’re the remainders of the small army sent to stop what can’t be stopped. They all pull in towards Frank’s chest, his head. Nine guaranteed kill-shots. Guess who gets his in first.
Batgirl #27 by Joshua Middleton (DC Comics)
BFH: Joshua Middleton has been (rightly) praised of late for the remarkable variant covers he’s been producing for DC, particularly on Aquaman. In this instance, he has extended his talents to the adventures of Barbara Gordon, and the results are the usual spectacular stuff. This cover also has the added benefit of providing a fresh take on Sean Murphy’s Batgirl costume, and a very welcome one at that.
Between Middleton’s classical, Alex Ross-ian aesthetic and the throwback components of Murphy’s costume design, this whole cover has a very retro, Silver Age feel to it. You could imagine this being the more refined and adult representation of a classic BAM! POW! WHAM! version of a superhero. And this nostalgic vibe also reflects unspoken elements of the issue itself, which sees Babs returning home to Jim Gordon after a confrontation with an old foe. Though whether the costume or the issue intrigue you or not, there’s no denying Joshua Middleton’s skill. But then, what else is new?
Beasts of Burden: Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men #2 variant by Dustin Nguyen. (Dark Horse Comics)
CH: They say dogs are more attuned to the spirit world than their human caretakers, so perhaps that’s reason enough to find a cowardice of curs gathered in a cemetery. ‘Course ‘they’ say a lot of things, most of it proven codswallop. This time, ‘they’ actually undershot the truth as presented in Beasts of Burden: Wise Dogs and Eldritch Men; these dogs aren’t only attuned, they’re veritable RKK-9s, Arcane canines, able to cast spells and interpret mystic sigils as handily as any graduate of Hogwart’s Obedience School. No end of reasons for them to hang out in a graveyard. Enjoying the protection of hallowed ground. Waiting on a bean sí to return to the scene of her whine. Giving a one-leg salute to a vile Necromancer they helped to plant.
Or maybe it’s just getting near Halloween, and Dark Horse liked the ambient imagery. The reasons are piddling compared to the variant result, courtesy of Dustin Nguyen’s beautiful watercolor. His brushes ably set the scene of an overgrown boneyard, angled and pitted markers ready to topple, bordered by the rusted remains of an ironwork fence. A gnarled tree as dead as the inhabitants beneath its root system is frozen in a final failed twist to tear itself free of the cursed sod. And at the center of all this entropy, five very alive, very furry, four-legged guardians keep watch.
Nguyen, co-architect of the Lil’ Gotham tales, puts each breed’s best paw forward with his simple technique. Not simple to achieve, but brushed brevity in delineating the proud Scotty, bestowing majesty on the noble mutt, arranging the Bobtail as shepherd of this flock. These canine Magi drive wayward elementals, tree subterranean lurkers, and protect the natural world from unnatural threats seeking to prey upon it. Our own domesticated companions, the tail-wagging wardens of our laps, are good dogs. The duty these dogs aspire to places them in a Grand Champions class above all others.
Friendo #1 by Martin Simmonds. (Vault Comics)
JJ: In Friendo, pals come at a premium. Slap on the 1000-dollar shades and have a friend. They’ll take you places. But for series’ lead Leopold Joof, who’s been going through a bit of a rough patch of late, the Friendo app ain’t getting him anywhere fast. But at least he now has Jerry, who has access to maps and coupons and other sorts of useful stuff. Who needs the love and admiration of millions when you can have Friendo?
Even in this not-too-distant, fire-scorched L.A. fame comes at a price. But the losers who still want it can’t even afford to put it on layaway. This is, for Leo especially, disaster in the waiting. Luckily for him (and luckily for us) Martin Simmonds makes catastrophe look captivating. It’s sunshine and palm trees and shattered dreams and digital decimation. Jerry’s gone rogue, run roughshod all over Leo’s cerebral cortex, and Simmonds wants us to gawk like the onlookers hovering over Leo’s unconscious body. As the smoke and fire choke out the sun and the Earth grows that much more inhospitable, we turn inwards for escape. But what happens when our fake friends’ binary lullabies induce a dream of electronic entropy?
Don’t forget to share your favorite covers from this week in the comments section below. Best response wins a pack of DoomRocket stickers!