by Molly Jane Kremer, Clyde Hall, Mickey Rivera, Rachel Acheampong and Jarrod Jones. Undercover is our opportunity to lovingly gaze upon gorgeous works from magnificent artists. From two radically different (yet equally amazing) variants from Bill Sienkiewicz to Travis Charest’s beautiful ‘Shuri’, here’s what we’re loving this week.
Venom Annual #1 by Bill Sienkiewicz. (Marvel)
JJ: What is Venom? A beast. A being. Not of this earth, not for the faint of heart. A hulk of veins, muscles, fangs, attitude. A brute. A big blazing bastard. And Bill Sienkiewicz just gave him his very own Presidential portrait.
What do you see? Murder. Red-hot and wet. We’re in the thick of it now, in the moment when Brock’s all the way gone and the symbiote is getting its thick, scratchy licks in. You don’t see a lethal protector. You see a monster. A maniac. A razor-sharp bear trap of fatality, gone euphoric with the slaughter. And in these final seconds, just before we become a spray of steaming arterial havoc, we pause in awe of this… this. A butcher. A beauty.
Black Hammer: Age of Doom #6 by Rich Tommaso. (Dark Horse Comics)
CH: How would you like to live in the head of Colonel Randall Weird? We all could, because he was once much like us. Space ways-travelling, adventurous versions of us, anyway. Then his encounter with the Para-zone set him adrift in time and space, leaving him a haunted husk of his former self. He can sometimes muster focus, but lucidity is a rare commodity. More often, he’s drifted in and out of the Black Hammer: Age of Doom storyline, a tragic trans-dimensional wraith. But the Colonel takes the spotlight of issue #6, and artist Rich Tommaso’s cover offers a window seat to Weird’s ever-altering stream of consciousness.
Demonic winged pit fiends drawn down on by four-armed insectoid gumshoes smoking a cigarette and brandishing a .45 automatic are probably common place there. Fedoras included. Mayan pyramids sitting next to teetered, retro-futuristic cityscapes? Sure, that tracks. But what about Golden Goose’s honked waning? In the waking nightmare jumble that constitutes Colonel Weird’s existence, a uniformed super goose may be the most normal thing in any given moment. That’s the tragicomedy Tommaso captures with this art work. Weird’s eternally tortured expression affirms that, for those daring to be heroes, death may not be the worst fate.
Thor #6 by Esad Ribić. (Marvel)
MJ: Esad Ribić’s beautiful work has been gracing the covers of the newest Fantastic Four series of late, but it seems like only yesterday his Thor: God of Thunder covers were beautifying New Release walls everywhere. It’s a gratifying throwback then, to see Ribić’s epic cover to Thor #6 happily containing some throwbacks of its own amidst the amalgamated characters within its pages.
For an issue that takes place in the Marvel Universe’s far-flung future, old-school Kirby monsters Monstrom, Goom, and Fin Fang Foom are a welcome sight, and honestly the idea that these primordial beasties would survive until the Marvel U’s final days is oddly comforting.
Those three form Future-Doctor Doom’s menacing menagerie. They’re lit ominously from below by Phoenix-Wolverine’s flames. (Wolvoenix? Phoenerine? I like Phoenerine.) Those warm tones contrast beautifully with the cold bright blue of Thor’s lightning bolt bisecting both cover and logo. The same coolness also imbues Mjolnir and Thor’s armor, creating a wonderfully balanced layout that draws the eye inward while still primarily focusing on King Thor’s twisting form, an exaggerated mid-action pose equally fitting in an Italian Baroque-era painting as on a superhero comic cover.
Esad Ribić illustrating all six of these characters in one cover is an absolute treat, but his version of Fin Fang Foom’s gaping maw and Monstrom’s cyclopean stare elevate this cover to colossal perfection.
Cover #2 by Bill Sienkiewicz. (Jinxworld/DC)
MR: Things between Julia and Max started off innocently enough: He, a comics illustrator with mysterious family drama; She, a die-hard fan with buckets of cash to spend on original artwork. Sounds perfect. Out a mist of cosplayers and Comic-Con geeks came Julia, astride a carpet of dollar bills which she showered upon Max with apparent carefree delight. She has a smile that always feels sincere, an air of candor that Max may be suspicious of, but that leaves no evidence to justify his unease. Later, during a bout of trademark Bendis banter, she would confess to being a CIA recruiting agent, to studying up on Max’s past, but still being totally into his work. He really gets to her, she says. Then disappears.
Completely engrossed as though she were dissecting a Picasso, all we see of Julia on this Bill Sienkiewicz variant to Cover #2 is her target and her back. Julia’s reaction, if there is one, is obscured. Her motives, good or bad, can only be guessed at. With nothing between her and the picture, Julia seems paradoxically disembodied, caught up in her need to understand her subject. Staring at panels with empty word balloons, action without context, working out the meaning in her head—it’s up to Julia to find context, to deduce creative intent, to decide what it all means to her and what she’s after. The method and the goal become intertwined, so that when you look at her you’re not seeing Julia, you’re seeing the process.
Shuri #1 by Travis Charest. (Marvel)
RA: In the absence of T’Challa, king and protector of Wakanda, a new leader emerges. The best-selling Afrofuturist author Nnedi Okorafor makes her comics debut with Shuri and to celebrate the release Marvel is dropping several variants by many a sought-after cover artist. None top this list like Travis Charest, having done extensive cover work on many popular titles. With a look that is clean and dynamic he creates a premiere cover fit for one who is next in line to the throne.
Charest employs a hushed orange backdrop from a transparent and silent color palette that compliments the protagonist and her technologically advanced African metropolis. Shuri is at the center of the universe in richly quilted clothing, the entire galaxy woven into her crystalline blue garb. Charest is also known for his detailed line work and the sharpness of his illustrations produces real-life imagery in Shuri’s face. These details also hint at a beaded jewelry piece around her neck that is in color sequence with the belt. These beads traditionally are not only chosen because of the beautiful ensembles they make, but also for their symbolic value and meaning. The iconography continues.
Shuri designed the vibranium gauntlets so they would have the shape of a panther, bridging a connection between Wakanda and the panther goddess, Bast. Each gauntlet fixed to her arm has visibly angry teeth, radiant eyes, and ports gleaming with energy. Her raised right gauntlet spills even more light onto the cover in needle-thin blue rays, a beacon of the faith Shuri has in her brother. She will always be willing to stand by his side—or, as the case is now, take up the mantle. This variant for Shuri #1 is reflective of the heroine princess she is. With a serendipitous nature she evolves from a teenage genius into a queen, a regal warrior of the future.
Don’t forget to share your favorite covers from this week in the comments section below. Best response wins a pack of DoomRocket stickers!