by Arpad Okay, Clyde Hall and Jarrod Jones. Undercover is our opportunity to lovingly gaze upon gorgeous works from magnificent artists. From The Allred’s ‘Archie’ tribute to Jae Lee & June Chung’s ‘Marvel Knights’, here’s what we’re loving this week.
Archie #700 by Michael Allred and Laura Allred (Archie Comics)
CH: Everything’s Archie. Michael and Laura Allred prove the point, for once and always, with their variant cover to Archie #700. The perpetual teen and his Riverdale posse have been given a new lease on comic book longevity with team-ups, alternate realities, Afterlife horrors, Superteens splendor, even their own television series. The recent Archie Comics creative teams excel at reinventing their cast for modern audiences where appropriate, keeping them true to their original concepts where needed, and telling some fine stories overall.
This cover doesn’t go there. The Allreds instead apply their hallmark wizardry in celebration of the legacy-numbered #700 with classic scenes that originally initiated our love of Archie. The Betty or Veronica love triangle. (It’s Betty.) Panic-invoking pressures from authority figures Mr. Weatherbee and Miss Grundy. The disapproval of the Establishment embodied by Mr. Lodge. The nonconformist performance art, and food pilfering, of Jughead. Any and all leading to payoffs in physical, usually slapstick, comedy.
Yet the center of the piece is occupied by thoroughly modern Archie. A more attractive teen specimen, his gapped-toothed grin dispelled through orthodontics, but still rocking the freckles and the #’d red hair. More significantly, Team Allred captured and transferred the youthful optimism from those early Bob Montana and later Dan DeCarlo panels, investing it in today’s Archie Andrews. Modern life may be less carefree than when Archie first made the teen scene, but he continues celebrating the good things found in each new day, loyal buddy at his side, and with the affectionate friendship of his two best girls. We could all use that kind of travelling package. It’s why we still love reading about life with Archie.
The New World #5 by Tradd Moore, Heather Moore, and Tom Muller. (Image Comics)
AOK: Kirby’s need to see the world in black and white is leaking from the pages of The New World onto its cover. The story ups the conflict, the conclusion the inevitable clash of immovable objects and unstoppable forces, and so the covers have arrived there, too, after having traveled a route from document to high art.
Sure, the first few could be seen as Andy Warhol or Norman Rockwell or even Robert Mapplethorpe capturing surgery and tongue texture, but now the Moores and Muller are hitting you hard with beautiful, broad metaphor. Muller’s Modigliani backdrops have jettisoned their colors to embolden a rainbow field for Stella and Kirby to stand against.
What great character design these two have, boiled down to no more than a Matisse cut out, but distinct as Milton Glaser’s Dylan, with dot and lash, cameo and eyepatch. A truly marvelous finale, a cover that kills, pure iconic, the apex of an arc of covers as thoughtful and resplendent as the series they house.
Marvel Knights 20th #2 by Jae Lee and June Chung. (Marvel)
JJ: Everything about this piece shouldn’t work — her outfit, her position, the weather around her — but it does. Brilliant in its use of space, extraordinary in its contradictions. The whites and grays give an illusion of minimalism, but the forms and angles are incredibly complex. The skies weep icy tears. The stone, treacherous. The red, murder. This is the icy veneer of our assassin, Elektra, epitomized. Presented atop stereo dragons courtesy of Jae Lee and June Chung.
A murderer caught in symmetry, poised to strike and looking rather blasé about it all. Another day, another target. Patience, diligence. Her discipline keeps her alert, but it also keeps the surrounding frost from chilling the flesh exposed between the straps of her ridiculous assassin’s garb. Again, this shouldn’t work, but it does.
After all, the story of Elektra, as well as the character in all her bloody glory, was never to be taken literally. She always functioned more ably as a legend than a person. We saw it in Miller & Sienkiewicz’s Elektra: Assassin and we’re seeing it now. Elektra as depicted here is more myth than Marvel, a presence that augurs certain death, her position a sweet promise of balletic perfection soon to come. No Murdock, no Logan, no S.H.I.E.L.D., no bullshit. Just an iconic piece of an iconic killer.
Smooth Criminals #1 by Audrey Mok. (BOOM! Box/BOOM! Studios)
CH: Smooth Criminals reads like a heist caper with an added twist of Hackers and The Avengers (not the superhero sort, the Emma Peel kind). It’s a combo to be shaken, not stirred, garnished with an olive of Austin Powers. That’s the result when a jet-setting 1969 international jewel thief and a 1999 world-wide web-weaving hacker become unlikely allies. Audrey Mok’s cover for issue #1 leans heavily toward the 1960s element, steeped in Steranko pattern play and a felon so mod, she looks as ready to hit the dance clubs as crack a Mosler safe.
In appearance, Mia and Brenda are distinctly different. The latter could almost be photoshopped onto the cover of a Silver Age spy comic along with her laptop and dearth of stylish attire. But Mok uses their facial features to delineate an unusual alignment, a similarity between the two characters that literally transcends time. She makes them kindred, authority-flouting, rules-breaking spirits.
Mok’s color play and pattern work set a tone, even more so when the art is viewed in its virgin form and without cropping and logo. It carries a nostalgic brand of energy, makes us want to witness how Brenda the bold but socially awkward tech terror deals with Mia. How Mia, a cool under pressure but clueless-regarding-the-future cat burglar, reacts to Brenda. It’s not lost on us, either, the irony of Mia’s ‘future’ still being our past. We know the two will evolve from their association. But not to put too fine a Bard on it, the play’s the thing wherein the creative team will catch and keep the consideration of their comics reading crowd.
Don’t forget to share your favorite covers from this week in the comments section below.