by Arpad Okay, Clyde Hall, Brendan Hodgdon and Jarrod Jones. Undercover is our opportunity to lovingly gaze upon gorgeous works from magnificent artists. From Esad Ribić’s Frazetta-esque ‘Conan the Barbarian’ #1 to another Joshua Middleton stunner in ‘Batgirl’ #30, here’s what we’re loving this week.
Conan the Barbarian #1 by Esad Ribić. (Marvel)
BH: A new era is upon us, and it is the era of Conan! With Marvel aggressively launching a new slate of Conan comics over the next few months, we have some tremendous sword-and-sorcery adventures to look forward to in 2019. But no Conan story is complete without epic, Frank Frazetta-style cover art, and thankfully Esad Ribić is here to deliver.
Ribić was always the natural choice for a project like this; he is already predisposed towards toned bodies, epic action, stark colors and the ineffable suggestion of texture that comes from good painted art. Here he puts all of those creative instincts to great use, giving us a little microcosm that sums up the Hyborean age in all its pulpy glory.
In the foreground of course is Conan himself, all rippling muscle and violent motion, hacking his way through a group of faceless antagonists. The scene is set against crumbling architecture of indeterminate origin, suggesting a world of antiquity that’s already half-consigned to history. But the real point of intrigue is the woman behind Conan, wielding fire in her hand as she approaches him. Is Conan protecting her from these marauders? Or is she sneaking up behind him to attack while he’s distracted? It is unclear, but the persistent possibility of more violence towards our titular barbarian sums up the brutal world of Robert E. Howard’s world in visceral fashion.
Coda #8 by Matías Bergara. (BOOM! Studios)
AOK: Matías Bergara has taken the cover for Coda’s eigth issue and given us a science fiction paperback novel — but better. The art evokes the atmosphere of a golden age pulp, but more serene, more solemn and refined. Catch it on a museum gallery wall in another universe.
Part of that fine art vibe is due to the excellent use of color. That bit of red in the water is inspired, the drop on the cheek and mixed into the air. The electric blue middle ground gives the orc and the rocks around her an understated luminescence. The fog of the background swallows peaks, purple, everything, exudes mood.
An iron grip on color and texture (I love the charcoal pencil feel of the stones, water, robe, and leg) is what we expect from Coda. But this cover’s aesthetic shift from the busy and brilliant rainbow that is Coda‘s norm to inscrutable midnight romance, the presence of paper grain and fantastic figure study, is an indicator of how breathtaking the scope of Bergara’s talent truly is.
Batgirl #30 by Joshua Middleton. (DC)
JJ: I don’t champion the Murphy re-design, but Middleton’s take on the post-Rebirth Babs makes me a believer. Blue, grey, yellow. My preferred colors for any Bat-suit. Makes the intimidation factor that much more challenging for whoever wears them. For Barbara Gordon the colors are an incredibly generous hat-tip to the Bat-legacy on her part, considering her history within it, but they’re not what makes her formidable. No. All you’ll ever need to know about this crime-smasher can be found in the eyes.
Middleton’s expressions are peerless, though I think he may have tapped into a sixth-dimensional groove in his variant for Batgirl #30. He captures Barbara in the midst of a rooftop dance: dodging bullets, perhaps, hurling batarangs, maybe, stopping everyone dead in their tracks, absolutely. Middleton widens the domino mask on Babs face to make room for the vast, viridescent reservoirs of determination on her face. She’s doing the math, you can see it, the amount of time and strength it will take to disarm you, the latest malcontent to cross her path, from whatever you choose to defend yourself with. Those rose-petal blushes at her cheeks? Exertion. From kicking your ass in this sub-arctic Gotham winter. Her bat-belt is laden with weapons that can knock you flat, but all it takes to know you’re about to take a nap is a single glimpse of this expression coming your way.
The Terrifics #11 by Doc Shaner. (DC)
CH: We’ve seen untold Multiversities of Supermen and Batmen variations. We’ve been witness to an entire Spider-Verse. Evan “Doc” Shaner’s cover for DC’s The Terrifics #11 grants a rare glimpse of alternate reality Mister Terrifics. They’re all prone, maybe deceased, at the hands of the devious Doc Dread, but it’s still an interesting assortment. Visible are a Ms. Terrific, a Marshall Terrific, some elder Master Terrifics, a Robo Terrific, and a Bizzaro Terrific. Or maybe he’s a Zombie Terrific. There’s also a fusion of a Michael Holt attired similarly to Terry Sloane’s Golden Age Mister Terrific. Our own Michael Holt appears still in the fight, but barely.
Shaner balances the havoc with spotlight roll call portraits of the other Terrifics members, fittingly reminiscent of many 1970s Fantastic Four covers. These showcase Shaner’s talent with bold, expressive, and emotive character depictions. He captures Phantom Girl’s honest concern, Plastic Man’s mugging despite his concern, and tough guy Rex Mason’s shock regarding Michael’s plight. This cover kindles the possibility of a Terrific-Verse team within, multiple Holts to deal Dread a multitude of defeats.
The Immortal Hulk #11 by Alex Ross. (Marvel)
JJ: The ground quakes, cracks, breaks at the arrival of the Immortal Hulk! Bruce Banner has been enjoying multiple rides through The Revolving Door of Death of late, the one many of his superhero contemporaries have so often sauntered through this past generation, and his book, The Immortal Hulk, has prospered because of it. In it, you may survive an encounter with the Dread Jade Giant for one day, but no matter how deep you bury him, come nightfall, he rises — and it’s your ass.
Guess that’s why Banner finds himself in his current perditious predicament. Somebody got the idea they could get rid of the Hulk and took their shot. Looks like they buried him as deep as you go. Scanning the geography, its vertiginous spires of writhing souls tormented all the way towards oblivion, I’d have to say we’re… not anywhere around here. It’s… unpleasant, here.
The Immortal Hulk is one of the best horror comics going today, delving further and further into the more macabre elements that make the character so unique. This might explain why Alex Ross decided to zero in on the Hulk’s more Karloff-ian features. For the sheer horror of it. Ross gives Banner a heavy brow, sunken cheeks, a low-hung jaw. That’s pure Universal Horror, but his limbs — spindly yet strong, elongated punishment machines — is 100% Wrightson. The Immortal Hulk crawls into this new dominion a Frankenstein of influences, dreadful, determined, absolute.
Don’t forget to share your favorite covers from this week in the comments section below.