by Stefania Rudd, Arpad Okay, Brendan HodgdonMickey Rivera, and Jarrod Jones. Undercover is our opportunity to lovingly gaze upon gorgeous works from magnificent artists. From Dilraj Mann’s vertigo-inducing ‘Eve Stranger’ variant to Vanesa Del Rey’s eldritch ‘Empty Man’ cover, here’s what we’re loving this week.

Undercover: Dilraj Mann takes Black Crown to new heights with his 'Eve Stranger' variant

Eve Stranger #1 by Dilraj Mann. (Black Crown/IDW Publishing)

AOK: It isn’t the flip of the hair or the angle of the earring, it’s the shoelaces whipping against a leg that shows you the speed at which Eve Stranger plummets through the sky towards midtown. At dusk, the buildings below are colored blueberry. The line of horizon tips back forty-five degrees.

The lines Dilraj Mann lays down are the spare, thin contours normally synonymous with European style. Long, arching curves and extra attention to the seams and folds in clothing. Empty space on the person, busy work on the setting; a marble statue in the acropolis.

What I feel looking at this cover, however, are the modern indie masters instead of the aged Mediterranean. Witness the Chris Ware tenderness given to all those buildings. This is Life Magazine’s Rena Titañon cover story, the New Yorker gone punk. Genre-smashing Hawkguy vibes. Mann promises Eve Stranger is the coolest when there’s trouble.

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Shazam! #5 by Rafael Albuquerque. (DC)

BFH: With books like American Vampire and A Study in Emerald looming large in his portfolio, it’s sometimes easy to forget how effective Rafael Albuquerque can be in crafting images of earnestness, innocence and wonder. This skill was best put to work in Huck, his collaboration with Mark Millar, but now Albuquerque has scratched that itch once again with this touching, resonant cover for Shazam! #5.

The scene at hand, of a child huddled in a blanket fort regaling himself with fantastical illustrated adventures, is one to which many a reader can relate. That the child in this case is Billy Batson, in the guise of the World’s Mightiest Mortal no less, gives this moment an added level of comedic friction. But it’s not just in seeing this powerful hero in such a childish setting that this cover speaks to the core dynamic of Shazam. Rather, it’s in the eye-catching glow of Shazam’s logo as it illuminates its bearer in the midst of his adolescent respite. In this moment, that glow doesn’t just speak to Shazam’s power but also feels like a representation of Billy’s imagination, powered by the comic in his hands and illuminating the darkness around him.

In this, Albuquerque both emphasizes the earnest belief that makes Billy a hero and also pays homage to the inspiring power of the comic books that star him. The passion and altruism that comics can inspire, especially in children, are what make them so great, and here Albuquerque drives home how that inspiration can turn any of us into heroes.

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Marvels Annotated #3 by Gabriele Dell’otto. (Marvel)

JJ: We’ve all had to go see the boss at one point or another. It’s a stupefying feeling. Stop what you’re doing, mentally prepare yourself for the worst, vainly hope for the best. The boss holds all the cards in moments like these; they can and will dictate the trajectory of your life. When you’re staring up at your boss as they tell you how things are gonna go, how you need to clean out your desk or locker or simply vacate the premises by 5pm, you discover the measure of your tolerance for structures. In moments like these, you find out how well you’ll contend with the Powers That Be messing with your shit. Bosses suck, but they are not the end-all. It’s important to remember that you are ever in control of your own destiny.

It’s a feeling we’ve all known. It’s relatable. In the best stories we find catharsis by watching someone else go through the things that have affected us in life. 25 years ago Marvels put the perspective of the Marvel universe on street level, made incredible things relatable to new readers and Marvel zombies alike, turned the fantastic into the conceivable. Gabriele Dell’otto didn’t forget, but he did twist the original Busiek/Ross concept some for his variant to Marvels Annotated #3.

Here it isn’t Phil Sheldon looking up at the dread Galactus through a telephoto lens, his jaw permanently on the ground as the otherworldly confrontation gets heated. No, this time we perceive the Devourer of Worlds from the perspective of the Silver Surfer, and things are looking rather grim. Norrin Radd appears to be in the market for a new gig, his boss clearly having given him his walking papers. So what’s next?

Perhaps a step up from being a “herald of doom” to becoming a “doom-bringer” himself. Dell’otto’s variant is the cosmic equivalent of being called into the boss’ office, not accepting the terms of your termination, flipping over the desk and declaring with an authority you never knew you had: “Take this job and shove it.” Look at that glowing fist. The Surfer means it. Ah, catharsis.

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Red Sonja & Vampirella Meet Betty & Veronica #1 by Francesco Francavilla. (Dynamite)

SR: The concept of this one-shot collaboration between Dynamite Entertainment and Archie Comics is very much a “You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!”/”You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” scenario, combining characters who are known for their decadence along with those who have always been perceived as sweet. 

However, in Francesco Francavilla’s variant for Red Sonja & Vampirella Meet Betty & Veronica #1, he gives every lady involved the same visual treatment: Strength. Keeping the cover simple with a showcase of each character in portrait, Francavilla swirls blood red fanged skulls and winged demons behind them. No stranger to horror, the artist uses his distinctive style to heighten the mood, and gives us a taste of the type of story we’ll read on the pages.

As each woman gazes upon you with varying levels of assurance and skepticism, you know that whatever menace terrorizes Riverdale has no chance of succeeding with these four leading the charge to bring it down.

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The Empty Man #7 by Vanesa Del Rey. (BOOM! Studios)

MR: You want to feel at home in that station wagon. Everything around it has gone to shit. Sitting there among the bones and entrails it screams out at you, telling desperate stories of cross-country adventures, family outings, picnics, nuclear families, cheap gas, paved roads… a world that still makes sense. The bloody handprint on the rear windshield dampens your hopes.

This is about more than just a wrong turn. This is about more than society collapsing into chaos. The cover to The Empty Man #7 is about complete alienation from everything you know to be normal. The horrible creatures that rule over this place left that car there to remind you just how alone you are.

If this cover had a soundtrack it would be a wet static drone, the amplified and distorted gurgle of meat being pushed through a grinder, the slow crunch of bones being shredded. Artist Vanesa Del Rey’s hazy, sickly red hell-scape suggests painful bodily exposure, a body that’s been splayed open and stretched across the land. Yet there’s no decomposition, no desiccation. Everything is moist, warm, and utterly nauseating.  

Don’t forget to share your favorite covers from this week in the comments section below!

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