by Clyde HallLauren Fernandes and Sara Mitchell. Undercover is our opportunity to lovingly gaze upon gorgeous works from magnificent artists. From Joe Quinones’ downright Rockwellian ‘Dial H for Hero’ to the tangle of desire and hunger on Maria Llovet’s ‘Heartbeat’, these are our picks for January’s best covers.

This month's covers highlighted by sinister offerings from Jones, Jabłoński, Llovet

Dial H for Hero #10 by Joe Quinones. (Wonder Comics/DC)

CH: Joe Quinones made my short list of Best Comic Book Artists for 2019 due primarily to his work on Dial H for Hero. His ability to channel the styles of other artists and entire comic book eras for the series’ dialed-up heroes earned his spot. But Quinones also brought into this title whimsical styling and an ability to inject youthful joy. These characters are teens, one of them a habitual runaway. They’re afflicted by the usual uncertainties of those years.

But Quinones makes moments such as the one on this cover work. Yes, even uncertain teen years have moments of reckless, boundless joy between friends. These photo frames are a real-life feature in Metropolis, IL. They get a working-over during the annual Superman Celebrations there, and I’ve seen many people the age of Miguel and Summer posing in them. Those real teenagers display the same spirit of unrestrained happiness mugging in the framed poses.

Quinones’ eye for detail prevails on the cut-out renditions of painted Superman and 1970s Supergirl uniforms, too. Even his Krypto is appropriate. More family pet mode, less super-dog persona. Good dog.

Lois Lane #7 by Yasmine Putri. (DC)

LF: Lois Lane has never been a wimpy background character. Every little bit Clark Kent’s intellectual equal, she’s stepped up as a journalist, as a partner, as a mother, as a wife, as her own protagonist and leading lady. In Yasmine Putri’s variant cover for Lois Lane #7, we see her in action. Stepping up, and stepping out.

In the classic superhero-shirt-removal stance, she is all power. And her symbol? The press badge, caught on the wind as it dangles from her lanyard. Putri has put tension and energy into Lois’s pose. She leans forward and we see just a snippet of her intention, her action. Lois is all dynamism against the static Daily Planet logo, with the almost sketch-like quality of Putri’s lines adding a vehemence to her energy.

Lois Lane is as she always is: determined, focused, unstoppable.

Daphne Byrne #1 by Piotr Jabłoński. (Hill House Comics/DC)

CH: The DC Black Label gets another entry via Joe Hill’s Hill House Comics, and artist Piotr Jabłoński applies his skills reworking a character created by Hill’s father: The eerie entity looming behind young Daphne is a ringer for Reggie Nadler’s Barlow, the vampire character in the 1979 television adaptation of Salem’s Lot.

It’s a not-so-subtle nod to a quaintly subdued debut. There’s more nuance than ghastliness inside, while Jabłoński treats us to sinister dreamery delivered with tactile layers. Crinkling like a shifted shroud, ‘Brother’ manifests shadowy limbs to literally grip Daphne. The cover becomes a parallel to the gripping dread set to befall Daphne and her household.

In contrast are nightfallen fields, the dark dress balanced against textured surfaces. Gently framing the lace collar while also exposing and enhancing its pattern. These contrasts finally come to a conjoined roost; two very different beings sharing a soul. One an insightful and intelligent young woman. The other, a vile and scheming Thing at crossed purposes and dueling for dominance.

Catwoman #19 by Joëlle Jones. (DC)

LF: In this piece, Joëlle Jones builds from the literal ground up. The bottom of the image is grounded in the heavy Gotham skyline, outlined in a glaze of teal that mimics the night lights of the cityscape. Moving upwards, Jones continues with our anti-hero, Selina Kyle, dressed in all of her sultry, confident Catwoman glory. Selina is selling the ‘tude in every line, from her perfect dark eyeshadow down to her very last claw. 

Moving upward, Jones creates a pillar of visual creepiness that continues dead center. Raina Creel’s skull-like face lurks in the background, fingertips meeting introspectively, a stance offset by the screeching naked cats to her right. The whole pillar of Raina’s image is surrounded by a lush, flowing cascade of fuschia blooms, falling and wilting down around Gotham. 

Through all of this, Selena has no fear. Why should she? She has her city, her skill, and all of her facial features.

Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy #2 by James Harren. (Dark Horse Comics)

SM: As both protector and destroyer, Skulldiger confronts us with the duality of his presence. Hidden in the darkness of the city’s underbelly he acts as a haven from danger while being the danger itself. Through either virtue or villainy, he’s made Skeleton Boy strong; as durable as the iron scaffolding they lurk behind.

James Harren offers us the colors of dried blood and bruises trying to heal. A palette of violence that these characters have used to render themselves. An image painted in the price that Skeleton Boy has had to pay for his costume, for his name, for his place alongside Skulldigger.

You should be terrified if these are the faceless men staring back at you. You should run.

Flash Forward #5 by Evan “Doc” Shaner. (DC)

CH: It’s endearing when an artist captures our frustrations and uses those negative emotions to propel a title. Shaner’s covers for Flash Forward could be tapping our bane. He’s given us Wally West adrift in the uncaring cosmic wilderness. Hunted by warped and twisted versions of DC’s trinity alongside fellow ‘junior partner’ graduate Arsenal. Crashing through shattered panes of his heroic continuity. For Wally fans, Shaner is on point. 

His mastery continues on issue #5, wherein Wally’s strapped to a runaway reality recliner, mind and memories bled into a trippy cloud of consciousness. Post-Heroes in Crisis, this character probably identifies with each of these illustrations. Readers who found his tenure as the Flash enjoyable, who felt Wally lived up to the ideals of his mentor and upheld the legacy, certainly identify. 

The spattered energy effect is used well here, as is the application of static lines from the eyes. It would have been typical to use lightning, but Shaner chose something shinier and more dramatic. This is a Flash seeing reality and his part in it from an expanded perspective. Mind wide open, taking in multiple universes, then acting across each of them. Every time, it’s proof that Wally West is first and foremost a hero. For a series serving as a six-issue apology to Wally fans, these covers aren’t just exciting. They’re appropriate.

This month's covers highlighted by sinister offerings from Jones, Jabłoński, Llovet

Heartbeat #3 Maria Llovet cover (BOOM! Studios)

CH: It’s a tangled transfusion tube we weave when first we practice clinical vampirism. The series, written by artist Maria Llovet as well, doesn’t blame infernal imps or other supernatural provocateurs for the badness being done unto others. The humans in this cast, including protagonist Eva, do badisms on their own and for their own unsavory but understandable purposes.  

Llovet substitutes many hungers for another. The hunger for love, the longing for acceptance, become wrapped and warped into a hunger for human blood. Her cover to Heartbeat #3 illustrates the tangled lives of the main characters, especially Eva, the girl without funds. The girl whose Mom cleans the houses of the affluent families, their children now her begrudging, aloof classmates at a private school. 

There’re the random flowerings of bliss along the messy furrows, a box cutter scalpel, discarded trappings of status and privilege, a display of warm flesh, and there’s blood. Blood to go with frustrated tears and nervous sweat.

Crowning the depiction is sadness contained in those beautiful Llovet eyes, the same sorrowful searching I found in her determined pathos and societal fixations of Black Mask Studio’s There’s Nothing There with writer Patrick Kindlon. But this is Llovet’s story, told from her mind’s eye perspective. This cover gives an Eva trapped by her own desires, made helpless by their realization as if akimbo bound and at the mercy of her dark liberator, Donatien.

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

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