by Arpad Okay, Clyde Hall, Lauren Fernandes, Sara Mitchell, Kate Kowalski, and Jarrod Jones. Undercover is our opportunity to lovingly gaze upon gorgeous works from magnificent artists. From Rafael Grampá’s devastating DC offerings to Kris Anka’s formidible front to ‘Faithless II’, these are our picks for April’s best covers.
Which, we know, some may not be available this month due to the pandemic. But we saw them, we liked them, we wrote about them.
‘Wonder Woman’ #754 by Rafael Grampá. (DC)
JJ: I’ve been enjoying Rafael Grampá’s quiet takeover of DC over this past year. He acquitted himself astoundingly with his Frank Miller collaboration, The Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child, hands-down the best Miller offering in ages, due in no small part to what Grampá brought to that story and to the DC Universe overall. His friendly dalliance with the publisher continues with a slate of variant covers this month, one for Wonder Woman and one for The Flash (which Sara will tell you all about further down this column). Both are stunning.
So what do we have here. Grampá’s variant for Wonder Woman #754? It’s but a piece taken from an ancient fresco, once laid on Themysciran tile to mark a grim, glorious day of battle just before it began. There’s a mood that we tap into by merely looking at it. We’re transported by it.
Motionless atop a muddy hill at dusk, she waits. The swords are drawn, stained from the morning’s carnage. The assaults have come, frequent, brutal, nothing an army of plated Amazons can’t handle. So far.
Diana, their warrior princess, scans the darkening east. Themyscira’s colors flap behind her, red like the blood that will soon stain this soil is red. Grampá sets the pearled towers of the island’s monuments north, distant yet near enough to remind Diana and her army what they’re here to fight for. Her gaze has stilled in the pre-war gloom, but you feel the thunder in her heart. It will begin soon.
‘Red Sonja’ #15 by Jae Lee & June Chung. (Dynamite)
AOK: Jae Lee brings you to the Museum of Fine Arts with superhero work, every time. I would gladly stroll though its wings in the 1990s, drawings with the anatomy of someone who studies the body, the poses of one who studies dance, as savage and horny and beautiful as the mode. But the art of making comics moves forward, even for its perennial characters, and Lee has traversed time with Red Sonja from Florence to Paris. This cover is distinctly an art deco composition, a body held and staged like a statue but given the life and flesh of a woman, and a pattern on armor equally pitch-perfect.
June Chung’s color detailing is magnificent, and against the choice to use totally flat reds and black, it seems impossible that its depth doesn’t clash. Yet Chung is the gold paint on the mural of the saints that flies from the wall when touched by the sun. Red Sonja isn’t a pin up—it’s a tarot card, summoning ancient forms, reviving old magic.
‘Angel & Spike’ #10 by Dan Panosian. (BOOM! Studios)
KK: Former enemies Angel and Spike seem to cross paths over and over, typically in orbit around star slayer and wavering love interest, Buffy. Seeing them hurdle forward together without the pull and push of their sun accentuates the yin and yang nature they embody in each other’s company.
Dan Panosian creates a portrait of duality in this city-lit car zooming down Hollywood Boulevard. Typically dark and brooding Angel drives, shadow cast over his serious face, tightly gripping the steering wheel. Spike—illuminated, laughing—kicks back and enjoys the ride. This character study really tells you what you need to know regarding these vamps, particularly how they behave in the face of looming demonic doom.
The graphic pop art style (defined in this cover by the usage of Ben Day dots), paired with the sharply contrasting color palette, evokes a retro Americana feel with a neo-noir twist. This vibe matches many of Angel’s Los Angeles adventures where he acts as hardboiled sleuth, rooting out hellish creatures behind convoluted plots and cover-ups. The addition of Spike as sidekick is sure to kick things up a notch, as this much more devilish counterpart is wont to do.
In a car with Angel as the driver and Spike riding shotgun, the trip is sure to be interesting, perhaps even deadly—but delightfully so.
‘Death to the Army of Darkness’ #2 by Ben Oliver. (Dynamite)
CH: “Hey, kids! Don’t be like those other primitive screwheads living on your block! Be the King! Now you can, because Ben Oliver’s variant virgin cover for Death to the Army of Darkness #2 belongs on the back of your favorite breakfast cereal, Necronom-Nom-Nummies! It’s a cut-out premium that’s guaranteed to make you feel like the fanciest of Mr. Fancy Pantses!”
It’s also appropriate, thanks to some literally soul-shattering moments in the first issue. Ash Williams isn’t quite himself. He’s multiple selves, and several of them have donned their Ash masks: Dogs, imps and broken chainsaws all have some potent Chosen One mojo spliced into their DNA.
Oliver’s Ash portrait is reminiscent of the Kellogg C-3PO’s cereal box masks of 1984 and in all the right ways. With it, he ranks alongside the unknown artist of the Kellogg’s premium and other talents such as James Bama, Bob Larkin and Basil Gogos. These artists supplied very realistic renderings for covers and box art on material considered merely ‘kid stuff’. Pap. Drivel. Or the combo equivalent, privel.
Show your appreciation. If you ordered this rare virgin variant, make certain you rip that front cover off, cut carefully around the edges, add a nylon string and become your own version of Ash Williams. Second thought, given its $50 price tag, maybe better to scan that sucker into your computer, print a copy, then hack it into your Ash mask. Either way, it will ensure your Groovy status. Maybe even get you some sugar, baby.
‘Jim Henson’s Storyteller: Ghosts’ #2 by Michael Walsh. (Archaia/BOOM! Studios)
LF: Simplicity should never be underrated for either its beauty or its ability to communicate. This is a truth Michael Walsh masterfully plays with on this Storyteller variant. There’s a lot to love here. The framing silhouette of scraggly, spooky trees holds the image of moon and a woman’s face and spine like a chalice—the only acceptable occult symbol to tie into a cover that just radiates black magic.
Her hair, wild and witchy in the wind, looks like ethereal tentacles seeking purpose. The blue flames orbiting her spine, her heart, and her dripping guts casts the quintessential campfire scary story onto her face. I half expect to see a group of children sitting on sleeping bags, gathered around her and roasting marshmallows, daring one another to tell the scariest story. All testing their mettle to see how far their bravery will take them.
She is beautiful, captivating in the otherworldly glow of the flame. She has also done something terribly, terribly wrong. She went too far. Walsh leaves space in the cover for us. You can almost imagine disembodied hands, either reaching toward you and grasping for help, or reaching up to the sky, calling her magic, reveling in her fate.
‘Blackwood: The Mourning After’ #3 by Peach Momoko. (Dark Horse Comics)
SM: A young girl at the center of her altar. She knows what she wants, she knows how to get it, and she’s prepared to step into the unknown. I’ve been told before that a girl with a mind of her own is the world’s greatest threat, and I believe it when I look into these sad, steady eyes. She’s as delicate as watercolor being pulled across canvas. As steady as the hand that pushes pins through the neck of a dead crow. Even the butterflies feel her power and flee. She is methodical chaos. She is death awakening. She can do anything in the world—after all, she is a young girl.
‘Vampirella/Red Sonja’ #8 by Leonardo Romero. (Dynamite)
CH: The Daughter of Drakulon isn’t in evidence here, but Sonja’s exploring her homeworld without her. It appears the Unwelcome Committee has taken it on themselves to greet the Hyrkanian hellcat, a decision they probably won’t have time to regret. Especially since artist Leonardo Romero’s Sonja shares the signature She-Deviltry of Frank Thorne’s classic interpretation. Romero’s renders of the chainmail bikini, Sonja’s withering expression, and her ample… eyes, fixed in a glare of lethal defiance, all strike a strong Thorne chord.
One step further, Romero’s cover also kindles memories of Elfquest artist, co-writer and co-creator Wendy Pini’s portrayal of Sonja alongside Thorne for conventions in the Wizard and Red Sonja performances. Until more recent versions of Red Sonja appeared through cosplay, the image of Pini bringing Thorne’s vision alive was the basis of my memory palace’s She-Devil Drawing Room. Romer’s cover Sonja captures much of Pini’s statuesque strength and beauty.
He also uses the ‘reflection of the unseen threat’ device well for his imaging. Nothing says saucy, violent barbarian swordswoman like having her show you your ‘Before’ appearance prior to shaping your posthumous ‘After’ with the keen edge of her ‘mirror’.
‘Catwoman 80th Anniversary Special’ #1 by Joëlle Jones. (DC)
JJ: Joëlle Jones doesn’t slay. She decimates. Leaves all who view her craft lying flat on the ground, pondering every moment of their lives and how every single one of them led to this one staggering instant, where their eyes chanced to see the newest Jones piece and now all they have left is the quest to seek out the next. As for her work on Catwoman, Jones has accomplished a character-defining run that has already cozied up to the works of the greatest in the comics field. All that’s left is to indulge in a victory vamp, and Jones’ rendition of Selina doesn’t disappoint.
Electricity. Vinyl. Selina slips into both and appears euphoric in the doing. Smoke surrounds her jade eyes, broadcasting daggers to those who dare meet her gaze. Entranced? Good. Now make sure your wallet’s still there, champ.
Jones’ version of vinyl is an oil slick pouring over shapes of onyx. Perfect for a slinky cat burglar who shares no equal. No matter where you store your wares—the Musée du Louvre, Fort Knox, some deep subterranean lair or some nosebleed-inducing penthouse guarded by a dragon—Selina Kyle will slip in and out with your wealth before your lawyers realize just how destitute you’ve become. Worse still, she’ll have also absconded with your heart. You’re not getting any of it back.
‘The Flash’ #754 by Rafael Grampá. (DC)
SM: My initial reaction to this Rafael Grampá portrait was a little fiery. We get it, Flash, you’re running. I bet your sourdough starter is doing great, too. I’ve just seen so many people showing us that they’re running lately. It makes me wonder where the line is drawn between doing something for yourself and doing something that you want other people to see.
After I exhaust my internal venting, however, I’m finally able to take in this stunningly raw portrayal of a hero. This isn’t something we’re supposed to marvel at, or be impressed by. It’s a private moment that Barry Allen has allowed us to witness. I think he knew that we needed to see this right now. His face is rough, his muscles aching.
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine other people’s pain, but with the slightest glance over the shoulder, in a gesture of vulnerability, Flash is just like you, maybe even just like me.
‘Marvel’ #2 by Alex Ross. (Marvel)
CH: Impossible as it sounds, differences exist regarding how much larger-than-life comic characters can be. Alex Ross’s work is proof. When the Marvels series introduced me to his work, I was impressed. When I picked up the first issue of Kingdom Come, I was as awestruck as the helpless Metropolis citizens. “And suddenly, there was a wind. Not a wind. A blur of motion, bending the steel of their weapons.” Gooseflesh.
Ross unleashing his realistic style on the human heroes of Marvel, characters like Reed Richards and Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, was only natural. They had always been fallible humans helping the world with their great powers. Ross applying the same technique to DC’s stable of altruistic demigods and icons established a different school of magic.
Ross is back in the humanizing business with his Black Widow cover for Marvel #2. Natasha Romanoff isn’t as altruistic or iconic, not a demigoddess, but she’s an excellent choice for the Ross revealing touch. While Sue fretted over domestic life, while the Wasp was written like a boy-crazy High School freshman, Widow built a red ledger of Cold War espionage in her Emma Peele leather catsuit.
But not. No, her initial style was the Don Heck fishnet affair seen here. Never a favorite look for me, but one Marvel insisted on throughout the 1960s when Carnaby Square should have relegated it to the ‘quaint’ bin. Yet, Ross makes it work with a backdrop of impressive era logos viewed through her sheer raven cloak.
He makes Natasha a woman reveling in the power of the mask. Her expression belies joy in the latitude of her secret operative status. Here’s the Widow who, in pre-S.H.I.E.L.D. days, extracted information once from an Avengers captive simply by reminding him she wasn’t bound by their morals. He could answer her questions, or he could die. She would accommodate. Romanoff was a strong female character before her fashion reflected it, but Ross melds that diverse combination beautifully. “Are these the eyes of one who deals in empty words?” Gooseflesh once more.
‘Faithless II’ #1 by Kris Anka. (BOOM! Studios)
LF: Oh, Faith, what have you gotten yourself into now?
Kris Anka’s variant for Faithless II is delectably on point. Equal parts horror and sex, it oozes with the best of both. The scarlet hands pawing at Faith, shredding her clothes, pulling her back, create a stark contrast to the life she exudes through it all. The blood red of her lips set into her pale face draw you to her eyes. Pupils dilated, lips parted, head delicately tilted back with those scarlet fingers on her throat. The pinky on the hand that grasps Faith’s neck extends out, almost delicately, across her collar bone. It’s such a sweet, beautiful detail that lends an almost gentle, maybe even tender element to the action.
Anka makes it easy to imagine the sweat-slicked skin, every breath, every sigh as Faith is pulled in. It’s easy to smell the brimstone. You can almost taste the salt and the blood as Faith reaches for her power, releases, and lets go of everything else.
Don’t forget to share your favorite covers, from this month, from any month, in the comments section below!