by Molly Jane Kremer, Clyde Hall, Mickey Rivera, Kate Kowalski, and Jarrod Jones. Undercover is our opportunity to lovingly gaze upon gorgeous works from magnificent artists. From the vampire chimpanzees of ‘You Look Like Death’ to the hell-scorched denizens of ‘Trinity War’, these are our picks for September’s best covers.
You Look Like Death: Tales From The Umbrella Academy #1 by Leonardo Romero and Jordie Bellaire. (Dark Horse Comics)
CH: A vampiric chimpanzee with glasses and leisure suit in full fanged mode, menacing a swooning human female. It might be one of many Halloween-themed covers currently plentiful on the shelves as all things pumpkin spice, but it isn’t. It’s the Leonardo Romero & Jordie Bellaire variant cover for the first Umbrella Academy spinoff series. Since You Look Like Death centers on Klaus (aka Séance), the imagery makes more sense. Strike that—it’s no more sensical, we simply understand how all the bizarreness fits regarding the teen who talks to dead people and treats recreational drugs like a food group.
Romero & Bellaire transmit the gonzo frequency of a Klaus adventure with fanciful perfection. It’s a retro cocktail of sleazy surroundings, disco lighting, nefarious anthropomorphic Nosferatu, and cheap thrills giving way to lethal hangover. With a piece of luck, maybe even an impenetrable memory blackout for poor Klaus.
Capturing such complex bacchanalia using simple line technique is testament to this team’s artistry. Few could make a scene this surreal impersonate routine; just another day growing up with super-powered siblings, a Mom construct, and a permanent backstage pass to the afterlife. This can only be topped with a cover variant for issue #2, depicting Dr. Phineas Pogo, Vampire Killer.
Vampire: The Masquerade #2 by Aaron Campbell. (Vault Comics)
JJ: Vampires are certainly having a moment in 2020. This pleases me, and what pleases me even more is knowing that Vault Comics is leading the comic book charge for my beloved undead, those be-fanged, scandalously attractive hordes always and forever making a bee-line straight for my jugular. Bring it on.
Perhaps the most jawed-about vamp title in Vault’s coffers is Vampire: The Masquerade, the comic adaptation of White Wolf Publishing’s tabletop role-playing game. (With nothing but respect for the terrific Bleed Them Dry, Vault’s future-shocker vampire tale.) Luring potential converts to the Masquerade are the sumptuous covers by artist Aaron Campbell, whose latest for issue #2 seems deliberately constructed to freeze anybody who meets its gaze dead in their tracks. A comic shop thrall, now hellbent on its purchase.
This cover looks as though it should bear the creases and folds found on a frequently-loved vampire pulp novella, one that has no owner and is passed secretly among those devoted to the esoteric and the profane. Campbell’s style is retro-tabletop boxart, given the cosmopolitan swagger you’d often find in those early, catty, Joan Crawford talkies. We’re in the penthouse suite with this lethal artiste now, wondering what exactly she’s using for “oils” on this particular evening. The crimson from the brush screams with violent delight, a match for the drapes that just barely obscure the frantic, abstract cityscapes beyond. There was once safety out there amid all that blue, but no more. Now we’re at the mercy of our terrible and beautiful new master. Forever.
Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 by Lee Bermejo. (DC Black Label/DC)
MJ: Often when we read the grimy exploits of John Constantine the Hellblazer, we can expect to see him treading through the muck and the mire with demons of all description. “Hell” is in the comic’s title, after all. Lee Bermejo’s variant cover for Hellblazer: Rise and Fall #1 takes a left turn from those assumptions and instead depicts our intrepid Constantine associating with the loftiest of all creations, cradling a fallen angel.
The attention to detail in Bermejo’s work is always mind-boggling, most recently on display in his series of variants for Detective Comics. Here we see it in the delicate creasing and draping of John’s trench and the angel’s raiment, now dragging on the ground. We see it in the fine, almost touchable feathers of plumage drifting downward like damned snowflakes. Drifting up instead, we see it in the delicate tracings of John’s cigarette smoke, outlining a faint and fitting memento mori. We can trace the deep lines in Constantine’s worn face (visible consequences to smoking like a chimney) and see his thick workman’s fingers grasping the obligatory cigarette, held as gracefully and as casually as John holds this angel in his arms.
Bermejo’s eye for detail here is matched by his art history knowledge, and we can see an homage to Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat in the angel’s slumped posture and limp arm. More recognizable is the visual similarity to the Pietà: Constantine contemplates the angel’s corpse the way we often see classical depictions of Mary mourning her son on her lap, and Bermejo’s strict attention to the angel’s musculature and anatomy would make even perfectionist Michelangelo proud.
The barely-noticeable network of craquelure near the top of the piece reinforces the sense of aged antiquity, and the contrasting light and darkness calls to mind the shadows and illuminations of Caravaggio’s greatest works. Bermejo is a modern master; his art constantly inspiring. This cover is a revelation.
Wonder Woman 1984 #1 by Robin Eisenberg. (DC)
KK: My mother always said, “Everything comes back in style.” Perhaps vaporwave and aggressive neon hasn’t been called back to bat (unironically, of course) but this Wonder Woman’s outfit seems to hit the mark on current trends. High waisted mom jeans, a tube top, natural curly hair filled with starlight—is she the Princess of Themyscira or a Tik Tok influencer?
In all seriousness though, this cover resonated. Wonder Woman has always been a symbol of empowerment from her creation. She has become a point of identification for those who wish to see themselves save the world instead of merely being saved. Here we see her not as an almighty demigod, but an everywoman. She is comfortable, yet confident and poised. It’s easy to identify with this rendering—to see ourselves as her without the thigh high boots and impossibly chiseled arms. It can feel empowering to dress like our hero—try to feel like her for just a day, but it’s satisfying to see her dressed like us.
Billionaire Island #6 by Steve Pugh. (AHOY Comics)
MR: It’s a tale as old as Wall Street, maybe even older, yet it seems to always be fresh news. The stocks go up, the nation feels like it’s flying. The stock go down and, well… It’s a long way down from the penthouse. I appreciate the faded quality of Pugh’s cover, like these gentlemen are tumbling down from some ethereal paradise. The out-of-control stock chart is rendered as solid as a concrete sidewalk. The stately pleasure palace there in the background looks like a combination luxury cruise and casino, but also like the temple of Mammon whose priests summoned this killer stock ticker into existence in the first place.
Dark Nights: Death Metal: Trinity War #1 by Kyle Hotz. (DC)
JJ: Wherever Kyle Hotz goes, I follow, even to the scorched-earth hellscapes of DC’s Dark Multiverse. It’s a place where I imagine the piercing screams of a well-loved electric guitar bellow out of amplifiers from every possible direction, where the fires never cease, where a moment’s rest means insta-death. The Dark Multiverse is a gauntlet of fury, ill-rhythm, drums, and thrashing demon beasts, who come at you in a non-stop parade of amphetamine-fueled mayhem. May your chainsaw swing true.
Who could endure such a place? Master it? The Trinity of the DC Universe, possibly, here given blasphemous form courtesy of Hotz. The artist decks out these ageless icons with lethal raiment: chains, gauntlets, shredded t-shirts, Nth-metal knuckles and bat-fanged boots. These are the warriors of the Dark Multiverse, here to fell any monstrosity or chuckling goth clowns that might come their way with bloodthirsty abandon. Let that hill of skulls be your visual warning: Beware ye who dare cross the Trinity, lest your ass get thrashed with extreme prejudice. Woe betide those who ignore it.
Don’t forget to share your favorite covers, from this month, from any month, in the comments section below!