by Kate Kowalski, Clyde Hall and Jarrod Jones. Undercover is where DoomRocket takes a moment to gaze upon gorgeous works from magnificent artists. From Christian Ward’s cover to Aquaman: Andromeda to Alex Ross’s The Marvels #11, these are our picks for June’s coolest covers.
Aquaman: Andromeda Book One by Christian Ward. (DC Black Label/DC)
JJ: It’s a striking cover and no wonder—it’s Christian Ward’s. The English artist knows how to frame a champion, but he’s also quite adept at setting a tone. And the tone of Aquaman: Andromeda is one of horrors.
Ward’s cover to Aquaman: Andromeda Book One presents to us an Aquaman unlike any we’ve seen before, almost supernatural, a haunted king besieged by a monstrous enemy. The barnacles and algae and coral which cake his armored raiment indicate that he has been tested in various ways over a long period of time. The coldness of his gaze indicates that he’s not bested each challenge unscathed. Here, series writer Ram V and Ward are placing a different kind of trial before the King of the Seven Seas, one that might pull the hero down into heretofore undiscovered depths. He may not make it out ever again.
Ward’s telling a story with this one still image. He’s good that way. Here, the King is in trouble and he knows it. So, displaying wisdom, he calls for aid, telepathic rays emanating from his mind and stretching out for leagues. Inky-black tentacles stretch from some unseen hulk and swirl artfully around him, toying with him, getting a feel for the power of Aquaman and anticipating his inevitable resistance. Could be this beast is old, and has swallowed equally mighty foes before and many times since. It just might be that Aquaman is seconds away from meeting his match. How do you look at this cover and not instantly want to know what could possibly happen next?
Nightwing #93 by Bruno Redondo. (DC)
KK: A bright blue sky sets Bruno Redondo’s cover to Nightwing #93 apart from the usual starless dark and neon-soaked nightscapes that cloak the Bat-family. Day is breaking on our perched heroes as they sit, facing the sun, warmly illuminated. Babs and Dick are together again. Their reunion brings an inevitable wave of nostalgia. After years of nights scanning the city and doing the rounds, perhaps this is the established sunrise-watching spot. There’s a sense of routine in their comfortable stances.
As the surrounding city sits in modernity, Batgirl and Nightwing are splashed with Ben Day dots where the sunlight strikes them. Batgirl is in her old costume as her cape splays out like a thick, yellow smear, alluding to an old-fashioned logo. These retro touches certainly contribute to the sense of nostalgia anchoring this cover. The colors are gorgeous; the night melts away into cornflower blues and lilacs as a peach glow radiates from the dawn.
Backs to the receding darkness, faces forward to the bright new day—this snapshot is infused with hope and optimism. Maybe it’s possible to get back to better times, to be able to pick up right where we left off. Against the darkness and uncertainty, the sun continues to rise each day and it can certainly feel warmer alongside a familiar face.
Blood Stained Teeth #3 by Tradd Moore. (Image Comics)
JJ: The world of Blood Stained Teeth is one of seedy avarice and gross ambition where vampires rule the roost from their corporate-bought ivory towers while we humans flock below unawares. Thanks to the series’ central vamp Atticus Sloane, who’ll turn you into an immortal creature of the night for the right price, the influence of the fanged 1% is beginning to bleed over into regular life. #Fanglife is popping up on social media, for example. Even from Atticus’s plush penthouse, paid for by so many grateful human-turned vamps (referred to as “sips”), he can see that this is becoming a whole-ass problem.
Atticus is in a bind. He’s gotta kill every last human he’s ever turned, lest he become a problem that the ancient-cast vampire leadership has to solve. His precious #swag lifestyle won’t be a thing for much longer if Atticus doesn’t get this situation sorted. But Atticus is still gonna Atticus—sass and swank being his chief weapons in this fight for his life. Tradd Moore takes one look at this character and sees Atticus Sloane for what he is: a degenerate money-loving piece of scenester trash whose very presence fucks everything up. When Moore takes a crack at rendering Sloane, naturally, he amps up every aspect of the character for maximum smarm.
Tradd Moore’s variant for Blood Stained Teeth #3 not only captures the hedonistic visage of Atticus Sloane, it harnesses the neon-saturated oomph provided by series colorist by Heather Moore. The psychedelic swirls that surround our squirmy figure are the lights of the city where his prey lies in wait for their bought-and-paid-for transformation, gone chaotic through Sloane’s misdeeds and poor judgment. Boasting one beaut of a shiner and a bloodied nose, which blops down over his smirking mouth and directs our gaze to his gold fanged tooth, it’s clear that Atticus has had a rough go of it lately. Welp, he brought it on himself.
Among Sloane’s eclectic finery—gold wristwatch, garish smoking jacket, low-slung scarves, and a million necklaces—lies a string of yellowed teeth, and possibly gums as well, a horrific signifier of how much Atticus Sloane actually values human life. It’s but one more detail that gives depth and character to the lead of Blood Stained Teeth, Christian Ward and Patric Reynolds’ simmering and horrific comedy-of-torturous-errors. It’s glorious.
Action Comics Annual 2022 #1 by Francesco Francavilla. (DC)
CH: There was a time when Mongul represented to me a bargain basement Darkseid, a despot-come-lately with a weak sister Warworld instead of the Energy Pitted purgatory that composes dread Apokolips. That view was challenged by the 1985 Superman Annual #11 story, “For the Man Who Has Everything…” and it’s fitting that this year’s Action Comics annual continues the tradition.
The retro one-sheet styling of artist Francesco Francavilla sets the right backdrop for a parallel story such as this. One part an examination of the forces which forged an interstellar orphan into a mighty hero, another portion focused on experiences which hammered the Warzoon strongman into a ruthless interplanetary dictator. In the cover’s composition, Kal-El literally takes the higher road, elevating hopes of better futures with power in service of truth and justice. Mongul plies his will to rule (and his portion of the cover) by force, fragmenting the larger canvas of a greater good and bisecting it with a regime of servitude for all succumbing before his power.
It’s the way of all oppressors, and it’s what compels defiance from those who cherish freedom even when the odds stack heavily against them. In this, case, the leader of the rebellion represents the House of El well.
The Marvels #11 by Alex Ross. (Marvel)
JJ: Trade dress is a big deal for me when it comes to comic book covers. Logo design and the choice of layout are key to making a comic cover truly sing (hell, I get finicky when it comes to UPC placement), and in my estimation the only way to gauge whether or not a comics’ trade dress truly works—beyond simply looking good—is to break it.
Putting it plainly, break the reality of the cover. Strip it of its function as a selling tool in our world and turn it into an almost frightening change in the world of the comic. Alex Ross’s gorgeous cover design for Marvels likely played a small role in why the master artist scored yet another Eisner nomination this year—though, to be clear, his years-long stretch as a Marvel cover artist has been an non-stop career peak of ingenuity and boundary breaking—and I’m pleased to discover that Ross has decided to put his design to the test.
A character’s hand grips the cover at the creator roster. Another grips at the comics’ spine and the right side of the issue. These hands frame the comic and the logo then changes, in purpose and function, to become a window. Here’s where things get really heady: we now see the owners of those hands, Warbird and the peculiar Threadneedle, in the midst of what appears to be a gentle game of tug-of-war (one does not want to crease the cover, you see) as Warbird’s compatriots huddle together in the fracas. There’s *squints* Iron Man, I think, and Captain America, and Spider-Man. And let’s not forget ace fanboy Kevin Schumer, whose worried gaze meets our own and breaks the fourth wall entirely. Then Ross lines up another pair of eyes set a little deeper inside this warped vision tunnel: Kevin again, then again, and again, and again, and on and on it goes…
The image carries on in an infinite loop of funky superheroes scarcely grasping that their collective fates are literally in their hands. Gorgeous, ingenious cover.
Bonus UNDERCOVER entry from May!
Spectro #1 by Juan Doe. (AfterShock Comics)
CH: The Juan Doe work I’ve most admired came in forms of superhero covers, and many sporting seas of shadows and ebony expanses. The cover for Spectro #1, though, comes from a dark side which is more brightly lit, to upend an old TV horror anthology. The skeletal spacefarer’s life support may be inoperative, but Doe’s showcased a creepily colorful level of celebratory macabre with the remains. One that resurrects childhood nightmares of Scooby-Doo’s Spooky Space Kook. Yes, it’s a silly name. But it was still a figure of eerie unease, visual menace, and it came with a fittingly unearthly, maniacal cackle. Doe’s just upgraded a celestial spectre for the grownups we’ve become.
Between the vibrant title and Commander Calaca’s bright-eyed, baleful stare, Doe blends a palette of Fauvism with elements of calavera and ofrenda imagery. The result is a comic book wrapper direful as it is delectable, made to order for a quartet of horror tales penned by the artist himself.