By Molly Jane Kremer, Arpad OkayClyde HallBrendan F. Hodgdon, and Kaitlin Beer. Undercover is our opportunity to lovingly gaze upon gorgeous works from magnificent artists. Each week, we single out the most striking covers that grace comic book stands and gush all over them.

Barbarella #1, by Kenneth Rocafort and Annie Wu. (Dynamite)

BFH: When you consider the creative origins and initial premise of Barbarella, both of which are directly tied to unapologetic sexuality, it’s not hard to imagine modern comic book artists might succumb to their worst cheesecake-y impulses and objectify the star-hopping heroine ad nauseam. And while a couple of the many variant covers for this first issue do lean in that direction, there are thankfully some that do not, particularly these two from Kenneth Rocafort and Annie Wu.

While Rocafort does still center Barbarella and her impossibly-skintight red latex costume on his cover, he also fills the image with intricate, elegant designs (as Rocafort is usually wont to do). His cover conveys a sweeping, classical sci-fi grandeur, with the swirling cosmic trails and ornate scenery. And Barbarella herself, with her ‘70s-style hair and absurd-looking weapons, straddles the line between highlighting her beauty and her heroic strength well.

Wu, on the other hand, takes a much different approach. Instead of highlighting the crazy adventure stuff or Barbarella’s sexual nature, Wu pulls us in close. She gives us just a close-up of Barbarella’s face, ensconced in a space helmet as she floats in the void. This Barbarella is pure melancholy, isolated in the blackness of space. Wu’s approach gives us an introspective angle on our heroine, and serves as a lovely counterpoint to the other covers.

These two covers, taken together, provide a great contrast that makes me all the more interested in the book as a whole. They promise a sweeping sci-fi adventure with emotional nuance at the heart of it, and when we can say that about a reboot of a porn comic I think it’s worth noting.

Batman #36, by Clay Mann and Jordie Bellaire. (DC Comics)

Batman #36, by Clay Mann and Jordie Bellaire. (DC Comics)

MJ: Batman and Superman. The Dark Knight Detective and the Man of Tomorrow. The World’s Finest. I can’t help but get a thrill seeing these two icons together in this week’s Batman #36, the first part of the new “Superfriends” storyline. Clay Mann and Jordie Bellaire have put together one stunning image.

Bellaire ensures the Daily Planet building’s globe is suffused in a warm, sunshiney glow, surrounding the bold tones of Superman’s costume. Contrasting shadows seem to swoop down alongside Batman, as though it were about to drape our view in the black cloak of a fell beast. Mann’s composition is striking, with Batman’s caped figure bringing the eye down the page to Superman ascendant behind him. An iconic image for an iconic team.

Black Bolt #8, by Christian Ward. (Marvel Comics)

Black Bolt #8by Christian Ward. (Marvel Comics)

CH: Guillotines on comic book covers. Though not as prevalent as the Silver Age every-cover-has-a-gorilla craze, it’s been done and not just for horror or historical comics. From the Golden Age Captain Marvel, Jr. and Bulletman, to Silver Age shenanigans with DC’s Jerry Lewis, to Daredevil and The Flash in more recent years, the call occasionally goes out: “Off with their heads!

With Black Bolt, though, the guillotine puts things into perspective for a ‘superhero’ who’s also the reigning member of a royal family. Spider-Man has been the target of endless character assassination courtesy of the Daily Bugle. Some vigilantes have drawn jail time. But few masks worry that their subjects will turn to a regicidal solution to sever ties with their current head of state. (Namor, Aquaman, Dr. Doom, Geo-Force, T’Challa, Starfire, maybe a handful more?)

Christian Ward uses the device to great effect, creating a dramatic but thought-provoking composition. Just how dire is the judgment awaiting the Inhuman’s former monarch following his abdication? Or does the guilt of abandoning his people haunt him like a nobleman’s date with La Monte-à-regret? That the frame and mouton/blade is a representation of Black Bolt’s own emblem adds insult to fatality. The murder of crows gathered like an Age of Reason audience provides an additional chilling touch. It may not be an action opus, but this cover expertly piques the imagination regarding internal and external conflicts facing our hero this issue.

Rocko's Modern Life #1, by Jorge Monlongo. (BOOM! Studio)

Rocko’s Modern Life #1, by Jorge Monlongo. (BOOM! Studios/Kaboom!)

KB: Nothing like Jorge Monlongo’s amazing talent to draw new readers into what some of us see as a perfect dose of nostalgia with this cover. He manages to effortlessly achieve the feeling of watching the opening sequence to the show, where a minuscule Rocko is hounded by every aspect of his life. The detail of Rocko running from his problems onto a road that is quickly disintegrating before him is a beautiful representation of the harsh realities that were a classic fixture in Rocko’s Modern Life.

The acidic coloring, coupled with the character’s expressions, immediately give the viewers an introduction to all the personalities that are in the comic. Monlongo’s use of color and attention to detail are dizzying, which is exactly what is needed to portray a world where every experience spirals you down into the seedy underbelly of life while being lovingly, distractingly, animated for kids.

Faith’s Winter Wonderland Special #1, by Paulina Ganucheau. (Valiant)

Faith’s Winter Wonderland Special #1, by Paulina Ganucheau. (Valiant)

AOK: This Faith cover is maximum Ganucheau. The look and the colors, it’s her style finessed. She has created something special for the season that takes your holiday expectations and twists them around until they are a bow atop a present.

Loving that outfit. The coattails, the puff balls, the slippers. It’s wintery, but not bundled so much as comfortable, the fluffy sweetness of a marshmallow world. Faith’s hair is resplendent, a swirling, spectral fire burning around her head, the crown of the Ghost of Christmas Dreamt. Everything about her look projects the supernatural. She’s not flying, she’s floating, her outfit and hairdo defying gravity.

The color work is astounding. One should expect vibrancy and magic from Ganucheau. An angel, a star on a tree strung with lights, a snowy scene, and where’s the red and green? Paulina doesn’t need it. Instead we are treated to sunset pinks. Golden, glowing locks. Tannenbaums the color of cosmic jewels, blues that shift from cyan to myrtle. Each choice Ganucheau has made on this cover is the best possible one. It’s unorthodox, it’s delightful, it shows us a fresh take on the timeless spirit of the holidays.

And that’s it! Don’t forget to share your favorite covers from this week in the comments section below.