By Molly Jane Kremer, Arpad Okay, Clyde Hall, Mickey Rivera, and Jarrod Jones. 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.
Keep reading all the way to the bottom of this piece to learn how to score free DoomRocket stickers!
Action Comics #995, by Dustin Nguyen. (DC Comics)
CH: On its release, Back to the Future was lauded for making time travel entertaining to mainstream audiences. Three decades later, increasingly more series and films center on the concept while comic books, harbingers of chronal adventure long before BTTF, continue exploring the timescapes.
Booster Gold and Superman’s journey to Krypton’s past in Action Comics #995 is elevated with a striking variant cover by Dustin Nguyen. Strikingly different than the Dan Jurgens cover, because while his is a fine, solid work, Nguyen’s gentle, placid watercolors wash over our heroes like fading echoes of shifting alternate realities. The vertical fading-to-white lines across the piece enhance the effect of a moment losing temporal integrity, turning increasingly more ethereal. Superman quietly accepts that any version of events will not be to his liking, while Booster rails out of concern for his own 25th Century.
It’s spellbinding in its subtlety, evoking less Looper and more Safety Is Not Guaranteed. The emotional impact of tampering with time is on display, hope evaporating alongside deed simultaneously. The details, not the epic adventure, strike the chords in a symphony where Nguyen is maestro.
Sleepless #2, by Leila Del Duca and Alissa Sallah. (Image Comics)
MJ: Only on its second issue, Sleepless is already a fantasy both lushly illustrated and told, full of intrigue reminiscent of Game of Thrones (without HBO’s unnecessary yet pervasive gore and nudity). Leila del Duca and Alissa Sallah’s variant cover is gorgeous and joyful, featuring series’ heroine Poppy and her pet fennec fox.
Del Duca and Sallah’s attention to detail is apparent at first glance. The medieval-esque costume design is convincing, with elaborate frills and embroidery to grab the reader’s attention. Poppy’s jewelry is intricately and realistically rendered, the research invested into the character’s look obvious. And while fantasy world-building is rarely referenced visually, here even the fictional fabric of Poppy’s green dress—Mribeshi silk—is specifically mentioned in the book, as originating in the same country as her mother. Sleepless #2’s variant combines glamour with virtuosity for a lavish introduction to its realm.
The Archies #4, by Mike and Laura Allred. (Archie Comics)
AOK: The Archies and the Monkees are a match made in heaven. Heck, they’re pretty much the same thing anyway, being sugary cartoon bands with amazing ghost writers. Mike Nesmith and Jughead, sweetheart grousers, each with their own signature silly hats. This crossover was decades overdue, made perfect by the Allreds.
Mike and Laura trap the Monkees of the past in amber, positively vivid. You can hear them belting out “She!” And then the Archies, looking like their cool modern selves. Betty and Veronica may be a bit retro, but those skinny jeans and spiky haircut boys are dead giveaways we’re seeing the Archies of today.
Pièce de résistance is they’re all floating in an asteroid field. Archies and Monkees fever was peaking in time with the Space Race, and choosing the cosmos as their communal playground cements the vintage aesthetic with the cheeky authenticity one should eternally expect from the Allreds.
Supergirl #17, by Stanley Artgerm Lau. (DC Comics)
MR: I’d like to say I gravitate towards heroes and heroines in emotionally or morally complex situations, but I think that’s just the adult in me saying that such situations are “truer” somehow. Those of us who grew up reading superhero comics know that a simple righteous act can be just as true as all the jaw-clenched psychoanalytical soul-searching in the world.
It was the cuteness and unambiguous righteousness of this cover that drew me towards it, the way it enshrines that classic comic book simplicity of action as though Supergirl were a renaissance angel. When I saw this cover, the doom and gloom that normally shrouds my thoughts cleared away for a moment, and I remembered how I used to believe it was possible for someone to be unequivocally good. I wondered whether life was really better now that I’ve chased that possibility away.
Also, look at how fucking happy that puppy is. Adorable!
Royal City #9, by Ray Fawkes. (Image Comics)
JJ: Ray Fawkes taps into the bygone Bristol sound with his variant to Royal City #9. Jeff Lemire’s searing family drama is in the throes of its second arc, and we, the readers, are lurking in the past with him, searching for meaning. He’s calling it “Sonic Youth.” Every issue gets a variant, paying homage to the exemplars of 90s indie music. Fawkes got the Portishead cover, and it’s a perfect fit.
The iconography on display is breaking my brain. You know what that is. Dummy. A quintessential album, minimal, moody, magnificent. An arresting image, lost in a sea of deep royal blue. It’s here where Fawkes goes to work. He swaps Beth Gibbons out for a member of the Pike family. Easy. He constructs his piece around the framework of Portishead’s To Kill a Dead Man, a widescreen still of a lost short film. That’s tricky. (Trickier still is capturing Royal City‘s trademark flannel, but he did it, sneaking it into the piece when he thought no one was looking.)
Stage lights bounced around Gibbons in the original movie still. Stripped of context by the album cover, those lights captured her in ethereal, otherworldly menace. Fawkes harnesses that danger by cutting loose. Impressionistic swathes of white burst all over the frame, while Fawkes’ subject remains surrounded by a sinister aura of black. How did he pull it off? Who can say. Ray Fawkes’ variant becomes an instantly iconic cover with secrets to keep.
And that’s it! Don’t forget to share your favorite covers from this week in the comments section below — the best comment scores a free DoomRocket sticker!