THIS INSTALLMENT OF UNDERCOVER CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ‘BATMAN’ #50.
By Arpad Okay, Clyde Hall, Brendan F. Hodgdon, Sara Mitchell, Jami Jones and Jarrod Jones. Undercover is our opportunity to lovingly gaze upon gorgeous works from magnificent artists. From Alex Ross’ salute-worthy ‘Captain America’ #1 to Marguerite Sauvage’s variant for the finale of ‘Assassinistas’, here’s what we’re loving this week.
Star Wars #50 by Travis Charest. (Marvel)
JamiJ: Like many people born in the 1980s Leia Organa was my idol: she was a powerful leader who refused to accept subjugation; she was smart, capable and beautiful; and she stood out amongst the most powerful beings in the universe. I looked up to her as the woman I wanted to be, and I think anyone looking at this cover to Star Wars #50 will understand why.
Here stands Leia, a figure draped in blue, serene, turned in profile holding her blaster. Her dress is reminiscent of the ceremony at the end of A New Hope, but her cloak tells a story of stolen dreams and hope.
Leia was introduced to us as a diplomat smuggling stolen plans so it’s appropriate that her clothing fades into ship designs. Vader’s TIE Fighter, an X-Wing, and an Imperial Star Destroyer, they all float in a field of stars with lines tracing through them, a map to some unknown destination. Artist Travis Charest made a bold choice for this cover by pluralizing the color scheme. While the expanse of space is black humans have always romanticized the optimism of blue. Here, both fit. The cover to Star Wars #50 is a study of elegance and poise during wartime.
Catwoman #1 by Joëlle Jones. (DC)
SM: Catwoman has made some bold decisions this week.
We find her perched upon her dresser, the evidence in her hand. The champagne is popped, but the glass is spilt. She exudes glamour and girlishness, yet her catsuit hangs by the bed. She’s alone, except surrounded by cats. The decor screams “doll’s house” and “morning after” all at the same time. She’s sitting in her wedding dress, disheveled yet confident, after a wedding that—SPOILERS—never happened. There’s tension in the aftermath, in her surroundings, but not a trace of it on her face.
It’s a portrait of a woman who completely owns her decisions, along with the subsequent pain and chaos. Yet she yet still seems to say to us, “Welcome to my story, I know you want a picture. And yeah, it’s going to be stunning.”
Captain America #1 by Alex Ross (Marvel)
BFH: The only thing that’s as fitting as Alex Ross drawing Captain America is a new Captain America series released on the 4th of July. The fact that we’re getting both at the same time feels like a particularly satisfying alignment of the stars.
Ross’ austere, mythic style is perfectly suited for a character like Steve Rogers, a regular guy who is (usually) a walking avatar of American altruism. On the right, he captures the lantern-jawed determination of Cap juxtaposed with a panorama of WW2 military might, in a manner fit for a Smithsonian portrait gallery. But on the left, Ross also captures the frantic energy of a superhero brawl with the same conviction, as Cap leaps ahead of his allies into a villainous scrum below.
The larger-than-life tangibility of Alex Ross’ art conveys the history and resonance of Captain America as a character, a series, and an idea. It’s an exemplary cover for such a significant series, one that I’m sure will be matched by Coates & Yu’s storytelling within.
Assassinistas #6 by Marguerite Sauvage. (Black Crown/IDW Publishing)
JJ: “Aunt Charlotte has never looked like she could kill someone,” dear sweet Dominic Price said to his mother, Octavia, in Assassinistas #2. Octavia, codename “Red October”, knows better. “Yeah,” she says, “that’s kind of her M.O.”
Charlotte “Scarlet” Calvert graces the final variant cover to Black Crown’s Assassinistas, just as lethal as she is with child—which is to say, very. In Assassinistas, Charlotte’s a retired killer-for-hire but more than that she is a mother, and her first-born has been snatched away by an assailant whose identity I will not reveal here. (Go read the series if you haven’t already. It slays.) Charlotte’s been furious. She’s been patient. Now, Scarlet’s in charge.
Marguerite Sauvage knows where to put the story in her cover work. Here the details are expertly placed for maximum impact, as direct as the target behind the subject of this piece. Check the list: A look of grim determination; a big fuck-you gun, a t-shirt that goes full Ransom: “BRING BACK MY SON.” Don’t mistake Charlotte’s innate sweetness for softness. She will kill you and the army behind you to make sure her family is safe.
Quantum Age: From the World of Black Hammer #1 by Christian Ward. (Dark Horse Comics)
AOK: Get out the jeweler’s loupe for this Christian Ward variant of the new Black Hammer splinter. There’s phrenology, not the Roots record, but a star chart, a beautiful, subtle touch. A grand idea. Pan down from space and you’ve got skyline, cityscape, a world of details floating in and out of purple smoke. Are those raindrops? Is that a starlight twinkle or one of the largest suspended-arch bridges in the world? They are all ants, larger than the map of constellations, smaller than the stormy planet above it all. The stars, the planets, the players, they are hung on your signature Ward tie-dye wall tapestry.
Oh yeah, and the Martian. Unmuddled, the magenta man from red planet stands. Love those little antennae. Love the anti-gravity drip of azure eye. The tangerine trainer. There is a lot going on, both broad and tiny. Ward stays fresh. Ward weaves magic. Ward rules.
Captain America #1 by David Mack. (Marvel)
CH: Marvel Comics may not have the most attention-grabbing or notorious July 4th release on tap, but props to them on having the most appropriate with Captain America #1. Additional props for this David Mack variant. The star-spangled parade of prodigious cover talent for the inaugural issue is long, with many of the keynote illustrators steeping their work in the proud, patriotic, and action-filled heritage of Cap. Nothing wrong with that.
Mack’s approach is minimalistic but also quietly, reverently, redolent. The latter is a hallmark of his aptitude with cover illustrations. They always kindle emotion, but Mack uses a variety of tinder to fuel that spark, and his reliance here on basic black, white, and red outline exposes the heart of the composition with no distraction.
His silhouetted Captain America could be almost anyone who has upheld that honorific, not just Steve Rogers, though the reverse-color profile below recognizes the original soldier who volunteered for a secret government project and became America’s super soldier. Or it may recognize all the soldiers who served in the Marvel version of World War II, and their esteem for the good Captain. One of this cover’s strengths lies there; in many ways, it is open to the viewer’s interpretation. Fittingly, Mack’s cover isn’t about the heroic exploits, it’s about what the ideal of Captain America represents. In its nearly monochromatic way, it reflects on the one remarkable individual we can count on for conscience. The hero who foregoes what’s safe, expedient, tidy, and sometimes even legal when the law is wrong, to do what’s right.
This is a Captain America that transcends political ideologies or mere nationalism just as Mack shows him transcending the era of his creation, still setting the standard for ethical fearlessness in the hot-button world of today. He has been and continues to be an archetype for the better people we aspire to become. And if anyone doubts the power this mythic character retains, refer to the recent past for the overwhelming reaction to a pretender Cap spouting vitriol.
Captain America exists in each of us. He’s not the strongest superhero, but he’s the one who won’t quit even when hope’s gone extinct. He’s kind, but he’s not weak. He’s the person who carries a weapon of defense rather than one designed to kill because he values life, even that of his enemies. He’s an action hero, yes, but he’s much more. In Mack’s cover, Captain America is a symbol of what we hope to be, no matter how short we may fall: A decent human being.
Don’t forget to share your favorite covers from this week in the comments section below. Best response wins a pack of DoomRocket stickers!