It’s not the most important part of the comic you buy, most of the time it doesn’t even have anything to do with the story you are reading, yet the cover still stands alone as one of the more important aspects of a comic as it sits on the shelf. It’s only one page but it’s that first page, the hook, the sell. It’s the pledge that we offer every fan in the hopes that it will turn for them. Sometimes it works, and this can depend on what it sets out to do, and sometimes it stays the hand from investigating further. Ultimately, it’s interesting to see what covers work, and which most certainly do not.
Masters like Gil Kane and Steve Ditko are a pleasure to watch as they trap readers with their turns of phrase and quality images that pack as much as possible onto the one page to gain a reader's interest.
Looking at the work of David Finch or Rob Liefeld,I'm simply not impressed. They're some pretty posters, perhaps, but they are not what get me interested to look into the pages of a comic. When you add a tracer like Greg Land into the mix then it's completely disappointing. The cover offers us not much, or at least it certainly doesn't appeal to me.
The Homage Cover
There has been a trend more lately than in the past, especially now comics have such a dense foundation and history, for comics to feature a cover that is an homage to a previous cover. It's a tricky path to skip down because it depends on what sort of outcome you are looking for as to the effectiveness of the homage usage.
Deadpool is a character who spoofs the comic medium in general, nothing about him really should be taken all that seriously. Many of his covers will often play up expectations of famous film posters or other comic covers. I find this is generally agreeable because the use is for parody.
Deadpool is a character who talks to us readers, through the fourth wall, so he can pretty much get away with anything. Sadly, this rule has become used and abused and seems to lack the complete impact it once did.
Overall, Deadpool on an homage cover is effective and can slip past. In saying that, I usually find those covers smirk worthy but not out and out art, but even when the covers are annoying that's usually the aim.
Many times, if not most, the homage cover is simply trying to gain attention by relating to that part of your brain that deep down knows the pose and likes it and so attention is caught. It's not an artistic decision, at least not with artistic integrity set before artistic pay scales, and it is a cheap shot at milking you of your nostalgic dollars.
There is no need to see a DC character holding another dying character in their arms just because it worked on the Crisis On Infinite Earths cover with Superman and Supergirl. It's a weak piggy back and need not be applied. Nor do I need to see another Avengers related comic with the lightning background, even if they used it more as a stylistic choice than an homage. In the end it just gave us lazy covers.
It's even iffy when Buffy is suddenly lifting cars, a la Action Comics #1, though Supes himself has gone back to that well on occasion. I feel that once a cover has an homage, then it's time to put it to rest. No more, people, once is enough.
In the end, I feel there are some effective and pleasing homage covers that mean something and add something all at the same time. They are using the nostalgic image knowingly and usefully and don't mind admitting it, even as it relates to the new setting and the comic in general. In these cases, I find that it can come down to personal preference.
However, if the cover being referenced has been completely reworked to fit the new theme, like Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as several other modern comics (see left for more), did on the classic Steranko Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D cover, then it works for me. It's when you simply have the characters subbing into the place of the original that I can't really agree with it. I prefer something like what Quesada did with Daredevil by referencing the Elektra: Assassin cover but also making it something slightly new.
In saying that, the latest Punisher homage covers usually make me smile, so sometimes you never can tell. I guess if it's more the style or theme being aped then I don't so much mind because that takes some degree of talent. Subbing in one character to the iconic pose is not hard but continuing the theme certainly can be.
This can also cover general variant covers, and zombie covers specifically, but in each you need to address the artist used, the effective they want to obtain, and the individual quality of the work. One man's Sketch Variant is another man's Suydam zombification. I, for one, claim the Deadpool rules on zombie covers, same satirical intent, whereas variant covers are a beast unto themselves.
This cover hooks the reader in and does what the perfect cover should do, excites the reader to dive deeper, but also gives them a moment to explore the cover and appreciate it on its own merits as well. A cover is not to be forgotten but nor is it the showcase of the set. It should act as a conduit to the story, and be a pleasant journey on its own.
Marko Djurdjevic seems to constantly give covers that are almost pin ups except for the quality of the emotion he packs into the frame. He gives his characters something to do, and some of the time something to think about as well.
Skottie Young is another example of an artist infusing his covers with emotion. He expresses through what he depicts and the reader then gets an idea of what sort of tone to expect from the book.