(Sorry I've been AWOL recently. I'm working on a big time-consuming project and frankly, even I get burnt-out writing about comics every now and then.)
Comic book covers are designed with one primary purpose in mind: to sell comic books. A cover can be a beautifully drawn masterpiece with holographic effects and 5 naked ladies - if it doesn't get somebody to stop, pick it up, and open the damn thing, the cover has not done its job.
Sometimes we forget this. After all, if you religously buy every issue of Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose **cough Chris Sims cough** then you're going to pick it up regardless of whether the cover blows or not. And when we get Tarot home and have mastur-- um, read it, we're just interested in whether the cover is pretty or not because we bought the damn thing already. But back in The Day, when comics were on spinner racks at 7-11, every cover was designed with commercial, not artistic demands in mind. It's why so many of those old Spider-Man comics from the 70s and 80s show Spider-Man getting his ass kicked or in some jeopardy. The kid browsing the racks would be all, "Holy shit! How's Spidey going to get out of this one? MUST BUY THIS!"
Which brings me to the point of this post. As I often do, I was digging through my back issues and I came across a couple of books with less than compelling covers. It was the cover to Aquaman #53 that did it for me. What about the cover to that comic would compel a casual browser to stop and pick it up? I still don't have an answer.
Take a look:
Pretty much the only thing commercially interesting about this cover is that it promises a guest appearance by Superman. Other than that... The cover asks the burning question: "Who's busier? Aquaman or Superman?" The answer: "Who gives a shit?"
Seriously, aside from the special guest star, why would anyone aside from an Aquaman completist pick this up? "Who is busier?" is not exactly what I would consider a raw, primal conflict. Let's see, Superman wakes up at 5:20, showers and shaves, grabs a bagel and catches the 6:15 train for downtown, arrives at work at 6:40, gets an Americano from the Starbucks in the Daily Planet lobby, has to wait for the damn elevator, gets to his desk at 6:50, checks his email for ten minutes before a 7:00 AM staff meeting, which he's 5 minutes late to because he has to save a drifting oil tanker off the Virginia coast... Let's see, Aquaman's tide clock wakes him at 6:30 SDT (surface dweller time), he hits snooze, wakes up at 7:00, has a breakfast of mussels and caviar while he checks the sports scores in the Tritonis Times, considers going back to bed or shaving... Yeah, Superman's busier. There, now you don't have to get that comic.
Here's a Gen13 cover that absolutely screams: "BUY THIS COMIC (and find out who wins the illegal iguana race)!" While the cover may accurately reflect the story inside, I ask you: is this a comic that demands your attention?
Again, iguana racing is not what I consider high drama. Let's ignore the fact that I actually purchased the comic, shall we?
Here's a Marvel UK comic, Death's Head II, that coasts on the old trick of just adding Wolverine or Spider-Man to a cover. Like most Marvel UK comics, Death's Head II sucked ass, so perhaps this lame cover is truth in advertising. But couldn't they have had Wolvie and 'Head actually doing something? Anything? Drinking tea? Bowling? Flying a kite together? Throw us a frickin' bone, Marvel UK - give us a reason to actually want to buy the book.
Finally, here's a continuity cocktail courtesy of crazy Roy Thomas - What If? vol 2 #36 - which poses the question that has been on fans' lips for decades: What if the Cosmic Avenger battled the Guardians of the Galaxy? Look, it's part 2 of 5. The question was so vast that it could not be contained in one, or two, or even four comics!
I gotta call bullshit on this one. The purpose of the What If? books was to explore paths not taken in familiar storylines. Some of the issues were kind of lame, sure, but at least they stuck to the central concept of the series. Asking what if the Cosmic Avenger battled the Guardians of the Galaxy is just cheating. Nobody aside from writer Roy Thomas knows or even cares who the Cosmic Avengers are. I can't imagine this thing was flying off the shelves.