Variant Visions: A Comic Compendium One-Shot

Ed gets to grips with comic books not always living up to their stellar covers. 

Do comic book covers influence our choices when it comes to what we buy or read? Of course they do. The old, worn-out phrase may be “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but intentionally or not, it’s a habit that everyone indulges. When it comes to films, games and everyday food, the packaging is an important advertising feature, so why would books and comics be any different? With the latter, the obvious difference is that you expect the image on the front to be a much more accurate representation of the contents, be it the style of the art itself or a reference to the current storyline. More likely than not, however, the cover may just show the characters in a pose which has no overall relation to what it’s about. This means that you can look at the cover of the book and decide whether or not you like the style of art, which is a fairly major consideration when choosing what comics to invest in. Yet what if different artists were used for the cover and the interior artwork?

Dark Horse are a perfect example, having recently released Alex Ross variants of Star Wars #1, whilst the artwork inside is nowhere near the quality of his fantastic cover. It may show the same characters in a situation reminiscent of the story inside, but it really serves no purpose over than to lure potential customers in with the promise of photo-realistic artwork from the aforementioned Ross. In fact, you have unrealistic or just plain ugly artwork inside instead (X-Factor: Secret Invasion being a prime example).

The main culprit of this pet-peeve of mine is the use of variant covers, with different printings of the original comic issue or collected editions featuring new cover art. AvX is a prime example, as contained in the collected edition are the different variants used, and the variety is both stunning and worrying, as not only do we have the expected variants but for some issues these covers are then reproduced up to three times. While this may allow people to choose a side, it’s freaking overkill. I like variant covers but never in my life have I gone out of my way to buy a certain cover of a comic. I don’t regularly buy issues, but when I do, I’m not going to scour the shelves or even different shops to get something that could probably be purchased as a poster (AvX #4 Thor Variant). It’s too much effort for something that I would much rather read as a collected book, which will almost certainly contain them anyway.

I have to admit, however, that despite Marvel’s best attempts to flood the market with variant covers, they still have nothing on DC who announced that, for the release of Justice League of America #1, they would be releasing fifty-two variant covers, handily tying into their New 52 malarkey. There is only one difference between each cover: the flag that the team are carrying. On the original, it’s the flag of the good ol’ USA, yet the variants feature each State’s own flag (as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, being a US commonwealth and all). While I can see this going down well in Texas, is this not taking faux-patriotism a little too far? Also, will each cover be available in every shop, because I don’t think splitting up the States was what the founding fathers had in mind, and I can’t imagine even the hardiest of collectors travelling through every State just to collect each and every one. Although, I think I’ve delved too deeply into the mind of the fanatic when I can say that I honestly believe at least one person will purchase all of them off the Internet, which, considering they are $3.99 an issue, will result in a minimum spend of $207.48. That’s minus the postage, of course. This might be DC’s way of hooking into that sense of patriotism that Americans appear to have, but it’s either a really badly thought-out idea or the cruellest trick they’ve ever played on their followers, as if this is a way to disguise spitting on the loyal fans.

While I’ve mostly moaned about the way the comic companies do things, there are several innovative ideas to appreciate. Some comics have blank covers which allow yourself to get creative, which sounds like it could earn you parent points if you give the hopefully good offering to any kids you may have. It also allows you, if you take said blank cover to a convention, to get a limited edition design from the artist of your choice. Not only would this be a thrill for you, it could be amusing for the artist to have fun with the characters and situation. Out of all the variant covers out there, this is the only type I could imagine displaying proudly. Astro City is a stunning example of a series with different cover and interior art that really works, as Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Ross all worked together to design that world and make it believable. If more series did this, then I would certainly be more eager to forgive those who fool us into buying a comic with greatly inferior work within.

Although I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to the amount of variants available, I can’t finish without pointing-out who’s to blame for being swamped with these alternative covers, and I’m afraid that it’s people like Ross. I love his artwork as his paintings are second to none, but because it’s such a labour-intensive and time-consuming process, interior art can take an extremely long time to finish and that mans some series go for a very long time between issues. This makes using their talents mainly on covers more economical. However, if getting rid of this influx of variants means getting rid of artists like Ross, I’m afraid its a price I’m not willing to pay. If it wasn’t for Kingdom Come and his work on Astro City, I probably wouldn’t have become a comic book critic in the first place.

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