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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Not that great, but it was already in the Comic Book Galaxy images directory: Adi Granov's cover to Iron Man Vol. 4 #1Covering Iron Man -- Tom Spurgeon highlights a classic Gil Kane image as a springboard to discussing how Iron Man has had a lot of bad covers over the years; I thought I would separate the wheat from the chaff (or the Iron from the Man?), and look at some of the few great* Iron Man covers from throughout the character's history (click the issue numbers to see the covers):

Iron Man #1 -- Of course, if you can't get a striking cover for the first issue of your own ongoing title, you know you have a problem. Actually, as eye-catching as this one is, that's more to the (overwrought) sense of drama artist Gene Colan gave to the character; the first-issue ribbon/banner (it looks slapped-on, har-har!) does nothing for the design, and the tiny background elements would distract from the overall design if not for the colour choices made to make Iron Man himself pop out. So, while the cover achieves the goal of likely luring the eyes of potential readers scanning racks full of comics, it's more down to the primary element of Iron Man himself and the way the colours play down everything else in the image. Hmm, Spurgeon may be on to something.

Iron Man #47 -- It only took 47 issues to give us a virtual repeat of the cover to #1, but at least here Gil Kane delivers a body shot that has power and grace without the melodrama inherent in Gene Colan's cover for #1. Vince Colletta's intention-destroying, time-saving, fine-line inking actually looks okay on the primary cover element (Iron Man), and this is about as iconic a depiction of my favourite Iron Man costume as you're likely to find.

Iron Man #54 -- This cover just looks great, no caveats at all. The poses are dramatic and fluid, the jagged lines of the bursts of water reflect the rage of Namor, and the backgroud perspective works perfectly to enhance the excitement of the image. A great example of why I think Gil Kane is one of the best artists ever to work in comics.

Iron Man #80 -- I've always been a sucker for this image, probably my favourite Iron Man cover of all time. Sure, the perspective is wonky (if not downright awkward -- why do we see the bottom of Iron Man's ill-advised 1970s-style "nose" in the way that we do, as his body angles downward and away from us? Why are his arms posed like that?); despite everything, though, the figure, the spectacular background images and the colouring all work to present a virtually 3-D portrait of the Armoured Avenger that is powerful and suggestive of a thrilling adventure that was almost certainly not found within the actual pages of the comic that it was wrapped around.

Iron Man #118 -- The Layton era had some of the series' best and worst covers. This one was one of the best, in terms of accurately reflecting the comic's innards and providing an arresting visual image that stood out on the stands.

Iron Man #128 -- Probably the best-remembered and most evocative cover in the history of the series. This one is so convincing in its seediness -- can't you just smell what a wreck Tony Stark has become? -- that it's almost a wonder this EC-like depiction of addiction got by the Comics Code. That it did is probably due to the clear message the creators thought they were sending -- that alcoholism is a devastating disease that destroys the lives of those who have it and those who love those who have it. Unfortunately, if memory serves, the simple-minded actual message was that alcoholism can be overcome in less than 30 pages if you have a hot girlfriend, clenched fists and a fashionable sports car. The End.

Iron Man #142 -- Another outer space scene (see issue #80, above), nicely contrasting the shiny precision of the armor (a new variation, another interesting element) against the blackness of space (much less dynamic a place than in Kirby's #80 cover, and yet it seems to make Iron Man stand out oven more if he is not competing with galaxies a-borning). The boot-jets are meant to add a sense of motion, but actually detract of the power of the figure work.

Iron Man #243 -- As you might guess from the huge gap between this entry and the previous one, the title entered a long, dry spell of really bad covers; this one actually isn't much better than average for the time, but the design element of the newspaper makes it stand out from a large crowd of lousy covers, and extra points to whoever decided to provide actual text for the newspaper rather than the more-standard gibberish or straight lines. The art on the inside is worth noting for having Barry Windsor-Smith's inks over Layton's pencils; it's clear from the art that BWS more than likely extensively revised Layton's work in some places, making for a much better than usual issue as far as the art goes. The script, if memory serves, was the usual overripe melodrama that weighted down the character long after the brief, now terribly dated-seeming heyday of the original Michelinie/Layton run.

Iron Man #256 -- What is it with me and these outer-space shots? I just think this one grabs the eye quite well, and the repulser rays and boot smoke actually work this time around. The most striking thing about this image, I think, is the well-placed use of shadow to suggest power and drama.

Iron Man Vol. 3 #1 -- Sorry, Heroes Reborn fans, but unsurprisingly Vol. 2 of the title turned out no covers worth noting (the current Vol. 4 has likewise failed to grab the eye with its samey-samey designs and washed out colours). But this energetic image suggests the character in full motion, charging into an exciting new era. As it turned out, the Busiek/Chen era was mainly highlighted by very good artwork (Chen was born to draw Iron Man). But it's worth noting that Busiek's handling of the character is probably the best extended run he's ever had storywise, consistent and informed by an obvious love of the character and his setting.

I didn't start out intending to make this my Ten Favourite Iron Man covers, but as it turns out, ten good covers is about all the character can claim since its inception. As I said, it's pretty clear Spurgeon is on to something...


UPDATE: Johnny Bacardi threatens to turn Covering Iron Man into a meme, but luckily he's a canny enough observer that his choices are worth checking out. Especially noteworthy are this genuine classic by Johnny Craig and this lovely offering by Barry Windsor-Smith (marred, I think, by the garish purple background; imagine the effect if Iron Man was presented in front of a background of (you'll pardon the pun) stark white, a la this classic Frank Miller Daredevil cover.

* Grabs the eye, stands out on the racks, exceptional depiction of the character or story, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah, your mileage may vary, member FDIC.

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