Friday, May 19, 2006

The Great Comic Book Covers

Web of Spider-Man #129

Time Bomb Part 2: By My Hand, Mary Jane Must Die!

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
- Ozymandius, Percy Bysshe Shelley

There were many ugly covers in the dark days of the 1990s. This sort of goes without saying. But more than merely looking ugly, which is nothing special in and of itself, covers of the period seemed to have forgotten everything they knew about design, so that if a cover was ugly it wasn't just ugly, it was downright incompetent in a way that covers of previous eras never were. Because, you know, there were people like John Romita and Gil Kane and Carmine Infantino who knew the fundamentals of composition, the use of complementary and contrasting colors, and the meaning of negative space. From the evidence on display in the mid-90s, artists and editors were pretty much on their own when it came to cover design, with predictably horrid results.

Steven Butler knows how to draw in the same roughly competent way that a number of second-and-third tier mainstream pencillers -- i.e., he's probably not a very good artist but he's internalized enough of the shortcuts of his predecessors to make a decent looking action comic. But he doesn't know the first thing about design. Look at how crowded the composition is. There's not a single square centimeter of negative space on the entire cover, no place for the eye to rest. With no less than five heavily delineated figures against a highly-detailed background, there's no real sense of a foreground or background - everything has roughly the same weight, so it's hard for the eye to discern what's actually happening. To make matters worse, the coloring is simply a nightmare. All the brightly-colored costumes and flaming energy auras sort of blend into a puke-colored haze, and the red-and-brown brick of the cityscape in the background make everything blend into a shit-colored mess (with a few streaks of crimson blood to really make things pleasant).

Add the extraneous captions and a corner triangle advertising a free playing card inside, and you've got a fine send off for Web of Spider-Man. This was the series' last issue (not counting a four-issue denouement as Web of Scarlet-Spider). It was never a great series, really one of those books designed solely to keep another company's title from taking up valuable shelf space more tha anything else. But still -- 129 issues adds up to over ten years. Any series that lasts past the double digits in today's marketplace is practically an institution, so the triple-digits for such an obvious welterweight like Web might seem odd. But, you know, that's life. Nerds need their Spider-Man like fiends need their crack.

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