Robot 6

Judging a comic by its cover

Daredevil: Season One

Marvel released the trade dress for their new line of graphic novels yesterday, and I have to say, as someone who seldom reads superhero comics, they tempt me in a way that DC’s New 52 line does not. The covers are simple and show off the characters without a lot of clutter, explosions, or excessive detail. I feel like these are books that someone who has never read comics before could pick up and read without having to look stuff up on Wikipedia.

I went back and looked at the New 52 first-issue covers to figure out what was turning me off about them. Some, like the Flash, Batwing, and Voodoo covers, do a nice job of showing what the comic is about, but others read as an impenetrable mass of lines and colors. I know this is largely a matter of taste, but as someone who reads a lot of manga and indie graphic novels, I find the art in many superhero comics difficult to “read” visually, because of the huge amount of detail and the lack of differentiation between subject and background.

The two images above crystallized my feelings on the topic. The one on the left, the original design for Action Comics #1, conveys who Superman is in a direct, uncluttered way. A visitor from Mars could understand what it’s about. There are two things in the image, Superman (with his rippling muscles) and some big thing that he’s pushing on. It’s a picture of struggle and of strength; nothing else matters. Detail is confined to the important areas of the image; everything else is vague—this mimics the way the eye actually sees. (Alas, this cover has since been replaced with a much busier image.)

Superman #1, on the left, is just the opposite. The image is swimming in detail. Superman is so awkwardly drawn that it’s hard to see if he is carrying the Daily Planet globe or just pushing it in a really uncomfortable way—there is no sense of weight to it and no sense of struggle, either—he looks like he’s floating in front of it. Both covers use basically the same material, a single image of Superman using his strength on some big heavy thing, but one of these covers gets its point across at a glance, the other does not.

For a longtime reader that richness of detail may be a selling point, and I’m sure a lot of these covers contain allusions that I’m not getting. If DC hadn’t made a big deal about trying to bring in new readers with this reboot, I wouldn’t be writing about it at all. But if they are trying to bring in new readers, it’s useful to keep in mind that “confusion” is seldom a selling point.

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Comments

14 Comments

If I didn’t know a single thing about Daredevil, I would infer from that image that its a guy with a pigeon army. A hero who controls birds.

But I agree with you that the original Action cover is visually compelling, while the other one is boring.

the only thing that might make DD even cooler would be a pigeon army.
Waid, are you listening? Give it some thought!

A pigeon army that he controls with a whip.
And possibly heat vision.

I would totally buy Daredevil if he controlled a pigeon army.

Looks like Daredevil is farting pigeons.

So, a Daredevil that can fart an army of pigeons that he can then command to do his bidding.

Yes.

Hahaha yeah basically what everyone else has said so far about the Daredevil cover. In what way does that cover convey anything important about the character other than aggression? I don’t see it. The birds, the bizarre use of the billy club rope, the incredibly unclear chimney setting (what? is he the new Santa?)…

And I also don’t see the clarity of the Action Comics cover in comparison to the Superman cover. In the Action comics cover, I can’t tell if he’s lifting the ambiguous mass or keeping it from falling over. There are no contextual clues whatsoever as to anything that’s going on. While it’s striking image, it doesn’t prepare me for the interior at all. All it suggests is strength. And the vagueness of the AC cover doesn’t provide any contextual clues regarding the nature of the display of strength that’s going on. However, the Superman cover — while having its own issues with ambiguity — at least suggests a few things to me: disaster, strength, fearlessness (his leg is in the fire, after all), and the character is obviously interacting with the disaster. And, in my opinion, the most confusing part about the AC cover is the cape. It’s so tiny and flapping in a weird shape, and the only way I knew for sure that it was his cape was because I’ve seen other images of this new make-shift costume and I know there’s a cape attached.

If the Daredevil cover seems like an odd choice for this post, it’s my fault … Brigid originally just had the two Superman images, and I thought it made sense to add one of the Marvel covers. Of the four covers Marvel released, it was probably the most complicated and backed up her point the least, but that mistake was mine, not hers.

You can click on the very first link in the post to see the covers for X-Men, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, which are pigeon free.

Actually, aside from the pigeons, I think the Daredevil cover does the job. It gives a shorthand description of the character. As a new reader, I’m less interested in the details than just grokking the character. Remember, I haven’t read the comic yet. (I had picked the Spider-Man cover originally.)

The same with Superman—and I say this respectfully, because clearly we look for different things in a cover. The one on the left is a single word: “Strong.” The one on the right is a whole paragraph. If you are already following the story, I agree, the one on the right is better (or it would be if it were better drawn). For an alien from Mars, though, the Action Comics cover is more useful.

Kyle Garret

September 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm

A pigeon army that he controls with a double dutch jumprope.
FIXED.
And possibly heat vision.
And I’m LMAO at this.

I do think the DD image is very compelling, but there are maybe a few to many pigeons.
But I still want a pigeon army–or air force I guess–in the monthly book.

WAID!

Pigeon army is the new meme.

Yeah I don’t get how this cover is all that but you have problems with Superman #1. What exactly does DD say about him or his powers at all?

If you like dudes with pigeon armies, the comic Transient Man features a villain who rides a boss motorcycle and wears a cloak made out of pigeons that he controls like Saruman controls his crows. The first chapter is available online.

http://www.transientman.com/

If you like the art style of the Daredevil cover, you owe it to yourselves to check it out.

Someone better be making a Daredevil & His Pigeon army webcomic right now.

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