Beginning his career at the tender age of 20 with the five issue miniseries “Terminator: The Burning Earth,” artist Alex Ross would go on to be one of the most iconic comic book artists. With a uniquely realistic style evocative of the traditional painted magazine covers artists like Norman Rockwell, Ross has been known to use live models to help him design his characters.
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Ross still sticks to the traditional methods, painting his art instead of using pencil and ink or digital tools. Given the fact that Ross can finish a painting in a day, his methods certainly appear to work and the results speak for themselves. Still only 47 years old, Ross has had a chance to portray some of the most iconic characters in comic book history for a variety of different publishers. In this list, we look at 15 of his best covers to date.
15. VOLTRON #1
Published in December 2011, the first issue of Dynamite Comics’ “Voltron” series featured four variant covers, two of which were done by Ross, one by Sean Chen and one by Wagner Reiss. One of Ross’ covers features the paladins next to the head of Voltron.
The cover we are focusing on here is an image of Voltron from the perspective of looking up, the giant robotic warrior is set against a bright blue sky with clouds and his blazing sword lifted high in the air. Ross’ depiction of Voltron is stunning in and of itself, his painted style lending a realism that is sharper than the animated series depictions of the character. To this already great art he adds a coruscating effect of light bounding off the sword and radiating in lines across the cover. This work elevates a memorable 1980s animated property to another level in this comic book art.
14. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN # 1.3
From writer Dan Slott and interior artist Ramon Perez, we got “The Amazing Spider-Man” Vol. 3 #1.3. Part three of the “Learning to Crawl” story arc sees Peter Parker dealing with an obsessed fan, Clayton Cole, who posses his own sonic powers and a would-be superhero alter ego, Clash. The issue features Aunt May prominently concerned about Peter potentially using drugs and ends with a fight between Spider-Man and Clash at a science fair, in which both were competing. Spider-Man forces Clash to flee but in doing so scares May and turns her against Spider-Man.
Ross’ cover for this conveys Aunt May’s fear of Spider-Man perfectly. May is portrayed in full-blown terror with both her mouth and eyes opened wide. But the details we really enjoy about her are the attention to details like the wrinkles in her face and particularly her fingers. Ross also portrays Spider-Man beautifully on this cover in a costume evoking the original Steve Ditko design with the web-wings. All of this is set against a warm-colored explosive background.
13. BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME
Ross partnered with iconic Batman writer Paul Dini on the graphic novel “Batman: War on Crime.” The 64-page story features an introspective Batman who faces a young boy named Marcus, who experiences the death of his parents in a very similar way to how Bruce lost his. Batman continues to run into Marcus in different and ever-escalating, dangerous scenarios, ultimately facing off with a gun-wielding Marcus and talking the boy into laying down the weapon.
The cover art by Ross for the novel features something the artist does not usually do, a close up only on Batman’s face. The black of his costume blends with the background color of the cover, but the light hits his face in a way that highlights the mask hugging the wrinkles of his forehead. Jaw set and eyes squinting, this is a Batman of intense yet quiet emotion. Ross has painted Batman a number of times but this is one of the simplest and best.
12. ROCKETEER ADVENTURES # 2
The Rocketeer is a wonderfully retro hero, created in 1982 by Dave Stevens and first appearing in Pacific Comics’ “Starslayer” series. Many fans may know the character of Cliff Secord, aka The Rocketeer, from Disney’s 1991 movie, “The Rocketeer,” which was directed by Joe Johnston. This cover comes from a June 2011 issue that was part of IDW’s run with the character. In “Rocketeer Adventures” #2, we get three stories by multiple writer and artist teams; Mark Waid and Chris Weston, Lowell Francis and Gene Ha, and finally by Darwyn Cooke.
This cover showcases an interesting composition, even fro Ross; instead of an action-filled or plain background, Ross focuses on a woman’s face. In the foreground, we get the Rocketeer kneeling with his pistol drawn and resting against the front of his flight helmet. The metallic gleam of his helmet and jet pack contrasted with the duller metal of his gun is a great bit of contrast. Meanwhile, the wrinkles throughout his leather jacket give an added sense of realism to the character.
11. KINGDOM COME #2
Perhaps the most famous of Ross’ work is his collaboration with writer Mark Waid on the 1996 miniseries, “Kingdom Come.” The four-issue story is set during the conflict on an alternate future, when the older generation of heroes, who had stepped away from heroics, are forced to return to the scene thanks to the irresponsible behavior of the new generation of would-be superheroes. Ross contributed the painted interiors for this series in addition to the covers and there are many memorable images that come from this series.
The series features similar covers for the first three issues, with a central character surrounded by a score of other characters. The final issue features Superman in a red smokey haze. The cover for issue two is interesting because the central character it features is Norman McCay, a simple preacher and not a superhero, but the focal point in the framework of the narrative. Surrounded by Superman, Wonder Woman and Robin, Norman is bathed in a divine light. The contrast of this normal person with these titans is a striking image.
10. DOC SAVAGE: MAN OF BRONZE #2
One of the fictional characters that inspired many of the comic books characters that would follow was Doc Savage. Created in 1933 by Henry Ralston, John Nanovic and Lester Dent, Savage was a hero who represented the pinnacle of human capability. While he was not a superhero, Savage trained both his mind and body to levels that were far beyond the normal person.
Ross’ cover for Dynamite’s “Doc Savage: Man of Bronze” #2 appears to be an homage to the 1964 novel cover for “Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze.” That cover, illustrated by James Bama, featured the title in wavy text above an image of Doc Savage standing there, arms spread and shirt torn to pieces on a black background. Ross takes it up a notch by not only having Doc’s shirt torn but totally torn into small pieces that almost appear to be orbiting his muscular form. In orange, yellow and bronze tones, the cover puts a little less focus on the realism of Ross’ style, such that everything is awash in bronze tones, representing the title character.
9. CAPTAIN AMERICA #7
When it comes to Captain America, there is perhaps no more famous image than the first one most people ever saw. Jack Kirby’s 1941 “Captain America #1” introduced the world to Captain America and his sidekick Bucky. On the iconic cover, Cap is shown punching Adolf Hitler while Nazi’s fire at him. Also featured on the cover’s lower right corner is a cut-out of Bucky saluting.
As part of the 75th anniversary of Captain America, Marvel commissioned Alex Ross to do a variant cover for “Captain America: Sam Wilson” #7. The late Jack “King” Kirby is a comic book legend as a writer, artist and editor who created hundreds of enduring comic book characters. So when it comes to comic book art, few did it better than Kirby. For his anniversary cover, Ross remade Kirby’s classic 1941 cover nearly exactly, altering poses slightly but depicting it in his signature style. With this cover, Ross arguably did it even better than the King.
8. BATMAN #47
As part of writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s run on “Batman,” issue #47 focuses on Jim Gordon in his role as the new Batman and a battle with the villain Mister Bloom. For this issue, Ross draws a variant cover that is really disconnected from the story but is connected to an earlier cover that Ross painted. For 1999’s “Batman: Harley Quinn” #1, Ross created one of the most iconic images ever of the Joker and Harley Quinn ever, the Joker in a tuxedo and Harley in her classic red and black jester outfit. They are posed as if dancing and the piece of art is called “Tango with Evil.”
For this issue, Ross creates a sequel to that piece of art called “Mind If I Cut In,” which features Batman interrupting the two lovers, placing Harley in handcuffs and grabbing Joker by the neck. While the original piece was great, the addition of Batman takes it to the next level.
7. ASTRO CITY #2
In 1995, Image Comics began publishing “Astro City,” a series created by writer Kurt Busiek with artists Brent Eric Anderson and Alex Ross. This award-winning series has had a 20+ year run. Its second issue is set in 1959, and features a reporter witnessing a battle between the Honor Guard and the Shark-men. The story deals with the issues of struggling to report a story.
Ross’ cover features a beautifully rendered battle going on above and behind the reporter, who sits at his typewriter. It is the little details of the reporter that make this feel like a character right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. To the reporter’s left is what looks like his hat with the “Press” tag sticking out of it, to his right is an ashtray full of cigarettes. His desk lamp is lit, signifying he is working late into the night. He has a cigarette hanging from his mouth with a long piece of ash hanging from it and his hand is against his face, either from focus or exhaustion. The contrast between the magnificent and the mundane in this piece is truly striking.
6. STAR WARS #1
In 2015, the Star Wars comic book line returned to Marvel Comics from Dark Horse. One of the flagship titles in the new launch was “Star Wars.” The move to Marvel made sense as both the publisher and Lucasfilm are owned by Disney, but it was also fitting because Marvel was the original publisher of Star Wars comics starting in 1977.
In 1977’s “Star Wars,” artist Howard Chaykin drew a cover that centered on the Death Star, with Luke leading Han, Leia and Obi-Wan. Vader’s helmet hovers menacingly and the whole scene is surrounded by star-fighters. In the cover art for 2015’s “Star Wars” #1, Ross takes the layout and content of Chaykin’s art and reinterprets the scene in his own iconic style. Ross also corrects some curious color choices from the original cover, such as Vader’s green helmet, as well as Luke and Ben’s red lightsabers. All of this together pays homage to a classic cover while updating it for a new generation.
5. PRINCESS LEIA #1
Another one of the 2015 launch titles for Marvel’s new line of Star Wars comics was “Star Wars: Princess Leia.” This five-issue miniseries was written by Mark Waid with art by Terry Dodson. The story begins during “A New Hope” at the Yavin medal ceremony and continues as it tells the tale of Leia looking for Alderaanian survivors and dealing with the loss of her family and home-planet.
Ross delivers a wonderful rendering of Princess Leia’s blaster firing, and her cape and gown flowing on a rocky outcropping with R2-D2 and C-3PO in the background. Above them is a Star Destroyer, a swarm of TIE fighters and a quietly looming Yavin above. While this cover is great on its own, it also pays tribute to two movie posters, Greg and Tim Hildebrandt’s poster and the Tom Jung poster for “Star Wars.” The Hildebrandt poster was done before the casting of Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill and the Jung poster was done afterwards, though clearly based on the earlier Hildebrandt work.
4. CAPTAIN AMERICA #22
“Captain America” #22 from writer Rick Remender and artist Carlos Pacheco finds Captain America dealing with the consequences of his battle with Iron Nail in the previous issue and having his youth and vitality taken from him with the nullification of his super-soldier serum.
For this cover, Ross fell back into one of his other habits and that is to have very busy covers with lots of characters scattered around the page. Sometimes having busy covers works and sometimes it doesn’t. This cover does a beautiful job in honoring Captain America as both the soldier and the Avenger in the lower half. The upper half of the cover from left to right features doves, eagles and bombers. At the center of all this is Captain America, standing larger than life and looking off, presumably into the sunset but perhaps the sunrise. Because of that ambiguity, and its sheer artistic verve, this is a great cover that shows Ross’ ability to feature many elements without being overly busy.
3. ALL NEW X-MEN #27
There is perhaps no comic title that has seen such a huge amount of attention as the X-Men. In numerous titles and across numerous teams, we have seen various iterations of the X-Men characters, and basked in the many conceptual covers that have followed as a result. Professor Xavier’s first team of Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman and Jean Grey has been featured on many covers since their debut on Jack Kirby’s cover for “The X-Men” #1.
Ross returned to this original X-Men team in 2012 for his variant cover on “All New X-Men.” This cover features the characters in classic uniforms, with Beast, Angel, Cyclops, Jean and Iceman in the the foreground, as well as other iconic X-Men in the background, like Nightcrawler, Colossus, Professor X, Wolverine and Storm. It is the cover’s focus on Cyclops and Jean that makes this one so memorable; a tender embrace between two characters who are so intertwined yet have faced so many challenges to their relationship.
2. MARVELS #2
In 1994, writer Kurt Busiek teamed up with Alex Ross on a four-issue miniseries called “Marvels.” The second issue of the series focuses on New York City in the 1960s as seen through the fictional work of photojournalist Phil Sheldon. Sheldon is working on a book about superheroes, but is struggling with the prejudice that has infected the city against mutants. He gets caught up in that prejudice himself, until a mutant in need of sanctuary is brought into his home by his daughter.
Ross’ cover for this issue encapsulates the fear and hatred against those that are different — a classic and central theme in X-Men stories. An angry mob decrying mutants as “Devils” and “Satan’s Children” are throwing stones at Angel and the young mutant girl Maggie, who suffers from severe facial deformations. Maggie is no threat to these people and Angel is one of the least threatening looking mutants with the power, at this point, not to do harm but to fly. Yet, still this crowd throws rocks at the two, so taken are they by the passion of mob “justice.” Both the art and the story it conveys in one image make this one of Ross’ best.
1. FANTASTIC FOUR #1
Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four were created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961 and the quality of that creation has been proven by the endurance the team has enjoyed throughout generations of storytelling. The fifth volume of the title began the series anew with issue #1 written by James Robinson and illustrated by Leonard Kirk. This issue kicked off a five-part story arc called “The Fall of the Fantastic Four,” which was as foreboding as the name implies.
In one of six variant covers for the issue, Ross combined a classical look with a modern style, capturing the spirit of the 1960s era of space exploration by depicting the four in their spacesuits in the lower portion of the cover. It featured a stylized rocket ship and green cosmic rays raining on the top. In the middle are Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and the Thing in all of their glory. Perfect composition, perfect color and perfect execution make this cover truly fantastic. Pun, very much intended.
The talented Alex Ross is nothing if not prolific, and there are many more of his covers to celebrate! Let us know your favorite in the comments!