One of the unforeseen dangers of anything cool is that when everyone else realizes how cool it is, they will want to try to copy it themselves. When people complain about how Batman got overly grim and gritty following “The Dark Knight Returns,” they’re not complaining about Frank Miller’s Batman so much as they are complaining about all the writers and artists who copied what Miller was doing, only not as well.
That was the case for comic book gimmick covers. We’ve detailed the best of the best, but now we can see the downside of the success of those great covers. It got to a point in the early 1990s when a comic book title not having a gimmick cover was seen as an insult towards that comic book. Thus, pretty much every comic book series ended up with one of them at one point or another. When you’re putting out that many gimmick covers, there are bound to be some duds mixed in there, and boy were there a lot of duds. For the most part, though, the duds were just the same cover done over and over again (lots of foil covers, lots of embossed covers, stuff like that). Here, then, we’ll spotlight the gimmick covers that stood out for being particularly ill-considered. So we hope that you will “enjoy” the ten worst comic book gimmick covers of all-time!
10. Protectors #5
“Protectors” was a novel attempt by Malibu Comics in the early 1990s to get into the superhero game with a team made up of primarily public domain characters, with some new creations mixed in, as well. One of the members of the team was Night Mask, who was a re-named version of the Masked Marvel, an old Golden Age superhero. In the fifth issue of “Protectors” in 1993, the book basically copied the idea of “Jab” #3 (#7 on the great gimmick covers list), only instead of actually shooting the comic with a bullet, the “force beam” was professionally cut into each issue as it was printed…
The problem was that the actual comic inside (written by R.A. Jones and drawn by Tom Derenick and Mike Deodato) was not actually written with the hole in the comic worked into the story. It was an idea they came up with after the fact, leading to some awkward pages inside the issue with, in effect, a haphazard hole just placed into the story…
9. Legends of the Dark Knight #1
Launched in conjunction with the release of the blockbuster hit film, “Batman,” “Legends of the Dark Knight” was the first new ongoing Batman solo comic book series since “Batman” launched in 1940. The idea behind the series was to have different creative teams tell story arcs outside of Batman continuity. The first year’s worth of story arcs were like a “Who’s Who?” of great comic book talent, from Denny O’Neil and Ed Hannigan on “Shaman” to Grant Morrison and Klaus Janson on “Gothic” to Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy on “Prey.” The series got readers acclimated to Batman stories outside of continuity, which was still a relatively novel idea at the time (outside of “Imaginary Stories,” of course), but its first issue also got readers acclimated to something else — widespread variant covers. The first issue of “Legends of the Dark Knight” had a “protective” cover that came in four different colors. The inside of the book even explains why the four covers — “just for fun.” Sure, just for fun, and if certain readers wanted to buy all four, well, then that would be a lot of fun, as well, right?
The success of “Legends of the Dark Knight” clearly led to Marvel copying the idea with 1990’s “Spider-Man” #1 and 1991’s “X-Men” #1, and the whole thing helped push the cover gimmick approach to new levels (or to new depths, as it were). When you combine it with it not even being all that creative (it’s just different color covers), then it really stands out like a sore thumb.
8. Robin III: Cry of the Huntress
The series of “Robin” miniseries by Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle were a real treat in the early 1990s. The first one showed Tim Drake gaining his training as Robin. The second one showed Tim taking on Joker by himself when Batman was out of town. The third was used to introduce a new love interest for Tim, Ariana, as part of a storyline involving the Russian mob. It was also used to further integrate the Huntress into the Bat-Universe, something that Dixon had begun in “Detective Comics.” Tom Lyle and Bob Smith were a great art pairing on the series. So the series itself is a blast. The covers, though, were a bit of a mess. DC was trying out some new technology, but it was just hopelessly complicated. It was lenticular based, but you also had to actively pull down on a card inserted on to the cover to make it really “move.” Each cover of the six-issue miniseries came with two cards that you could flip over and use in the viewer (one of them showed Tim Drake and Helena Bertinelli transforming into their heroic identities)
The effect wasn’t bad, per se, but nor was it particularly interesting and especially not for all the work needed to make it work.
7. Crazyman #1
Neal Adams and Continuity Comics had an interesting place in mainstream comics history. When the independent comics boom of the early 1980s happened, it only made sense for Neal Adams and his band of excellent artists to get involved, and they launched a series of comics (after first doing a few of the same series for Pacific Comics). None of them quite caught on. Fast forward a decade, though, and the comic industry was experiencing such a boom period that someone as famous as Neal Adams just had to get involved again, so Continuity Comics were relaunched and they tried to make themselves stand out by using a lot of new gimmicks. The issue was that the gimmicks were rarely all that good. One example was “Crazyman” #1, the second “Crazyman” #1 in a year (Continuity Comics had a series of miniseries in 1992 and then launched ongoing series with those characters in 1993). The cover was drawn by Neal Adams and it was die-cut into the shape of Crazyman’s face.
However, like “Protectors” #5, the die-cutting didn’t actually factor into the comic book itself, so the inside of the comic was a normal comic just with oddly cut pages. That’s pretty pointless.
6. Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1
“Eclipso: The Darkness Within” was the second DC companywide crossover that was under the direction of Keith Giffen, following 1989’s “Invasion!” This time around, Giffen (working with co-writer and scripter Robert Loren Fleming) centered the event around the re-introduction of Eclipso. Originally viewed as the evil side of Bruce Gordon’s personality, Eclipso was now re-written into being a malevolent spirit that could possess anyone who held a “black diamond” and then got angry while holding the diamond. This led to a crossover event where the various heroes of the DC Universe were possessed by Eclipso, most famously being Superman, which led to a number of awesome issues (one featuring Captain Marvel fighting Superman and another featuring the remaining non-possessed heroes joining forces to take on Superman). The event took place in the Summer 1992 Annuals of DC Comics and was book-ended by two one-shots (“Eclipso: The Darkness Within” #1 and 2). The first issue included a plastic diamond that would jut out of the cover of the issue.
Now, you might be asking yourself, “Wait, wouldn’t a small, sharp plastic object jutting out of the cover of a comic book cause problems if you stacked the comics on top of each other, which is how all comic books are delivered to comic book stores?” If you asked yourself that, you were one step ahead of DC in 1992, as the end result of a bunch of torn back covers were a nasty surprise for them.
5. Amazing Spider-Man #400
“Amazing Spider-Man” #400 had one of the most emotionally touching deaths in comic book history, as writer J.M. DeMatteis and artists Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt allowed Aunt May Parker to finally die, surrounded by her beloved nephew, Peter, and his wife. In a final twist, right before she died, she revealed that she had known that Peter was Spider-Man for years and was very proud of him. The whole thing was later retconned in one of the most convoluted villain plots ever, but at the time, it was really quite touching. With the death of such a major character in the issue, having a tombstone-themed cover made a lot of sense for the issue. However, as it turned out, the idea behind the cover was ahead of where die-cut and embossed technology was in 1994. So the embossed die-cut tombstone on the cover of the issue basically just looked like it was a blank tombstone…
Even right now, with a big image of it, it is hard to see what is written underneath Spider-Man on the tombstone.
4. Action Comics #695
Earlier, we mentioned that one of the downsides of the proliferation of gimmick comic book covers was that it became almost political in how said covers were doled out. If you were part of an office with a series of related titles, if there were four books and three of them got gimmick covers and the fourth did not, it would not sit well with the creative team of the fourth book. So, naturally enough, the company would try to work out something with that fourth book. That seems to be the only explanation for what is otherwise the most inexplicable comic book gimmick cover of all-time, “Action Comics” #695, the introduction of the Sensational Character Find of 1993 — Cauldron! What’s that? No one has ever heard of Cauldron? Well, that’s because he was a character so forgettable that even the “Superman” staff forgot about him, as this was the only appearance of this Cauldron (a second Cauldron later made a single appearance four years later).
So why did Cauldron’s debut merit a gimmick cover? Well, the final issue of the “Reign of the Supermen” crossover (which came out a few months before “Action Comics” #695) was in “Superman” #82, which had a Chromium cover. The first “Superman” title to come after “Reign of the Supermen” was “Adventures of Superman” #505, which had a sparkly foil cover. A week after “Action Comics” #695 was “Superman: The Man of Steel” #30, which had the awesome “Colorforms” cover that we featured on the great comic book gimmick cover list. So, naturally enough, how could they not give “Action Comics” a gimmick cover, as well? And so this was it.
3. Continuity Comics’ Tyvek Covers
When Continuity Comics launched their series of inter-connected ongoing series in 1993, they did so in the most 1990s way possible, through a gigantic crossover where you would have to read each comic book to understand the overall story. They then followed up this initial crossover, “DeathWatch 2000,” with a second companywide crossover, “Rise of Magic.” Right around this time, they came up with a truly unique comic book gimmick cover idea — all of their comics would feature covers made out of Tyvek.
Tyvek, you see, is an artificial material made out of high-density polyethylene fibers. The end result is that it is pretty much untearable. You can cut it easily, but you really can’t tear it. It is most commonly used as a protective material, like on houses while they are being built. It is also commonly used as coveralls in situations where full hazardous materials (hazmat) suits are not quite necessary. And Continuity Comics used them on their covers. Because, of course, the biggest issue with comic books was that the covers were constantly tearing.
It was a truly bizarre idea.
2. Bloodstrike #1
During the early 1990s, a number of the studios that made up Image Comics were quickly expanding their respective interconnected universes by launching titles that were related to their initial books. Rob Liefeld’s initial series was the superhero team known as Youngblood. Thus, a lot of his new series circa 1993 were somehow connected to Youngblood, like the spin-off series, “Team Youngblood,” but also the related titles that launched at about the same time, “Brigade” and “Bloodstrike.” Each of those titles were about a team of heroes. “Brigade” was led by a former member of Youngblood known as Battlestone. “Bloodstrike” was led by Battlestone’s brother, Cabbot Stone, and was made up of people who had been killed and then resurrected by a mysterious government agency.
The first issue of “Bloodstrike” had a novel approach, you could “rub the blood” from the cover. It would come with a cover with blood splattered over a group picturew, but the blood was like the material in those Hypercolor T-Shirts, where the thermochrome color of the blood would disappear due to your body heat (generated by rubbing it).
It never particularly worked very well and “Rub the Blood” sounds positively disturbing, but it was at least an interesting idea.
1. Hybrids #2
Less interesting, and thus the number one cover on the list, is when Continuity Comics (king of the bad comic book cover gimmick), used the idea themselves on the second issue of their “Hybrids” series, which tied in with their “DeathWatch 2000” crossover. The idea here was the same as “Bloodstrike” #1, your body heat would make the thermochrome color on the cover disappear.
The problem was that it worked even worse than “Bloodstrike” #1, and while with “Bloodstrike” #1, if it didn’t work you would still get a cool looking cover, which is a positive in and of itself (like Mitch Hedberg would say about escalators — they can never break, they can only become stairs), when “Hybrids” #2 didn’t work (which it didn’t), you got a big orange blotch on the cover.
It was somewhat similar to the cover for “Ms. Mystic” #1, also part of “DeathWatch 2000,” which had its own blotch on the cover, but at least it was a “Magic Eye” style drawing, so presumably it will eventually work if you stare at those two dots long enough…
Feel free to share your pick for the worst comic book gimmick cover in the comments!