From his days as the superstar penciller of “Uncanny X-Men” to his current position as the Co-Publisher of DC Entertainment, Jim Lee has been a driving force in the comic book industry for decades. As one of the co-founders of Image Comics and WildStorm Productions, Lee’s blockbuster work helped pave the way for generations of future comic creators.
Now, CBR is taking a look back at some of Jim Lee’s most iconic comic book covers. For this list, we’ll be looking at covers from throughout his illustrious 30 year career. With generation-defining runs on iconic characters like Superman, Batman and the X-Men, we’ll be looking at some of the reasons why Jim Lee will go down as one of the all-time great superhero artists.
15. PUNISHER: WAR JOURNAL #19
Although it’s not as celebrated as his later works, one of Jim Lee’s earliest major runs was on “Punisher: War Journal” in the late 1980s. Along with Carl Potts, Lee helped launch the Punisher’s second ongoing title during one of the character’s commercial peaks in the late 1980s. Under that creative team, the Punisher continued his one-man war on crime across the Marvel Universe and had a memorable encounter with Wolverine.
Lee’s final issue on the title, 1990’s “Punisher War Journal” #19, boasts one of the greatest cover blubs of all time, “You’ve Just Rented a Jet Ski to the Punisher, Kiss That Baby Goodbye!” Combined with a day-glo sunset and heavy artillery, this perfectly casts Frank Castle in the mold of the era’s cinematic action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger. With inks from Klaus Janson and colors by Gregory Wright, this cover perfectly encapsulates the grim humor and explosive action that defined this era of the Punisher.
14. JUSTICE LEAGUE #1
When DC Comics rebooted its universe with the New 52 in 2011, DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and Jim Lee teamed up on the company’s flagship book, “Justice League.” Thanks to their editorial positions, both creators helped shape the new DC Universe, and Lee designed costumes for several characters. Although the pair only worked together on the title for 10 non-consecutive issues, their run gave the teen hero Cyborg a regular spot on the team and established the group’s modern origin.
With the main cover to 2011’s “Justice League” #1, Lee redefined DC’s biggest icons in one of his trademark dynamic group shots. With inks from Scott Williams and colors by Alex Sinclair, this cover helped establish the younger, sleeker universe of the New 52. Although each hero is well defined, the bar code on the single issue falls directly over the Flash’s chest symbol. While that makes an odd visual on the printed single issue, it speaks to the long afterlife the cover was designed to have as it was applied to collected editions and existed as a licensed image with the logo clearly visible.
13. ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER #9
In 2005, DC Comics launched the All Star line as a venue for top tier creators to tell stories with heroes outside of regular continuity. Although that line only produced two titles, one of those comics, “All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder,” paired Jim Lee with the legendary creator Frank Miller. Despite the pedigree of those two creators and blockbuster sales, the series was plagued by delays that saw 10 issues released over three years.
While Miller’s writing was the source of divisiveness and considerable controversy, Lee’s art on the series received high praise. Thanks to images like the main cover to “All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder,” #9, it’s easy to see why. With inks by Scott Williams and colors by Alex Sinclair, Lee pays tribute to Jack Burnley’s iconic cover to 1942’s “Batman” #9. Caught in the glow of a police spotlight, Lee’s fluid fine line work creates a chiseled Batman and spritely Robin who looks like he’s about to jump off of the page.
12. UNCANNY X-MEN #275
Together, longtime X-Men writer Chris Claremont and Jim Lee created some of the X-Men’s most iconic adventures. After filling in for penciller Marc Silvestri on 1989’s “Uncanny X-Men” #248, Lee had a memorable guest stint during the “Acts of Vengeance” crossover before becoming the book’s regular penciller with “Uncanny X-Men” # 267. During that era, the X-Men had briefly disbanded, and the title focused on smaller groups with newer characters like Gambit and Jubilee. When the team officially reformed, they donned matching yellow and blue uniforms in a nod to the original X-Men.
The newly reunited X-Men wore these “training suits” for a space-based adventure that partially took place in 1991’s “Uncanny X-Men” #275. With inks by Scott Williams and colors by Glynis Oliver and Joe Rosas, Lee’s triple-gatefold cover for that issue is a dynamic snapshot of the X-Men in a transitional state. While Forge and Banshee would keep those uniforms for some time, the rest of the team discarded them after a few issues, and the team would give way to the X-Men Gold and X-Men Blue squads of the 1990s after a few months.
11. BATMAN #619
Even though DC bought his studio WildStorm Productions in 1998, Jim Lee’s first major DC Comics work didn’t come until his run with Jeph Loeb on “Batman” in 2002. That creative team reinvigorated the Dark Knight with “Hush,” a 12-part mystery that featured almost every major Batman villain and introduced Hush, a villain who was Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend. With dynamic art and cliffhanger endings that kept readers guessing, the series was a critical success and a commercial blockbuster.
While that run was filled with memorable covers, Lee’s triple-gatefold cover for 2003’s “Batman” #619, depicting Batman and his allies on a Gotham City rooftop, was a fitting capstone to a solid run. With inks by Scott Williams and colors by Alex Sinclair, this cover is a prime example of Lee’s talent for staging impossibly cool group shots. As Batman and his allies pose, Superman looms in the background, hinting at Lee’s next major work, a run on “Superman,” and the increasing prominence of Lee’s aesthetic in the wider DC Universe.
10. UNCANNY X-MEN #270
While the X-Men were scattered in the late 1980s, the original five X-Men continued to operate as X-Factor and the mysterious mutant Cable led the New Mutants. All of these disparate plot threads came together in “X-Tinction Agenda,” the first X-Men crossover of the 1990s. With work from Jim Lee, Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, Rob Liefeld and Jon Bogdanove, the story followed the X-teams as they fought the mutant-enslaving government of the island nation Genosha.
In the first issue of that crossover, 1990’s “Uncanny X-Men” #270, the X-Man Havok resurfaced after a long absence as a mutant-hunting Magistrate in the Genoshan army. On Jim Lee, Scott Williams and Glynis Oliver’s cover to that issue, Havok can be seen destroying the book’s title with a pile of unconscious mutants at his feet. While this wasn’t the first time a character attacked the X-Men’s logo, Havok’s attack visualized the destruction of the status quo that would lead to the famous X-Men, X-Force and X-Factor teams of the early 1990s.
9. INFINITE CRISIS #1
By 2005, Jim Lee was firmly entrenched in DC’s publishing line. After the commercial successes of “Batman,” “Superman” and the first issues of “All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder,” Lee provided covers for every issue of the blockbuster miniseries “Infinite Crisis.” In that influential crossover, by Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez and several other artists, the main DC Universe was softly rebooted and the concept of the DC Multiverse was introduced.
On Jim Lee’s cover for 2005’s “Infinite Crisis” #1, Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman strike a pose as various foes and allies loom in the background. With inks from Sandra Hope and colors from Alex Sinclair, this cover captures Lee’s penchant for capturing DC’s heroes at their most iconic. For years, sociologists have cast superheroes as modern mythological figures, and Lee’s work on this cover brings out the heroes’ most visually iconic qualities. Since the relationship between DC’s three biggest heroes was frayed in the buildup to “Infinite Crisis,” this cover groups them together with subtle nods to the tensions within the group.
8. X-MEN ANNUAL #1
In 1991, Jim Lee and Chris Claremont made comic book history by launching “X-Men,” the second ongoing monthly title starring Marvel’s primary team of mutants. Together, they established the template for the X-Men’s commercial peak throughout the 1990s and the basis for “X-Men: The Animated Series.” Although creative differences drove Claremont off the book after a few issues, Lee stayed on the book for 12 issues before leaving to launch Image Comics.
This era of X-Men was characterized by Lee’s energetic artwork and his famous redesigned X-costumes. Both of these are on display in his cover for 1992’s “X-Men Annual” #1. With vibrant colors by Joe Rosas, this cover depicts the X-Men’s Blue Team practically jumping off of the page. This image highlights the shared yellows and blues in each team member’s costume and casts the X-Men as ultra-cool superheroes. Although the Mojo-centric “Shattershot” crossover that started in the book has largely been forgotten, this image was regularly licensed throughout the 1990s.
7. SUPERMAN #205
Jim Lee and Brian Azzarello took over “Superman” in 2004 for the story “For Tomorrow.” That story centered around Superman’s guilt about an unseen event called the Vanishing, where half of Earth’s population disappeared while he was in space. While that story eventually led to the Phantom Zone and an alternate reality General Zod, its more thoughtful tone kept it from reaching the thrilling action-packed highs of “Hush.”
In 2004’s “Superman” #205, Superman traces the source of the Vanishing to a war-torn region in the Middle East and travels there, confiscating every gun and manmade weapon in a 300 mile radius. Lee’s cover for the issue, with inks by Scott Williams and colors by Alex Sinclair, depicts a Superman who’s unfazed by bullets and bombs exploding around him. While this image highlights the conceptual purity and strength of Superman against the realistic weapons of war, it also hints at the potential ferocity of the character’s immense power. While it’s only implied here, the darker side of Superman took center stage a year later in “Infinite Crisis” and has been a big part of Zack Snyder’s Superman movies.
6. WOLVERINE #24
Although Jim Lee never drew an issue of Wolverine’s solo series, he still had plenty of opportunities to draw Marvel’s most fearsome mutant. Before he started regularly penciling “Uncanny X-Men,” Lee’s first encounter with Logan came with “Punisher War Journal” #6-7, where the X-Man had a vicious jungle battle with Frank Castle. After the second ongoing title “X-Men” launched, Lee had Wolverine trade in his fan-favorite brown and tan costume for his iconic blue and yellow costume.
Jim Lee also drew a handful of covers for Logan’s solo series, including the atmospheric cover to 1990’s “Wolverine” #24. Peter David and Gene Colan’s story follows Wolverine as he tries to track down a suitcase on the grimy streets of the island nation Madripoor. On Lee’s cover, Logan blends into a shadowy alley, set against the city’s neon landscape. While Lee’s Wolverine was usually in full-on superhero mode, this was a rare chance to see his Logan in the kinds of noir-influenced setting that the character thrived in during the late 1980s.
5. WILDC.A.T.S #1
After Jim Lee left Marvel to co-found Image in 1992, he created the WildStorm Universe with “WildC.A.T.s” #1. While that universe would eventually grow to spawn critical or commercial successes like “Gen 13,” “Sleeper” and “The Authority,” it has its roots in the debut of the Covert Action Teams. In its earliest days, Lee’s “WildC.A.T.s” focused on superheroes like Spartan, Grifter and Zealot as they fought on the Earthly front of an ancient interstellar war between the Kherubim and Daemonites.
With inks from Scott Williams and colors from Joe Rosas, Lee’s cover to “WildC.A.T.s” #1 perfectly captures the exaggerated day-glo aesthetic of the early 1990s. Since this dynamic cover features the first appearance of eight characters, it has to entice readers into taking a chance with this brand new world. This cover accomplishes that goal flawlessly by synthesizing the era’s biggest trends into an image where each character has a distinct visual identity that plays on the conventions of the superhero genre.
4. SUPERMAN #204
After the tremendous success of Jim Lee’s run on “Batman,” his dynamic drawings seemed like a perfect match for the Man of Steel. Even though Lee had drawn Superman a few times before he started his run with Brian Azzarello on “Superman,” his energetic, action-packed artwork was an ideal vessel to help redefine Superman for the 21st century. While “For Tomorrow’s” plot only received lukewarm reviews, Lee’s art received praise for making Superman look like the cultural touchstone he is.
On the cover of 2004’s “Superman” #204, Lee introduces his version of Superman with one of the most iconic images of the character in the past two decades. With inks from Scott Williams and colors from Alex Sinclair, Lee’s Superman strikes a statuesque pose against a Metropolis bathed in golden sunlight. Lee’s fine, clean linework captures Superman at his most heroic, determined but hopeful. While Lee’s work hints at the character’s incredible strength and darkness, Sinclair’s warm, vibrant colors clearly cast him as a superheroic figure.
3. UNCANNY X-MEN #268
In 1996, Marvel hired Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and some other Image creators to revitalize some of their failing characters like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Although Lee worked heavily on “Fantastic Four” and “Iron Man,” he only drew a few covers starring Captain America. Although the energetic physicality and clean lines of Lee’s art would be a perfect fit for the Avenger, Lee’s most famous work with the character came in 1990’s “Uncanny X-Men” #268.
In that Chris Claremont-written issue, Captain America and Wolverine team up to rescue a young Black Widow from the Hand in 1941, while Logan, Jubilee and Psylocke meet her in present day Madripoor. With inks by Scott Williams and colors by Glynis Oliver, the cover places Wolverine and the book’s two guest stars in a striking pose. In one image, Lee captures the murky espionage-filled world of Black Widow, the larger-than-life heroism of Captain America and the energy of a Wolverine about to pounce into action.
2. BATMAN #608
While Jim Lee might be an integral part of DC Comics today, he had managed to avoid the company while doing his era-defining work at Marvel and Image in the 1990s. Even after DC bought WildStorm in 1998, Lee only contributed a few covers to books from the main DC Universe. So, when Lee finally took a regular assignment as the penciller on “Batman,” expectations were understandably sky high.
Starting with his “Batman Over Gotham” variant cover to 2002’s “Batman” #608, Lee redefined Batman for the modern era with some of the best work of his storied career. With inks from Scott Williams and colors from Alex Sinclair, Lee cast Batman as a dark protector overlooking Gotham City. Where other artists highlighted Batman’s kinetic agility or haunting qualities, Lee’s Batman has a barrel-chested strength. Over the next decade, this physicality would help inform and define the character through the “Dark Knight” cinematic trilogy and the “Arkham Asylum” video game franchise.
1. X-MEN #1
After a quarter of a century, Jim Lee and Chris Claremont’s “X-Men” #1 is still the best-selling comic book of the modern age. With over seven million copies sold, the 1991 debut of the X-Men’s second ongoing monthly title is likely to hold that record for the foreseeable future. After their success on “Uncanny X-Men,” Lee and Claremont defined the X-Men and the 1990s with this monumental issue where the massive mutant team divided into Blue and Gold Teams and faced Magneto.
In an ingenious marketing move, Lee’s full quadruple-size cover for the issue could only be assembled by buying all four variant covers. When united, these four covers formed a massive image of the X-Men attacking Magneto in a nod to Jack Kirby’s cover for the first issue of X-Men. With inks from Scott Williams and colors by Joe Rosas, this cover showcased Lee’s redesigned costumes for the team. From its dynamic, energetic action to its effortlessly cool, instantly iconic characters, this cover captures the best qualities of Jim Lee’s incomparable work in a single image.
Stay tuned to CBR for all the latest on Jim Lee’s upcoming projects! Let us know what your favorite Jim Lee cover is in the comments below!
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