42 Comics From DC’s “The Faces of DC” Event, Sorted in Descending Order of Awesomeness
1. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World #10 (Pencils/Inks: Walt Simonson)
If you could time-travel back to the fall of 1997 and visit any comic shop, you would see an interesting sight: several dozen DC covers sporting extreme close-ups of their stars. The stories weren’t connected in any way, and fans could be forgiven for wondering if DC was trying another of those cover gimmicks that Marvel and DC were known for pulling all too frequently just a few years earlier. Even so, it was pretty cool to see all those heads lined up and staring back at you — and Walt Simonson’s portrait of uber-baddie Darkseid was undeniably the coolest of the lot. It’s Simonson, after all, and don’t let his playful shaped-like-a-dinosaur autograph fool you; the man takes his craft very seriously. It’s the rare consummate professional who can go from delivering Thor-Frog to this portrait of evil incarnate… although, after staring at this image for a while, you can almost see a hint of sadness behind the cold, calculating and (literally) stone-faced visage. There’s a reason why Darkseid has endured so long as one of DC’s top-tier villains, and this image nails it.
2. Wonder Woman #128 (Pencils/Inks: José Luis Garcia-López)
Two words: (1) homina and (2) homina. Spanish by birth, Garcia-López is one of DC’s all-time great pinch hitters, producing dependable artwork for just about any character or genre but not known for extended runs on any one particular title (his 1990 mini-series Twilight is worth checking out, as well as his work on Atari Force, Cinder and Ashe, the first four issues of both DC Comics Presents and Jonah Hex, and the trippy Batman/Hulk team-up book from the ‘80s). Prior to this issue, Garcia-López had taken on DC’s resident Amazon several times, but there’s something about this image that just pops; maybe it’s because I don’t think I’ve ever seen Wonder Woman look as confident as she does here.
3. Starman #37 (Paints: Tony Harris)
Together with James Robinson, Harris created an updated Starman in 1994, providing art for most of the series’ first 45 issues. So it’s no great surprise that he was tapped to create this image of Jack Knight. As you can probably guess, Knight wasn’t a typical superhero; his father, the original Starman, passed his costume and “cosmic power rod” on to Jack’s older brother, which suited Jack just fine. He only reluctantly accepted the mantle after David was murdered, but even then he refused to wear the uniform, opting instead for street clothes, a star-shaped badge, and a pair of welder’s goggles to complete his look. The slight smirk, the upturned collar, the trace of stubble on his chin, the steely determination in his eyes – it all comes together perfectly.
4. Green Arrow #127 (Pencils: Doug Braithwaite, Inks: Robert Campanella)
The ‘90s was a time when a number of older heroes were retired or killed to make way for a younger generation; Green Arrow was no exception. Connor Hawke stepped into his (temporarily) deceased father’s shoes, and by this time he had a few years under his crimefighting belt. Excellent use of a judiciously applied amount of green, and the glint of light off the arrowhead makes it clear there ain’t no boxing-glove arrows in this boy’s quiver.
5. Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #101 (Paints: Kevin Nowlan)
Most of the cover images on this page stayed away from portraying specific plot points of the stories inside, focusing instead on straightforward portraits. Legends of the Dark Knight went a different route, probably because it was an anthology series that brought in a roster of rotating creative teams to present their own unique takes on the Batman mythos. In this one-shot story titled “The Incredible Adventures of Batman 19th Edition Revised April 2098,” a robot in the future designed to look like Batman decides he really is Batman. A robot looking like Batman is what you get on the cover. Truth in advertising: catch the fever! Plus: blood-colored teardrop? Weird. Eerie. Weird and eerie.
6. Aquaman #39 (Pencils: Jim Calafiore, Inks: Mark McKenna)
I’m not especially enamored by the sunken-cheeked interpretation of everyone’s favorite king of Atlantis (face facts, Namor), but I’m giving this one high marks for the regal look of his face, as well as the decision to have him staring at us while a school of minnows pass in front of the underwater “camera.” The extreme close-up format can make it difficult for some characters to demonstrate what makes them unique, but this is one case in which the artist got around that challenge quite… er, swimmingly.
7. JLA #13 (Pencils: Howard Porter, Inks: John Dell)
I’ve never been a huge fan of Porter’s pencils, and all things considered I think Morrison’s early JLA scripts could have used a more subtle approach, art-wise, than Porter delivered. But his decision to give Martian Manhunter (who was the only JLA member without his own series at the time) the cover spot was a good one; the deep shadows, heavy brow and pupil-less eyes – to say nothing of the enigmatic expression on his face – cast J’onn J’onzz’s otherworldly origins in an unsettling and ambiguous light, but in the best possible way.
8. The Spectre #60 (Paints: Tony Harris)
No, I’m not someone with a particular interest in Harris’s work; he just happened to create two great images for this series. The “soft lighting” technique works well here, given the Spectre’s ghostly countenance, and he’s got juuuuust enough of the menacing, unfeeling look that you’d naturally expect from God’s merciless instrument of vengeance.
9. Adventures in the DC Universe #9 (Pencils: John Delaney, Inks: Ron Boyd)
This was an anthology series that shone a spotlight on a different DC character every month; its hook was that the stories were drawn in an “animated” style similar to the Batman and Superman shows at the time. This particular issue saw the Flash get hit by an evolution and de-evolution ray at the same time, giving him a super-brain inside a rapidly weakening body. (It’s also a great homage to the cover of The Flash #177 and all the other wacky transformations the Scarlet Speedster went through in his early years.) Why like? Because it’s silly, and completely keeping in spirit with the idea that comics ought to be fun.
10. Impulse #32 (Pencils: Jeff Matsuda, Inks: Wayne Faucher)
Speaking of silly. Why put this one so high on the list? Because this is exactly how Impulse would react if he suddenly realized a camera was trained on him. And I defy anyone with a soul to look at this image and not giggle just a little bit.
11. Batman #549 (Pencils: Kelley Jones, Inks: John Beatty)
A portrait of the Penguin, courtesy of a penciller known for one of the more distinctive Batman runs during the 1990s. Jones tended towards the Gothic in his art, depicting Batman with costumes and poses that made him look positively demonic (but no less monstrous than the villains he went up against). It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, for sure, but it made for some striking interpretations of classic characters. Kudos to Jones for making the Penguin look every bit as twisted and dark as his money-grubbing soul, with an extra point for the right shade of yellow on his tobacco-stained teeth.
12. Nightwing #15 (Pencils: Scott McDaniel, Inks: Karl Story)
Pretty much the wiseass expression I’d expect from Dick Grayson. That and the placement of his shuriken with the light reflecting off them puts this book at the head of the second-tier pack.
13. Superman: The Man of Steel #74 (Pencils: Jon Bogdanove, Inks: Dennis Janke)
Not bad. The “Clark Kent about to change into Superman” pose is always a classic, though I do have to grump a little about how the late-90s Clark Kent was all chiseled chins and muscular physiques, making it a little bit hard to suspend some much-needed disbelief re: the whole “how come no one ever figured out Kent was Superman” thing.
14. Robin #48 (Pencils: Tom Grummett, Inks: Terry Austin)
Like the Nightwing image above, this is an image that delivers on its promise: a closeup of Robin showing the right amount of intensity. Bonus points for incorporating the staff (one of his preferred weapons) and using its shadow to add a bit of darkness to a character that’s often struggled to show his dark side.
15. Hitman #21 (Pencils/Inks: John McCrea)
For those who don’t remember, Hitman starred Tommy Monaghan, a small-time hitman-with-a-heart-of-gold who gained the powers of telepathy and X-ray vision — which came in handy when he took on assignments involving metahuman targets. It’s a great series if you ever want to check it out, though it’s not recommended for the squeamish. This image captures the character’s swagger and love of beer, and only gets demerit points for the cigarette in his mouth. Because as Rod and Tod Flanders once said, “Smokers are jokers!”
16. Young Heroes in Love #7 (Pencils: Dev Madan, Inks: Keith Champagne)
Young Heroes in Love was a quirky and fun series that lasted only 18 issues and featured such characters as Hard Drive (who later retires from heroing to serve as governor of Connecticut), Monstergirl (a shape-shifter) and Junior (the team’s resident genius who’s also permanently stuck at six inches in height). Less a team-up book and more a book about a bunch of young people who just happen to have super-powers, one of the standout characters was Frostbite, the pointy-eared, blue-skinned cold manipulator who also happens to be bisexual and… um… well, (whisper) Canadian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
17. Legion of Super-Heroes #99 (Pencils: Alan Davis, Inks: Mark Farmer)
With a book like Legion, the challenge with this kind of event is deciding which character should represent the whole team. The JLA issue got around that by focusing on the one character without a series to call his own (and the one character, some have argued, representing the heart of the team); this cover was given to the only member of the Legion team who can become her own team. I like the attempt at irony, if that’s what they were going for here, but putting more than one face on the cover — I dunno, it feels like the artist didn’t really get the point of the exercise.
18. Legionnaires #55 (Pencils: Jeffrey Moy, Inks: W. C. Carani)
Having said that, putting the most distinctive face on the cover of the other Legion of Super-Heroes title that month — namely, Chameleon Boy’s — also feels like a bit of a copout. Aside from the ears, skin color, and antennae, there’s nothing particularly distinctive about this portrait, and it’s one of those rare times I’d think a cover enhancement (maybe one of those reticulated covers that show him “changing” his form) would be warranted.
19. Batman Shadow of the Bat #69 (Paints: Chris Moeller)
This issue gets a skull gussied up as Batman because the story inside has Batman chasing bad guys who believe in prophecies about the end of the world. Decent enough image, but weighed down by a story guest-starring Fate. No, not Doctor Fate, the sucky one.
20. Green Lantern #93 (Pencils: Darryl Banks, Inks: Terry Austin)
Compare this image to the Green Arrow image above, which does the unexpected by going easy on the green and using the arrowhead to catch the light. This image, by comparison, offers exactly what you’d expect: lots of green with the ring thrown in because, you know, Green Lantern. Competent, but hardly surprising or eye-catching. Plus: why’s he wearing a mouthguard?
21. Catwoman #52 (Pencils/Inks: Jim Balent)
So, remember back when Brubaker got his hands on Catwoman, purposely got rid of the bad-girl art and cheesecake poses to make her more than just another eye-candy babe in Spandex? Well, this image came out before he did all that.
23. Superboy #46 (Pencils: Tom Grummett, Inks: Doug Hazlewood)
Yeah, it’s from the time when Superboy wore a leather jacket, sported an earring, and ran around Hawaii fighting humanoid sharks. It was a period in the character’s career that’s about as memorable as this cover.
25. The Power of Shazam! #33 (Paints: Jerry Ordway)
I’m normally a big fan of Ordway’s work, even if he has a tendency to shove lanterns inside most of his characters’ jaws. This painted image of Captain Marvel could almost be one of his better portraits, if Cap didn’t look so… stoned? Bored? Sullen? Stoned? The lightning in the eyes is a nice touch, but we need a little more energy on this cover to make it truly crackle.
26. Supergirl #16 (Pencils: Gary Frank/Patrick Martin, Inks: Cam Smith)
Okay, so it’s split in two because, like, she’s actually two people, right? And they both looked bummed because, um, they’re totally not cool with that, or something? Be honest, now — does this image make you want to find out if I’m right or not?
28. Batman & Robin Adventures #25 (Pencils/Inks: Ty Templeton)
Ty Templeton is a talented artist who has brought a lot of that talent to the many books he’s illustrated, especially the based-on-animation titles like Batman & Robin Adventures and The Simpsons. So I’m a little disappointed to find that his contribution to “The Faces of DC” was basically two eye-slits and some lightning bolts in the back. Yeah, I get it, “this ain’t your father’s animated Batman,” etc. But it would be nice to at least see a mouth.
29. Challengers of the Unknown #11 (Pencils: John Paul Leon, Inks: Shawn Martinbrough)
At this point, I ask myself: what makes for a successful “Faces of DC” cover portrait? Superior art, for sure. An iconic look for an iconic character, definitely. An image that makes me want to pick up the book and find out what’s inside, absolutely. What this cover says to me is, “Hey, you may not know who this guys is, but we’ve got Batman inside — c’mon, pick us up, fanboy.” Sorry, Challs, but you’ve already had 10 issues to make yourself a little less unknown to readers — this ain’t the time to go trumpeting the guest stars as your main selling point.
30. Resurrection Man #8 (Pencils/Inks: Jackson Guice [as Butch Guice])
I was a little bit disappointed by this one. Mitch “the Resurrection Man” Shelley is easily one of the most reluctant superheroes in the business, and the only reason he spent most of his time running around with powers (he gained a new power every time he died and came back to life) was because he has no idea who he really was, or why gun-toting assassins (who must have been really frustrated by his refusal to just die already) were always chasing him. This portrait would have been the perfect opportunity to capture the frustration and bewilderment that would come with living with that kind of life. Instead… this. Meh.
31. Steel #45 (Pencils: Denys Cowan, Inks: Tom Palmer)
“Okay, fellas, what we’re going for in this next photo is your best snarly face. You know what I mean — teeth bared, neck muscles tensed, real ‘eye of the tiger’ stuff. Annnd… go! That’s the ticket, Steel!”
35. Superman Adventures #14 (Pencils: Rick Burchett, Inks: Terry Austin)
See, at least with the Batman & Robin Adventures cover up top, you could make the argument the silhouette portrait worked because of the dark tone of the show the comic was based on. This? Not so much.
36. Major Bummer #5 (Pencils: Doug Mahnke, Inks: John Dell)
This was a fun but short-lived series about Lou Martin, a slacker who accidentally got super-powers intended for someone else; a big part of the series’ humor was the fact that the main character often found his powers to be more of an inconvenience than anything else. He also attracted a number of oddball allies and super-villains, including — I swear I am not making this up — Tyrannosaurus Reich, a Nazi dinosaur from a parallel universe. Why #36? Because they went with this shot of Lou instead of showing us Tyrannosaurus Reich. Memo to future comic cover artists: always go with the Nazi dinosaur!!!
38. Sovereign Seven #29 (Pencils: Ron Lim, Inks: Chris Ivy)
“What, Picture Day is today? Aw, crap — I knew I shouldn’t have gotten into that fight on the way to the photo shoot. Okay, let me get one of the other team members — what do you mean, you took the shot already?”
39. The Book of Fate #11 (Pencils: Keith Giffen, Inks: ????)
Fate sucks, his book sucked, the whole concept behind him sucked — seriously, no one cheered louder than me when he got himself killed and his mystical equipment went back to Doctor Fate. And I don’t even have to call that a spoiler because nobody cares about what happened to this loser.
40. The Adventures of Superman #553 (Pencils: Tom Grummett, Inks: Denis Rodier)
Hey, remember Scorn? The big blue guy who escaped from the bottle city of Kandor, helped Superman with a few missions, hung out with the daughter of a conservative Daily Planet columnist and then disappeared without a trace? C’mon, sure you do. And here’s a big picture of him looking extra-snarly. Grr!
41. Lobo #46 (Pencils: Carl Critchlow, Inks: Mark Propst)
Oh, lovely. So in case you missed it, the joke here is that not only is Lobo picking his nose, but his pinkie finger is re-emerging from his ear. Books like this is why I spent a lot of the ’90s wondering what the hell happened to comics.
42. Action Comics #740 (Pencils: Stuart Immonen, Inks: Jose Marzan Jr.)
Be honest, now — is there anything about this cover that makes you run, not walk, to the nearest comic shop? Bold artistic statement or five minutes to deadline? You decide!