The 1990s – easily the most turbulent decade in all of comic book history. It was the time where comic book sales skyrocketed, with single issues selling hundreds of thousands of copies on the basis of variant covers and the idea that every issue would eventually be resold for millions of dollars and make owners rich. Gimmicks were omnipresent, seriously impacting both art and stories. It was also when the Image Comics style of comic book art came into demand, with extreme musculature and an inability to draw feet properly that still managed to be all the rage. And, of course, it was the time of The Great Comics Crash and The Dark Age of Comic Books, where profits and quality truly plummeted.
Yes, the ‘90s are not where one should look to see the largest amount of examples of why comic books should be considered a true art form. So finding 25 truly fantastic comic book covers was not as easy as finding covers from other decades. In fact, some of the most famous covers from this era are examples of the exact type of comic book art that goes against what good art should be.
Thankfully, there are still enough great covers that these 25 pieces are excellent and memorable entries that represent a wide variety of what a fantastic comic book cover can truly be. From the biggest events of the decade to the small books that showed how creativity was still viable in the 1990s, these are the greatest covers from this strange span of time.
For more of the greatest comic book covers across the century, check out The Greatest Comic Book Covers by Decade.
25. Superman #75 by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding
Easily one of the most instantly identifiable covers in all of comic books, The Death of Superman was a huge event in its time. The fact that DC Comics told everyone how it was going to end before it happened sent the hype through the roof. So when the time finally came, the cover had to sell what was about to happen. While the issue came in a black polybag (a ‘90s staple for big issues) with a bloody S symbol, the real cover is a tribute to the fallen, with Superman’s ragged cape blowing in the wind like a flag on a war-torn beach.
24. Thor #494 by Mike Deodato, Jr.
Storms blowing, wind raging, rain pouring, lightning striking, and Mjolnir in all its glory, this cover has all the elements of The God of Thunder save Thor himself. But that’s why it’s so striking! All the pieces are there to showcase The Mighty Thor, with detailed and slick effects catching the eye immediately. Deodato’s realistic yet stylized approach is on display here, but the lack of bodies on the cover keeps his tendencies for extreme musculature from overtaking the main idea here. This is easily one of the best Thor covers produced in any decade.
23. Superman #120 by Ron Frenz
The art that dominated much of the 1990s was the culmination in a process that had slowly been gaining momentum for decades. The cartoony and simplified art of the ‘50s and ‘60s slowly morphed as a more realistic and dynamic style became employed by more and more artists, which eventually turned into the hyper-detailed and static ‘90s style. Here, Frenz harkens back to the simplicity of the older era by drawing a Superman who is thicker and more simplistic than he was commonly being drawn. The snapping chains are straight out of Max Fleischer’s Superman serials from the 1930s and the bold S symbol is given great contrast from the kryptonite green threatening to overtake The Man of Steel.
22. Green Lantern #49 by Darryl Banks and Romeo Tanghal
Speaking of green, this cover comes from the most emerald of all superheroes and one of the decade’s most controversial events, “Emerald Twilight”. As evidence by the cover, Green Lantern Hal Jordan goes insane, becoming a villain and turning on his fellow Lanterns to take their ring and supercharge himself. The visual of Hal, with an insane grimace on his face and his fingers covered in stolen rings is quite frightening. Banks and Tanghal do impressive work here, posing Hal’s fingers in an off-putting and wild manner and managing to make the greens used sickly and strange, which is saying something for a book that revolves around the color.
21. Batman #497 by Kelley Jones and Bob Le Rose
It’s another of the 1990’s biggest developments, this time without the subtlety used by the team on Superman. Batman’s back was broken by the villain Bane after months of mind games and manipulation, putting The Dark Knight out of commission for more than a year. Here, the development is put front and center by Jones and Le Rose, with their exaggerated style making Bane into even more of a monster. Even Batman, violently bent backwards over a knee, is given the enviable physique of a Greek god. It’s the power of the image, and not necessarily the quality of art, the propels this onto the list.
20. The Mighty Thor #1 by John Romita, Jr.
Filled with bright light and informed by John Romita, Jr.’s recognizable style, this is where the 1990s began to emerge from their artistic darkness. After the most ‘90s of comic book events, “Heroes Reborn,” the return of Thor and his fellow Avengers to the mainstream world of Marvel Comics marked a new era for many of the classic heroes who had fallen into ignominy during the decade. Here, the classic Thor is put front and center, power bursting from Mjolnir and lighting the way. The way everything is lit makes the art leap from the cover and nearly smash you in the face. In the best way possible, of course.
19. Captain America #1 by Ron Garney
Another entry from the “Heroes Return” rebirth in Marvel Comics, Garney’s Captain America #1 is all about shouting the return of The First Avenger from the comic book stands. Steve Rodgers has returned, walking out of smoke and brilliant light and still The Sentinel of Liberty. It’s majestic, powerful, and still mysterious, so it’s a fantastic contrast for the character. Every element you need to sell Cap is here – shield, costume, stalwart pose – it’s a strong message on what this issue was all about. Forget all the “Heroes Reborn” rubbish, this is the true Captain America.
18. Doom Patrol #49 by Tom Taggert
A strange comic deserves an equally strange cover. With the opened-up Robotman’s head on the cover and all sorts of mechanical mess surrounding it, the image conveys strange ideas and a glimpse inside the inner workings of the weird hero. Writer Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrolwas all about exploring strange abstract concepts, so the fact that this cover itself is an abstract exploration is only fitting for the series. With the feeling of 3D art, every piece here pops off the page as Robotman’s glowing red eyes burn into yours.
17. Mad Love by Bruce Timm
Bruce Timm’s art is instantly recognizable and synonymous with “Batman: The Animated Series” – easily the greatest comic book-related creation to come out of the decade. But it works just as well on printed page as it does on the TV screen. Here, the tragic backstory of Harley Quinn comes to life, with the villainess front and center in a layout that would be perfect for a noir film from the 1930s. Only its more colorful and covered in costumes. It’s a testament to the strength of the cover’s layout when the two most recognizable figures play second fiddle to a then-underground character.
16. Captain America #14 by Andy Kubert
The Red Skull is a dynamic looking character in almost any setting, so putting him up close with vivid detail is sure to make an eye-catching cover. Kubert’s creation of Skull brings the villain to life with incredible detail, creating a craggy and realistic visage covered in a grimace. Evil eyes peak out below a huge brow ridge and the color red consumes the page. While a lot of comic cover tag lines distract from the art on display, it actually helps here. The simple “Evil Is Back” underlines the return of The Red Skull as shown by Kubert. It’s a straightforward yet defining image of the classic villain.
15. X-Men #1 by Jim Lee
It’s a bit of a cheat since this is actually five covers in one, but this is easily one of the defining covers of the decade. Lee put together the entire roster of the new X-Men team and pits them against their ultimate nemesis Magneto in an homage to the cover of Uncanny X-Men #1, only this time, it’s done in a hyper-kinetic and modern style. All the classic X-Men of the early ’90s are here, with almost everyone in their defining costumes of the decade. It’s a huge and extremely detailed take on the team. Who wouldn’t want to collect all of these and connect them?
14. Uncanny X-Men #268 by Jim Lee
Another by Lee, this time providing another frequently copied pose showcasing X-Man Wolverine, Black Widow, and Captain America. While there’s nothing necessarily groundbreaking about the style, it’s a combination that has stuck with readers ever since. All three of these characters are iconic in their own unique ways, so teaming them together brings a new level of excitement, especially since something like this had not been done before. Ready for battle and striking a pose, this is a classic Marvel superhero image.
13. Rai #0 by David Lapham
The minimalism on display here is a harbinger of the art to come in the 2000s and beyond, but this cover is firmly grounded in the 1990s. As a Japanese hero blending future tech and a samurai style, Rai is definitely a hero from The Land of the Rising Sun. So planting him squarely in the iconic image of the Japanese flag, with his very center connected to the symbol, makes a firm and bold statement on his origins. The stripped down nature of the image and the bold design put this cover in stark contrast to many of the covers created in the 1990s, making it that much more memorable.
12. Spider-Man #1 by Todd McFarlane
Easily the cover most strongly tied to comic books in the early 1990s, Spider-Man #1 is one of the biggest selling comics of all time. That’s thanks to the popularity of the hero, the massive rising star of artist/writer Todd McFarlane, and the insane notion that every first issue of a comic series would eventually makes its owner millions of dollars. While it’s hard to separate those elements from the art, it’s still a fantastic cover. McFarlane imbues Spider-Man with a far more otherworldly quality, twisting him into all sorts of acrobatic shapes and covering him with immensely detailed webbing that no other artist had dared to attempt. Combined with his huge eyes and vibrant costume, this is one of the Wall-Crawler’s most defining images.
11. Preacher #1 by Glenn Fabry
What an insanely scary and twisted piece of art. Fabry’s iconic introduction to the Preacher series features a burning church and a devilishly smirking pastor, with an encroaching darkness felt everywhere. While it may not say much about what this series is about or where it will go, it certainly sets a tone and creates an idea for what is in store for readers. Add in an insane level of realistic detail and this is a gothic image that is not soon forgotten and one that is synonymous with this twisted and unforgettable series.
10. The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #19 by George Perez
When it comes to characters with iconic faces, less is often more. That’s especially the case with a fantastic villain whose image conveys years of comic book history. And that’s even more the case when it’s Ultron, with glowing red eyes and mouth leering from the darkness and ready to consume all who stand in his way. It’s striking because there is so little to it, but the few details used illustrate so much. Ultron is a great looking character as a whole, but bringing him to life with a major focus on only his iconic face helps to make him far more menacing, evil, and powerful.
9. The League of Extraordinary #1 by Kevin O’Neill
Like the entirety of the series, the cover to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #1 throws out everything that was in style at the time. In their place is a cover that strives to be as out of date and out of place as possible. The many developments within the issue are laid out on the cover like a serial from the early 1900’s, with the various characters introduced with sensational headlines. It’s extremely appropriate for the story within and the way that it is told, with art and narration making it seem like it comes straight out of the past.
8. Daredevil #5 by Joe Quesada
While those unfamiliar with the story may not be fully aware of what is being shown here, it’s obvious that death and tragedy are on full display. Surrounded by black the red of Daredevil’s costume and the white of Karen Page’s dying body are in perfect contrast thanks to Quesada’s wonderful choices. It’s a stark and harsh image, but there’s also something beautiful about it as well, underlying the tragedy here.
7. The Batman Adventures #1 by Bruce Timm
It was Batman: The Animated Series that breathed new life into the once-campy Mr. Freeze, so it’s only right that a comic series spinoff of the TV show should feature one of his greatest images. Timm’s stellar choice of rendering everything in black and white conveys the cold persona of Freeze while also making his frightening red eyes pop out. Combined with the reflection of Batman and Batgirl and snowfall, this says so much with so little.
6. World’s Finest #1 by Steve Rude
The pure essence of both Batman and Superman are put on display side by side here, showng what makes both heroes so great and why their pairing is always so dynamic. For a comic book from the year 1990, these designs are straight out of the past. Superman is lifted straight from a Fleischer serial and Batman has hopped out of his noir origins. The two somehow simulateneously exist in light and dark, with the brilliant Bat Signal dividing their worlds. Sun vs night, doves versus bats, Superman vs Batman. It’s all on display here in one powerful image.
5. Hellboy: Wake The Devil #5 by Mike Mignola
Part demon, part man, the unconventional hero Hellboy has always struggled to balance both of his sides as he dedicates his life to saving the world. Obviously, things have taken a turn for the worse here. Crowned with enormous horns and breathing fire, Hellboy is a demon ascendant. But what will happen to the big red hero? Mignola has a knack for creating covers that line up well with his style inside the comic, but add extra flair to create a scene that looks like a cross between pulp novels and ancient cult drawings. This one is definitely one of his best.
4. Infinity Gauntlet #1 by George Perez
The beginning of an enormous storyline that featured immense battles that literally shook the cosmos itself, the cover of the first issue of The Infinity Gauntlet has every right to be huge itself. The six Infinity Gems shine bright, with their colors beaming out from the gauntlet and creating multiple scenes filled with heroes and villains from throughout the Marvel Universe. Of course, it’s Thanos’ intimidating grimace and The Infinity Gauntlet itself that catch the eye first, but the many scenes and characters on display give this an epic feel. It’s a bright and beautiful image that still has hints of the death and destruction to come.
3. Kingdom Come #4 by Alex Ross
Easily one of Alex Ross’ most definitive pieces, this cover to the finale of Kingdom Come is extremely powerful. The entire series had been leading up to an apocalyptic battle of Biblical proportions, so here the chaos and destruction of the finale is distilled down to one single image. An older Superman is covered in red smoke, mourning incredible losses. It’s a dark and unsettling image, but it shows so much in only a glimpse. Superman is so often shown in bright colors and brilliantly lit, so putting him in shadow and smoke shows how much he has changed. It’s the perfect accompaniment for this brilliant dystopian series.
2. Daredevil #3 by Joe Quesada
A lurking devil, clutching to a cross in the darkness of the night. The clashing ideas and juxtaposition of the image are perfect for Matt Murdock, a hero who often find that his many sides are at war with one another and he struggles to always do what is right. It’s a fantastic piece that balances realism with artistic license, as the layers of buildings, smoke, darkness, and light behind Daredevil making the foreground even more vibrant. Quesada’s pentient for making DD’s billy club rope go crazy works wonders here, wrapping it around the cross. Covering the hero in darkness, his red eyes shine vibrantly, giving him a greater sense of darkness placed against the Catholic theme on display.
1. Marvels #4 by Alex Ross
The best of the best, Ross’s extreme close-up cover is instantly recognizable by itself and also gains strength from harkening back to one of Spider-Man’s most iconic and tragic stories. Spider-Man’s costume itself is one of the best in all of comics, but choosing to focus solely on his eye lens adds a more intensified focus. Of course, the costume and the reflection of Green Goblin and Gwen Stacy are in wonderful balance with one another. The eye is drawn to see the image of the whole, then focus on each of its elements one by one. Ross’s painting gives the scene an extremely realistic feel, giving a far more immediate threat to what comic fans know will end in tragedy. It’s the most powerful take on this iconic scene since its original telling.
Have your own favorite covers? Let me know in the comments below!