Comic book art is the result of a long evolution that has taken decades to get to where it is now. While today’s coloring advancements and new art styles make art from decades give artists new opportunities to tell stories in the medium, nothing beats a master crafting something truly amazing, no matter what tools are available.
The 1960s were a time when comic book artists were first truly able to spread their wings and embrace bold new ideas on how to present comic book stories. Artists like Jack Kirby were creating new ways of expressing motion and power on the page, putting heroes into iconic poses that felt both kinetic and statuesque at the same time. The ideas explored here changed the way that comics were drawn and their influence can still be seen today, decades later.
You’ll also notice the extreme differences between Marvel Comics and DC Comics during this decade. This was the time period when Marvel really exploded onto the scene, with then-new characters like Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and The Avengers making a huge splash in the comic world. Meanwhile, longtime heroes like Superman and Batman were devolving into serious camp with outlandish stories, even for a comic book.
These 25 comic book covers are the best of the best when it comes to the comic book renaissance of the 1960s. For more comic book covers across the century, read more entries in The Greatest Comic Book Covers by Decade.
25. The Mighty Avengers #63 by Gene Colan
This may be the dubious debut of Hawkeye’s weird new costume and identity as Goliath, by Colan helps make the reveal into a bold and powerful depiction of the character. The enormous character dwarfs the entire roster of the Avengers while still showing this to be a fun and bold type of story. Having the characters fight on top of the forced perspective subtitles rendered in stone adds to the size and weight of the action scene greatly.
24. Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #53 by Curt Swan
On the other end of the spectrum concerning giant characters on the comic page, this issue of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, which stands as one of the strangest and most iconic examples of DC Comics in the ‘60s. Like many Jimmy Olsen comics of the time, Superman’s friend has been turned into a monster and The Man of Steel is forced to take drastic action. Of course, Superman’s enormous dialogue bubble explains everything about the story that you need, but it’s still a fun and well done piece of camp.
23. Justice League of America #21 by Mike Sekowsky
When DC Comics revamped their superheroes in the ‘60s, they set aside many of their heroes from the World War II era and gave new takes on pre-existing identities. Here, the heroes of the forgotten Justice Society of America meet the Justice League of America, helping to establish the existence of the Multiverse. Seeing all those old heroes bubble out of a magic crystal ball and look down on their modern counterparts is unforgettable. The iconography of the scene makes up for the stiff characters and outdated art.
22. The Flash #163 by Carmine Infantino
If there’s one way to get people to buy a comic book, it’s to have the character speak directly to the reader. Well, maybe not, but this breaking of the fourth wall by Infantino was a new and novel approach at the time. It’s definitely an old school take on a comic cover, but the countless imitations and spoofs show the iconography of the original. A little forced perspective on The Flash’s hand and some eye-popping color choices for text really catch the eye. It may not be the most artistic cover on the list, but it was certainly original for the time.
21. Captain America #111 by Jim Steranko
Jim Steranko’s infusion of surrealism and op art into the comic book medium was a revelation in the 1960s. All these years later and it still makes an impact on viewers. Here, his cover for Captain America shows off the technique that made him a superstar during the decade. Note the large amount of white space and the off-center background combined with trippy color pallettes for several characters. While Captain America himself may be rendered in a classic manner, everything else is purposefully different and way outside the mainstream comic book look.
20. Fantastic Four #49 by Jack Kirby
Galactus is a humongous villain, towering over skyscrapers and devouring planets throughout the universe with his herald the Silver Surfer. While it would work to show him in complete form, looming over the heroes of The Fantastic Four, Kirby;s choice to show on his hands and head keep him more mysterious and menacing. The sickening green palette for the villain also helps him stand out among the giant red cloud as the heroes run for their lives. It’s a great introduction for this most dangerous of Marvel villains.
19. Fantastic Four #51 by Jack Kirby
The Thing’s struggle with his appearance has been a crucial part of the character for decades and was especially vital to the character during the early years of The Fantastic Four. Here, it is clear that the hero also known as ben Grimm is grappling with his humanity, which is especially emphasized by the askew title. While there is far more to the story, Kirby makes Ben’s critical decision clear as Mr. Fantastic is in trouble and the Invisible Woman pleads for his help. Kirby infuses a huge amount of pathos into the character, with The Thing’s eyes obscured under his troubled brow as he stares down at his hands. Add in some complicated machinery in the background and it’s a simple but powerful piece.
18. The Incredible Hulk #1 by Jack Kirby
The Hulk is a character that walks a line between the new age of superheroes that exploded into popularity in the 1960s and the monster tales that Marvel survived on for years. The cover to the very first issue of The Incredible Hulk illustrates this perfectly with Dr. Bruce Banner’s transformation into the looming appearance of The Hulk, who was grey in his first appearance. Bordered by outlandish captions and shocked onlookers, it’s clear that this story is meant to shock and amaze. Jack Kirby does a great job at announcing this strange new character in a manner that has been copied ever since.
17. Superman #199 by Jim Shooter
It’s the battle that every DC Comics fan loves to talk about. Who’s faster, The Flash or Superman? The two heroes are put to the test here with heroes rooting them both on in the background. Shooter has the two racing side by side, with a huge amount of motion lines conveying the sheer speed that both are running at. While it’s not nearly as detailed or dynamic as many others on the list (the black sky is a real cheat), the idea behind the action here really sells it.
16. The Avengers #4 by Jack Kirby
After more than a decade out of comic books, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought back Captain America in a big way. Having him at the forefront of the still new Avengers makes this team bigger and bolder than ever. There’s no pretense here, just colorful heroes leaping headfirst into the fray. In particular, Cap’s pose is the most iconic element of the image, with the image being reproduce in comics and many other reimaginings of the image. Plus, the askew box with Namor in the corner helps to fill out what might be awkward white space in the cover.
15. Fantastic Four #72 by Jack Kirby
Jack Kirby had plenty of strengths as an artist, but he especially excelled when it came to cosmic characters and an outer space setting. The artist’s signature “Kirby Crackle” is used to its full extent here, filling the red and black background with energy as the two tone backdrop highlights the foreground image of The Silver Surfer. While the cosmic hero may not have the huge palette often applied to most superheroes, he’s incredibly well designed by Kirby. His shiny surface and smooth lines work wonderfully as he speeds through a vibrant and detailed cosmos.
14. The Amazing Spider-Man #28 by Steve Ditko
Like most pieces of art that heavily use negative space, the seeming simplicity of it all is actually the result of hard work and great talent. Since The Molten Man is a glowing being made of hot metal, he clearly stands out in a more bold and menacing fashion when surrounded by darkness. But give it to Ditko to find a way to make Spider-Man the more fascinating image of the two, with only his costume’s webbing and part of an eye being shone on page. The pitch black scenario that the hero finds himself in is filled with danger, but Spider-Man’s unique look here is what really makes the cover shine.
13. The Silver Surfer #4 by John Buscema
This one is all about speed and power. Buscema is clearly in his prime here, making both Silver Surfer and Thor look equally iconic and powerful. He imbues a real sense of movement into both characters and they are about to collide. Thor’s wide swinging stance and Surfer’s lunging movement are both drawn seemingly effortlessly, but it’s clear that plenty of time went into making this the best cover possible. It’s great work that makes you desperate to see what happens next when two of the universe’s most powerful beings clash.
12. The Amazing Spider-Man #3 by Steve Ditko
Giving the villain the upper hand on a comic book cover is always more exciting than showing the hero winning. In addition, having the villain be a mysterious newcomer with strange weapons means that the cover will be even more intriguing to the audience. Here, Ditko renders Spider-Man as completely helpless in the arms of Doctor Octopus, as the shadowy villain gloats about his impending victory. It’s a simple and semi-cliché cover by today’s standards, but the classy art and nostalgic layout make this one of the best covers of the early days of The Amazing Spider-Man.
11. Captain America #115 by Marie Severin
The Red Skull is always a visually dynamic character thanks to his disturbing visage and frequent maniacal schemes. Here he stands triumphant (for the moment) with Captain America trapped inside a Cosmic cube that he holds in his hand. Having Cap trapped and miniaturized is a unique and very sci-fi development for the hero. The way Severin has the Cube be both the centerpiece and the source of light for the image makes this cover more interesting and powerful than it could have been in a less dynamic format. This is a big splash of color and light that makes it an incredibly fun and eye catching cover.
10. The Avengers #57 by John Buscema
A simple way of boldly announcing a new character is to have him or her metaphorically tower over the established characters in the debut cover. That idea is shown in its finest form here by Buscema for the debut of The Vision, who arrives among billowing smoke and a red sheen cast over everything, including both title and corner symbol. The elements give off a sense of mystery and dread, as The Avengers are clearly powerless and distressed below the powerful android, who holds out his hand to assert his power. Like the best of comic book covers in the ‘60s, this amazing cover has been endlessly copied ever since.
9. Fantastic Four #1 by Jack Kirby
Jack Kirby certainly knows how to bring new characters onto the scene. His work on the first appearance of The Fantastic Four is one of those pieces that is an instant classic, with his sense of movement and action more than making up for some stiff poses and the lack of background. Of course, the cover also has the huge amount of speech bubbles that happened so often during the 1960s, but there is a sense of charm to these as the four main characters introduce themselves in the midst of battle. The giant creature at the center of the cover is just as memorable as the team itself. There are few images as closely identified with The Fantastic Four as this.
8. Amazing Fantasy #15 by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko
The best comic book covers are the perfect blend of great character design and layout. Here, Kirby and Ditko introduce Spider-Man in stunning fashion. The Spider-Man costume is easily one of the greatest superhero outfits ever made, which is why it has largely stayed the same across 50 years. Having the hero swing in from clearly off panel brings a nice level of action and excitement to this new character coming onto the scene. Having him carry a man loosely under one arm adds more dynamic action to the scene and illustrates his strength as well. This is a cover that even the least savvy audience member will recognize instantly.
7. The Flash #174 by Carmine Infantino
Quite possibly the most iconic Flash cover ever made, this one has been copied time and time again. And with good reason! Not only does the image of a hero defeated and the villain triumphant catch readers’ attentions, but the way the comic book’s title plays a significant role in the proceedings makes this an incredibly bold layout. Having the Rogues nonchalantly gaze upon their defeated foe and sit on the hero’s name, with The Flash in shadow underneath, makes this menacing while still being an incredibly bold and attractive layout. This is definitely one for the ages.
6. The Invincible Iron Man #1 by Gene Colan
What better way to announce the brand new first ever series for Iron Man than to depict The Armored Avenger breaking loose? While it’s not entirely clear what Iron Man is busting out of or what is going on behind him, Gene Colan still makes it look awesome. Whith and extra wide stance and a mask almost contorted into anger, it’s a powerful image of Iron Man, whose red and yellow color scheme vibrantly bounced off the cool blue background. There’s little need to sell the plot or any sort of dramatic hook here, just Iron Man himself in all his glory.
5. The Amazing Spider-Man #50 by John Romita, Sr.
It’s easily one of the most iconic images of Spider-Man ever made. Not only is it incredibly crafted by Romita, but it sums up everything you need to know. What else I to be said besides “Spider-Man No More” after seeing this image? While the idea of Peter Parker giving up on being Spider-Man could have been illustrated in countless ways, Romita goes a far more metaphorical route as Parker and his alter ego turn their backs on one another. Making Spider-Man into a setting sunset is a genius move, with the power of the image being immediately evident and standing up to literal decades of reflection since its creation.
4. The Avengers #1 by Jack Kirby
What’s better than some of the greatest Marvel heroes teaming up for the first time ever? Well, Kirby was never one to slack off on cover design, so he makes this a bold and exciting image beyond just the collection of colorful characters. Kirby has the entire image down over the shoulder of the villainous Loki, showing the collection of heroes coming straight for the evildoer. Rather than focus on the villain’s face, he keeps it on the power of the heroes, with Thor in particular lending power to the assembly with his whirling hammer Mjolnir. Throw in some big word bubbles and splashy panels and this is so bold it leaps off the page!
3. The Amazing Spider-Man #33 by Steve Ditko
Combined with a title boasting “The Final Chapter,” it’s clear that things are dire for Spider-Man here. Ditko puts Peter Parker in just about the worst situation possible in his fledgling career. Having Spider-Man take up so little of the image shows just how overwhelmed he is, as he’s covered in collapsed machinery and about to drown under rising tides. Ditko makes you feel not only just the weight of the obstacles, but the weight of impending doom. The tight framing adds greatly to the scene as well, so that the situation seems inescapable and crushing. Trust me, the developments inside the issue are just as powerful and wonderfully drawn.
2. The Incredible Hulk Special #1 by Jim Steranko
Jack Kirby new how to bring power to every image he drew. His greatest works are like living statues – embodying iconic poses while still feeling alive and real. Here, The Hulk struggles under the weight of his massive cracking comic title in a pose reminiscent of Atlas carrying the world. Except The Hulk is way cooler than Atlas. The crumbling rock and sense of weight given to everything here combined with the fiery background and bright colors give it all a sense of immediacy. In fact, this cover is so great that I put a modern version of it in my list for The 25 Greatest Comic Book Covers of the 2000s.
1. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #4 by Jim Steranko
Simply put, this is everything that is great about comic book covers distilled down into one single piece of art. Steranko’s pop art and surrealism are in full force as he illustrates a web of confusion and deceit around S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury. The black and white imagery helps make Fury and the book’s cover pop off the page, but they are just as bold as the colored aspects. By using optical illusions, iconic New York imagery, and all manner of shady characters, the cover says everything you need to know about a story filled with covert operations and deadly spies. Surprisingly, the image is also immediately understandable upon first glance and doesn’t confuse or overwhelm. However, the detail and originality reward longer and repeated looks to take everything in. This is the type of comic book art that defines the medium and the decade as a whole.