The 1970s was an amazing time for countless comic book creators and characters. Instant-classic characters created in the ‘60s were hitting their heyday and the ideas of comic book art were slowly expanding to encompass new styles. In addition, some of the all-time greats of the medium were getting their chance to shine.
It was during this time when Marvel Comics produced many of its most classic stories and DC Comics took major steps away from their extremely campy style that took up much of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
The best comic books of the 1970s are just as well known for their plots as they are for their art. It was here that stories such as “The Death of Gwen Stacy,” “The Phoenix Saga,” and “The Fourth World” began. Not only that, but characters like The Punisher, Ghost Rider, and even Howard the Duck made their debut. Fresh ideas, new creators, and colorful new characters always inject more exciting opportunities in comic books, and this era was chock full of them.
There’s a certain blend between the more realistic and detailed style brought by many artists and the colorful and bombastic cartoonish ideas in the 1970s that results in countless images that are quintessential comic books. The art produced here would go on to influence countless artists and styles in the years to follow. As artists grew and expanded the style, the medium would only go on to be more diverse and artistically explosive. But the comics off the ‘70s are still incredibly fun.
For a rundown of the best comic book covers from the ‘60s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s, check out The Best Comic Book Covers by Decade.
25. The Defenders #10 by John Romita, Sr.
24. Marvel Spotlight #5 by Mike Ploog & Morrie Kuramoto
23. New Gods #1 by Jack Kirby
Jack Kirby was known as The King thanks to his progressive and stunning artwork at Marvel Comics. When he left for DC, they knew what a goldmine they had on their hands. So it’s obvious why they stamped “KIRBY IS HERE!” on the top of New Gods #1. It’s a simple layout, but the mind-bending black and white beveling for the look of outer space and the colorful appearance of Orion really pop. It’s old school but new at the same time.
22. Detective Comics #395 by Neal Adams
Neal Adams is responsible for some of the greatest Batman images of all time and his take on The Caped Crusader helped reshape the hero’s image as writer Dennis O’Neal took him in a fresh and dark direction. Here, Batman is placed in a dire situation, trapped in a grave and with nowhere it run. Batman is thrown into a fantastic, kinetic position, whirling around to see the villainous threatening him and her pet hyenas. There’s great light and shadowing here, as well. It adds a wonderful feel to the cover. Batman should be about the darkness. You get it in spades here.
21. Fantastic Four #176 by Jack Kirby
Jack Kirby was the perfect match for the adventures of Fantastic Four, with his kinetic and stylized work doing wonders for the exotic locales and strange creatures that filled the books. Here, Impossible Man gels wonderfully with Kirby. His bold appearance and shape changing capabilities stand out as the Fantastic Four futilely fight back. Kirby’s poses and proportions add depth and energy to each character, with Impossible Man’s morphing physique and color palette popping from the reddish background.
20. Mister Miracle #1 by Jack Kirby
Mister Miracle is easily one of the most visually vibrant heroes created by writer/artist Jack Kirby in his Fourth World adventures. Not only that, but the idea of him being an super escape artist makes it so the character gets into all sorts of death-defying shenanigans. Here, Kirby shows his knack for vibrant compositions, field of depth, and complex machinery. Having the red, yellow, and green hero be launched on a rocket and manacled to a death trap is a really insane but super fun concept. Forget all the world bubbles (a staple of ‘70s DC covers), the art speaks for itself here.
19. Superman #233 by Neal Adams
One of the emblematic covers of Superman, Neal Adam’s dynamic image of The Man of Steel bursting free of Kryptonite chains is pitch perfect. While simple in its purpose, the power and action really pops off the page. Shackles burst and color pours from the background as the hero busts free. This cover has been copied time and time again. Of note, this is definitely not a #1 issue, but slapping a giant number on the cover of a comic never hurt its sales. That would be used by publishers more and more as the decades wore on.
18. Detective Comics #475 by Neal Adams
Mixing zaniness with a darker edge, this cover is definitely one of Adams’ most light hearted images. However, The Joker is always a deftly mix of dark comedy. As Joker whirls around on Batman, it seems like he’s gotten the drop on The Caped Crusader, but he’s only armed with a pair of fish, not guns. But on closer inspection, the fish both bear The Joker’s emblematic clown face. Their appearance is incredibly disturbing while still strangely funny. It’s dark and strange image that makes you want to find out more.
17. Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76 by Neal Adams
Bathed in only green, white, and black, Neal Adams’ work here is one of the most well-remembered images for both heroes on display. Here, Adams’ signature style is on display with Green Lantern and Green Arrow, as these two friends find themselves at odds with one another. Adams was well known for creating covers that created questions about what was happening. While it may be somewhat cliché by modern standards, his best work stands the test of time thanks to the technique on display.
16. The Amazing Spider-Man #121 by John Romita, Sr.
Now well known as “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” Romita’s cover for this iconic Spider-Man tale is forever remembered for the story within. But in and of itself, it is still a fantastic piece of art. The cover is all about teasing readers with the fateful death beyond the cover. The collage of portraits makes the reader paranoid with who may meet their end in the comic. Spider-Man’s tense body language and Spider-Sense sell his desperation and fear to the point of not even needing the character’s face.
15. Howard the Duck #8 by Gene Colan
Howard the Duck is just an insane character. But he was created to be an insane character. That’s the beauty of it. Having this extremely cartoonish character bust out of the more realistic newspaper background shows off his heightened nature and animated aspects. But a look at the newspaper headlines show off the goofy and tongue-in-cheek nature of it all, with the anthropomorphic duck seemingly running for office. The black and white background makes the colorful and steaming-mad duck pop even more as he both metaphorically and literally bursts from the page. “Howard for President” indeed.
14. The Incredible Hulk #140 by Herb Trimpe
It’s tough to get a Hulk cover that is unique and thrilling without repeating one of the iconic images that have been done time and time again. Trimpe’s cover to The Hulk’s classic trip into the microverse really is quite odd and out there, but it just sings. Hulk strikes a heroic pose and the looming giant hand shows his existence in a tiny world. Putting him and the woman he loves on a pedastal emblazoned with an incredibly bold and cheesy title sells the story through and through. Who wouldn’t want to read this weird and wild tale?
13.The Uncanny X-Men #101 by Dave Cockrum
The Phoenix rises! And The X-Men will never be the same. Part of a massive story arc, here Jean Grey transforms into the might Phoenix and the X-Men are caught in her rebirth. With so much anger and power on display, it’s not clear whether she is good or evil, only that her friends should be afraid. Cockrum’s use of motion through water really adds to the power of the image and having the X-Men recoil adds tension and fear. Specifically, Cyclops’ half-submerged visage really makes this a powerful cover, with a fear of drowning thrown into the mix.
12. Iron Man #128 by Bob Layton
It’s true, Tony Stark is an alcoholic. And it looks like he just realized it! The “Demon in a Bottle” storyline is one of Iron Man’s great stories and is constantly brought up in not only reflection on the character, but the in-universe history, as well. It’s clear that Stark is in a bad way here, catching his haggard reflection in the mirror with not only a bottle of alcohol and his suit’s helmet within reach. The desperation and anguish are rendered in stunning detail by Layton as the hero finally comes face to face with his inner demons. Get ready for The Armored Avenger’s most inebriated adventure!
11. Giant-Size X-Men #1 by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum
Come 1975, the X-Men were largely on the outs, with the team’s comics selling poorly and relegated to reprint issues to stay relevant. So when Marvel decided to bring the team back, they did it by shaking them up in a major way. Cockrum’s cover to Giant Size X-Men #1 makes a bold statement, showing a brand new team of X-Men bursting from the page as the old team shockingly look on from a monochrome background. While the art and poses may be a bit stiff, the concept and power of the image as a whole has burned this cover into the minds of X-Men and comic book fans everywhere.
10. Swamp Thing #9 by Bernie Wrightson
Swamp Thing has been the subject of some amazing covers over the decades. From the terrifying to the eerily beautiful, the macabre nature of Swamp Thing lends itself to evocative and striking images. Wrightson’s cover is one of the character’s greatest images and the interplay between darkness, water, and firelight plays wonderfully with the darkness of the character itself. This is simply the quintessential Swamp Thing cover. Not that it is necessarily his greatest, but that this image has reverberated throughout the character’s history and can be seen in countless covers that have been created since this was published.
9. Incredible Hulk #181 by Herb Trimpe & John Romita, Jr
Colorful characters leaping into battle with one another is what superhero comics are at their core. That is what this Trimpe and Romita cover is all about through and though. It’s also the debut of Wolverine, giving it clout and cache in the history of comics, as his debut sees him battle The Hulk and the villainous Wendigo. With Wolverine popping out as he slashes through the air, the character makes a clear and dynamic entrance. The red background makes everything else stand out just a bit more. Even the silly Wendigo in the background is fun. But the fight in the forefront is the main event.
8. Detective Comics #457 by Neal Adams
The origin of Batman is well known around the world by now. The murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents in front of him was the trauma that birthed The Dark Knight. Here, was see that terrible night enveloping the mind of Batman. Adams’ piece balances the flashback image and the visage of Batman himself, showing its toll on the hero. The green coloring of the deadly night helps it pop even more, helping put equal focus on both aspects of this iconic image. Like many of Adams’ covers, there’s no need for the superimposed words here. The art does all the talking needed.
7. The Amazing Spider-Man #100 by John Romita, Sr. & Frank Giacoia
Spider-Man has one of the all-time great superhero costumes, which is why it has barely changed since his debut. Romita and Giacoia really create sometimes vivid and spectacular here, putting the hero in a classic wall-crawling pose. Having him surrounded by a background filled with the black and white visages of his friends, family, and villains gives weight and pays homage to the heroes history as he hits his big 100th issue. There’s fantastic coloring and shading here, with the background faces having a haunting appearance as Spider-Man is shown off in all his glory.
6. Captain America #193 by Jack Kirby
In reality, this cover makes no sense. Captain America is staggeringly stiff, his feet are standing on thin air, and the chaos behind him is indiscriminate. But in Kirby’s hands, the quality of the work overcomes the oddness of the content. Vibrant colors, dynamic poses, and Kirby’s great use of depth and foreshortening really make the image jump to life. Like much of his work, this Captain America cover feel like some strange hybrid of 1930s comic art and something you’d see today. It can’t be ignored.
5. The Savage Sword of Conan #14 by Earl Norem
Big muscles! Bloodied sword! Scantily-clad damsel in distress. And best of all, a giant gorilla with flaming eyes! This is what pulpy sword and sorcery comics are all about. Earl Norem was the king of painted shlock comic book covers. This is an art style all on its own and really shows the appeal of this niche comic style. It’s so over the top, but is evocative of why people love Conan the Barbarian and his pulpy comrades outside of mainstream superheroes. The lush painted colors and extreme detail really made this jump from the newsstands back in the day. The longevity and love for the style is partly due to the unique quality of the art and partly due to the old school ideas on display with Conan’s adventures.
4. Superman vs Muhammad Ali by Neal Adams
Yes, it’s an extremely silly idea. Having The Man of Steel fight Muhammad Ali in a boxing match is so over the top and rings of cashing in on a big name, but this is a legitimately classic comic book. Not only that, but this is one of those wonderful throwback images of the ‘70s. Adam had a huge task with this one and was mandated to jam in as many cameos in the crowd as possible after taking over the job from original artist Joe Kubert. Adam made this a fun and colorful set piece, selling the inherent high concept of it all and making you want to read on. It’s the biggest hero in comics against the biggest name in sports in outer space! Read this thing.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man #129 by Gil Kane & John Romita, Sr.
Another iconic Spider-Man image that uses a yellow background to great effect, this is the debut of The Punisher. It’s a simple layout with only two major elements, but Romita and Kane make it into a very action packed and eye catching image. All that’s needed to sell the new character of The Punisher is his big gun and even bigger skull emblem. With Spider-Man in his crosshairs, it’s clear that the hero is in trouble and having him upside down and clinging to a wall with his feet makes it far more interesting than having him stand normally. This is exciting, iconic, and incredibly well done.
2. Batman #251 by Neal Adams
It’s easily one of the most iconic Joker images of all time. At his peak, Adams had a way of evoking the central idea of a character in his cover art and creating symbolic images that said so much with so little. The cover to “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” really sells so much, with a gigantic Clown Prince of Crime looming over the city and Batman being slammed by a humongous Ace of Spades (the death card) shows the danger and terror of it all. This is one of the best of the best for sure.
1. Batman #227 by Neal Adams
The cream of the crop, not just of the Neal Adams’ career, but the 1970s as a whole! This cover is actually an homage to Detective Comics #31, but is far more iconic and more powerful in every way. As a woman is pursued by evil, the image of Batman looms over a far away castle in the moonlight as a grim specter. It’s incredibly atmospheric and will burn itself into your brain after you’ve seen it. The dark and grim nature here would help redefine The Dark Knight in the 1970s and influence the character until the present day. This is classic comic book art at its very finest.