Review: ‘Marvel Comics: The Variant Covers’

Books Comic Books Entertainment Reviews

Remember back in the ’90s, when there were all those crazy overpriced holographic variants of comics on the racks at your local comic shop? That blatant money-making scheme was just the start of what has evolved into a celebrated artistic endeavor as chronicled in Marvel Comics: The Variant Covers.

Connecting variant covers for House of X #1 and Powers of X #1 by Mark Brooks. Image by Paul Benson.

What Is Marvel Comics: The Variant Covers?

Written by John Rhett Thomas, Marvel Comics: The Variant Covers is a coffee table-sized hardcover retrospective of the history of variant covers in Marvel Comics. It’s chock full of gorgeous illustrations, many of them full-page. There’s even a 4-page foldout in the middle of the book, showing the artwork for an Avengers 50th anniversary variant by Daniel Acuña that was split up into 12 different Avengers issues!

So what is a variant cover? The regular cover illustration to a comic book deals with the plot of the current month’s issue. A variant cover allows the editors and artists to do, well, basically anything they want!

Spider-Man #1 gold variant by Todd McFarlane. Image by Paul Benson.

The book opens with a discussion of the start of the variant covers in the 1990s, acknowledging that the variant covers largely started as a gimmick, such as with the recolored Spider-Man cover above. It wasn’t until 1991 that the first “true” variant cover appeared, with a large piece of Jim Lee art broken up into several alternate covers for X-Men #1:

X-Men #1 and other covers. Image by Paul Benson.

That segment serves as an introduction to the concept of the variant cover, and as such, is fairly short.

Christian Ward’s Cosmic Ghost-Rider variant for Thanos #17

The first chapter of the book is “Variant Themes,” and this is somewhat of a catch-all category. Basically, at various times, Marvel would run variant covers centered around various characters or events. For example, in a celebration of Spider-Man’s favorite redhead, there were a series of Mary Jane covers, where the character would appear dressed as other characters, such as Captain America or Thor. Or, the Women of Marvel, which not only focused on super-powered women, but on the talented female artists that drew them:

Women of Marvel covers. Image by Paul Benson.

Marvel has also used their variant covers to raise awareness of important issues. These variant covers shown below went towards the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society, respectively:

Cancer charity covers. Image by Paul Benson.

And these covers shine a spotlight on real-world bullying:

Raising awareness on bullying. Image by Paul Benson.

The next chapter deals with variant covers focusing on different characters in the Marvel universe.

Mike Del Mundo’s Avengers variant for Avengers #678. Image by Paul Benson.

These covers allow the artists to explore all the decades of stories behind those different characters, as well as explore them in ways that may not have been done before, such as in these covers featuring Iron Man. It should be pointed out that these four covers are actually all to four different comic book series, none of which normally feature Iron Man.

Four different variant covers featuring Iron Man. Image by Paul Benson.

The last chapter deals with some of the more renowned artists working in Marvel Comics. These artists have had their work prominently featured on covers, and sometimes even “taken over” books during a month, where several of their covers will appear across various titles.

Michael Cho’s cover for Mighty Thor #4. Image by Paul Benson.

Why You Should Read Marvel Comics: The Variant Covers

If you’re a fan of gorgeous comic book art, you should pick up this book. Yes, there are words inside. As a matter of fact, there are blurbs from editors and artists running throughout the book, talking about the process of making several of the covers. But let’s face it…in this case, it’s all about the pictures.

Marvel Comics: The Variant Covers is lushly illustrated by all of your favorite artists, and by some that you may not even be familiar with(but may become your new favorites). The larger format for the book really allows you to enjoy the artwork, which leaps off the pages. And of course, the dustcover for the book is itself a variant cover, as the hardcover itself shows off an entirely different image:

The cover, sans dustcover. Image by Paul Benson.

I have to admit, I’m a diehard Marvel guy. I love all the characters, and still read each comic book they put out every week. It was a delight for me to turn each page of Marvel Comics: The Variant Covers, coming across all sorts of illustrations that were new to me. I highly recommend picking up a copy.

Marvel Comics: The Variant Covers is written by John Rhett Thomas and published by Insight Comics, and is currently available to purchase on Amazon or from local bookstores. It is 216 pages, and the MSRP is $45.

A copy of this book was provided for review purposes, but the publisher had no input into this review.

Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #3. Image by Paul Benson.


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