We've all been told not to judge a book by a cover, and typically this is actually referring to people, and I have to agree with this idiom. But when it comes to books, especially comic books, judging by the cover is typically a large factor in the decision making. That's like saying we shouldn't judge a movie by its trailer, when in fact that is exactly what you should do.
I figure comic covers typically fall in one of four categories (not including variants which often have no rhyme or reason). Covers are either an homage, a comedic cover, posturing, or descriptive.
Homage covers, are pretty self-explanatory but I'll touch on them briefly. They typically are an homage to an earlier classic comic cover, but can essentially be of any famous image, whether it be from a painting, a movie poster, or even an album cover. A great example of this is the cover to Dark Skullkickers #1 which is a comedic homage of the very serious Green Lantern and Green Arrow #45
While my example of an homage cover could also fall into the category of comedy, I'm sure you were able to figure out what this type of cover is all about. You've seen hundreds of them, and probably most of them were Deadpool covers. This type of cover usually has no reflection of the story within the pages, but is probably a good display of the character's personality. While Deadpool #40 from his first series is one of my favorite comedic covers, since it is also an homage, I'll let you look that one up on your own. For the sake of diversity here, I'll feature, Deadpool #26. Admittedly this isn't my favorite of his comedic covers, but it gets extra points for breaking the fourth wall.
I'm realizing all of these categories are self-explanatory, but if I left them at just the type this would be a short article with a lot of pretty pictures.
Posturing covers basically just shows the character or characters in a classic super pose. These covers are a great way to attract the eyes of new readers. They don't rely on story or continuity, they're just displays of the awesome might and stature of these invincible beings. Speaking of invincible, for an example let's go with a classic Iron Man cover with issue 100.
The final type of cover are descriptive and detail a theme or scene from the story within. While they're almost never an actual exact representation of a panel inside, they reflect something going on between the covers. One of my favorite examples of this is an iconic Batman cover from 1972, issue 244.
Looking at the cover you know Batman and Ra's al Ghul had a sword fight, and at least for part of it, Ra's had the upper hand. While Ra's may not have stripped Batman, and surely Batman wasn't wearing two pairs of pants (look closely) this is a good representation of what you're in store for when reading this issue.
However, my entire reason for writing this article to spotlight descriptive covers that depict a false image of what happens within the comic, and I don't mean the whole double pants thing from above. I'm referring to a cover that is clearly showing something important inside this issue, or at least is meant to. I don't understand the reason behind these differences, but I notice them often. If I had more time to dedicate to this, I'd do a monthly column here on Geekade highlighting such infractions. As it stands I won't be able to do that, but I invite all of you to share any examples you've noticed of false descriptive covers in the comments below. I'll begin with one that's confounded me since the issue came out. Uncanny X-Force #5 shows Fantomex fighting a squad of Deathloks based off of various heroes in the Marvel Universe, and this exact scene takes place in the issue. So what makes this cover a lie? Captain/Ms Marvel is nowhere to be seen in the issue. Instead, during the referenced scene, Fantomex is fighting an Elektra Deathlok. I would love to know the reason behind the difference. But as it stands Uncanny X-Force #5 is a lie of a cover, and I'm judging it.
Speaking of covers, today marks the premier for my forthcoming book Nightmare Noir. The cover, drawn by TJ Halvorsen of Ink Master fame, is my current favorite example of an homage cover. Bonus points to those who know the source of the homage. To preorder the book, head over to Mystery & Horror LLC or if you're feeling lucky for a chance to win a free copy of Nightmare Noir. For more details check out my site AzarRising
Remember to share your favorite (or hated as it may be) examples of false descriptive covers.