I should clarify that Marvel and DC comics took quite a different approach to how they created their covers. DC had always traditionally created their covers first, often using the idea behind a "grabby" cover to drive the plot of the story inside the comic. Both Mort Weisinger and Julius Schwartz took this approach with the DC books they edited. Marvel, though, did exactly the opposite, creating their covers after the interior art was completed. This meant that Marvel would often create symbolic covers that might not illustrate a scene from the story inside. But you'll see what I'm getting at as we go along ...
IDENTICAL TWINSI think it's fair to say that Julie Schwartz was the king of recycling when it came to re-using old cover ideas. During his run as editor of DC's revived superhero titles, he'd regularly plunder the cover gallery of his 1950s science fiction comics for ideas.
|Uncanny, isn't it? It's almost as though Schwartz was cynically re-using cover ideas from the previous decade, wasn't it? "Ah, what the hell ... the kids'll never know." Click image to enlarge.|
CLOSELY RELATEDIt wasn't just Schwartz who liked to dredge up old ideas and trot them out for further airings. DC's Dark Overlord Mort Weisinger also loved the economy of using an old idea instead of thinking up a new one.
Here's a bunch of Superman Family covers enjoying a second roll of the dice. The Superboy covers are just 18 months apart.
MARVEL MIMICRYI wouldn't want you, dear reader, to presume I'm picking on DC as unprincipled purveyors of parallel portrayals. Marvel have also displayed ill-judged moments of imitation - admittedly, not as many, though.
|Is this deliberate? How would John Romita, Gil Kane and Sal Buscema all manage to draw a comic cover featuring The Tarantula in pretty much identical poses? It's a mystery to me.|
Over on the Hulk comic, iconic portrayer of the Angry Green One, Herb Trimpe produced a run of covers that were ... well, pretty much the same, really.
|Is it Herb Trimpe who loves a low-angle shot? Or might Stan have been telling him that this point-of-view makes for more powerful covers? It's striking how similar these covers are ... they could almost be different versions of the same cover.|
|See? Marie Severin, who was pinch-hitting for Stan as Marvel's in-house corrections artist and was also laying out covers before John Romita took on the role officially, took quite a different approach from Herb Trimpe on how her covers looked.|
YOU SHOULDA PUT A RING ON ITI have no idea whether Mort Weisinger was a fight fan, but he sure used a lot of boxing and wrestling themed covers on the Superman family books.
I would guess that Weisinger's thought process was, "Two boxers on a comic cover is dull. Put a superhero in a boxing ring, that's interesting." Having heroes in unusual but slightly mundane situations was a constant theme in DC covers from the 1940s right the way through to the 1970s. There were other examples ...
|Superheroes in a boxing ring? I can't imagine Marvel would ever |
dream of going down that route, would you?
THEY OUGHT TO BE LOCKED UPSomething else Weisinger liked to do was to lock his heroes up in jail. It's astonishing that he didn't add a speech balloon to this type of cover to have Superman say, "Aw, not again!" Here's a small selection of just some of the convict Superman covers I was able to uncover ...
But it wasn't just Superman who found himself wrongly (or rightly) imprisoned. Other DC superheroes also got in on the act.
|"I'm innocent, I tell you. Innocent!" In all fairness, it should only take Batman about ten seconds or so to free himself from a standard jail cell. So why were we so worried?|
DC GIANTS - BUT NOT 80-PAGEAnother common DC cliche is turning their characters into giants. It happened so often that you wondered why any of the supporting characters might be surprised.
I think the idea started out in Julie Schwatrz's old DC mystery stories of the 1950s, then somehow made its way into the Weiseinger edited superhero titles during the Sixties. These covers must've sold books, or they wouldn't have done them ...
GIANT-SIZE MARVELSOver at Marvel Comics, Stan avoided all the DC-style body dysmorphia madness, though he did like covers that depicted his characters as giants, though in a metaphorical way. So you'd often have the huge figure of Doctor Doom towering menacingly over the Fantastic Four, or Magneto and his Evil Whatchamacallems looming threatening over The X-Men. But that didn't mean that they were actual giants, okay?
This trend would continue throughout the 1960s and even into the 1970s, though once Stan was no longer involved in the day-to-day running of Marvel, the figuratively colossal characters tailed away. And strangely, it wasn't really a look that DC went for. The closest I could find to this was in an old Justice League cover which is almost - but not quite - depicting the characters as giants for dramatic effect.
Here's a whole other bunch of cover tropes that loomed large during my favourite period of comic ... The Silver Age.
CATALOGUE OF CLICHESThat's right, there are many different themes for comic covers that would crop up more than once. Because of the way DC worked - identifying ideas that they knew would sell books, then building their stories around that - it was more frequent to experience deja vu if you were a DC reader. Stan did it too, as we've seen, but was strangely less formulaic with his covers than you might imagine, given the notorious lack of imagination on the part of his publisher Marty Goodman.
Still ... try some of these out for size.
|Holy gurgle: Batman enjoyed this deadly water trap in Batman 166 (Sep 1964) so much that he tried it out again just four years later in Batman 207 (Dec 1968).|
|Gone fishing: As a kid, I hated fishing. Yet I clearly recall that the House of Mystery 94 on the right is the very first American comic I ever saw on a newsagent's counter some time during 1960. My mum wouldn't buy it for me.|
Next: Something Inhuman this way Comes ...