Dec 16, 2013

Cover by Cover: Secret Wars vs. Crisis on Infinite Earths

Secret Wars vs. Crisis on Infinite Earths
Ben Smith

I couldn’t very well let Duy do a cover by cover comparison of these two monumental maxi-series alone, because I knew he would get it wrong. These series were both too important, too influential to young Back Issue Ben, to let that kind of brazen ineptitude stand unabated.

For those of you that know me, and care to know things about me, you’ve discovered my vast fondness for both of these series. Secret Wars was my introduction to the larger Marvel universe, beyond the singular tales of Spider-Man, or Wolverine. Crisis was the first DC comic I read that was not titled Flash. And since the quality of the interior storytelling is not up for debate (Secret Wars is way better) the covers are where the true battle lies. A battle for the very souls of each individual comic fan that has found themselves drawn into the intricate web of monthly serialized superhero comic book storytelling. Every fan that has fallen down the well of entertainment enlightenment, and found themselves drowning in the sugar sweet, yet pitch black, water of a larger fictional universe. Every fan that has raised their fist to the sky and screamed, “Thor could beat Superman!” I say unto thee, here is where you will find the answers you seek, the answers that until now have eluded you. Answers presented to you by Duy’s random criteria of; 1) Superior cover on an artistic level, and 2) Which cover was more likely to demand your hard-earned currency as a youth.

I stand before you as a man, a simple man, with simple tastes. I call upon what limited brain power I possess, and place before you this simple offering. The definitive Comics Cube cover by cover analysis of Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars versus Crisis on Infinite Earths.

(Yeah, "Cover by Cover" is just a different way of saying "Cover Comparisons." One is Ben's and the other is mine. -Duy)


Artistic Comparison: (I will readily acknowledge that George Perez is arguably the superior penciler over Mike Zeck, but Zeck is on the short list for my favorite comic book artist of all time. So, with my objective and subjective hearts clearly placed upon the table of surgical debate, let us begin the artistic discussion. As always, I have zero formal training and will probably get every technical term I try to use horribly wrong.)
Secret Wars #1 is one of the greatest comic book covers at all time. The heroes are very literally (I tried to think of a different word than literally, but couldn’t) bursting forth off of the cover toward the reader. Zeck beats Perez at his own (eventual) game here, by creating an engaging and dynamic crowd shot that doesn’t seem cluttered or illogical in terms of individual character action.

Crisis #1 is a well-crafted image. It may be the superior image on a technical artistic level, in terms of draftsmanship. Especially if taken as a whole image, front and back cover. The problem is that it’s not dynamic enough (as crazy as that might be to say about a cover that has world’s exploding in the background). It’s too busy. Verdict: Secret Wars

Which cover was more likely to demand my hard-earned currency as a kid: (For the purposes of these questions, I am going to try to objectively determine which cover I would choose based on the knowledge I actually had as a kid at the time that I actually did buy these comics, as a kid. Clear as mud? I will also try to suppress my long-standing subjective preference for Marvel.) Secret Wars offers the clear, distinctive, dynamic image. Crisis is almost too ambitious in that I would really have to stop and look hard at the cover to understand what is happening in the image. The characters featured on the visible front image of the Crisis cover include old Superman, Cyborg, Firestorm, and Blue Beetle. Not exactly as exciting as Captain America, Spider-Man, Hulk, and Wolverine. The only character that would be recognizable to young Back Issue Ben on the Crisis cover is Superman, and anyone that knows me knows how small of an incentive that would be. Verdict: Secret Wars


Artistic Comparison: Crisis #2 is a well-executed image, but the problem is again at the conceptual level. The layout is boring and not cover worthy, and I honestly wonder how it was approved as the final image. A shadow grabbing Anthro is the eye-drawing central focus, and I do not think that is a positive.

Secret Wars #2 is not that great of a cover either, but it’s the more eye-catching of the two by default. (I own a t-shirt with this cover on it, and my son will at least point to the various heads of the characters and name them. By that criteria alone, it is superior.) Verdict: Secret Wars

Which cover was more likely to demand my hard-earned currency as a kid: Secret Wars at least had the floating heads of characters I know, and a larger central image. The Crisis cover I would never buy if it wasn’t the second issue of a twelve issue series. Verdict: Secret Wars


Artistic Comparison: Secret Wars #3 features a fight between Spider-Man and the entire X-Men team. It’s a clearly presented image, with a layout that portrays the action effectively. Plus, Spider-Man is kicking Colossus in the head.

Not to sound like a broken record, but the problem for Crisis #3 is conceptual once again. Perez has the better more intricate backgrounds. His figurework is probably superior. But none of that matters if the image being drawn is a cluttered mess! There are too many images that unless I made a conscious effort to stop and pick up the cover and analyze it, the only thing I would notice on a quick glance across a shelf would be the giant red face (not a racial comment!). The detail is detrimental in this case. Verdict: Secret Wars

Which cover was more likely to demand my hard-earned currency as a kid: The only character I know on the Crisis cover is, again, Flash, and most of the rest are so very obscure. Plus the Flash looks like he either just finished relieving himself, or is trying very hard not to relieve himself, if you know what I mean. I can’t decide which, so that’s another point against the cover. The Secret Wars cover has what was, as a kid, my favorite character fighting my favorite team. Even taking character recognition out of the equation, I know I’d be much more likely to buy the single scene fight cover. Verdict: Secret Wars


Artistic Comparison: This is the first Layton cover, and it’s one of the greatest superhero covers of all time (I didn’t even realize until maybe a few years ago that Zeck did not pencil this cover). Layton is not the greatest penciler in terms of individual characters, but they’re so minimized here that it’s a non-issue. If you haven’t learned so far, concept and layout are key for me, and it doesn’t get any better than this cover.

The Crisis cover is the most appealing image to date, with the large white circle immediately drawing the eye. It’s also the simplest design so far, but still not anywhere dynamic enough to get my vote.Verdict: Secret Wars

Which cover was more likely to demand my hard-earned currency as a kid: One of the greatest covers of all time, featuring the Hulk holding up a mountain, versus three characters I couldn’t possibly have known unless I read the previous issues of Crisis. No contest. Verdict: Secret Wars


Artistic Comparison: This is another Layton cover, and Layton’s character work was not on the level of a Zeck or Perez. That being said, it is another image where the action is coming right at the reader, with hints of the unseen villains from beyond the cover’s border.

Finally the cover design and the artistic skill of Perez are both on a comparable level. The pleasing blue color makes it seem like a simple image, and yet simultaneously complex at a closer look thanks to the detailed artistry of a master reaching the peak of his craft. Verdict: Crisis

Which cover was more likely to demand my hard-earned currency as a kid: This is going to be the toughest call. Suppressing my huge Marvel preference, and trying to imagine that I do not know who the X-Men are when looking at this cover. I still have to imagine the Crisis cover wouldn’t be exciting enough for me as a kid. I believe I’d go with the action cover over the floating heads cover, as a kid, especially since it has Spider-Man on it. Despite how excellent I think the floating heads cover is now. Verdict: Secret Wars



Artistic Comparison: Crisis has a big monster face and it’s never been an appealing design to me on any kind of level. It doesn’t scare me, and/or I don’t think it has a “coolness” factor either. It’s a lackluster face, to me, and always has been. I much prefer the Anti-Monitor design from the latter half of the series. But, as always, it’s well-executed by Perez.

Secret Wars has another group shot, and it’s a well done group shot. The characters are balanced nicely, the figurework is not as “realistic” as Perez, but I don’t think that was the goal for any of the Marvel artists involved. Verdict: Secret Wars

Which cover was more likely to demand my hard-earned currency as a kid: I’m going with the group shot of menacing looking villains coming at the reader, over the monster face that I don’t think is scary or cool looking. Verdict: Secret Wars


Artistic Comparison: Crisis #7 is one of the greatest comic book covers of all time. Featuring the (I assume) at the time unthinkable death of Supergirl. Plus it started the trend of Superman crying on covers, which I don’t think I could support anything more fully, with all of my heart. It’s a well-drawn and designed image, with the appropriate amount of angst reflected on Superman’s face, and the appropriate amount of deadness reflected in Supergirl. The coloring subdues the background detail enough for it not to distract from the central image, while still providing a level of detail to enjoy on a closer look.

Secret Wars #7 is a pastel colored mess. I look at it and I think Easter bunny eggs. I don’t know whether I should read it, or hide it in the yard for the kids to look for. This coloring serves to draw the readers eye to the central image of the cover, which appears to be Captain America joining the Flash in the “trying not to relieve himself” pantheon of comic book covers. Look how determined he is not to do it! Bad coloring, and a horrible Cap face. Verdict: Crisis

Which cover was more likely to demand my hard-earned currency as a kid: As a kid, there’s no question I’m buying Crisis to see what made Superman cry, so that I can possibly try to replicate that event as often as possible. Verdict: Crisis


Artistic Comparison: This is about as close a contest as you can possibly have. Two iconic covers, featuring monumental moments in the fictional lives of the central characters. Both covers are well designed, excellent layouts, brilliantly executed. Crisis is getting the slight edge for the utter desperation and determination on the face of the Flash, and because Spider-Man’s pose has always been just a slight bit “twee” for me. Verdict: Crisis

Which cover was more likely to demand my hard-earned currency as a kid: As close as the artwork was for me, this is almost impossible to determine. Flash was far and away my favorite DC character, and this cover (even if I didn’t have the knowledge going in that he was actually going to die) promises his final fate.

Likewise, Secret Wars features my overall favorite character as a kid, wearing a brand new black-and-white costume that remains one of my favorite costume designs to this day.

Brand new costume Spider-Man, versus the final stand of the Flash. (This isn’t helped by the fact that I can almost guarantee that these were the first issues of both series that I bought as a kid too. I wasn’t too concerned with reading in order as a kid. I would have gone straight for both of these, because they were important issues for the characters involved.) Verdict: Tie (sue me!)


Artistic Comparison: Perez takes any advantage Secret Wars had so far with the crowd shot, and blows them all out of the water with this Crisis cover. Design and execution are at maximum effect.

There’s something about the layout of the Secret Wars cover that is just off for me. All the characters are small and spread apart, and the characters closest (and largest) to the reader are facing the opposite way. It just doesn’t work for me. Verdict: Crisis

Which cover was more likely to demand my hard-earned currency as a kid: Maintaining consistency with the previous determinations, I’m thinking I’m going with the crowd shot. Not knowing who Galactus is, or even being able to determine the magnitude of his threat from the image, I’m saying it would be a non-factor. I’m confident I likely know who the Joker is, and probably know who Luthor is based on Super Friends cartoons. Verdict: Crisis


Artistic Comparison: It’s no secret that the Secret Wars cover is one of my favorites of all time. Its design, execution, and presentation are flawless. This is the type of cover that would inspire me to try and draw it myself, with the battered armor and the seeming last stand of Doom.

You can never go wrong with a face-off cover in comic books, and Crisis is a very well done version of one. The rest of the characters swirling around in the vortex behind them. The layouts for the Crisis covers increased in quality as the series went along. This has as much detail as any of the others, but it’s designed in such a way for it not to be distracting, as many of the earlier covers in the series were. Verdict: Secret Wars

Which cover was more likely to demand my hard-earned currency as a kid: As much as a face-off cover between two giants I don’t know might be slightly appealing, there’s no way I’m passing on a cover with a character that battered and beaten up. I was a weird kid (and now I’m a weird adult) so I was into the death stories, the stories of the characters being battered and defeated, with costumes torn and frayed. No way I’m not getting the Doom cover, no matter if I know who he was or not. Verdict: Secret Wars


Artistic Comparison: This is going to be a sprint to see which cover is less terrible.

The Crisis cover is flat-out conceptually horrible. Once again, each individual image is well-drawn, and most of them on their own would probably make a quality cover. Actually, the Superman image at the top, and the Dr Fate image on the right would make pretty outstanding covers. As it is, it’s a mess and I hate multiple scene covers like this for the most part.

The Secret Wars cover is fine, there’s nothing really wrong with it, but once again the central figure has his back to the reader. It’s good in terms of the message it’s trying to convey on the cover, and it’s well-drawn in displaying that, but it lacks in dynamicism because of that choice. Verdict: Secret Wars

Which cover was more likely to demand my hard-earned currency as a kid: Secret Wars again, by default, based on me not having the type of attention span to stop and really examine the Crisis cover to see what’s happening on it. Verdict: Secret Wars


Artistic Comparison: I’ve always thought Doom was drawn like some kind of fantasy elf-lord on this Secret Wars cover. Once again, the coloring choice made was pink, but it’s less distracting this time, for me. It’s a quality cover design, but the coloring and facial execution are lacking.

Crisis features a giant monster being swarmed by an army of superheroes. The layout and execution are top knotch. The spacing of the heroes is good, and the angle of the action was a nice choice. Verdict: Crisis

Which cover was more likely to demand my hard-earned currency as a kid: Secret Wars may have been able to sway me with the fallen Marvel heroes in the background, if I was paying enough close attention. If I know who Doom is, I’m probably buying that comic. Assuming I don’t, I’m going with the giant monster battle.

Realistically, I’m probably buying both because they’re both the final issues of a 12-issue epic storyline, as depicted clearly on both covers. But I’ll go with giant monster battle for the purposes of this comparison. Verdict: Crisis

Final Count

Artistry: Secret Wars 7 – Crisis 5
Kid Appeal: Secret Wars 8 – Crisis 3 – Both 1

Overall, I think George Perez is probably the more appealing artist in terms of individual skill for more people. Again, Mike Zeck has always been a favorite of mine, and I don’t think his style can accurately be compared to Perez, because they weren’t trying to achieve the same results.

What Crisis lacked on the artistic end was quality cover design and layout choices. Some may call that a copout, since on an artistic level, the Perez images are probably better drawings. But for covers, I think one of the artistic goals is created a great cover image, and there were many times when Crisis failed to do that.

In terms of kid appeal, I was going to be drawn to the crowd and group shots on both sides. The more characters the better, and that probably continues with me to this day. Unfortunately for DC, I preferred the Marvel characters more from the very beginning, before even reading comics, so that was going to sway any decisions I made as a kid. Spider-Man was the key. Action covers, fight covers, this is what was going to theoretically get my money as a kid, over some of the more elegantly created concepts, but ultimately boring covers from Perez. And as I’ve said before, less was more for most of the Secret Wars covers. For the most part they all had clear central images that popped off of the cover, which made them stand out more than a well-rendered scene from Crisis slapped on the cover.

There you have it, the definitive cover-by-cover comparison of Secret Wars versus Crisis on Infinite Earths for the Comics Cube. I couldn’t let Duy’s probable DC bias overwhelm what was the clear and obvious choices for the covers, using the criteria he randomly arrived at as the basis for his baseless determinations, and bad decision-making.

Let this be a no-threat warning to you all. Duy’s one and only goal is to make you a Captain Marvel and Ducks fan. And only half of that is a admirable goal my friends.

The Duck half, to be clear.

(Don't forget to read Thor too, kids. -Duy)

(And also, for those keeping count, Ben and I disagreed on #6 in terms of artistic comparison, and #5, 6, 9, 10, and 11 for kid appeal. I guess we also disagreed on #8, because he couldn't make up his mind. Typical Ben. Cheating. -Duy)

You can read Crisis on Infinite Earths and Secret Wars by purchasing the collections:

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