Top Ten Spider-Man Covers of the 1980s

The Eighties experienced a serious drought in draftsmanship, so nothing in the decade compares to the figure drawing of Gil Kane and John Romita (Sr.). Selecting ten covers from this era was particularly difficult, not because of too many great choices, but because most of them were mediocre.

In fact, only three or four on this list would survive against covers from the 70s or 00s, and I easily could have exchanged a few on this list with comparably OK covers by the same artist or another. Consequently, because there was no undisputed king of Spidey illustration in the 80s, this is a very diverse list comprised of nine different artists, compared to five in the last list (with one, John Byrne, common to both).

So once again, in order of publication:

1. This cover by Frank Miller (he wasn’t the interior artist) doesn’t look any more three-dimensional in person, thanks to the prison bars being flat black strips rather than given any kind of roundness by hand, resulting in a disconcerting feeling of optical illusion. But the potent image of Spider-Man is one of the best of the decade regardless. (On a personal note, incidentally, given the publication date my dad must have bought this issue for me second-hand.) Amazing Spider-Man #219 (August 1981), by Frank Miller:

1981-08-amazingspider-man219-frank-miller.jpg

2. I love images that are black, white, and red all over, and Milgrom manages to achieve a feeling a three dimensions with simple lines and fills, but the contrast of Doc Ock’s tentacles are the coup de grace. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #79 (June 1983), by Al Milgrom:

1983-06-spectacularspider-man079-al-milgrom.jpg

3. This isn’t Frenz’s most flattering image of Spider-Man (his best might be #269), and the Hobgoblin’s left glove is too undistinguished from Spidey’s costume, but it is an undoubtedly dynamic cover — perhaps the perfect splash page — and it’s a rare instance of the cover actually depicting a scene that takes place in the story inside. The fact that this blog derives its name from this issue played no part in its inclusion. Amazing Spider-Man #260 (January 1985), by Ron Frenz:

1985-01-amazingspider-man260-ron-frenz.jpg

4. This is possibly my favorite image of Spider-Man, ever. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #101 (April 1985), by John Byrne:

1985-04-spectacularspider-man101-john-byrne.jpg

5. I have no idea who the depicted villain is, but I like how Morgan puts the reader in the vulnerable position of the Rocker Racer but also gives us that crucial piece of information unseen by the sniper. Though I usually prefer covers that are iconic or figurative rather than particular, this is a great example of a tease that shows us an entire situation the second before something exciting happens. How could you resist opening this comic? Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #104 (July 1985), by Tom Morgan:

1985-07-spectacularspider-man104-tom-morgan.jpg

6. Admittedly generic, but one of the better depictions of Spider-Man. And I love images of Spidey running up a vertical wall. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #114 (May 1986), by Keith Pollard:

1986-05-spectacularspider-man114-keith-pollard.jpg

7. Not much needs to be said for this image of the criminal-nabbing web-spinner caught himself in the hunter’s net, which also happens to kick off one of the most famous story arcs of the decade. Web of Spider-Man #31 (October 1987), by Mike Zeck:

1987-10-webofspider-man031-mike-zeck.jpg

8. Two issues in a row by the same artist may seem indulgent, and in any other case it would be, but this is one of the most memorable comic book covers of all time. Web of Spider-Man #32 (November 1987), by Mike Zeck:

1987-11-webofspider-man032-mike-zeck.jpg

9. With issue #134 this series lost “Peter Parker” from its title, the same month Sal Buscema (son brother of John) began a prolific six-year run, for most of which he provided both pencils and inks. For my money he was the best and most distinctive draghtsman since Romita, and the rough line of his unmistakable pen keeps his work simultaneously raw and refined.

I like most of Sal’s covers just because I love his artistic style. But his cover for this issue (another one I own) is particularly attention-grabbing, not to mention compositionally efficient. While the covers of most comics often feature silly if momentary confrontations between heroes — how many times have we seen Wolverine vs. the Hulk? — seeing CAPTAIN AMERICA of all people giving Spidey a roundhouse to the jaw (and looking like he means it!) is undeniably compelling. Spectacular Spider-Man #138 (May 1988), by Sal Buscema:

1988-05-spectacularspider-man138-sal-buscema.jpg

10. I hesitated including anything by McFarlane in this list because the truth is that he’s basically a fraud as an artist. Browsing his covers is not only uninspiring but actually depressing, especially when juxtaposed to Buscema’s contemporaneous work on Spectacular. But I thought this cover, depicting Spidey’s point of view, is just interesting enough — and buttressed by an absence of human faces. Amazing Spider-Man (January 1989), by Todd McFarlane:

1989-01-amazingspider-man311-todd-mcfarlane.jpg

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13 thoughts on “Top Ten Spider-Man Covers of the 1980s

  1. Ryan says:

    #2 and #4 are great bits of design. I’m always a fan of limited palette stuff.

  2. Brian Cronin says:

    Excellent work!

    This was a real fun look at Spidey covers.

  3. Nobody says:

    Thanks for saying so, Brian. It’s too bad but the truth is that browsing Spidey covers turned out to be more fun than watching Spider-Man 3!

  4. Brian Cronin says:

    One note, though. Sal Buscema is John’s younger brother, not son.

  5. Bill Reed says:

    Really? No ASM 238 or 258? Bold move.

    Nice choices.

  6. Nobody says:

    D’oh! Thanks for noticing, Brian, duly corrected. I was probably lost in contemplation of the fact that I consider Sal’s style sort of a good version of JRJR (heresy I know).

    Bill: They were considered, but I’d already had four Romita covers in the last post, and #258 was a “finalist”, but I simply prefer Frenz’s cover for #260.

    That said, either of them could justifiably replace the Pollard or McFarlane covers on this list.

  7. Martin says:

    I liked 2 and 4, but otherwise I prefer ASM 236, 238, 241 and 295.

  8. Liam marsch says:

    hey everybody, i am not a big comic book collector and I have a Peter parker ,The spectacular spider man issue #101 (the black spider man cover)Copyright 1984and i was just wondering if that was worth any thing

  9. Nobody says:

    Probably not, Liam. According to this site even if it’s in Near Mint condition it’s still worth less than $5. It looks like it’s not worth rating by the CGC unless it’s literally in Mint condition, which is probably impossible for a 20-year-old comic book. Even new comics one buys at the shop aren’t really in mint condition.

  10. Denise says:

    I have the May 1988 issue and wondered if you have advice for someone who wants to sell it.
    Denise

  11. Jason says:

    You hesitate to put anything in there from McFarlane? The guy may be an arrogant prick, but the level of his detail and incredible compositional movement has raised ALL comic book art to a new standard. He redefined it.

  12. NHOJ says:

    Huh?

    Jason, you are certainly welcome to your opinion but to say that McFarlane ‘…raised ALL comic book art to a new standard…’ is quite the statement, if you looked at MacFarlane’s art objectively you’d realise the guy was anything but good at what he did. If anything, his influence (along with other Image stalwarts such as Rob Liefeld) on comic art was quite the opposite, setting a lower standard and allowing various artistic hacks and wannabes to get work during what was possibly one of the worst periods for the world of mainstream comics, the 90s. Composition and general artistic know-how got thrown out the window during this period by a lot of artists in favour of over-the-top (and not in a good way) characters and layouts. If MacFarlane and the rest of the Image crew hadn’t have become so popular during the late 80s/early 90s, things may have turned out differently.

    You also mentioned ‘…the level of his detail and incredible compositional movement’ Well, I’m sorry, but just because the guy throws a gazillion lines on the page doesn’t a good composition make. Quite the opposite, in fact. Saying that, I never grew up reading MacFarlane’s work (or American comics, in general) during my teens, so, as a relative outsider, I have no sense of blind nostalgia when I look at his work. In fact, I’ve only managed to read some of MacFarlane’s run on Spawn in the last 5 years or so and to say that I wasn’t ready for the visual rape my eyeballs had to endure is an understatement to say the least! The guy just throws lines down on the page without any thought for composition or readability — he merely tries to draw pages that are all (ahem) ‘gloss’ and no substance.

    Anyways, that’s my two cents.

    As for those covers, I’m particularly taken by that second cover drawn by Milgrom — such a fantastic use of minimal colour, composition and negative space. It immediately grabs the eye and the excellent layout draws the eye naturally down from Spidey’s feet to Ock’s tentacles and back up to Spidey’s head. Great stuff!

    On a similar note, that John Byrne cover is also great. IT’s not very often that you see a mainstream comic that’s just pure black and white (well, the logo aside). A brave choice and incredibly eye-catching.

  13. Nobody says:

    Thank you, Nhoj (or is it John?), for that elegant summary of McFarlane’s artistic shortcomings.

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