100 Bullets #57, March 2005, Cover by Dave Johnson, Vertigo Comics (DC).
The POP Retro Cover Of The Week celebrates and examines iconic comic covers from the 1960s through the 2000s. This week we jump to the Oughts, when DC Comics’ more graphic/mature line of Vertigo titles was still going strong, and most comics on the stands were selling for $2.50.
100 Bullets was one of those very graphic Vertigo titles. At the core of 100 Bullets was Agent Graves, leader of the Minutemen, and his plan to bring down the centuries-old European organization that has secretly controlled America. His recruitment tactic for building the Minutemen was to give prospective recruits a briefcase containing, 100 untraceable bullets, and convincing evidence against someone who deserves to die.
Written by Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Eduardo Risso, 100 Bullets ran for 100 issues from August 1999-June 2009, an amazingly consistent and long-running streak by a creative team. Adding to the consistent creative excellence was cover artist Dave Johnson, whose designs were always eye-catching, dramatic, and inspired by crime noir novels, and movie posters. Picking one of Johnson’s 100 retro-cool covers to feature is tough, but my favorite is issue #57 from 2005.
This cover is beautifully simple, featuring a erotic pose between two of the series’ main Minutemen characters Dizzy and Wylie, on a flat black background, that commandingly occupies the entire cover. They embrace each other, while also holding pistols to each other’s heads, symbolizing the love/hate relationship between the two, and the lack of trust. The dichotomy is striking and iconic. The Mexican standoff also symbolizes the equal nature of the couple; Dizzy is Wylie’s match in every way.
The illustration itself is very monochromatic, sticking to the pastel, orangey tones of Wylie’s carrot top. The spare shadows on the figures are reminiscent of those found on Russian propaganda posters; the retro shading technique is a favorite of Johnson’s that appears often in his work. The figures are outlined in blood red to help separate them from the black background. Blood red is used often to great metaphoric effect on covers for this very violent series.
Johnson’s cover designs also featured very fluidly arranged trade dress (comic title, issue number, publisher logo, etc.), which changed to different sizes and positions on each cover, to suit the illustration. On this cover, the remaining black areas around the couple is used to place the trade dress in different, interesting angles, sideways, stacked…whatever works and looks best in the space.
No doubt there will be other of Johnson’s 100 Bullets covers chosen as POP RETRO COVER OF THE WEEK!