The POP Retro Cover of the Week is a love/hate portrait from 2005: "100 Bullets #57"

"100 Bullets #57" cover by Dave Johnson

100 Bullets #57, March 2005, Cover by Dave Johnson, DC Comics (Vertigo)

The POP Retro Cover Of The Week continues its exploration and celebration of iconic comic covers from the 1970s through the 2000s, this week returning to the Aughts. 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 that ran for 100 issues from August 1999-June 2009, written by Brian Azzarello and illustrated by Eduardo Risso, an amazingly consistent and incredibly long-running streak by a creative team. At the core of 100 Bullets was Agent Graves, leader of the Minutemen, and his plan to bring down The Trust, the centuries-old European organization that has secretly been controlling America since its beginning. 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. If they carried out their mission, they became an Assassin-in-Training.

Adding to the consistent creative excellence was cover artist Dave Johnson, whose designs were always eye-catching and dramatic, inspired by crime noir novels and movie posters. Picking one of Johnson’s 100 stylish covers to feature first is tough, but we’ll start with issue #57 from 2005, halfway through the series.

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 both striking and iconic.

The illustration itself is very monochromatic, sticking to the pastel, orangy tones of Wylie’s carrot top. The spare shadowing on the figures is reminiscent of that used on Russian propaganda posters, and a favorite retro shading technique of Johnson’s that appears often in his work. The figures are separated from the black background by a bold outline of blood red, a color that is used often to great effect on covers for this very violent series.

Johnson’s cover designs also featured very fluid trade dress (comic title, issue number, publisher logo, etc.), which changed with each issue, in a different size and position on each cover, to suit the illustration. The constantly changing cover treatments also served as a metaphor/reminder that each issue featured a different story about another untraceable bullet. 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.

Next week: Back to the 1970s!

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