Let’s talk about some comic book covers from the Uncanny X-Men series.
If it wasn’t obvious from the title of this website, the X-Men have had a pretty monumental impact on my life. I grew up reading the comics, watching the cartoon show, and harshly judging the films. More recently, I’ve even gone as far as to compile a fantasy X-Men team because this boy can dream!
While there’s plenty of X-Men books to talk about: from the Uncanny X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, Amazing X-Men, Generation X, X-Force, and so on, I wanted to sit down and discuss my all-time favourite Uncanny X-Men covers.
While the stories are ultimately what sold me on the X-Men, covers were really the selling point for people to pick up comic books. For example, Batman had to be doing something cool for someone to want to read his stories and not just think of him as some guy in a bat suit. And while there’s tons of X-Men to choose from, having the most popular X-Man, Wolverine, on the cover would be sure to drive up sales. A cover without Captain America fighting the Red Skull would be more awesome to pick up and read than one with him versus Batroc the Leaper, y’know.
Literally judging books by their covers isn’t my plan with this list however. I want to talk about the artwork and what about the cover draws me in. Colours, details, storytelling – what the cover says rather than what it’s selling. So here goes:
Some Honourable Mentions
Uncanny X-Men #525, Aug. 2010 (Cover by Adi Granov)
Six X-Men under siege by robots may seem like a typical X-cover (which we’ll see more of later), but this really gives us a sense of dread. The grey palette contrasting against Armor’s, Psylocke’s, and Cyclops’ reddish-pink weapons give a nice pop to the page. And Namor’s face though.
Uncanny X-Men #213, Jan. 1987 (Cover by Alan Davis & Paul Neary)
I considered adding this cover to my main list, but felt that the impact of this cover is actually more nostalgic feeling. I say that because at this point, nobody knew who Sabretooth was, let alone his history with Wolverine. However, the cover is action-packed and claustrophobic, especially considering how few colours are actually used on the page. It’s as if we’re in hte fight with them. One helluva great inking job too.
Uncanny X-Men #251, Nov. 1989 (Cover by Marc Silvestri & Dan Green)
I love me some Silvestri, which is why it pained me to leave this cover only as an honourable mention. In typical Silvestri style, we have lines, lines, and more lines running down the page, giving this Biblical representation of Wolverine’s crucifixion an incredibly sombre feeling. The green back-lighting against the crucifix is stunning.
Now the list:
15. Uncanny X-Men #476, Sept. 2006 (Cover by Billy Tan, Danny Miki, & Frank D’Armata)
While it’s definitely not the most action-packed cover on the list, this solo cover of Warpath stands powerful for me as it really speaks to his character. Out of the shadows, both literally and figuratively, comes Warpath with his Vibranium Knives and the head of the enemy. Figuratively speaking, he’s the little brother of the fallen X-Man, Thunderbird. Outside of Cable’s X-Force books, Warpath was a thrown away character lost and forgotten about. This cover for me represents his coming-of-age in the Uncanny X-Men – a bigger book than X-Force. With this one cover, without any dialogue, the viewer is given everything they need to know about Warpath.
14. Uncanny X-Men #205, May 1986 (Cover by Barry Windsor-Smith)
I couldn’t have a X-Men cover list without the legendary Barry Windsor-Smith on it, could I? The detail and confusion for the viewer on this cover is shared with Wolverine’s expression. The helplessness of both the viewer and Wolverine trying to figure out what is happening. The lines, wires, and colours all give a threatening feeling. It’s uncomfortable to see, let alone to understand. It’s a beautiful mess. Wolverine’s right hand – his claws extended as if they were forced out of him – add to the feeling of dread. Much like the cover, this issue is messy, violent, and mechanical.
13. X-Men #61, Oct. 1969 (Cover by Neal Adams & Sam Rosen)
The second appearance of the X-enemy Sauron lands in my top 15 list as it really encapsulates the threat of Sauron. An incredible landscape within a busy city adds to the sense that the public isn’t safe. Up in the air, Angel is alone against Sauron as the rest of the X-Men helplessly look on: they can’t fly! How can they save their friend? Sauron’s size engulfs the page and yet surprisingly his monotone green body doesn’t feel boring. What is he to the viewer? The grey city below doesn’t help with colour variety – yet the cover pops out with the bland green and grey as the dominant colours in the cover. How did Adams and Rosen pull this one off?
12. Uncanny X-Men #395, Aug. 2001 (Cover by Barry Windsor-Smith)
Fifteen years after our last entry with him, Barry Windsor-Smith still dominates the X-books with another favourite of mine as both a cover and an X-Man. Jumping over from the Generation X books, Chamber dominates with his literal explosive power taking over the cover, despite there being very little action at all on the page. His eyes scream attitude, almost as a “screw you” for his Gen. X series being cancelled. With his head slightly tilted, it’s almost as if he’s asking, “Are you talking to me?” as he makes his mark. The cover is bright, bombastic, and the lettering compliments – if not helps – the impact of the cover. A great premise behind the cover’s simplicity.
11. Uncanny X-Men #268, Sept. 1990 (Cover by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, & Tom Orzechowski)
The only Jim Lee cover on my list. It’s my favourite for a few reasons: firstly, it’s an iconic cover. Three big names in the Marvel Universe together on one cover and “together again for the first time.” Secondly, their stance and dominance on the page make the viewer forget the trio really aren’t anywhere. There’s a city in behind, a bridge, and. . . steps? The trio seem to be looking off at something – are they above it or at eye-level? It really doesn’t matter because we focal point of the cover draws us away from the background’s strangeness. The viewer is forced into seeing Captain America’s chest and shield, then Wolverine, then Black Widow. The distinct colours and inks wonderfully make your eyes circle along with the figures – only to circle back around from Black Widow’s head into Captain America’s chest and shield again. Repeat. It’s truly a great cover, if not a bit clever, cover.
10. Uncanny X-Men #290, July 1992 (Cover by Whilce Portacio)
Making a graceful cover even more wonderful is Whilce Portacio’s Uncanny X-Men #290. Here, Storm stands literally and figuratively in her element(s) as few colours are used to define the image. Heavy on the inking to define the white space and rain, the viewer is left uncertain on whether there are tears running down Storm’s face or the rain. The cover is a simple idea which is manifested into something much more grand with Storm’s body language suggesting either relief or joy. She stands in front of the X-Men logo, making sure she is the focal point for the cover. Everything else is secondary.
9. X-Men #137, Sept. 1980 (Cover by John Byrne, Terry Austin, & Jim Novak)
Blunt and to the point: Phoenix must die! With their backs against the wall on an alien planet (notice Earth in the background!), the X-Men are in for the fight of their lives to save Jean Grey. Cyclops and Jean holding on to one another while fighting off the enemy (or in this case, the Shi’ar could be considered good guys?), in a battle to the death. Words do a lot to sell this issue. “Special Double Sized” and “MUST DIE” really stand out as a selling point – to a lesser extent earning $2500 sounds great as well, but that’s besides the point. However, there’s a bit of a throwback in this cover. We have Jean back in her earlier costume, giving bright composition to the dreary background. She’s front and centre on the cover, both her and Cyclops launching weapons at an unseen foe. Lots of mystery and intrigue is given on this cover (and what happens inside the book is a doozy!)
8. Uncanny X-Men #207, July 1986 (Cover by John Romita Jr. & Dan Green)
A simple cover still reeling with incredible action. Wolverine ripping the cover he’s contained in? Talk about breaking the fourth wall. This cover is so basic, but feels like there’s a lot going on. Straggly vertical lines; little details on Wolverine’s otherwise boring costume colours; the pose. I like this cover because, to paraphrase physicist Lawrence Krauss, it makes something from nothing. What could be a ho-hum cover by Romita Jr., ends up being one of the most iconic covers featuring Wolverine.
7. X-Men #101, Oct. 1976 (Cover by Dave Cockrum & Danny Crespi)
Speaking of iconic covers: the first appearance of the Phoenix certainly is one! Cyclops drowning, Nightcrawler struggling to swim – Storm seems as if her cape is weighing her down, yet still looks over to help see Cyclops in danger – the fear the cover strikes is enormous. Given it was only a few issues earlier where X-Man Thunderbird died, there’s still a chance for any of the main members to go as well. Cockrum was so far ahead here, one can even see the fear in Cyclops’ eyes through his visor. Much like issue #137, we have another bright green Phoenix cover, contrasting against Jean’s red hair and the blue sky – lots of colour composition is happening here and the characters seem purposefully chosen to make the colours work. And not to mention the impact of Jean’s explosion out of the water. It’s just one big “wow.”
6. X-Men #133, May. 1980 (Cover by John Byrne, Terry Austin, & Gaspar Saldino)
So about those iconic Wolverine covers. . . often considered to be one of the best Uncanny X-Men covers, Wolverine taking on the Hellfire club soldiers helped define his character. Clearly out-manned, alone, and forced into melee combat against armed combatants, Wolverine simply kicks some serious ass. Keeping mostly primary colours: red, green, blue – and yellow, the individual characterization of each person on the cover really shine. The fearless shooter from a distance; the annoyed soldier behind Wolverine, the three goons getting knocked away and whose pain the viewer can actually feel because the bodies aren’t in unusual positions – this cover, “delivered” by John Byrne and Terry Austin, not only defined the X-Man, but helped define the series.
5. X-Men #98, April 1976 (Cover by Dave Cockrum & Gaspar Saldino)
One could say that battling giant robots could be considered the X-Men’s forté. The giant Sentinels literally tower over the X-Men, leaving the dynamics to this cover to be in the hands of the legend, Mr. Cockrum. We only really get an idea of the scale of the Sentinels by Wolverine and Cyclops, making the fall of Colossus from the building that much more dramatic. Lots of action sprawls over the cover with every X-Man doing something relevant on the cover (which is a thing older X-books had a problem with – see my #3). The purple of the Sentinels compliments the strangely green-lit background featuring a Kirby Krackle sky. In my eyes, if there’s one cover that screams “The X-Men,” this would be it.
4. X-Men #141, Jan. 1981 (Cover by John Byrne & Terry Austin)
Everyone’s dead! In a dystopian future, we have an older Wolverine and Kitty Pryde up against a wall with their friends – and all of the characters we’ve read about – all apprehended or dead. It’s a dark, dreary cover for the X-Men which actually reflects the storyline contained within. It’s gritty and reeks of fear and anticipation. Who’s after Wolverine? Who has killed them all? How will anyone survive? Looking at this cover to this day, I still imagine what happened to the X-Men who were captured or killed. The cover gives more questions than answers and begs the reader to pick up the book.
3. X-Men #12, July 1965 (Cover by Jack Kirby, Frank Giacoia, & Sam Rosen)
I bet some of you were asking yourselves when the Kirby representation was going to appear. X-Men #12 takes the cake for me as his best X-Men cover as we witness the first appearance of the mighty Juggernaut. His explosive entrance to the cover (and the series) knock back the X-Men – save for Jean Grey which Kirby never seemed to know what to do with on his covers. But what works well for this cover is a few things: the mystery behind the Juggernaut. We see his back, a gigantic fist, huge shoulders – what sort of creature is he? The cover is bright and red; instilling fear and drama on the cover. It makes the X-Men’s yellow costumes pop out, which in-turn also adds to the dramatic feel to the cover. There’s nothing happy happening here. It’s dark, obstructing, and moody, not only making it a really strange cover for its time, but one of my favourites to go back and look at.
2. Uncanny X-Men #210, Oct. 1986 (Cover by John Romita Jr., Bob Wiacek, & Danny Crespi)
Alright, alright. I’m sure you folks are wondering why this cover is so far up on the list. The real reason is that this cover totally hits the mark of the “definitive X-Men lineup” for me. While the catch phrase on the cover is cheesy as all hell, it’s the body language the X-Men give off that really strikes me. If you were to gauge the X-Men on their covers, to this point, save for issue #141 (and its next issue), it would’ve felt like regular comics for all ages. This cover was the turning point in the books for me, featuring the Marauders and a lot of dead Morlocks. The following covers feature blood, violence, fear, and action – but all originate from the storyline in this book – based off of the attitude from these characters. I wouldn’t want to mess with any of the X-Men based on this cover. They’re fearful, they’re menacing, and most importantly, they’re the best mutants for the job. Much like issue #207, Romita keeps it simple with a plain background and some horizontal lines to give this cover the edginess it needs to really hit home.
1. Uncanny X-Men #142, Feb. 1981 (Cover by Terry Austin & Danny Crespi)
Like I said before, save for issue #141 and its next issue, the X-books felt like comics for all ages. Then comes along Uncanny X-Men #142 by Terry Austin and all hell breaks loose. A giant Sentinel obliterates Wolverine on the cover as an impaled and broken Storm looks on. In this issue, EVERYBODY DIES. It’s a gut-wrenching cover for anyone to gaze upon. The action – and Wolverine’s death – demands your attention. Eyes focus on the colourful composition of his face. Just based on colours alone, everything compliments one another – green goes with purple which goes with yellow and orange. It’s inked beautifully to mask the real gore behind Wolverine’s death. It’s like the old horror movie trope: it’s better to have the murder done off-screen to leave the gruesome details to the imagination. And Wolverine’s death being caused by a soulless, faceless machine makes the hit so much stronger. As far as Uncanny X-Men covers go, this one delivers.
So that’s it! That’s my list of my favourite Uncanny X-Men covers! I’m sure a lot of you could agree with my choices, but I’m certain a lot of you would disagree with what I’ve said or my selection.
Until next time, keep on Space Truckin’!