Comic history is littered with good covers. What makes a great cover stand out is a combination of eye appeal and that desperate need to know the story behind the cover. Back in the days of spinner racks, a comic had to work for that little chunk of the kid’s allowance. Nowadays with pull lists and online subscriptions it seems like covers don’t have to do nearly as much work as they used to. Heck, many of us don’t see the cover until it’s already bought and paid for and shipped to our home.
Captain America #321 presented a very different version of Cap than we were used to. With a murderous, Punisher-esque expression on his face, Cap is furiously pumping bullets into…somebody.
Back before modern day Captain America began wearing a gun as a fashion accessory, it was unusual to see him with a gun. Sure, he was a soldier in World War 2 and undoubtedly killed plenty of enemy soldiers, but post ice-cube Cap didn’t go around capping scum willy nilly; he wasn’t the Punisher, after all. He was the one making speeches about the sanctity of life and all those ideals that heroes uphold. His weapon of choice was a shield, which is primarily a defensive weapon. Although his shield could be capably offensive in his hands, the Cap we were used to wasn’t a killer.
So the cover to Captain America was a shock, and immediately makes you wonder what the story behind the cover is. Is this really Cap? Impostor? Brainwashing? Too much starch in his longjohns? We don’t know. This isn’t the determined Captain America leaping into battle that we’re used to. Notice there’s no shield present. He’s all gun, all business.
John Beatty and Mike Zeck present a vision of Captain America that readers of the 80’s were unaccustomed to. It’s a Cap that seems to have taken its cue from Stallone and Schwarzenegger and other over the top 80’s action heroes to solve all of his problems with a gun.
The story provides a different perspective on our preconceived notion. The cover hooked us and drew us inside to learn the truth behind the illusion. And that’s what a great cover will do every time.