Marvel-ous! Issue #21: Variant Covers Explained!

Hey there, True Believers!

Long time no see! This is the first new issue of Marvel-ous to be released on the site, as well as the first real blog post I have written in almost a year, so excuse me if there is some rust around the edges! For the first issue back, I wanted to talk about variant covers for comics. They are a hotly debated topic in the comic community, especially with avid collectors. This issue will analyze the history of them, the controversy, and my personal feelings on them. So without further ado, lets jump right in!

Man of Steel #1, 1986

Man of Steel #1, 1986


To those not aware, variant covers are when a single issue of a comic book is released with more than one cover for the buyer to choose from. These alternate covers are usually printed in smaller runs, making their cost rise over that of the regular covered issue, and creating a "collectors' item". The story inside is identical, the only difference is the image on the outside. Variant covers are actually a fairly recent creation in comics, with the first appearing with Man of Steel #1 in 1986, which saw release with two covers by legendary artist John Byrne. The idea took off in the 90s with the boom of "collector fever," when comics fans started to concern themselves with how much their collections would be worth in the future (this whole time period could really be covered in a future issue).

The boom of collectors looking to make sure they get every issue of a comic possible was not missed by publishers, who started to produce more and more of these alternate covers, and the market bought it up. Collectors would buy every copy of a comic with a different cover. The most ridiculous example of this that I can find is Jim Lee and J. Scott Campbell's comic Gen¹³ (don't worry, I've never heard of it either), the first issue of which had a staggering 13 variant covers, one for each main character. 

Today, variant covers still exist for many comics, but are far less ridiculous. Comics will have one or two variants for the most part, and even then it is only present for select comics. These covers are usually done by guest artists, or in homage to something else in pop culture. Marvel, for example, just released a series of variant covers homaging prominent hip hop record covers.


Now, variant covers are a bit of a hot topic with collectors. Some love them, seeing it as an added challenge to collect all the covers for the series they are collecting, or to hunt down the rarest, most valuable variant cover for an issue (sometimes called chase covers). Many however feel this is a simple money grab; an attempt by publishers to squeeze more money out of avid fans who just want every issue of their favourite title. This claim is supported by these variant covers still being at a higher price point than normal comics, despite the relatively small difference between the two. There are even some comic stores that refuse to order variant covers of comics for this very reason. 

Spider-Man #1

Spider-Man #1

My Opinion

Personally, I have no issue (no pun intended) with variant covers. I own a few, but for the most part, I only buy one copy of a comic, and will just choose the cover I like the most. I can personally justify paying the extra cost for a variant cover if I prefer the image depicted more, either because of the guest artist or the homage appeals to me, or what have you. I am not enough of a hardcore collector to warrant buying multiple copies of the same comic for one image to be different.

What do you think? Are you a collector of variant covers, or do you think they are just a cheap money grab on the part of publishers?