§ September 25th, 2005 § Filed under Uncategorized Comments Off on

So a customer yesterday expressed shock and amazement that a particular issue of a comic book had two different covers.

Not shock and amazement that he now had two great covers to choose from. But shock and amazement at the very idea that a publisher would use two different covers on a comic, and, what’s this, what’s this, the content of the comics contained within these variant covers are exactly the same? What manner of sorcery is this?

Okay, now during the big comics boom from 10-15 years ago, when the “variant cover” was still a fairly new idea, I could understand the idea of “muliple covers for the same book” being a slightly perplexing one.

But at this point, with the variant-covers-for-the-same-book being a mainstreamed marketing gimmick — when TV Guide, one of the most widely read magazines in North America, uses the multi-cover gimmick for pretty much every other issue — the very concept really shouldn’t be too foreign.

That got me to thinking…what was the first “variant cover?” Or, if not the first, at least some of the earliest? I don’t mean cover variations between printings spread out over several months or years, as on several old underground comics. I mean, going to a comic store, seeing Unicycle Tragedy #17 on the “new arrivals” rack, and discovering that you have your choice of three different covers, by three artists, all released at the same time and on the stands all at once.

And I don’t think I’d count the Superman “test logo” variants of Justice League #3 and Firestorm #61 from ’87 – I’m fairly certain the markets these were sold in only had these covers, and not the others, so the customer wouldn’t have had the choice of which cover he or she wanted. (If I’m wrong, though, let me know…a newstand in our area had these covers, and I don’t remember seeing the regular ones on that newstand at the time.)

In comics, one of the earliest was Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #1 from 1989, which had four cover variations (just overlays with four different colors). It’s not the first, but it’s the one that seemed to cause the biggest stink, with some fans complaining that they had to buy all four versions!

A couple years before that was Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21, where the newsstand edition had Peter in his Spidey costume, and the direct market edition had Peter in his civvies. Okay, it wasn’t really a simultaneous release of both covers to the newsstands, but comic shops had both covers so I’m counting it as a variant.

Is there anything earlier? I’m sure there is, but I’m having a brain freeze and can’t come up with any at the moment.

(Outside of comics, there was the original Raiders of the Lost Ark novelization in the early ’80s, which was my first encounter with this particular gimmick. There were several different foil covers to choose from…I remember having the silver foil cover, but it seems to me that there were red, yellow, and maybe blue covers as well. And I’m not 100% on this, but the novelization for E.T. may have done the same thing.)

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