What’s black and white and variant all over?

§ November 1st, 2021 § Filed under dc comics, variant covers § 3 Comments


So it dawned on me that I might be opening up bit of a can of worms here, as DC’s New 52 publishing initiative was rife with variant covers. Initially, I was just going to talk about these black and white variants DC offered early on in the initial months of New 52. Like, for example that Swamp Thing one above, which I removed from the formerly vast Mikester Comic Archives to photograph. (Er, pardon the glare.)

As I recalled, several DC titles around this time had this particular style of variant, taking the regular cover, flipping it on its side and stripping it of its coloring. This Swamp Thing issue (#5, March 2012) was offered in a 1:25 ratio, meaning a retailer would have to buy 25 copies of the main cover to order one of these. …Look, I know most of you know how ratio variants work, but someone reading this might not.

In looking at other DC titles, it appears Batman #5 also had a similar variant, but it was a 1:200 ratio book…which makes sense, since Batman is nearly always a top seller for DC. Aquaman #5’s variant, another 1:25. Same with Superman #5. Even Detective Comics #5 was only 1 in 25.

I’m not going to look up every 5th issue of the initial New 52 series to check the ordering plateaus for these black and white wraparounds (and not all of them had ’em…sorry, Blackhawks #5), but I’m going to hazard a guess and say the main Batman title was the one series with the highest “ask” to get that variant. If I’m wrong, I’m sure I’ll hear about it.

These black and white variants are kinda neat. It’s like you’re getting your own reproduction of the original art, in varying stages of development: fully inked, like on the Swamp Thing cover, or just the pencils, like on that Aquaman cover. Which is nothing particularly new or innovative, as black and white “sketch” covers had been a thing already, but by turning it on its side, wrapping the image around the front and back covers, now it more closely approximates the size of what we generally think of original art pages. (Yes, not exactly, hence my use of the word “approximates.”)

I don’t have specific retail stories about these black and white variants, beyond me unsurprisingly glomming onto the Swamp Thing one as soon as I cracked open the Diamond delivery boxes. But what I do want to talk about is DC’s increasing reliance on variant covers over the history of the New 52’s lifespan, as alternate and gimmick covers were prodcuced to shore up the orders after the initial excitement over the relaunch started to fade away.

Variant covers were there from the very beginning of the New 52, with some titles (like Batman and Superman offering other covers based on your lowest DC order for the week. For example, if your lowest order for a DC title coinciding with Batman‘s release was only 20 copies, then you were limited to 20 copies of that one Batman variant. Thus from the get-go, they weren’t even waiting for numbers to drop. They were trying to get you to order more of a comic in which you didn’t have as much faith so you could get yer mitts on more of that Batman variant. Very sneaky.

And there were more variants than that from launch, especially for Batman, not even counting the variations on the several reprintings for this and other New 52 titles (which, as I said last time, is a little outside the range of this overview). I intend to cover more the DC New 52 variants, making this a bit of a series inside the variant cover-age series already in progress, as it’s clear I’m never going to squeeze all these into one post. I mean, I suppose I could, but I don’t really want to be up ’til 4 AM writing a blog post, like I used to do when I was a young and spritely 34 years of age when I started this site nearly two decades ago.

So hang onto your butts, as this variant ride is going to be taking on the New 52 variants over the next few weeks. I of course reserve the right to interrupt the run with breaking variant news, but we’ll see how it goes.

3 Responses to “What’s black and white and variant all over?”

  • Snark Shark says:

    That looks like Rick from the walking dead on the cover.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    This is a late observation, given how long you have been writing here about variants, but it occurs to me that the Original Variant Comics were “Classics Illustrated.” Its habit of keeping its issues in print for years, often literal decades, meant that it was constantly producing variants. There was the title change from “Classic Comics” to “Classics Illustrated”; there was the switch from line art to paintings on the covers; in a few cases, the stories were rewritten and redrawn in later editions; I presume that there was some playing around with the filler material in the back; and, of course, the prices changed with time, and the list of available titles on the back cover grew with each new edition.

    So, if you ever find yourself stuck for a subject, you could just start a 169-part series on “Classics Illustrated” variants.

  • Why is Bigby Wolf fighting a pig on a Swamp Thing cover? Vestige of Vertigo?

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