WATCHMEN #1 (1986)

Quite aside from most criteria by which we have judged the covers on this list, Watchmen #1 presents itself in many ways as unique and singular. It stands out as an early example of how the imagery and marketing of comics began to change drastically in the 80's. The cover itself is simple and strangely intriguing; it gives you just enough to whet your curiosity, then once inside, rewards you immediately by revealing greater detail. But more importantly, it instantly involves the reader in the story as you realize that the cover, far from being the traditional symbolic jacket around the book, is actually the first panel of this complex and rewarding story. Large credit is due here to Alan Moore for the concept of incorporating the cover image into the story (each of the series' twelve covers open their respective chapters), as well as the thematic recapitulation of the central form of the button. A random leaf through the series will turn up these circular forms again and again, both on covers and inside: the Doomsday Clock, Mal's Coffeepot, the Nostalgia Cologne bottle, Dr. Manhattan's hydrogen symbol, the Owlship, cogs from a wristwatch and many others, all resonating from that first image and resolving themselves into the earth itself--the final revelation of Veidt's stunning plan. Few covers in comics history have been as well-integrated into the story, or as thematically rewarding as Watchmen #1.