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Happy Birthday, Jim Lee: 15 of his wildest covers

Contributed by
Aug 11, 2017, 10:30 AM EDT

Image Comics co-founder, Wildstorm founder, and current DC Comics co-publisher, superstar artist Jim Lee needs no introduction — but that won't stop me from giving him one anyway!

Jim Lee was born in South Korea on this day in 1964, but he was raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and later attended Princeton. He entered into the comic book industry in the late '80s, immediately landing gigs at Marvel Comics, first on Alpha Flight, and later on Punisher: War Journal, Uncanny X-Men, and many more. He launched the second volume of X-Men with Chris Claremont, and the first issue remains the best-selling American comic book ever. He later left Marvel with a group of other artists to form their own company where they'd own their own work and characters, and they called it Image Comics. There he formed his own studio, dubbed Wildstorm, which began with Lee-created series like WildC.A.T.s, Deathblow, and Gen13, and would later be home to some of the most celebrated comic books of the following two decades, such as The Authority and Planetary.

Lee sold Wildstorm to DC in the late '90s, beginning his long association with the publisher, where he'd illustrate such blockbuster stories as Batman: Hush and Superman: For Tomorrow. In 2010 he was made one of the co-publishers of the company, and the following year he spearheaded the New 52 relaunch, designing many of the costumes and illustrating the best-selling Justice League flagship book.

He has remained one of the most influential creative voices in comics for nearly 30 years, and to mark his birthday, we've gathered 15 of Jim Lee’s most iconic, most notable, and most creative covers for your eyeballs' enjoyment. Check out the list below (and our other galleries for Byrne, Kane, Infantino, and Pérez) and be sure to let us know your favorite Jim Lee stories, characters, and covers in the comments.

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As far as original creations are concerned, there are none as closely associated with Jim Lee as the WildC.A.T.s. The cover of the first issue was an instant classic, and actually has aged pretty well, especially compared to some of its contemporaries. Sure, there are a lot of '90s eXtreme excesses in the designs (looking at you and your front-wedgie, Zealot), but for the most part, Lee pulls it off a lot better than anyone else at the time. Plus it's a "whole team poses together" cover, which Lee does exceptionally well, along with the opposite composition …


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… the intense single-figure close-up cover! Say what you will about this series (and boy, is there a lot to be said), but Lee was not slacking on it for a second, and especially not on the covers. This is one of the best, and one Lee's best Batman covers, period. It has an effective, powerful layout, just the right amount of detail and immediately tells you exactly what kind of Batman story you're in for when you open the book.


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It's rare that you find a Lee cover that isn't on a Marvel, DC, or Image book, so I had to include this variant for Dark Horse's Umbrella Academy. It's a really beautifully designed cover, with Lee showing off a bit more complicated layout than you usually see from him, but it's really effective. He also really effectively captures the individual weirdness of the soon-to-be-adapted family of oddballs, not making them look too much like normal superheroes, which would have been an easy trap to fall into.


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Lee did a handful of covers for Kyle Rayner's Green Lantern series, and honestly, they're all pretty great. But this one shows off something that I think Lee doesn't get enough credit for, and that's his sense of humor. This cover is pretty hilarious, and there's not one facial expression in the whole crowd that he doesn't nail and make uniquely funny. From Kyle's nametag and tugging at his collar to Jade's smug look and the cartoonishly insane expression of the mascot head, this one is comedy gold.


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Did someone say "comedy"? There's a fine line between comedy and horror, and this cover is purely the latter, despite featuring the Clown Prince of Crime. Everything about the cover is disorienting and uncomfortable, and the closer you look at Joker's face, the more terrifying and grotesque it becomes. Jim Lee draws one of the best Jokers of all time, and this cover is Exhibit A.


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It's always fun to see the Image founders draw each other's characters, and boy did Lee crush it with this rendition of Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon. Not only did he make Dragon look intense and powerful, he somehow managed to pull off the "insane number of pouches and guns" look without it veering into ridiculousness. He just toes the line of it being too much, and reins it back in enough to make it work wonderfully. And you have to appreciate the level of detail put into the background here. Not every artist would commit that fully to drawing a sewer.


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This cover has a lot going for it just by virtue of it being a Jim Lee-drawn cover featuring Batman, The Spirit and Doc Savage, but toss in the wonderful architecture framing the piece and the gorgeous blue colors from longtime Jim Lee colorist Alex Sinclair and you've got a true masterpiece. It really feels like I should be able to see my breath when I look at this cover.


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Remember a second ago when I mentioned how cool it was to see Image founders draw one another's characters? Well, that makes this cover pretty dang cool, then, doesn't it? This series has been kind of tainted by the fact that it has never been finished, but hey, at least we got an awesome Jim Lee cover out of it first!


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Here we get to see Jim Lee do his best George Pérez impression by fitting the entire Green Lantern Corps on to one cover. Despite the incredible number of figures, it doesn't feel overstuffed or messy, and no one feels like an afterthought. Infinite Crisis was one of the biggest DC events ever, and Jim Lee covers were a big part of making it feel like a truly monumental moment.


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When you get the job of reinventing Wonder Woman with Stan Lee, you pull out all the stops, and Jim Lee certainly did that here. He whipped up a super cool and unique design for the character, complete with a striking color scheme from Sinclair, and he framed it all beautifully with the beams of light flowing from her hair into the circle and out, dividing up the background panels. An appropriately wonderful and imaginative cover.


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With his run on the rebooted New 52 Justice League, Lee left a huge mark on the team. His visuals can be seen all over the upcoming big-screen versions of the team, and he also created some immediately iconic covers. The cover of the first issue was everywhere for a while and instantly became one of the most recognizable images of the League, but it was with this cover to Issue 4 that he did the impossible: He made Aquaman look really, really cool.


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This cover is part of a pair, along with Batman #608, and they're both pretty striking images, even in their simplicity. But the Superman one stands out more to me. Metropolis gleaming with the golden light of the rising sun while Superman stands, ever vigilant, ready to defend and inspire it. It's an image that could feel worn out in lesser hands, but in the hands of Jim Lee, inker Scott Williams, and colorist Scott Williams, it perfectly encapsulates the important imagery of the character.


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X-MEN #1

It's the cover that you knew had to be on the list! What else can I say about this that hasn't been said? An iconic team of mutants drawn across a jaw-dropping gatefold cover charging into battle against their greatest enemy. It's no wonder this thing sold millions of copies.


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It's always fun to see a traditionally superhero artist like Lee do things outside of his normal wheelhouse. He occasionally has ventured over to DC's Vertigo imprint, such as for a few Transmetropolitan covers, and for this variant for the first issue of the epic horror series American Vampire. I really love how much the linework is allowed to speak for itself on this cover; it really shows off how precise and technically skilled Lee is when he's cut loose. It really makes you wish he'd do a western book at Vertigo!


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We'll end with one of Lee's most recent covers, from October 2016. It's an absolutely breathtaking rendition of Wonder Woman, radiating the power, grace, dignity, and ferocity that the champion of the Amazons is known for. It also showcases the artistry and master draftsmanship that Jim Lee is known for, which is why it seems like a good note to leave on.

A very happy birthday to Mr. Lee, and here's to many more covers like the ones above!