Back in 1992, DC treated us to Doomsday!, or The Death of Superman. The event played out across six weekly issues of the Superman titles of the time, with a seventh chapter in a Justice League America tie-in issue.
While the various titles went through multiple printings, the cover images stayed the same. DC would add a Roman Numeral to the cover copy–II, III, IV, etc to denote which printing the issue was. To add further difference to the printings, the color of the title logo would be changed from the original.
This meant that the cover image of Superman: The Man of Steel #18 was distinctive and remains iconic, 24 years later. Ditto the various other issues.
Especially on the "key" issue–Superman #75.
Granted, there were actually multiple covers for Superman #75. There was the "black bag edition," also known as the "collector’s edition." This was only available through comic shops (the "direct market") and outside of a "platinum edition" I believe only had a single initial printing.
The "collector’s edition" cover itself was a grey tombstone. This edition was what would in contemporary terms be the "variant" edition.
The "regular" edition–the "newsstand edition"–fit the usual/standard trade dress of the time, and featured an image of Superman’s tattered cape caught on a pole amidst the destruction in Metropolis. Subsequent printings–as mentioned above–change the color of the Superman logo and included a Roman Numeral to denote that each printing was no longer the first printing.
I believe the issue went through four printings–I have never been made aware of a fifth or later. (Exception being years-later reprints, like the Millennium Edition or stuff included with toys, etc.)
That was all fine, I was ok with it–retailers could order however many copies of each edition (though "in the moment" few ordered enough). The later printings kept the issue around to satisfy overall demand…and the cover image became and has remained iconic. There’ve been a number of subsequent comic covers over the years doing the "homage" thing based on the Superman #75 newsstand edition.
That was 1992.
If Superman #75 was published in 2016, in the present? There’d be a zillion variants, totally diluting the cover and any singularly-iconic imagery.
A set of two covers that placed together form a single wider image. Why not get folks to buy two copies of the issue with different images just to get one image?
But hey, there’d also be the wraparound cover, showing the actual death of Superman as a single cover.
And another wraparound, showing a fallen Superman with Doomsday’s shadow…effective imagery in general, but also not in keeping with the story itself as the two fell together/simultaneously.
Regardless of the fact that there’d be the "upcoming" Funeral for a Friend story (also known as World Without a Superman), there’d be at least a couple of "funeral covers" for the actual death issue.
There’d be the generic-ish images of Doomsday’s fist with Superman symbols.
There’d be a couple that showed Superman is potentially victorious, despite the cover blurb proclaiming The Death of Superman!
There’d be the generic-ish Superman and Doomsday slug-it-out images with even a "photo cover" of a statue thrown in.
Superman and Doomsday colliding covers…
Another collision cover, and a generic (yet cool-ish) Superman with Doomsday looming behind him (or the shadow of the creature somehow).
There’d be the generic "bleeding-S" covers. Promotion for the comics, and of course there’d be a ready-made animated movie already, with toys and such to further tie-in.
There’d be a painted "moment of death" cover, and a "concept sketches" cover.
There’d, of course, be the Doomsday-centric covers, showing off different takes on the creature in various poses. Recognizable as the creature, but not necessarily anything iconic or singularly stand-out. Or to BE stand-out, make that one of Doomsday reaching toward the reader a 3-D cover!
And aside from the different takes on the creature looking somewhat like he does in the actual story, there’d the the much more exaggerated, flashy takes on the character, going a bit beyond.
And there’d be way more fun than just these! See below for even more thoughts on the matter, as I’m "breaking" the post here for length on the front/main page of the blog.
These would all be first prints. Covers just for the sake of covers. There’d probably be plenty of others–like special Retailer covers, with Doomsday smashing through a store with the retailer’s specific logo on the front.
And we musn’t forget the blank white "sketch cover" for taking to conventions to get an original image done!
To get even more mileage out of these, a number of the covers could be done as blind-bag variants–that is, you know they’re out there, but they come in a black bag you can’t see through, and you could be getting any one of the covers as pictured…but randomly distributed or some sort of ratioed distribution could see the inclusion of pencils-only versions of the covers.
Beyond that, I bet there’d be some shiny "foil editions" of at least a few of the covers. Perhaps for every 25-50 copies of a specific cover, a retailer could order a foil version–say, on the wrap-arounds. For every 50 copies of the Doomsday-reaching-out, a retailer could order one copy of a 3-D version.
Maybe for every 100 blind-bagged copies ordered, a retailer could order a "transitions" version where half the cover is pencil/ink-only and the other half is fully rendered.
With so many covers flying around, surely there would be folks who really want a specific cover, but can’t get it, so what the hey… maybe for every 25 blind-bag copies ordered, a retailer could order one specific cover with no bag.
To keep things extra-annoying, for every 75 copies ordered, a retailer might be able to get a copy with some sort of fold-out structure…like the cover looks like a package with the bleeding-S shield at the center…but it would unfold into a 9-panel poster of whatever image.
And to keep people buying numerous copies each, why not have 1 in every 2 copies have some sketch-card added in the bag? (have a blank card for the others, so you can’t just feel for a card’s presence–all would have a card, but only 1/2 would have a sketch!).
For every 500 of these, the card would be an original signed/numbered sketch, and since there are millions being printing, maybe 4 or 5 would have a card redeemable for a full-size cover commission from a specified artist.
And barring various other screwy ratios and conditions and such, someone would "do the math" and put together some sort of package that a retailer could order with however many hundreds or thousands of copies to be "guaranteed" a certain amount of the various covers and such.
Just try to tell me there wouldn’t be some crazy-insane-ridiculous scheme like all this.
It’s apparently totally, entirely, completely physically impossible for DC or Marvel to NOT do all sorts of variants.
Heaven forbid something big happens story-wise that impacts folks, and ok, do a couple covers.
But in 2016? Nah, let’s do dozens or hundreds of covers. Because people will buy the darned things!