I'm the last guy you'll see casually throwing around the phrase "old school covers". The vaguely derogatory term seems to imply that some kind of profound historical shift occurred in the way comic book covers should be perceived and discussed. It's as if to say comic book covers of decades past could still be considered "good"....but good with an asterisk. "Good" in a condescending, less sophisticated kind of way that doesn't quite measure up to today's Olympian "new school" standards.
That said, I do recognize that comics of twenty-plus years ago had a flair and a style all their own. Best of all, covers of that era (roughly the 1960's through the late 80's) grabbed your interest by telling a story! An extremely brief and melodramatic story, but a story nonetheless. Contrast this style with today's obsession with "stock pose" covers that don't tell you much about the story inside or do much to hook your interest. Sure, the art is usually top-notch...but like a movie poster or the cover of a novel, not much more than a one-note image. Nice to look at, sure...but can they compel someone to buy them with the force of, say, Fantastic Four #199 (1978)?
(click on the cover for a larger view)
This one's got it all:
Character-defining word balloons: The best word balloons of this era would give you a quick-yet-defining snapshot of the speaker. In this case, we know in an instant that Dr. Doom (A) desperately wanted to rule the world (B) was willing to kill his son to get there and (C) was therefore a really bad guy!
Dramatic "acting": Like a professional actor, a comic book illustrator should be able to capture and convey intense emotions, especially when you're trying to grab a potential buyer's attention with a cover design. In this case, the snarling determination of Victor Von Doom II is the emotional core around which the entire cover revolves. Do yourself a favor and click on the image for a super-sized look at Doom Jr.'s face. Those sunken eyes and gritted teeth always rivet my attention. Add to that my enthusiasm for characters with amalgamated powers (like Doom Jr.'s F.F. abilities), and that 35¢ was as good as spent back in 1978.
I miss the days of covers trumpeting "startling secrets" in a deliberately melodramatic, non-ironic way. And villains who wanted to rule the world. And questions that didn't always end with question marks.
Layouts that amplify the cover's narrative: In this issue's story, Victor Von Doom II was actually a specially engineered clone of Dr. Doom who ultimately turns against his creator to defend the Fantastic Four. This change of heart is wonderfully foreshadowed on the cover by Doom Jr.'s very protective presence, made even more dramatic by his dynamic, twisting stance and the camera angle.
Also, note how the angled energy blasts from Dr. Doom's hands lead the eye directly to the word balloon exchange and, more important, the helpless members of the Fantastic Four Doom Jr. is obviously defending.
Joe: As great as Keith Pollard's layout was, I give most of the credit for this cover's success to Joe Sinnott, whose sublime inking evokes this era of crisp, clear storytelling more than any other visual cue.