Jay Z and the Black Panther. LL Cool J and the Punisher. Missy Elliott and the Black Widow. Vanilla Ice and Deadpool. These are some of the pairings that fans of Marvel Entertainment have been treated to since October as part of a series of comic book covers inspired by hip-hop album covers. On Jan. 6, at participating stores, Marvel will give away a 32-page comic that reprints 14 of the homage covers.
“The hip-hop variants were a really special initiative that caught fire in the outside world,” said Axel Alonso, the editor in chief of Marvel. “We thought this was a great opportunity to highlight that and make it available to fans for free.”
The sampler may also make it more enticing for people who are interested in the covers but would not normally visit comic stores to seek them out individually.
The covers were an attempt to draw attention to new No. 1 issues for more than 50 Marvel series that began appearing in October. They are known as variants because the comics each have a regular cover, which typically depicts a moment from the story contained in that issue. The variants are themed and, because of their more limited print run, they are often catnip to retailers — who can sell them at higher prices — and collectors, who are interested in their rarity.
Though the hip-hop covers have proved to be popular, they were not universally embraced when the theme was first announced in July. The reaction ranged from charges of cultural appropriation to measured optimism that this would signal a greater commitment to having diverse creators working on Marvel’s comics.
“The Marvel hip-hop cover announcement came at a time when the publisher’s publicly known creator lineup was still lacking in black and Latino writers,” Joseph Phillip Illidge said in an email. Mr. Illidge spotlights diversity in comics and popular entertainment in a weekly column for Comic Book Resources. The criticism waned after some big announcements — like the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’s taking on the Black Panther and the pop culture critic and filmmaker David Walker’s working on Power Man and Iron Fist. “The bigger issue is the lasting promise of Marvel’s commitment to diversity, which is of greater import and impact than the Avengers posing like the Roots,” Mr. Illidge said.
“Whenever we do something that’s new or controversial, you can anticipate that there will be negative feedback first and foremost out of the gate,” Mr. Alonso said. “That’s what happens when you make Thor a woman, Ms. Marvel Pakistani or Captain America black. You can’t be deterred by that. All we can do is put our best foot forward and let the actual work speak for itself.”
Some of the biggest fans of the covers can be found on the website2dopeboyz.com, which presents the original images becoming the Marvel ones. And the hip-hop artists themselves seem to be happy, judging from their reaction on social media.
Eminem said on Twitter that he was honored to see his album cover for “Relapse” reinterpreted. It became an image of the Scarlet Witch. Darryl McDaniels of the rap trio Run DMC, no stranger to creating comics, seemed to be beside himself with excitement — 12 of the characters in his Twitter post were exclamation points — over the transformation of the cover of “King of Rock.” The new version featured an image of Groot and Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy. Ice Cube, whose cover for “Death Certificate” now features an older version of Wolverine, said simply, “These hip-hop variants are dope.”