“The hip-hop variants were a really special initiative that caught fire in the outside world,” Axel Alonso, Marvel’s editor-in-chief, told the Times. “We thought this was a great opportunity to highlight that and make it available to fans for free.”
The special edition covers were included for a number of Marvel’s new first-issue comic books, starting in October. The notable hip-hop pairings included a Jay Z-themed Black Panther cover, Vanilla Ice and Deadpool, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Howard the Duck, Lauryn Hill and Ms. Marvel, Dr. Dre and Doctor Strange, and Kendrick Lamar and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Within the comic book world, variants are usually released with a limited run alongside the standard covers of a new first-issue title. The rarity of the covers often results in a retail price hike. As Alonso indicates, the pop culture spin led to an increase in appeal beyond collectors and comic book enthusiasts for the variants. Therefore, Marvel’s decision to compile them in a free release should be an even bigger draw for casual readers.
Some of the hip-hop artists referenced in the variants have vocally shown their support for the initiative, among them Eminem and Ice Cube. Elsewhere, cultural commentators have signaled that they form part of Marvel’s strategy to create a more diverse comic book universe. Other initiatives have included changing the gender or ethnicity of well-known characters such as Thor and Ms. Marvel, and recruiting acclaimed writers such as Ta-Nehisi Coates.
— Marshall Mathers (@Eminem) September 4, 2015