I am not a fan of the "faux tome" look that Wizards of the Coast decided to use for the Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons books. I thought they looked somewhat cheesy, truth be told. I've said before that, while I understand they were aiming for a "classic" look that showed their respect for the history and traditions of the game, what we got looked silly and pretentious instead.
That said, I have an inexplicable soft spot for the covers of the 3e and v.3.5 Monster Manual volumes.
And I know exactly why: the eye. Where the covers of the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide look like the covers of game books, this one -- if you ignore the little "Core Rulebook III" business -- actually looks as if it were some black libram found in the library of a necromancer in the pulp fantasy tradition. Nothing says "forbidden lore" than a metal-bound book with a vertical-slitted eye staring out at you from the front cover.
Now, the question remains whether such a cover, however much I like it, is appropriate for the Monster Manual. I have no firm answer to that. On the one hand, none of the previous covers we've looked at has done the book justice in my opinion. On the other hand, why should the MM, of all the books, be the where the faux tome look works? I guess part of me is reminded of medieval bestiaries or the Physiologus, with their catalogs of fantastic creatures. That's the tradition out of which the Monster Manual has arisen and I somehow have this image in the back of my head that the MM should look like it's an ancient book of lore. One reason for this is that, alone among the three core D&D books, the MM is the one that could in fact exist in the game world in some form. It's not purely an artifact of game play like the PHB and DMG. That's not to say I have ever included a Monster Manual in any of my campaigns, but I wouldn't object if I discovered that some other referee had included one in his own campaign.
I don't know. There's some strangely compelling about both the 3e and v.3.5 MM covers. I can't say that they're ideal, but then what would an ideal MM cover look like? I still don't know. All I can say is that this is the best I've seen so far. There's just some indefinable something about these volumes that feels right and that's a big part of the definition of old school art, such as it is: it feels right.