The picture, which accompanies a story titled "Jahar's World," shows the accused murderer with his long, curly hair tousled and the hint of a goatee, reminiscent of the magazine's iconic shots of rock 'n' roll royalty like The Doors' Jim Morrison. The cover could send a dangerous message to Tsarnaev's warped supporters, according to one critic.
"If they want to become famous, kill somebody," Northeastern University criminologist Jack Levin told MyFoxBoston.com.
The issue, which hits newsstands Friday, depicts an unsmiling Tsarnaev, 19, above a boldface headline, "The Bomber." The story, which features interviews from childhood friends, teachers and law enforcement agents, promises to reveal how a "popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam, and became a monster."
In a blog posting late Tuesday, Rolling Stone detailed "five revelations" in the story by contributing editor Janet Reitman, including Tsarnaev's increasing devotion to Islam while still in high school, as well as his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev's possible mental illness, which the boys' mother decided would be better treated by Islam than by a psychiatrist.
"Around 2008, Jahar's older brother Tamerlan confided to his mother that he felt like ‘two people' were inside him," the blog posting reads. "She confided this to a close friend who felt he might need a psychiatrist, but Zubeidat believed that religion would be the cure for her son's inner demons and growing mental instability, and pushed him deeper into Islam."
Rolling Stone issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying their hearts go out to the victims.
"The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens," the statement said.
Supporters of Tsarnaev, who believe in the face of overwhelming evidence that he's innocent of the charges against him, appeared last week during his federal court appearance in Boston. Some wore T-shirts with phrases like "Free the Lion," while others held "Free Jahar" signs outside Boston's John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse on Wednesday.
"Give Dzhokhar back his life," one protester reportedly said.
"If you really cared about the victims you would be more interested in the truth," said another Tsarnaev supporter.
The Rolling Stone cover quickly drew a negative reaction on social media, as "Boycott Rolling Stone" quickly became a trending Twitter topic in Boston.
"Very rarely does something make me so mad I have a negative tweet, but #BoycottRollingStone," one user posted early Wednesday. "Absolutely unacceptable."
Many other Twitter users indicated they would never purchase another Rolling Stone magazine.
"Way to glorify a madman," another posting read.
At least two New England-based retailers, meanwhile, have decided not to carry the issue.
"CVS/pharmacy has decided not to sell the current issue of Rolling Stone featuring a cover photo of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect," the Rhode Island-based pharmacy chain said in a statement. "As a company with deep roots in New England and a strong presence in Boston, we believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones."
Tedeschi Food Shops, a Massachusetts-based convenience store chain, will also not sell the issue, The Associated Press reports.
Federal authorities allege that the Tsarnaev brothers planted two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15. The explosions killed three people and injured more than 260 others.
Four days later, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who survived a shootout with police during which Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed, was captured following a daylong manhunt in the Boston suburb of Watertown.
Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty last week to 30 counts of a federal indictment. If the government decides to seek capital punishment, Tsarnaev could face the death penalty if convicted on one of 17 counts.
FoxNews.com's Joshua Rhett Miller contributed to this report.