Monetary value of first appearance issues
First appearances of popular characters are among the most valuable comic books in existence. Of the "ten most valuable comic books" listed in the spring 2002 issue of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, seven are first appearances of popular superheroes. Another, Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939), is the first appearance of the Golden Age Human Torch but is more noteworthy as the first comic book published by industry giant Marvel Comics.
It can take many years for a character to attain sufficient popularity after their first appearance to be considered "iconic." By the point a character reaches that level of popularity, it is common for few copies of their first appearance issues to remain. Furthermore, even fewer of those remaining copies will be in the pristine condition prized by collectors. What few remain can be worth thousands of dollars to interested collectors. For example, in 2004, a copy of Flash Comics #1 (January 1940), the first appearance of The Flash, was auctioned for $42,000 and a copy of Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941), the first appearance of Captain America sold for $64,400. In 2010, another copy of Flash Comics #1 sold privately for $450,000.
The first appearance of Superman, Action Comics #1 (June 1938), has been regarded as the "holy grail" of comic books, due to its cultural significance and rarity (fewer than one hundred copies are thought to exist). Superman is widely considered to have solidified, if not created, the superhero archetype; therefore, his first appearance is not only important to fans of the character but to fans of superheroes and comic books as a whole. Well-preserved copies of Action Comics #1 have been sold at auction for record-breaking prices. A copy graded at 8.0 ("very fine") on the 10-point scale typically used by collectors was sold at auction for $1,000,000 in 2010. Even a copy graded at a much lower 5.5 ("fine minus") sold for $956,000 in 2016.
Shortly after the record-breaking million-dollar sale of Action Comics #1 in 2010, a copy of Detective Comics #27 featuring the first appearance of Batman was sold for $1,075,000 in a Heritage auction.
Several factors determine the value of a first appearance. Note: All values are according to ComicsPriceGuide.com and are for editions certified by the Certified Collectibles Group (see below):
- The importance of the character(s) that debuted; the first appearance of Spider-Man in very fine condition is listed at $45,150; the first appearance of the less popular Iron Man, in the same condition, is listed at $3,837; and the first appearances of the vast majority of characters are not valued significantly higher than other comics published the same month.
- The rarity of comic book itself; comics from the Golden Age are usually more valuable than later comic books because they are older and fewer copies survive. Spider-Man is more popular than The Spectre but Spider-Man’s 1962 first appearance is valued at $45,150 while a copy of The Spectre's 1940 debut, in fine condition, is valued at $54,000. Also, first appearances often lack value if they are relatively recent issues of high-profile, best-selling titles. Except during a 1990s collector’s bubble, the first appearances of several Image Comics characters and newer X-Men have not been as valuable as one may expect for such popular characters because those comics were widely produced.
- Other reasons for historical importance; The Fantastic Four (November 1961) #1 is not only the first appearance of the eponymous group but also represents a turning point in the history of Marvel Comics and is the first issue of a long-running series.
- Occasionally, a comic book is the first appearance of more than one important character. Usually the characters are related; X-Men #1 (September 1963) introduced the X-Men and their archenemy Magneto. However, rarely a comic book is the first appearance of two unrelated, important characters. More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941) introduced both Green Arrow and Aquaman, who have little relation to one another. This is also the case with Action Comics #1, which contained the first appearances of Zatara and Tex Thomson, as well as Superman.
- Occasionally a first appearance will lack the value expected for a character of such stature because the debut was not splashy. Wonder Woman, an immensely popular and historically important hero, debuted in All Star Comics #8 (December 1941) in one of several stories and was not featured on the cover. This issue is valued at $30,000 in fine condition. Comparatively, the first appearances of equally (or even less) important peers Green Lantern and The Flash, boldly introduced on their covers, are worth $131,250 and $69,000, respectively. Arguably, the first appearance of Wonder Woman is worth much less because she did not make a flashy debut that lent the comic book an air of history.
- As is the case with all collectibles, condition greatly affects the value of comic books, although considerable wear is expected for decades-old comics. Most comic books are worth more if their condition is certified and they are protectively packaged (or "slabbed") by the Certified Collectibles Group, a professional grading service involved in the sale of most high-value comic books, although some fans accuse the group of inflating the value of comics.