Comic books are a hot commodity, and they have been since the late 1930s. The introduction of our favorite superheroes in the late ’30s and early ’40s heralded the golden age of comic books and nowadays, many issues that sold way back then for 10 cents are now priced in the hundreds-of-thousands and even the million-dollar ranges. That would make old, rare comics a virtual gold-mine if it weren’t for the fact that these comics are probably a better investment than gold.
Today, superhero franchises are some of the biggest money makers in the world of media. The Avengers (2012) movie grossed over $623 million at the box office, while The Dark Knight (2008) brought in over $533 million, making them the 3rd and 4th highest grossing movies of all time. Other movies featuring Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Thor have found wide success and also bring in hundreds of millions. All of these franchises began with original comic book heroes over 75 years ago.
First it was the Golden Age of Comic Books from the late ‘30s to late ‘40s, then the ‘Silver Age’ which endured until 1970. What has become known as the Bronze Age lasted until 1985, and now we’re in the era of the Modern Age of comic books and comic book franchises – and it’s showing no sign of slowing down. If anything, it seems the renaissance of comic books is taking place, as the success of Marvel and DC movies have opened the world of comic books to a worldwide, mainstream audience. But the increasing commercialisation of our favorite comic book heroes has made the original and traditional renderings of these heroes all the more valuable, and the hardcore fanatics are cashing in. For a good idea of just how valuable, take a look at the ten most expensive comics of all time.
10. Captain America Comics #1 – $353,000
This comic introduced the Captain of the Avengers for the first time, and was originally issued in March 1941. The original issue shows the genesis of Captain America as a young man who was injected by a strength-giving serum by high-level government officials, turning the youngster into the patriotic one-man army who fights against the Nazis. His ultimate foe – like many heroes during that time – was the Third Reich, and the front cover even pictures the Captain punching Adolf Hitler in the face. Created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, this comic sold at an August 9, 2011 auction for $353,000.
9. Action Comics #7 – $405,000
Action Comics was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and launched on April 18, 1938. The comic series is considered the grandfather of modern comics, first introducing original superhero material outside of funny shorts. Part of the value for issue #7 – issued December 1938 – stemmed from a quirk that was never repeated again: Superman wears yellow boots in the story, although not on the cover. It also features Superman on the cover for just the second time ever, adding to its value. Though originally priced at 10 cents, Action Comics #7 has sold for $405,000 in the past, making it one of the most valuable comics of all time.
8. Amazing Fantasy #15 – $442,000
The Amazing Fantasy series (originally titled Amazing Adult Fantasy) was a series of comics published by Marvel Comics from 1961 through 1962, later revived in 1995 and the 2000s. Originally featuring a host of writers and artists, Amazing Adult Fantasy reconfigured the comic book format and included more “sophisticated” content thanks in particular to the twist-ending tales of artist Steve Ditko and writer-editor Stan Lee.
When the series faced financial troubles towards the end of 1962, the publishers allowed writers to experiment with a new kind of superhero. In this case, the final issue of Amazing Fantasy featured an every-day teenager who becomes Spider Man. This issue, first introducing Spidey, is #1 on Marvel’s list of “The 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time.”
7. All-American Comics #16 – $497,000
All-American Comics was the flagship series of the All-American Publications company, and was one of three companies that would later merge to form DC Comics. It ran for 102 issues from 1939 to 1948, and introduced some of the mainstays of DC’s future line of characters. Issue #16, dated July 1940, debuted one of the most iconic DC characters: The Green Lantern. He was created by writer Bill Finger and artist Martin Nodell. In 1946, All-American Publications was purchased by National Periodicals (DC Comics), and the company changed their titles and formats to All-American Western, due to the demand for Western comics.
6. Detective Comics #1 – $529,000
Detective Comics is a series published monthly by DC Comics since 1937, still going strong today. This first issue (dated March 1937), and many issues thereafter, contained 10 stories written in the hard-boiled detective genre. Besides the two flagship DC characters of Batman and Superman, the series is also responsible for introducing Robin (issue #38), Penguin (#58), Two-Face (#66), Riddler (#140), Batwoman (#233), and many others.
5. Batman #1 – $530,000
Priced at just $1,000 more than Detective Comics #1, Batman finally got his own self-titled franchise with this comic issued Spring 1940. The first story of this comic was entitled “The Legend of Batman – Who He Is and How He Came to Be.” The issue also contains the stories “The Joker,” and “The Joker Returns,” and was the first to feature “Robin, the Boy Wonder.” The Batman series was first a quarterly publication issued by DC Comics, and went on to become a bi-monthly and then a monthly series. The franchise is one of the biggest superhero franchises in history, with the character being portrayed on screen in both live action and animation by actors including Lewis Wilson, Robert Lowery, Adam West, Michael Keaton, Kevin Conroy, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, and soon by Ben Affleck.
4. Marvel Comics #1 – $578,000
The first issue of Marvel Comics was dated October 1939, and featured characters like The Human Torch, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and The Angel. The company was founded in 1939 as Timely Comics, and has since become the reigning franchise of superhero media, including movies, action figures, and one of the longest-running comic series. The Walt Disney Company acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2009.
This first issue of Marvel Comics sold 80,000 copies and prompted a second publication that sold about 800,000 copies in the next month.
3. Superman #1 – $712,000
Although Superman was introduced prior to this comic, this was the first comic book series that was devoted to a single character. Released in June 1939, the public was immediately enamored with the man in the red cape, and demand for him was high. Although every publisher at the time wanted their own version of the hero, DC’s was still the most popular. That being said, this book is widely considered a cash-grab by the company because it mainly reprinted Superman stories from Action Comics #1 through #4, adding just a few pages of original material. This issue is also noteworthy, however, as the first comic to feature a pin-up back cover.
2. Detective Comics #27 – $2,220,000
Detective Comics is the longest-running continuously published comic series in US history, and #27 of the series really got things going. It introduced billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne to the world, and his alter-ego Batman – a superhero without super-powers who relies on intelligence, awesome gadgets, and wits instead. It also introduced his crime-fighting ally, Commissioner Gordon.
In this title, the first story with Batman is called “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” and it mixes the hard-boiled crime genre with the world-saving superheroes of the time, making Detective Comics #27 a groundbreaking comic. The Caped Crusader was created by writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane, and throughout the years many artists and writers have attempted to flesh out the many different sides of this endlessly intriguing character.
1. Action Comics #1 – $3,207,852
This is the comic that got it all started. Issued June 30, 1938, Action Comics #1 introduced Superman to the world, and heralded the Golden Age of comics. This issue, which originally sold for 10 cents, had a print run of 200,000 copies, and on August 24, 2014, a near-mint version of the book was sold on eBay for over $3.2 million, becoming the most expensive comic ever sold. There are only 50 to 100 original copies of this comic believed to still be in existence.
Darren Adams, owner of Pristine Comics in Federal Way, Washington, started the bidding at a generous $0.99. In less than two hours, the price had risen past $1.5 million. Adams’ 1938 issue was labeled as having “perfect white pages” and was graded 9.0 by the comic grading service Certified Guaranty Company (CGC). No other copies of this comic had ever been graded higher. The comic overtook the previous most-expensive holder, another copy of Action Comics #1 that sold in 2011 for $2.16 million to super Superman fan Nicolas Cage.