The comic book industry has had it's ups and downs over the last few decades. At one time if you held onto first issues of a series or a first appearance of a character you were almost guaranteed a big return on your initial investment if kept it in good condition. That isn't the case anymore.
At the end of the 1930s the first super-hero comic came out and many people consider this to be the Golden Age of comics. There were a lot of "firsts" in this era and issues from this era can bring in a nice chunk of change to this day. By the end of the 1950s and start of the 1960s a few big changes happened in the world comics. DC Comics presented the idea of legacy, which is passing the mantle of a super-hero down to another more able bodied character. Marvel just hits the scene around this time and creates characters set in the real world, with real problems, and also created the first teenage hero that wasn't a sidekick. These were considered game-changers and comics from this era can also yield a nice return. Around this time is what folks "in the know" refer to as the Silver Age.
The Bronze Age enters in around the 1970s and keeps a lot of the elements of the Silver Age. In this age we saw a re-branding of Superman and comics take on more adult themes like drug use, alcoholism, and darker story-telling in general. Many highly sought after comics came from this era but very few would have the notoriety of The Golden Age and some Silver Age offerings.
Then we get to the late 1980s and early 1990s and many call this time the Modern Age. Comic collecting hit an all time high and some books sold in the millions. The market went nuts. Smaller publishers were everywhere, Ma and Pa comic book stores were everywhere...and then the market crashed due to over-saturation. Companies were intentionally making books rare by offering variant covers at limited numbers and we also saw the beginning to the "big event" trend which required you to purchase several issues across different titles to get the full scope of a story. The market became flooded and comics lost a lot of their commodity. Many publishers and retail stores closed down and the idea of a "number one" purchased in the 1990s and henceforth yielding a big pay day in the future was nothing more than a pipe dream.
Luckily, some collectors held on to those first pieces of history and in some ways the idea of comics as an investment lives on. Heck, maybe one day you'll find one of these in Grandpa's attic or even at an antique store that doesn't know what they have. Keep your eyes peeled for these pieces of gold, true believers!
Please note: All titles shown are taken from the list at Nostomania which values these comics with a grade of Near Mint 9.4. In many cases an issue from the 1930s with such a high grade could be an impossibility. Regardless, these particular comics at almost any grade are going to be valuable.
5 Amazing Fantasy #15
The day Amazing Fantasy #15 hit the shelves comics were changed forever. Yes, Amazing Fantasy has the honor of being the first appearance of Spider-Man but Spider-Man has another distinction: he was the first teen super-hero that wasn't a side-kick. Finally, a character that the target audience could truly relate to.
Spidey's alter-ego, Peter Parker, may have been a wimpy nerd (a guise he kept up even after getting his powers to help reinforce his secret identity), but the day he was bitten by a radioactive spider he became anything but. He and his family faced financial hardships in the home, he had issues talking to girls, he felt responsible for the death of his Uncle Ben, the list goes on. The kid had problems and this idea would begin to permeate through all of Marvel's super-hero titles. The idea would do so well that their competition, DC, to this day still tries to adapt this concept to characters in their own comic book universe. Even after giving all their characters real-life issues, Marvel used Spider-Man as a whipping boy and just kept piling the hardships on Peter Parker more so than any of their other characters.
A near mint issue is valued at $447,000. However a copy sold at auction for $1.1 million! This is the highest price a comic of the Silver Age has ever fetched.
4 All-American Comics #16 (1940)
There were a lot of first appearances in titles like Action Comics and All-American but this one brings in the biggest pay day. It has the honor of showcasing the first appearance of the original Green Lantern; a character named Alan Scott.
Since DC is known for introducing the idea of legacy to their characters you will often times find that several people will don the same super-hero identity and pass it on to the next generation. While readers today are more familiar with Hal Jordan or John Stewart as the Green Lantern, Alan still appears in some incarnation or another. One of these incarnations re-imagined him as one of the first openly gay super-powered main characters.
A near mint copy could yield $492,000. An issue rated at less than half of the Near Mint 9.4 grade sold at auction for $35,000.
3 Marvel Comics #1 (1939)
Well before Marvel Comics redefined the genre they were still doing super-hero stories but they were much more typical of the times. We weren't yet seeing characters with real world problems like Tony Stark/Iron Man's alcoholism or Peter Parker/Spider-Man dealing with the pressures of being a geeky teenager and in later years wondering where his next rent check was going to come from.
The first issue of Marvel Comics introduces a few characters that are still a part of The House of Ideas. Ka-Zar and The Sub-Mariner. They weren't quite yet the characters they would become but they find their roots in this issue. We are also introduced to a completely different character that shares the name Human Torch with Johnny Storm of The Fantastic Four. The character is an android that bursts into flames when he comes in contact with oxygen. Marvel did eventually put him back into continuity when his android body was used as a vessel for The Vision.
An issue in good condition can fetch a pay day of $572,000. A copy at an undetermined grade sold at $367,000.
2 Detective Comics #27 (1939)
While the cover of the 27th issue of Detective Comics isn't as recognizable as the cover to Action Comics #1, there is no denying the place this issue holds in both comic book and human history. There were so many iconic firsts in this issue that even folks who don't read comics are familiar with almost every item, person, and place presented in this milestone comic book. It's the first appearance of Commissioner Gordon, the first appearance of a then unnamed Gotham City, the first appearance of a now legendary utility belt, the first appearance of Bruce Wayne, and the first appearance of one of the most recognizable costumes in comic book history. Oh, yeah. Some guy named The Batman makes his first appearance here too. Perhaps you've heard of him?
Nearly all the things that makes the character of Batman who he is are contained in this issue; a testament of how well this single idea has stood the test of time with little to no tampering. A few details have been added over the years but for the most part Bruce Wayne's war on crime has remained the same for 75 years...and it's still amazing.
A near mint copy could bring in $2.2 million. It's highest sale at a lower grade was at $1.07 million.
1 Action Comics #1 (1938)
Whether you're a comic book fan or not, this image of Superman lifting a car above his head and smashing it against a rock has probably been burned into your brain. It's a truly iconic image that is referenced time and time again in many forms of media. It is the cover of Action Comics #1. This issue has the prestigious distinction of not just being the first issue of Action Comics or the first appearance of Superman, but it is also the issue that some argue started the super-hero genre as we know it.
When Superman first hit the scene he could do just about anything he wanted. Except for the fact he didn't really fly, he just jumped very high and very far. He's changed a lot over the years and much has been added to the mythos that surrounds him. No matter how far removed Superman currently is from his initial concept, that doesn't change the fact that a near mint copy of Action Comics #1 is valued at $2.8 million dollars. A copy at a lower grade sold at auction for $2.16 million dollars only three years ago.