Comics are collectible, but unless you’re Nic Cage, there are some that you’re unlikely ever to actually collect. With Comic-Con in full swing, and with the recent surprise discovery of an Action Comics #1 insulating the walls of a Minnesota property (there's hope for us all!), here are the current ten most valuable comics in the world. [Figures based on estimates for “near mint” copies – which may not always even exist – at collector site Nostomania.]
Fantastic Four #1
What’s it about? Created in response to DC’s success with the Justice League Of America, Marvel’s own superhero team introduced a new Human Torch, Mr Fantastic, the Invisible Woman and the monstrous Thing. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were the creators, although who did what remains the subject of some controversy. The story sees the FF coming to grips with their powers, and putting them into action against subterranean nutball The Mole Man.
Why so valuable? The Richards clan and Ben Grimm take their first bow.
Action Comics #7
What’s it about? Action regulars Scoop Scanlan, Marco Polo and Zatara were still in the mix, as was a strip called Zulu Diamond Mine, but it was, of course, Superman that was doing the business for Action Comics. This issue saw Supes join the circus as a star attraction, to help its nice owner Mr. Jordan fend off nasty debt-collector Mr. Niles. The seventh issue is already the second time Lois Lane requires rescuing. Clark Kent, meanwhile, is bullied by a fellow reporter but gets revenge by tearing off the rotter’s clothes using his super-speed. Ho ho, readers!
Why so valuable? Perplexing. There are no significant developments, as far as we can make out. Superman still can’t fly yet, and no new characters are introduced (Jimmy Olsen, unnamed but just about recognisable, made his debut in Action Comics #6). So perhaps this is simply a particularly beloved story, or perhaps it just got lucky at auction once. Or maybe Zulu Diamond Mine is awesome!
Amazing Fantasy #15
What’s it about? The final issue of an ailing anthology – previously titled Amazing Adult Fantasy, which perhaps erroneously suggests costumed antics of a different sort – allowed editor Stan Lee to throw caution to the wind and chuck in a teen hero that nobody was much interested in. And with a thwip!, and an iconic Steve Ditko costume design, Spider-Man arrives. Sales for Amazing Fantasy #15 were consequently unusually high, but it was still cancelled. Spidey got his own comic, The Amazing Spider-Man, seven months later.
Why so valuable? Though the world may have mocked Peter Parker, the timid teenager… it soon marvelled at the awesome might of… Spider-Man!
What’s it about? Not Batman’s first appearance, but immensely significant nonetheless. It’s his first solo comic, and unlike Superman’s, it featured all new material. And what material: the stories within give us our first adventures with The Joker and Catwoman (here called ‘The Cat’; she’s ‘Cat-Woman’ – with a hyphen – in issue #2). Joker plans a diamond robbery, and Batman clobbers him and sends him to jail. The Cat goes after an emerald necklace on a yacht, and Batman lets her escape, the softie. Then in his second story, Joker escapes from prison using trick false teeth, and goes after another necklace (where the hell are all these necklace plots in the Nolan films? Oh wait... there is one...). He’s stabbed in the heart at the end of this one, but comes back to life in the ambulance, because MADNESS! Further stories in the collection give us a Bat-origin and some Hugo Strange action.
Why so valuable? First Bat solo-outing, first Joker, first Catwoman. It’s actually surprising this isn’t higher up the list.
All-American Comics #16
What’s it about? Boy pilot Hop Harrigan and US marines Red, White and Blue grace the pages of this anthology, but its significance is in the introduction of the Green Lantern, here in the form of Alan Scott. Scott miraculously survives a train wreck clutching a mysterious lantern of spacey origin, which gives him flashbacks to two millennia past. Hate when that happens. Moulding the lantern’s green flame of life into a ring, he learns to wield his new-found power, and nails the bastards responsible for the rail disaster in the process.
Why so valuable? Green Lantern is more popular than you realised.
Marvel Comics #1
What’s it about? Flame on! Only not. The Human Torch that makes his debut here isn’t the one from The Fantastic Four, and isn’t even human; he’s an android. Nevertheless, this is where Marvel begins – published at this point by Timely Publications – and if the Torch isn’t Johnny Storm, the Sub-Mariner to whom we’re introduced is at least the Namor we know. Costumed detective The Angel (blue body-stocking, red cape, hmmm…) also takes his first bow.
Why so valuable? The origin of the multimedia behemoth we know today, true believers!
Detective Comics #1
What’s it about? The first issue of the anthology comic that would introduce Batman to the world just over two years into its run. As its title suggests, the premiere volume is the home of the gumshoe detective and the dastardly villain. #1 gives us Speed Saunders and The River Patrol (vs Cap’n Scum!); Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise; detectives Bret Lawton, Bruce Nelson, Gumshoe Gus, Eagle-Eyed Jake, Buck Marshall and Slam Bradley; spy Bart Regan; and a collection of gags called Silly Sleuths.
Why so valuable? No really significant contents, but it’s the title that’s important: Detective Comics was the beginning of the world-beating DC empire. It is, after all, what DC stands for.
What’s it about? Actually little more than a reprint of Superman’s first four strips from the pages of Action Comics, plus a few pages of new material for your ten cents, expanding the back-story and introducing Ma and Pa Kent. So we get Superman’s origin and first forays into superheroism. Then beyond Action Comics #1, Supes gets in the way of a munitions magnate trying to start a war; takes on a criminally negligent mining company; and levels the playing field of a rigged football game.
Why so valuable? The contents may be recycled, but it’s the first solo comic for the Man Of Steel.
Detective Comics #27
Value: $2.57 million
What’s it about? Fu Manchu, The Crimson Avenger and hard-boiled detective Slam Bradley feature in this anthology, but its significance is the first appearance of The Batman, along with Commissioner Gordon and Gotham City. “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” sees the Caped Crusader investigating the death of a wealthy industrialist. Echoes of the plot (a chemical factory, a vat of acid) found their way into Tim Burton’s 1989 batbuster. We eventually get Batman’s origin in issue 33, and Robin shows up in #38.
Why so valuable? Batman begins.
Action Comics #1
Value: $2.89 million
What’s it about? A compendium of stories featuring Marco Polo, “Sticky-Mitt Stimson” and “Scooby the Five Star Reporter”. Oh, and this thing called “Superman”… Creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster edited down their unsold newspaper strip at short notice, to produce a tale about Superman’s origin and first adventures. There’s no mention of Krypton, but baby Supes is dispatched to Earth by his father from “a distant planet” suffering a cataclysm. He grows up in an orphanage, learns he has super-strength and super-speed, and can leap great heights and long distances (no flying yet). As an adult he adopts the name Clark Kent, solves a murder, humiliates a wife-batterer and rescues Lois Lane from gangsters – and all in 13 pages!
Why so valuable? There are probably no more than 100 copies left in the world, and not many are in anything approaching decent condition. A copy found recently insulating a wall in a house in Minnesota “only” fetched $175k. The copy that once belonged to Nicolas Cage, on the other hand, was the first comic ever to break the $2m barrier at auction.