In 2000, Nicholas Cage had an extremely rare copy of Action Comics #1 stolen from his extensive collection. Last week this gem turned up in a storage unit under somewhat questionable circumstances. The story was everywhere — in fact, if you do a search for “Nicholas Cage Action Comic,” it comes back with 1,010,000 results. Coincidentally, if you slap a dollar sign in front of that number, you’ll have a rough worth of the book itself.
Anytime the subject of comics pricing in the range of the first issues of Action Comics, Detective Comics, and the like comes up, I always get questioned on how much my own collection is worth. Mostly, this comes from non-comics persons. The dollar signs that flash in their eyes quickly fall to the floor, along with their jaws, when I reveal that my 6,000+ issue collection really isn’t worth anything.
“What? Why not?” they always ask, taking stock of the many long boxes cluttering my home. “But you have so many.” Believe me when I say, I wish they could all be so valuable. Alas, it is about as far from that as you can get.
Sure, I’ve had some excitement in the past two decades, don’t get me wrong. The Death of Superman sent a chunk of my budding collection skyrocketing faster than a speeding bullet. The Batman: Hush story arc did the same in later years. Excitement is one thing; however, a million-dollar comic is something else altogether.
Why aren’t comics today worth anything?
I’m being semi-facetious, here; but only semi. There are several reasons I can think of: The industry itself is not really sustaining the collector. Pricing for an individual floppy is around $4 per book, plus tax. Illegal pirating and the advent of the digital comic platform have cut down on hard copy consumption. The glossy paper, which comic companies have used for years, doesn’t decay and breakdown with age or the acids from our grubby little mitts. This was a major curse of early comics, which were often published on cheap paper, with pulps of wood visible in them. Plus, despite dwindling sales, the market is still saturated with comics (supply), when compared to the amount of present readers (demand).
When a hot story comes along, such as the more recent death of Captain America, the constant media attention and fan desire to own the first copy (or ten) to hit the stands can, indeed, drive initial sales up. Unfortunately, the aforementioned detracting factors add up to keep the perceived value in check, forcing the resale value back to cover price, if not lower.
Why do these older ones still hold value?
Why does the first issue of Action Comics, and its ancient comic cousins, still hold that fabled position in the top of comic charts? What is it about this issue in particular that looms larger than most? The short answer: it’s the first appearance of Superman. Moreover, it’s widely held as the beginning of the superhero revolution which has sustained the market for seven decades. Moments like that just do not come along often.
Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Hulk and The X-Men are all alpha characters in the superhero realm; you’ll find fans still seeking out their first appearance. What’s funny, though, is Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had no idea when they introduced Superman to the public just how lasting and galvanizing the character would become. Since that time, editors have searched and searched for the next metaphorical Superman, a character able to take that evolutionary leap in a single bound. Only time will tell if they ever find one.
Who knows, maybe there’s already such a character in our midst. Perhaps, my son’s generation will be searching for that fabled copy of the first appearance of Batwoman or Steel.
Please, check back throughout the week for fun polls, quotes from your favorite local comic shops, and interviews with Paul Cornell and Pete Woods, the creative team behind Action Comics #900.
You may also want to check out part one of 9 Articles for Action Comics #900.