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In American comic books and other stories with a long history, first appearance refers to the first issue to feature a fictional character. These issues are often highly valued by collectors due to their rarity and iconic status.

Reader interest in first appearances

Collectors value first appearances for their rarity and historical value, while many regular readers are interested in viewing how their favorite characters were originally portrayed. Reprints of first appearances are often published, both as single comic books and in trade paperbacks, usually with other early appearances of the character. Marvel Comics' "Essential" line has become popular by giving readers an affordable glimpse into characters' early history.[1]

Historically, first appearances tell the origin story for the character, although some, such as Batman and Green Goblin, remained dubious figures for several issues. Modern writers prefer to tell a character's origin across an entire story arc or keep a newly introduced character mysterious until a "secret origin" issue. Some fans consider this a gimmick and prefer the older method.[2]

The artistic merit of many first appearances is debatable. The events portrayed in most famous first appearances are continuously retconed, rebooted and/or expanded upon by subsequent writers. Like many golden and silver age comics, first appearances often become dated and do not fit the modern portrayal of the character.

However, some first appearances are considered classics. 1990s-era Spider-Man writer Howard Mackie said that his favorite story featuring the character was his first appearance and origin story in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962), stating that writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko "gave us everything we needed, I wanted or could ask for in the least possible space. Every single person who retells the origin never improves on the original, they simply expand it."[3]

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.[4] 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[5] and a copy of Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941), the first appearance of Captain America sold for $64,400.[6] In 2010, another copy of Flash Comics #1 sold privately for $450,000.[7]

The first appearance of Superman, Action Comics #1 (June 1938), has been regarded as "holy grail" of comic books, due to its cultural significance and rarity (fewer than one hundred copies are thought to exist).[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] Even a copy graded at a much lower 5.5 ("fine minus") sold for $956,000 in 2016.[8]

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.[11]

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):

Ambiguous cases

While seemingly a simple concept, determining the first appearance may be complex. The following are instances in which a character's first appearance may be difficult to determine:

First appearances of popular heroes, villains and teams

Note: All values are according to Comics Price Guide. Prices given are for the best available editions. Thus prices of Golden Age comics are for editions in "fine" condition because editions in better condition for such old comics are either extremely rare or have never been confirmed to exist. Prices for Silver Age and subsequent comics are for "very fine" editions. Priced are also for editions graded by the Certified Collectibles Group. Data is correct as of January 25, 2006.

Character(s) First Appearance Cover Date Publisher Estimated Value
Superman Action Comics #1 June 1938 DC Comics $2,100,000[1]
Batman Detective Comics #27 May 1939 DC Comics $475,000
Sandman (Wesley Dodds) Adventure Comics #40 July 1939 DC Comics $60,000
Namor the Sub-Mariner Marvel Comics #1 October 1939 Timely Comics $400,000
Jay Garrick/Flash I; Hawkman Flash Comics #1 January 1940 All-American Pubs. $95,000
Captain Marvel Whiz Comics #2 February 1940 Fawcett Comics $90,000
Robin Detective Comics #38 May 1940 DC Comics $75,000
The Spectre More Fun Comics #52 February 1940 DC Comics $72,000
Lex Luthor Action Comics #23 May 1940 DC Comics $8,025
The Joker; Catwoman Batman #1 Spring 1940 DC Comics $160,500[2]
Green Lantern All-American Comics #16 July 1940 All-American Pubs. $131,250
Captain America Captain America Comics #1 March 1941 Timely Comics $125,250
Aquaman; Green Arrow More Fun Comics #73 November 1941 DC Comics $10,050
Wonder Woman All Star Comics #8 December 1941 All-American Pubs. $60,000
Barry Allen/Flash II Showcase #4 October 1956 DC Comics $48,000[15]
The Justice League of America The Brave and the Bold #28 May 1960 DC Comics $8,127
The Fantastic Four The Fantastic Four #1 November 1961 Marvel Comics $28,896
The Hulk The Incredible Hulk #1 May 1962 Marvel Comics $21,672
Dr. Doom The Fantastic Four #5 June 1962 Marvel Comics $4,154
Spider-Man Amazing Fantasy #15 August 1962 Marvel Comics $45,150
Iron Man Tales of Suspense #39 March 1963 Marvel Comics $3,837
Doctor Strange Strange Tales #110 July 1963 Marvel Comics $3,500
X-Men; Magneto X-Men #1 September 1963 Marvel Comics $13,545
The Avengers The Avengers #1 September 1963 Marvel Comics $5,148
Daredevil Daredevil #1 April 1964 Marvel Comics $3,160
Teen Titans The Brave and the Bold #54 July 1964 DC Comics $415
The Punisher The Amazing Spider-Man #129 February 1974 Marvel Comics $15,000[16]
Wolverine The Incredible Hulk #181 October 1974 Marvel Comics $1600
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 May 1984 Mirage Studios $2,400

See also

Notes

References

  1. ^ "The A.V. Club's Weekly List". The A.V. Club. Archived from the original on January 26, 2006. Retrieved January 26, 2006.
  2. ^ Carter, Dave (January 20, 2005). "Yet Another Comics Blog: Origin Stories". yetanothercomicsblog.blogspot.com.
  3. ^ "Spider-Man Crawl Space Interview: Howard Mackie". www.spidermancrawlspace.com.
  4. ^ Gemstonepub.com Archived February 7, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "CBR.com - The World's Top Destination For Comic, Movie & TV news". CBR.
  6. ^ Heritagegalleries.com Archived February 18, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Edgar Church/Mile High Flash Comics #1 Sells for $450,000". itsalljustcomics.com. March 16, 2010.
  8. ^ a b "Comic book containing Superman's debut sold for nearly one million dollars". The Telegraph. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  9. ^ Holt, Douglas B. (2004). How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. p. 1. ISBN 1-57851-774-5.
  10. ^ "Action Comics No. 1 sale pushes Superman to new heights". Hero Complex - movies, comics, pop culture - Los Angeles Times. February 23, 2010. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  11. ^ "Batman beats Superman (again) as his first comic appearance breaks $1-million mark". Hero Complex - movies, comics, pop culture - Los Angeles Times. February 26, 2010. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  12. ^ Complete Marvel Reading Order
  13. ^ geocities.com/mbrown123[dead link]
  14. ^ "TMe: CGC: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly". www.teako170.com.
  15. ^ "Showcase #4 The Flash (DC, 1956) CGC NM+ 9.6 White pages.... Silver - Lot #91261 - Heritage Auctions". Heritage Auctions.
  16. ^ Tosh, David (October 13, 2015). Comic Books: How to Pick Antiques Like a Pro. Picker's Pocket Guides. Krause Publications. ISBN 978-1440244988.