Truly rare comic books may come along once or twice in a lifetime. Most collectors only dream of finding one.
These days movies based on comic books have become the highest box-office earners. This new interest in the characters has sparked higher comic book sales and increased the prices of the rare/collectable issues. For example, with no more than 100 copies left in the world, a near-mint copy of Action Comics No.1 (the first comic book to feature Superman) sold for $3.2 million on eBay in 2014.
These are the 10 most valuable comic books. And yes, some of these titles weren’t D.C. comics at the time, but since they are now, or at least the characters within are now, they’re included.
1. ACTION COMICS #1 (1938) – $4,530,000
In June of 1938, National Allied Publications launched Action Comics, the first to feature not just Superman (and Lois Lane and Clark Kent), but also the first to introduce the world to the superhero archetype – an archetype the world was apparently craving. If you look at pop culture today, it’s hard not to see Superman’s impact. That kind of cultural cache doesn’t escape the keen eyes and big wallets of collectors worldwide, nor does the fact that there are supposedly only 50 or so unrestored original copies of the book, out of the roughly 200,000 that were first printed.
In August of 2014, no less than 48 bidders took to eBay to try and commandeer a pristine copy of the issue. After some intense bidding, the comic sold for a whopping $3,207,852, which is exactly $3,207,851.90 more than the 10-cent cover price. It’s a record that still stands today, having broken the previous mark set in 2011 when a less pristine copy of Action Comics #1 (which was once stolen from Nicolas Cage) sold for $2,161,000. But judging from Nostomania’s list, it’s a record that’s meant to be broken, if current values hold. And with comic books continuing to define the pop culture landscape, there’s no reason to think those values will start falling anytime soon.
2. DETECTIVE COMICS #27 (1939) – $2,490,000
Now we get to the big ticket stuff. In the wake of Superman’s Action Comics popularity, publishers were quick to request more superhero titles from their creative teams. Superheroes began to spring up out of the woodwork, and the Golden Age of Comics was born. Writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane contributed Batman – or “The Batman” as he was known in this May 1939 issue – and the character became an immediate hit. But the reason this book is so valuable is because Batman remains a hit; the Dark Knight is currently starring in six DC titles, and we hear he may be in another movie again soon, something about dawn or something.
Issue #27 is still an anthology of detective stories, at its core, featuring usual suspects Fu Manchu, The Crimson Avenger, and detective Slam Bradley. And The Batman’s adventure in this issue, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” is very much a detective story in that vein, eschewing any real origin story for a mystery plot. Still, many of the elements that you recognize today were there from the beginning: a caped crusader, Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon, Gotham City, and even a vat of acid.
3. SUPERMAN #1 (1939) – $768,000
The fourth most valuable comic of all time (the only Marvel title to surpass it is Marvel Comics #1 at $859,000) ranks so high for the very reason you’d expect: this is Superman’s first standalone comic. It’s also the first standalone treatment for any superhero character.
Who cares if it’s basically a rehash of Superman’s exploits from the first four Action Comics strips, which give us most of Kal-El’s origin story and superhero beginnings? Mixed in with a little bit of filler on the Ma ‘n Pa Kent story, this June 1939 issue also finds Supes mussing with an arms dealer’s warmongering, straightening out a crooked mining company, and unfixing a fixed football game.
Of course, Superman’s popularity continued to grow, as DC cranked out 714 issues before rebooting the series in 2011.
4. BATMAN #1 (1940) – $634,000
While Superman’s first standalone issue rehashed much of what fans already knew from Action Comics, Batman’s first issue featured all-new material, building upon what had been established in Detective Comics. This issue dates back to the spring of 1940, when it was released as a quarterly magazine, featuring stories like “The Legend of Batman—Who He Is and How He Came to Be” and “The Giants of Hugo Strange.”
The book also features the stories “The Joker” and “The Joker Returns,” where the Joker first rears his toothy grin. The Joker actually gets stabbed in the heart at the end of the “The Joker Returns,” which should have done him in then and there. But editor Whitney Ellsworth wouldn’t let the maniac die, and another panel was quickly created, showing that the Joker was still alive. And as if that’s not enough for collectors to cackle about, another story, called “The Cat,” offers up the first appearance of the character who would become “Cat-Woman” in issue #2 (and Catwoman shortly after that).
5. DETECTIVE COMICS #1 (1937) – $586,000
Though its biggest moment wouldn’t come for another 26 issues, Detective Comics is more than just the comic book series that gave us Batman. In a bigger sense, it’s the comic book series that gave us DC Comics. And allowed it to flourish, providing the company that would become DC and the company DC became to both reap capital from the series, which became the longest continuously running comic, spanning from March 1937 to August 2011, when it finally tapped out at #881 (before getting rebooted during the New 52 the next month).
And it all began here, with ten “hard-boiled detective” stories about characters like cover boy Ching Lung (a rather unfortunate racial caricature, as can be seen on the cover), The River Patrol (versus Cap’n Scum), and Slam Bradley (created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two years before they’re Superman character would fly up, up, and away).