What are the early Marvel keys?

What kind of features should we demand of a principle Marvel key? This group of comics is one of the most important investing blocks in the hobby. People are buying up high grade Marvel keys as a group and you can’t really have one without any of the others and call yourself a true high end collector. Are there trends we can spot today that will help us pick which issues are the best long term investments?

I’ve selected the top 12 Marvel keys. These are books all serious collectors should own. My list cuts off the Marvel keys at April 1964 with the publication of Daredevil #1. Daredevil was the last of the big #1 issues that I feel laid the foundation for all that Marvel has become. Later key issues came about because of these initial pioneering issues.

Chronologically the ripped, torn, creased, stained and dirty dozen are;

Fantastic Four#1  (11/61) – 1st Appearance of the Fantastic Four

Tales to Astonish #27  (1/62) – 1st Ant-Man story

Incredible Hulk #1  (5/62) – 1st Appearance Hulk

Amazing Fantasy #15  (8/62) – 1st appearance Spider-Man

Journey into Mystery #83  (8/62) – 1st appearance Marvel’s version of Thor

Amazing Spider-Man #1  (3/63) – 1st issue of what became Marvel’s flagship title

Tales of Suspense #39  (3/63) – 1st appearance Iron Man

Sgt. Fury #1  (5/63) – 1st appearance Sgt. Fury

Strange Tales #110  (7/63) – 1st appearance of Dr. Strange

X-Men #1  (9/63) – 1st appearance X-Men

Avengers #1  (9/63) – 1st appearance Marvel’s 1st Superhero team

Daredevil #1  (4/64) – 1st appearance Daredevil

In order of importance they are;

1st – Fantastic Four #1. It could just as easily be Amazing Fantasy #15 but Fantastic Four #1 was first out of the block and the book’s new approach to the way superhero books could be written paved the way for all the rest. This book goes beyond character introduction because it is seen as representing the beginning of a revolution in comics.

2nd – Amazing Fantasy #15. Spidey is Marvel’s gem and is probably the most recognizable superhero that there is, period. Some could argue that this is the big Marvel key (the Overstreet price guide and the back issue market seem to think this way). Spider-Man will always be the main man and thus his first appearance will always be sought after.

3rd – Incredible Hulk #1. Hulk is a very early original Marvel creation and he’s a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. I’m glad to see he’s passed Amazing Spider-Man #1 in guide value. The fix has been in the works for a few years now but it’s nice to finally see Hulk at #3. Long overdue. The Hulk is far enough removed from the Jekyll/Hyde and Frankenstein connection people attach to it ans is very much considered an original pop culture creation. The book is also rare enough to keep values heading upward. I do not see it ever catching FF 1 and AF#15 in value.

4th – Tales of Suspense #39. Iron Man’s 1st appearance should be 4th,  the character is original and like Hulk, Iron Man is a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. The character enjoys massive appeal these days after years of toiling in the minors. Great approachable and original character that is just hitting the mainstream. Excellent long term investment potential.

5th – X-Men #1. I know the X-Men needed saving in the mid 1970s but Marvel’s original mutants did some monumental groundwork and nicely layed the tracks for future characters like Wolverine. X-Men #1 is a very important Marvel key. Lomg term trend could be hurt by the fact that the original team no longer exists.

6th – Daredevil #1. A blind man with heightened senses is was great idea for a hero. Daredevil is perhaps Marvel’s most approachable hero. Daredevil is often compared to DC’s Batman and although DD doesn’t come close to Batman’s popularity some of Marvel’s greatest stories came out of the DD title. I think this character could see an increase in popularity because much like Batman, DD can strike a cord with the populace. We can relate to him on many levels. Up to Marvel’s ability but I like DD’s long term outlook.

7th – Avengers #1. Though a formality Marvel’s first team book was light years ahead of other publisher’s properties because of the antagonistic relationships that Marvel introduced to the team book format. Avengers as a title later spawned many great Marvel characters. Great characters that will never go away make this book one to have long term.

8th – Journey into Mystery #83. Thor is a Norse god and the character has appeared in comics before. Marvel used their almost patented alter ego technique to perfection here and that is why the character initially worked so well. I’m not so sure of this book long term. The character is taken from Norse mythology and I think Thor’s best days are past him.

9th – Amazing Spider-Man #1. It could be argued that this book does not qualify. It’s the second appearance of a character after all. Spider-Man the character and Amazing Spider-Man the title carry so much weight that I’ve capitulated and put it at #9. Ten years ago we all should have been trading our Spidey #1’s for Hulk #1’s. The fact that the Amazing Fantasy #15 is the Spidey book to own hurts this book long term.

10th – Sgt. Fury #1. It is the 1st appearance of a major character but the character is not a superhero! This is where future importance pulls this book into the top 10. Sgt. Fury later becomes (in Strange Tales #135) Nick Fury Agent of Shield (and later director). War books from the early 60’s are highly collectible and Sgt. Fury is Marvel’s main (really only one of note) war title. The later Shield stuff can only help long term.

11th – Tales to Astonish #27. 1st Ant-Man. I’ve put Marvel’s 2nd key (chronologically speaking) in at number 11 as protest. Is it a super hero book? Should it really be Tales to Astonish #35? Tales to Astonish #27 (1st Ant-Man) was more a typical fantasy/sci-fi Atlas type story wasn’t it. Some look at it as a prototype issue of sorts and consider TTA #35, the issue where the good Doctor Pym actually turns into Ant-Man the costumed superhero. This comic may lose ground over time because of the weakness of the character and the dispute as to whether it is the true key (vs. #35). It’s place cronologically helps a bit but I’m not sold on the book.

 12th – Strange Tales #110. 1st Doc Strange. I put this last to stress that perhaps it can be relegated in favor of others. I probably should have picked Avengers #4 (1st Silver Age Captain America) but I went with Strange Tales because the character is original (Captain America was a re-introduction of a Golden Age hero).  Long term success depends if Marvel can give the Doc Strange character broader appeal.

Whoa! Where is Strange Tales #101?  I’m leaving it off the list because it does not introduce anyone but rather is used as a secondary title for a character in the Fantastic Four (Human Torch).

Well if we’re including Strange Tales #110 then we have to include Tales to Astonish #44 (1st Wasp, 6/63). TTA #44 does qualify both chronologically and in principle but the Wasp just doesn’t carry the weight to crack the dirty dozen.

“This list sucks, you’ve got it all wrong!” was what the first guy I showed the draft of this to said.

Did i forget any? I’d love to get your feedback on this list.

Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada