Collecting and Investing Tip #43: 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...

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

Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija

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

Articles: 1700


  1. HI WALT…THIS IS THE ELECTRIC COMPANY LIST FOR Marvel Keys and collecting.
    Im glad you corrected yourself with mentioning in passing Avengers #4. Captain Americas first appearance….all the other Avengers had marvel appearances pre Avengers #1.
    Further I feel bad for investors who might buy Sgt Fury#1 or Strange Tales #110 before FF #4 1st Sub-mariner, FF # 5 1st Dr Doom….FF #6…First Super Villian Teamup.
    Or how about Spiderman #14…the first Spidey/Green Goblin mix up…..Id suggest FF#12, molded more imaginations then almost any above mentioned books.
    And Id suggest FF #48 with the first ever Galactus appearance was the book that took Marvel to or past DC comics in the hit parade.

  2. I believe Avengers 4 should definetly be mentioned ahead of Strange Tales 110. Captain America is the leader of the Avengers and is simply 10 times more important than Dr. Strange. A 3-D Mega Blockbuster Movie is supported by Cap and yet Dr. Strange’s popularity could only draw a cartoon released on DVD only.

  3. I’ve been collecting comics for over 30 years and I rarely hear anyone seeking out a copy of Strange Tales #110, DD #1, Sgt. Fury #1 or TTA #27. I realize the importance these books hold in the Marvel ranks but not many seasoned collectors truely care. Spidey #1 being pushed down a list behind DD and just before Sgt. Fury based solely on it beng Spidey’s second appearance is crazy. An investment tip should be based on popularity of the character and long term staying power of the comic to increase in value. Early appearances of major villians or crossovers of heroes in other titles would be a more suitable choice for a true top 12 list for investing purposes. Avengers #4, F.F. #5, Spidey #14, F.F.’s #12,#25 & #48. I believe, like the other Dave before me, would make collectors more money down the road.

  4. @ Frank, Dave and Dave
    I see you guys mocking my list but I see no list from you guys 🙂


  5. I look at this list in a different way. Not necessarily in order of importance or value but of originality. Here are my top 4:

    Incredible Hulk #1
    Totally original. You have Dr. Banner, a respected professional being betrayed by a friend/colleague who tries to kill him by having a gamma ray bomb blast in front of him. Ouch! Dr. Banner sacrifices himself to save a skinny/scrawny kid (Rick Jones) from the effects of the bomb blast. But Banner doesn’t die. He gets mad and turns into the Hulk! Many people/enemies try to destroy the Hulk but his strength is superior and he survives everything thrown at him. Most stories in this series are revenge themed and everyone likes a hero out for revenge!

    Amazing Fantasy #15
    Who can argue with Spidey? The effects of being bit by a radioactive spider! Here we have a naive and unsuspecting Peter Parker having the opportunity to stop a thief coming right towards him but he lets him pass by and the thief gets away. This thief ironically kills Peter’s Uncle Ben and, as a result, part of Peter dies with his uncle. But Peter survives and learns that “With great power comes great responsibility”. He shows he has tremendous physical and emotional strength and he is transformed into the hero we know & love today!

    Avengers #4
    This one is very important because it is the dream of the “average Joe”. Steve Rogers – a small, skinny, weakling army reject gets instantaneously and artificially transformed into a person of great stature and strength. He is not a superhero – he is just a man that was in the right place at the right time. He becomes Captain America – a hero with no special power weapons or abilities. He initially needs to be part of a team to survive but, like many before him, leaves the team to find his own destiny.

    Fantastic Four #13
    Many will be surprised with this choice? “Uatu” (or more commonly known as “the Watcher”) was first introduced in this issue. The Watcher is a very unusual character in the Marvel Universe. He is arguably the most powerful (even more than Galactus) but we will never know the true extent of this power due to the Watcher’s sworn oath to “only observe”. To see evil and destruction acting around you must be very straining to most people, but the Watcher carries on. He selectively, on occasion, breaks his oath (especially after confiding with mere mortals) but generally watches tragedy after tragedy unfold. Maybe the watcher is evil himself? Maybe a first appearance of a non-hero key should not be rated this high? The debate is out!

  6. Great approach to the list ornios.
    I’ve always loved Fantastic Four #13 and have had it in my scopes for an Undervalued Spotlight for a while. I always thought the Watcher was more like the eyes of God. Sees all, seems indifferent and does not interfere.
    I do think Spidey is more original than the Hulk though. The Hulk owes a bit to Jekyll and Hyde.
    I still think Avengers #4 is a re-launch book and not deserving of the same status as any of the issues I’ve listed. It seems I’m in the minority on this one.

  7. Hi Walt !
    My post included books I felt were more important, Such as Hulk 181 and Giant sized Xmen 1 ( 1975) and so on …..but I guess it was edited…oh well, next time….
    And Hi to everyone who posted a comment !

  8. to look at the best marvel comics to invest which are still low i would pick what i call BLUE CHIP stock comics. Comics with heroes who were always popular but are about to become very popular with the help of block buster movies coming out in the next 5 to 10 years.

    Fantastic Four #52 Black Panther Appearance

    Movie is coming out in a few years. it will be huge. a very original character plus will not only have his first solo movie but is heard to be joining the Avengers #3 movie.

    Tales of Suspense #52 FIrst Black Widow Appearance

    Not only is this solo movie coming out 100 percent. but has been on avengers films and will be on Nick Fury’s new movie with Samuel L Jackson. as well as 2 more Avenger films. This character was done really well on Avengers and has proven that this girl is not a typical sissy character like the cat woman on the new batman rises movie. She has brains, brawn and just has a really great appeal. She is marketed like Sigorney Weaver. the name Black Window…will stick and may become a very big franchise.

    Wolverine #1(special edition series) First Solo Comic

    these comics are still cheap as hell but guess who is going to be looking for these when they get older…all the kids who raved about him for years. This guy is one cool cat and is coming out with more movies. cool story, cool personality, cool look…just cool. Every kid thinks so and every kid will want this comic.I think this comic will go up in price in 20 years and go from under a hundred to ten to 20 thousand before 2030.

    those three of what i mentioned will be bigger than Ant Man (tales to Astonish #27). The only reason i think this is because Ant Man is very hard to make into a movie without being cheesy. And all this time he never really was that big (pardon the pun) a character.

    I have Nick Fury Agent of Shield #1 at 9.2….i am very proud of it. I did not know Nick Fury was Sgt Fury though. It makes so much sense. although i think it is as cool as sh**( Sgt Fury is hardly at all popular. he is no popular than SGT Rock. those comics are not worth much and….. if they are…no one wants them. The people who did want them…are dead or too old to know whats going on.

    I have been looking for Ant Man…there are no decent copies out there (tales to Astonish #27). i have a feeling that the worth of Antman will go back down in a few years. They hype was just created from the avengers movie….but no one really cares very much. even kids….they never talk about him. I always judge by what the kids talk about now because those are the ones that will drive the prices up in another 20-40 years.

    They always talk about spider-man, wolverine, hulk (probably more than any hero on the planet), Batman and iron man. those are the most talked about internationally.

    I suppose the new spider-man movie and wonder-woman may be big too. but they lost so much steam over the years. i could be wrong though. i am only guessing.

  9. i meant superman at the bottom. i also meant black widow..not window….man that’s what you get for rushing.

  10. i forgot one more

    Silver Surfer #1

    The movie is coming out for the first time. It will be massive. you can get this comic at extremely decent prices so the investment is very good. the appeal of silver surfer has always been great with every age. There are tons of cartoons and appearances in different comics and movies like Fantastic Four which will keep this guy going up. They were never really able to make a block buster movie with this character because of the costs. The story is a directors nightmare. When this comes out it will be absolutely amazing.

    all the comics i mention you can get at NM for under 1000 bucks…some for under 500 at CGC rated quite high.

  11. Lol all these years later. Y’all should’ve taken advice from this list. Daredevil 1 and Strange TAles 110 have exploded. You should’ve stocked up on those books when this list came out

  12. Great discussion! I think Walt”s original list, given the parameters he laid out, is pretty good. I can see many of the arguments made too, though.

    But re: Avengers 4, it is more than just a re-launch of Cap. Along with FF 4 (And their equally undervalued DC counterpart Flash #123) these are the books that merge the Golden Age continuity forward into the Silver Age. As such, they are formative works in the creation of the respective Marvel and DC “universes.”

  13. Related Thought — While its not weightier than anything on Walt’s list or even some of the alternatives mentioned, Amazing Adventures #1 does contain Marvel’s first superhero, Dr. Droom (later Dr Druid) six months before FF #1.

    If FF#1 is Marvel’s Showcase #4, this book is their Detective #225. Moreover, of all the keys on Walt’s list, only DD#1 was short of $10K at NM 9.2 in the current Overstreet, and it will probably top that this June.

    To my mind, this will exert upward pressure on all the next-level books named (FF #4, Avengers #4, etc) as low-grade copies of that whole dozen are mostly north of $500, many around/above $1,000. AA#1 is worth seeking out, and it is not plentiful. Aside from the early Dr. Droom tales, 10-cent Marvel hero books consist of three: FF #1 and 2 and TTA #27, That’s it.

    Food for thought.

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