The Three Amigos

The ComicLink Auction is closing this week but many of the big books that I was watching with interest have already closed. Last week we had a rare closing of a Hulk #181, Giant-Size X-Men #1 and Amazing Spider-Man #129 all at CGC 9.8 and all closing in the same auction, ComicLink has it going on!

Traditionally these above books have been the big three Marvel Bronze Age keys, books like Marvel Spotlight #5 and to a degree X-Men #94 outperform the big three because of their scarcity at the CGC 9.8 grade, the Spotlight #5 at CGC 9.8 sold for $264,000 because there are only four copies at the 9.8 grade.

Back to our big three, as I said above it’s been a while since I’ve seen all three of these go up at CGC 9.8 in one auction, I paid attention because this should be a good market test to see just how hot things are.

Turns out things are pretty cool when it comes to these three books. I should correct that and say two underperformed and one did very well but still below some peoples (including mine) expectations.

Amazing Spider-Man (ASM) #129 CGC 9.8 with Off-White/White pages sold for $22,000, well below the $40,800 GPA posting from June 2021. I should note that the June sale had White Pages.

Giant-Size X-Men (GSZ) #1 CGC 9.8 with White Pages sold for $42,111, again well below the three recent sales of $60,000 (4/21), $72,000 (6/21) and $49,200 (7/21).

Incredible Hulk #181 CGC 9.8 with White Pages sold for $86,000, easily beating the previous recorded sales of $45,500 (3/21) and $59,500 (2/21). Interesting note that these two older sales both had Off-White/White pages.

Yes, the ASM #129 and the GSZ #1 look like they badly underperformed and I think that is what they did, there is still lots of upside for both of these books, these were bargains so Advantage Buyer.

The Hulk #181 set a new record (versus recorded results) but it was a White Pager with six months of pent up demand, I’m still thinking this book cracks $100 K so advantage buyer here as well.

Can we put it down to it being the late summer auction? As I mentioned in a recent post people believe the summer auctions always underperform. It will be interesting to see what next sales of these three books get, the ASM #129 is due for a big bounce back and the Hulk #181 should do well just to shore up this sale with a similar result. Has Wolverine been cast yet? Have the big announcements come out regarding the X-Men team? Will Punisher be prominent in the MCU movies? These are huge properties for Marvel with millions of fans, they will do things right and these three books will continue to grow in their stature as Grails.

Well I didn’t have any grails up on our internationalcollectiblesexchange weekly eBay auction but I do want to highlight a sweet CGC 9.8 copy of Amazing Spider-Man #299 (maybe it will one day be a grail if it could ever push out that imposter that is #300!). We sold it for $985 which is well above the last sale and just above the 90 day average. Acceptance of this book being much more than a cameo is growing, this price will seem a bargain soon enough, advantage buyer!

Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija

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

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2 years ago

I think another way to look at is that the previous highs got ahead of themselves due to the lock down, with people stuck at home with nothing to do. But if this is true for the big guns, should it be true for smaller books as well? I’m not sure since affordability is a big factor. If you consider wealth distribution to be in the form of a pyramid, with the rich 1% at the peak and the underprivileged masses at the base, I think it would be safe to assume that comic buyers mirror this larger wealth distribution structure, which means that once the wealthy folks have their copy of their bronze age grail, would they want a second copy? Maybe. After all, at one point I use to own a dozen copies of each, but the caveat being… I was stocking up with the intent to flip. The line between re-seller and collector is blurry… but I would say that “true” collectors just need one copy. And if this is the case, it may also mean that there aren’t enough affluent collectors in the hobby to absorb all the high grade books.

While investors and economist continue to debate the issue of inflation, there is an anecdotal metric called the Big Mac Index that sometimes get mentioned. I can attest that from my own personal experience… once the price of a Big Mac goes up, I’ve never ever seen it come back down, even during deflationary periods. Question is… has your salary kept pace with the Big Mac? According to wage stats in America, in most cases it hasn’t. In fact, the opposite tends to be true due to automation. So, while it’s great that comic prices keep going higher, they are also becoming more unaffordable, relative to earnings for most collectors.

So what does all this mean? Who knows? But, I think we can extrapolate that at this level of collecting, scarcity is probably a greater factor… and that buying a 1/4, Marvel Spotlight #5, 9.8 for $264k may turn our to be a better deal than buying a 1/140 Hulk #181, 9.8… or 1/154 ASM #129, 9.8… or 1/210 GSX#1, 9.8 at their relative peak. But then, if you’re a “true” collector who also happens to be rich… none of this may matter.

Gerald Eddy
Gerald Eddy
2 years ago

What do the sales of these 9.8 do to other graded of the same issues? I realize 9.8 has now become a category all its own and variance is based on what particular issue it is… but do high sales bring up… or push back other grades?

2 years ago

The grading scale is elastic, so the sales of high grade books will buoy the lower grades was well. Books can also depreciate of course, but in general, or over time, the values tend to go in one direction, which is up… unless there’s a big market crash or a black swan event like covid.

However, much like how the crypto market has a “blow off top” during it’s peak… That is to say, it shoots un-proportionately above it’s projected trajectory, it could be that this is what we saw with collectibles recently. For the same reason that the Jordan rookie shot up and back down… It could be that prices are normalizing or falling back into structure for comics as well.

This should be interesting to investor types because it give us insight into how high these assets can go when the momentum is on our side, as well as establishing, perhaps a new baseline. Of course peak price is the outlier and I would never recommend buying anything at the top, but it does make the recent sales seem more reasonable and somewhat undervalued considering we’ve seen how far the elastic can be stretched.

I’m just post rationalizing, of course, and the take away should be that peak value is not true value… but, I do believe it is forward looking.

Chris Meli
2 years ago

At these price levels comics are a weird mix of collectibles and speculative investments. Clearly the only reason anybody wanted the thing in the first place was as a collectible. But unless you are crazy wealthy, at these levels you have to think about what you might be able to sell the thing for. However I think that as a holder (rather than a dealer), you have to think about the value (rather than price) as a collectible first. Technical analysis on the price of Hulk #181 etc. is a dead end over the medium/long term. Rather think about a) how much the book (in that condition) means to you, and b) how likely it is to mean something to other people down the line. You may be right or you may be wrong, but either way you won’t be as unhappy with your decision later as you would be if you were just participating in the Keynesian beauty contest.

That said, is Hulk #181 really worth $100k to anyone? I think the answer is possibly yes. It became valuable because of Wolverine, but now it has taken on a life of its own, and stands as the preeminent Bronze Age Marvel, which greatly adds to its collectability. The first Shakespeare folios are just paper too. As I keep arguing, at some point we move from comic collecting to cultural artifact collecting, and the prices jump because we transcend genre.

However. Like Charlie says, you have to be pretty wealthy to operate at these levels. I think in this auction and other recent auctions, collectors – not simple price speculators – were asking themselves, “Would I rather have a Hulk #181 that cost multiples of what it did six months ago, or would I rather have more key books that haven’t seen this kind of appreciation?” Just to name a few books that I saw as doing well: Tales to Astonish #27, Green Lantern #76, Captain America #109. So I don’t see simply a rising tide, but also a sloshing sea – I think many lesser keys zigged, the big three zagged, but overall we maintained the very high market level that was just reached a couple of months ago.

Also I think many collectors are like me, and they are willing to attribute to consumption their possibly lower returns on their book portfolio. My pickup in this auction was Showcase #6 – a really dead one, eh? Maybe. But I think it is a really cool and important book that if we do go the “cultural artifact” route will do very well. Ghost Rider? Moon Knight? Why? Until I really have a story, I can’t get behind shelling out $$$.

If there is a story about these I think it is the modern version of the completist drive. As Walt has much discussed, in the old days it was all about completing a run of a title. But now it seems to me it is about completing Overstreet’s top Bronze list, or something like the top ten first appearance Marvels. Hence the demand. To me this again argues about going back to basics and deciding if you love the book/character, and you believe others will in the future. In my opinion, this is why the big three are the big three, and even a $265k Ghost Rider doesn’t get him into the club. Rather than chase these other “books you have to have”, chase books that you think belong in the dear departed Undervalued Spotlight. The Fabulous Four Challengers belong there, especially since Rocky returned from his fight into space with strange new powers. There are a lot of other affordable books that belong in that Spotlight as well.

2 years ago

It’s interesting… According to census there are less total graded GSX#1 than Hulk#181, but the reverse is true when looking at just the 9.8 category.

Incredible Hulk #181 – 14,692
Amazing Spider-Man #120 – 13,947
Giant-Size X-Men #1 – 10,674

Marvel Spotlight #5 – 4,166

By comparison, all these books were neck and neck of each other. While Hulk#181 has jumped as the most submitted book according to CGC, NM#98 has doubled since I last looked at these numbers.

New Mutants #98 – 21,624
Ultimate Fallout #4 – 10,911 (main cvr, 1st print)

These may be “cultural artifacts” to some… but for those seeking 9.8’s, it’s very much about penis size.

2 years ago

Chris Meli: Rather than chase these other “books you have to have”, chase books that you think belong in the dear departed Undervalued Spotlight.

I refer to that late-great column as ‘the Gospel according to Walter’ as it is as close to scripture as anything produced in the last 1500 years.