Undervalued Spotlight #108

G.I. Joe, A real American Hero #21, Marvel Comics, March 1984

It seems that I keep neglecting the 1980s! My last 80s post was over 20 Spotlights ago!!

The 80s are a much maligned decade when it comes to collectible comics. Hardcore collecting and speculating ran rampant and accelerated throughout the whole decade culminating in the huge bubble burst of the early 1990s (did you get any foil on you?).

Hoarding of special issues and 1st issues became an art form and a very profitable business model both for the specialty shops supplying the speculators and the savvy speculators themselves riding the ponzi scheme wave that was the 1980s collectible comics scene.

What’s often misunderstood about comics from the 1980s is that a great number of books from this decade still carry a great deal of demand.

Recent poor auction results are more a reflection of abundant supply.

Slowly though the 80s have become a decade many current collectors cannot remember and certain issues have quietly been soaked into collections and have actually become relatively hard to find.

Go to conventions or drop by your local comic book shop and have a look for comics like our pick this week G.I. Joe #21. The odds are you will not find it. Amazing Spider-Man #252 is always missing too isn’t it, and Swamp Thing #21, and Batman #428 and a plethora of other issues that slowly over time have gone from being “everywhere” to being “nowhere”!

While the decade will never give us comics that sell for thousands of dollars (OK you got me on TMNT) it still holds plenty of books that will continue to enjoy high demand. Us old surly jaded hobby veterans should not count the 80s out!

G.I. Joe was a very successful Marvel title that lasted a full 155 issues running from 1982 to 1994. The run is actually highly collected. The G.I. Joe property is still going strong on many pop culture fronts, feature films (new one is due in 2012 with The Rock playing Roadblock) , toy lines, IDW comics and graphic novels are all delivering new G.I. Joe material to fans.

And what fans they are! G.I. Joe along with Transformers is a stalwart of 1980s nostalgia. Kids growing up with the cartoon, toys and Marvel comic books are just coming into the age of promotion and financial success (in a general demographic sense). Even Joe fans that are not into comics want to own special issue like #1, #21 and #155 (last issue in the run).

So what make #21 so special?

Well it is considered an 80s classic. Larry Hama’s “Silent Issue” unfolds with no dialogue, no word bubbles, no captions. Contrary to popular belief this did not come about because of printer error (a myth that spread through the fan base in the 80s was that someone screwed up and forgot all the words and text). Hama himself in interviews has stated his intent was to produce an experimental silent issue with no text. From what I’ve read Hama was behind schedule for this issue but had the no word idea brewing for a while, the fact that he was both drawing and writing and was late actually forced his hand.

This Larry Hama’s story is considered one of the finest by Joe enthusiasts. It’s a classic rescue mission storyline that seems to have been made for the innovative approach Hama took.

G.I. Joe #21 features the 1st appearance of Storm Shadow. Storm Shadow is a major Joe character and he first appeared as a member of Cobra but would later become a member of the Joe team and one of Snake Eye’s closest allies. The closing panels of the issue reveal a tantalizing connection between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow.

As I’ve mentioned above there is an abundant supply of this issue in high grade. As of this post there are 241 in a grade of CGC 9.4 or better. About 50 copies are traded each year so the book is relatively active in the market.

I think the 9.4s are a the better store of value for this book, you can still find them for about $80 and that price has held steady for the past 2 years (something you can’t say for most books from this era). I actually recommend you hunt down a nice solid 9.4/9.6 raw, ungraded copy, put it in a very rigid acid free board and a nice mylite acid free bag, you may be able to hunt one down for below guide. On a book like G.I. Joe #21 I’d fight the impulse to then send it in for grading. Remember that it’s a nice copy of the book that you want not a nice graded copy, there’s a difference!. A book from this era should not need a CGC verification anyway especially in that 9.2 to 9.6 range. CGC cases are important for older books, verifying completeness; restoration etc, a book from the 80s like G.I. Joe #21 really does not need such expensive verification. A nice #21 is a nice #21.

Any comic collector worth his or her salt should have comics proudly representing the decade that was the 1980s. G.I. Joe #21 is very high on the list of 1980s must haves.

The 41st edition of the Overstreet Price Guide shows $26/$41/$55 as the splits at the 8.0/9.0/9.2 grades.

Strengths that make this comic book a good long-term investment are:

  • 1st appearance Storm Shadow
  • Innovative for the time and a bold move for a prominent title
  • The book continues to enjoy high demand
  • Classic cover!
Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija

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

Articles: 1701


  1. Walt, you are my hero. Finally G.I. Joe in an undervalued spotlight.

    This has been a comic that has alluded me for many years. I still don’t have a copy from the original run. I have a reprint that came out in 2007.

    For the 25th anniversary of G.I. Joe, Hasbro released new figures with reprinted comics. I picked up the set with #21 (which may be an option if you can’t find the original). It is a great comic and very innovative.

  2. You have no idea how important it was for me to have you agree with this post Ed!!

    Next one I come across is yours!!

  3. Whoopie doo! Will Eisner and others used the silent,
    wordless story format!! And over 50 freakin’ years
    ago!!! Ditto comic strips.
    Best wishes

  4. I’m going to assume that you don’t approve of this week’s selection Stephen.

    I stand by the pick, G. I. Joe is an important property in today’s pop culture. This comic delivers nostalgia, an innovative approach that was truly a breath of fresh air at the time of it’s publication. Like it or not a lot of fans really want to own this comic book!

  5. Walt,no real problem with your pick,except stating an
    comic book historical fact concerning your use of the
    word “innovative”.The book may be done well but its not innovative, which means “new”!

  6. Great Pick! This comic is undervalued as a title. Like the Transformers it has substantial cultural significance and I’m confident that it will continue to increase in value over time. I suspect that we will see substantial movement for the entire series when the new film is released. Storm Shadow is the most recognized character and many 20-30 year old young men now have the spending power to send this particular title and other titles from this time period (e.g., Transformers) to the top of the market. This issue is comparable to the Walking Dead #19 (1st appreance of Michonne – a popular sword swinger who is scheduled to appear in the season finale of season 2 of the Walking Dead). The Walking Dead #19 sells for between $50-$125 on ebay. The Walking Dead will be a classic. GI Joe is already monster. I would have picked GI Joe #1 before #21, but if you can pick up a copy of #21 for book value – I think it’s a winner. I imagine that GI Joe #1 and Transformers #1 will be valued at or around the value of the the Walking Dead #1 sooner than nearly anyone expects. Good Pick! I am a new reader of your blog and enjoy your observations. Thank you for putitng your opinions out there for others to read and enjoy.

  7. This was the first comic book I ever bought (on a spinner rack at the Safeway in Midland, Texas) and launched a long-time hobby. My original copy (like most of my others from those times is folded down the middle to tuck in my back pocket for the bike ride home until the next week to see if the next issue was in). How’s that for a nostalgic 20-30 (36) year old?

  8. Bought this off the rack in 84 at 11 years old. One of the best illustrated issues EVER in the history of ARAH. I wish Larry would have illustrated more of the comics. The only other one that holds a candle to the quality of illustration is #24, illustrated by Russ Heath (not sure if Heath did the inks, but it is an amazingly illustrated issue.). Not as good as Larry IMO, but still fantastic. And, I have to give props to Michael Golden’s yearbook art. Those 3 are my favorite as far as art goes.

  9. I have 29 issues if G.I.JOE. In this is #21. These were my uncles and I have no need for them. There does not seem to be any interest where I live for them. I was offered $2 for each one 🙁 any ideas on what to do?

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