Undervalued Spotlight #121

Conan the Barbarian #23, Marvel Comics, February 1973

I’m a big fan of Robert E. Howard and an even bigger fan of Conan and the fantasy world he belongs too. Please don’t hold this fact against my spotlight pick!

Conan the Barbarian #1 (October 1970) was an instant hit for Marvel Comics. Writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor Smith were able to successfully adapt Robert E. Howard’s barbarian into the comic book medium. Conan would turn out to be one of the most popular comic properties of the 1970’s, the flagship title would last 275 issues at Marvel and it spawned an excellent 225 issue Savage Sword or Conan magazine run, a daily newspaper strip and eventually a big budget Hollywood movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

For comic book collectors the most coveted of the Conan comics are the first 24 issues. These issues all contain Barry Windsor Smith art (excluding 17, 18) and all carry strong demand and good market values, the lowest Overstreet Price Guide value for any of these Smith art issues is $65.

For me the gem of this run is Conan #23. This issue features the 1st appearance of Red Sonja!

Is Red Sonja an original comic book creation? We know Conan is not but how about Red?

Robert E. Howard must have had a thing for red heads. He created not one but two fiery, hot tempered red headed female characters in his short stories (neither creation had anything to do with Conan). Dark Agnes de Chastillon a.k.a. The Sword Woman was a female protagonist whose stories were set in France in the 1500s. Red Sonya of Rogatino was another red head Howard used for his “The Shadow of the Vulture” story. This red head shot rifles and fought the Turks during the siege of Vienna in 1529.

Roy Thomas was obviously an avid Howard reader drawing off of two of Howard’s fictional creations to come up with our Red Sonja. I’m arguing that choosing and slightly tweaking the name from Red Sonya to Red Sonja should not diminish Thomas’ creation. This was not a straight adaptation as Conan was. This was a creation influenced by separate and unique characters, as are many of our favorite comic book characters.

Regardless of how we view Red Sonja we can’t argue her success. She was a hit from the get go and by January 1977 she had her own title. Red Sonja was even popular enough to merit a Hollywood movie staring Brigitte Nielsen. Red Sonja, released in 1985, co-starred Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In 2005 Dynamite Entertainment started publishing a new Red Sonja comic and in 2009 they added a second title, Queen Sonja.

The character has obvious resilience, a 2010 movie was shelved when the lead actress was injured and reports are that the producer is still looking to make this film happen. Let’s hope confirmation comes out soon.

For fun I pulled out a few other Bronze /Copper Age comic book creations popular enough to merit their own Hollywood movie. Let’s see how Red Sonja stacks up against Blade, Ghost Rider and Electra!

Blade 1st appeared in Tomb of Dracula #10 (July 1973). There have been 2 Blade films, both starring Wesley Snipes; I thought both were terrible by the way! $450 is the guide value for the 9.2 grade.

Ghost Rider 1st appeared in Marvel Spotlight #5 (August 1972). There have been 2 Ghost Rider movies both starring fan favorite Nicholas Cage.   $550 is the guide value for the 9.2 grade.

Electra 1st appeared in Daredevil #168 (January 1981). Electra appeared in Daredevil then had a movie of her own. Jennifer Garner did a great job playing Electra in both.  $200 is the guide value for the 9.2 grade.

OK I know this isn’t a very scientific comparison (though I do think the Electra comparison can be argued) but when we compare Conan #23’s $100 guide value for the 9.2 grade my pick seems a bargain.

Comic investing is and always will be predominantly character driven. This week’s spotlight offers a book that introduces a very popular and very resilient and very viable character, a book that is nestled deep in the Bronze Age and a book that is embedded in a prized run by a legendary comic book artist. It’s a great book to own and belongs in all Bronze Age key collections.

As of this post there are 288 graded CGC copies and of these 14 are graded at 9.8, 51 at 9.6, 91 at 9.4 and 43 at 9.2. The 9.6s get over $200 while the 9.4s get over $100. I recommend a very nicely centered square cut 9.2 for $80.

The 41st edition of the Overstreet Price Guide shows $45/$73/$100 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 Red Sonja
  • Character very popular and still viable and in print
  • Comic part of a highly collected Barry Windsor Smith run
Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija

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

Articles: 1714


  1. Really like the pick Walt. The run of Conan 1-24 has had a bit of roller coaster in terms of its popularity oover the years Extremely popular when first introduced in the seventies. It did have a tail off for a few years and bins were full of them, but not so much anymore. They are popular books for all of the reasons you stated above.I have owned and traded this run a couple of times. The last time was to the late great Harry Kremer for a nice copy of Amazing Spider-Man #14. It was the only time I felt I had ever gotten close to an even split with Harry on a trade! Many years on he still may have gotten the better of me – God bless him.

  2. Thanks for the correction A. By the way you are wrong! DD was a great movie! Electra was OK. the second Blade movie which I actually tried to watch was terrible!

  3. No, you are incorrect my friend. “DD was a great movie” you know else said that? No one. Ever. Not even Ben Affleck. Blade II was an excellent action flick and subversion of the horror genre. Written by David S. Goyer (who also wrote the recent Batman movies) and directed by Guillermo Del Toro (who went on to to Hellboy and Pan’s Labrynth), Blade II is the best movie on your list.

  4. Daredevil Director’s Cut is great. Daredevil theatrical release was horrible. I hated that version. The Director’s Cut added more to the story and featured Foggy more as well.

  5. You know Charlie, I have a list of books I think deserve better, I go to this list weekly and review it. Along the way I also get inspired by news and events and every so often I get a little help from you guys as well.

    I must say I did not have this one in my scope. I’ll count this as a submission by you and consider it!

  6. I have a few Conan books on my radar right now, and this is one of them. Non-related question, but what do you think of the Marvel Doc Savage series?

  7. I am going to have to disagree with you on this one Walt. There is a 1st time for everything. Sword and Sorcery comics are a tough sell in this market hence the cancellation of both the Conan and Savage Sword of Conan. I do enjoy the comics very much but in this day and age there are few who love reading sword and sorcery anymore – if they exist then the majority are playing Magic the Gathering Card Game. If Conan is such a tough sell then Red Sonja is lagging even further behind. The Red Sonja future film release hype has also all but died as they will not proceed with filming. The last Conan movie did not do so well either at Box Office but I did enjoy it.

  8. One other point is that we will not see a sudden massive jump in the latest Overstreet on Conan #23 at $100 in 9.2 go to $150. This is not the New Mutants #98 where they had it all wrong to begin with in terms of pricing. If anything I think the Punisher Limited Series #1 by Michael Zeck 1986 (lower print run for a copper age book) at $30 or so in the overstreet should be worth way more. The cover is the best of the copper age and revived the Punisher character as whole. Story was awesome too! This book put Punisher back on the map and inspired the movies and the great comic sales Marvel has enjoyed especially the Garth Ennis issues.

  9. Another undervalued suggestion is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Raphael One Shot Issue released in 1985. This is a low print comic of a popular toy and movie franchise. This also has a tough black cover and is the 1st release of the one shot issues featuring each of the 4 ninja turtles. The slightly oversized paper also makes it hard to preserve. Guide if I recall is extremely low on this one. 1st appearance of Casey Jones in this issue also helps.

  10. Walt, any thoughts to the relative trajectories of Conan 23 vs 24 (first cover & “full appearance” for Red Sonja)? Right now the two books have similar values in each grade (#24 has a little more value at a 9.4 than its #23 counterpart, but otherwise they are pretty close in high grade).

    Can you compare their growth to other more popular books? Say Incredible Hulk #180 & 181 (180 having the Wolvie cameo and 181 having the full appearance and cover appearance?) With Wolverine his main appearance has a 5x value over his “cameo”. How do other characters compare that had similar cameo and then full appearances? Did the market change as it began to recognize one book over the other (as it did with IH 181)?

    Im going to go look for other examples…

  11. thanks Walt, I love digging into these type of things too… guess we’re cut from the same cloth! The other Cameo vs 1st app example I’ve found so far is Venom (Eddie Brock version) (cameo ASM #299 and full app & origin in ASM #300) that book holds the same 5x price difference between the #299 GPA price vs the #300 price. And thats with the #299 issue having the extra boost of being McFarlane’s first Spidey work…

    So those two examples make me think that Conan #24 is undervalued since its priced pretty close to the #23 cameo of Sonja.

  12. more digging for other good examples:

    Gambit cameo in X-men Annual #14 then full in X-men #266 A 9.8 of the full app goes for $153, while the earlier cameo only fetches $43 in the same grade. Of course full apps also enjoy cover status in most cases so its understandable that the full app goes for more. This one doesnt have the 5x multiplier, but it is a modern book, so there’s not as much of a top tier for pricing.

    Here’s an exception to the other examples; Alpha Flight cameo in X-men #120 with full app in the subsequent 121. This one actually has the cameo worth more ($233 for a 9.6 of the cameo and $138 for the first full app). I haven’t read either so I wonder if the “value” of the cameo (in shadows, not in shadows, etc) has an effect… The cameo doesnt have the team on the cover, and does on the #121, so its strange that this book bucks the rule…


Comments are closed.