Undervalued Spotlight #399

Watchmen #1, DC Comics, September 1986.

This week’s Undervalued Spotlight pick is Watchmen #1. The 1986 Watchmen maxi-series by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons stands as one of the greatest achievements in the comic book medium, it’s a work of immense weight and importance which has been studied, dissected and critiqued perhaps more than any other comic book. I’ll add that the Watchmen changed my relationship with comic books, it was a mind-blowing read.

It kind of doesn’t make sense to wrest Watchmen #1 away from the other 11 issues as they are so deeply viewed as one but this is comic book collecting after all and the 1st issues always hold sway especially when they introduce the concept and all the heroes.

So why now? Well, I’ve been following with interest DC’s current Doomsday Clock maxi-series written by DC’s President Geoff Johns. The 12 issue series ends December 2018 and it’s not really clear how it’s all going to play out. Johns has been pulling the Watchmen characters into the DCU in this series, as of this post, final intentions of the project remain murky. The fact that the President and Chief Creative Officer of the company is writing it should mean that the story’s resolution will have longstanding consequences.

If the Watchmen are successfully integrated into the DCU their fan base should grow considering the broad appeal of the DCU, this should lead to an appreciation in value of their source material.

The fact that Alan Moore wants nothing to do with this makes the whole thing even more intriguing. Can mere mortals harness and tame an eccentric genius’s thoughts? We’ll see.

This speculation on Watchmen #1 started back when the Doomsday Clock series was announced and the book has made some gains in the CGC 9.8 grade, it currently trades at an average of $420 over the last 75 sales.

I think Watchmen #1 has a lot more room. As of this post, there are only 309 copies graded at CGC 9.8, compare that with the 428 CGC 9.8 copies of that other seminal 1980s DC work, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Dark Knight CGC 9.8s sell for almost twice as much as Watchmen even with 35% more supply. I’ll argue that Watchmen #1 with its 1st appearances should trump a Dark Knight #1.

Fundamentally the book is undervalued as is, add the unknown variable of potential broader appeal in the near future and you get a book worth taking a chance on.

The 47th Overstreet price break for this book is $27/$44/$60 in the 8.0/9.0/9.2 grade splits.

Reasons to buy this comic book as an investment:

  • 1st appearance of the Watchmen
  • DC currently trying to work Watchmen into continuity

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Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton Ontario.
Articles: 1584

4 Comments

  1. Obviously nobody can argue with the import of this series. But I disagree with the undervalued call for #1.

    It’s important to place this judgment in context – it tomorrow DC were to announce that it would henceforth only be making movies about Watchmen characters, it wouldn’t be fair to say “I told you so.” In that sense a lottery ticket that later comes out a winner is “undervalued”. So as far as the murky outcome of the Doomsday Clock series goes, I see this as the lottery ticket (“…taking a chance on…”), so working this into the value should be in the same way as for a lottery ticket (by some reasonable estimation of the odds of “winning”):

    “…it _should_ mean that the story’s resolution will have longstanding consequences” (emphasis added) – we obviously can debate “should” versus “could”, but on top of that we know that if the big changes fall flat, there will just be some other Crisis on Infinity Wannabes that will wipe out these changes to allow for another try.

    “_If_ the Watchmen are successfully integrated…” – as above.

    “Can mere mortals harness and tame an eccentric genius’s thoughts?” – No. I like Johns as a comic book guy, but which iteration of Frankenstein in the comics has placed it on the shelf next to Shelley? But whether or not I am right, this is veiled by the mists of time. To make the call today, we can only work with an estimate of the probability that this will be successful. My bias is low probability, but even if it does work, I think the integration will need to be reasonably evolutionary.

    There are other books out there that are historically important to the hobby, but this has not carried much weight in driving appreciation. Somewhat heretically I’ll point to FF #1. This book has been screaming but it has nothing to do with historical import, rather with corporate finance. I think Watchmen can go toe-to-toe with FF #1 in its meaning to the genre, but I don’t think that’s much reason for an undervalued call.

    There has already been a movie. This is a big hurdle to appreciation given the scenario – this isn’t Green Lantern who can be eased back into the continuity. First the core aficionados have to become comfortable with the merging of the streams, then this can be rolled out to the unwashed. That would be a long-term project, so no rush to buy the book on that account.

    Further I am concerned about the combination of CGC census numbers and values. This book has a weird price history, but the salient fact is that 9.6s have rarely traded above $100. This is a strong disincentive to anybody sitting with a mint copy to have it graded. This works against appreciation in the 9.8s, for the usual reasons – many people will make due with a 9.6 if the book becomes hotter, and many others will submit their ungraded copies or try their luck with existing 9.6s. So appreciation in just 9.8 has a built-in headwind with a book of this vintage.

    The comparison with DKR #1 is sensible from a vintage perspective, but along the lines of last week’s pick, simple census numbers don’t tell the whole story, and “first appearance” is relative. DKR is by title a “return”, and in that way I would compare it to something like Avengers #4. I can clearly recall the environment around both DKR and Watchmen at the time, and I don’t see it as any contest re popularity. I missed DKR #1 as did most people, as it disappeared immediately and the buzz was immediate. On the other hand, I learned about Watchmen from my father reading an article about it in Time magazine or something – otherwise I never would have touched it. I think this feeling continues – DKR was a bombshell recentering of one of a few consistently key characters in comics, in my mind _the_ key character, while Watchmen was “an artistic triumph”. Like it or not, that puts them on different planes from a value perspective. (DKR undervalued? Absolutely.)

    One last point: Watchmen #2 CGC 9.8 for $29 on 27 May. Come on. My strong feeling is that if the first appearance is so important, the second appearance should carry considerable weight. This result says to me that the value of Watchmen #1 is based simply on “the meaning of Watchmen”, not any future character development.

    In sum, I think this is a nice meaningful piece for a collector of comic history, and should probably hold value at its current level, but I will put my $420 to work elsewhere.

  2. Walt you are right, DC is clearly invested in the characters. In addition to the original comics stories, don’t forget about the Watchmen TV mini-series from HBO and showrunner Damon “Lost” Lindelhof. Currently in pre-production and acc to IMDB, already has a cast. Anyone that has seen Lindelhof’s trippy “The Leftovers” series on HBO will understand he will most likely “mix up” the story in an original way instead of a panel-for-panel retread of the source material like the 2009 movie. Both live-action depictions can exist on their own merits, and that can only help generate more interest in the Watchmen brand in DC Comics. Great article on the Lindelhof’s plans here:

    https://io9.gizmodo.com/damon-lindelof-unveils-his-bold-plans-for-the-watchmen-1826239088

    I’m hoping once Copper Age prices start to go up (patiently waaaaiting) this and many other keys from the era should be good investments. You’d think anyone with a love for the medium would be seeking out a pristine Watchmen #1 for their collection. One might even consider it bellwether for the copper age market as a whole.

    Ok, so there’s just one caveat: many collectors consider the promo comic DC Spotlight #1 to be the first appearance the Watchmen characters AND it was published full year ahead of Watchmen #1.

    Hurm.

    No matter how you feel about “promo books not being true first appearances”, the current market says DC Spotlight #1 will cost you as much, if not more, than Watchmen #1 in a similar grade. I would argue that preview books like Motion Picture Funnies Weekly or Goobledygook #1 didn’t offset the value or their “true” counterparts, they merely co-exist and many times garner higher prices because the print runs are smaller, and if you had one, you’d be lucky to be ahead of the craze. I’ll be looking for a steal on a DC Spotlight #1… a clean and tight one because of the white cover.

    Despite the first appearance debate, Watchmen #1 should remain a good investment. While, I agree with Chris that there are quicker roads to profit, I can’t see this ever going down in value. Watchmen is The Godfather of modern comics.

  3. Thanks for the insights guys. I’m with you Darren, it’s Watchmen #1 that should be the key book. Similar (though not as blatant) arguments are made for the fanzine appearances of Spidey’s black costume.

    I think Watchmen can be as big a book as Batman Dark Knight (market value), I think it will come through awareness and through a successful integration into the DCU. The only thing that will stop this is if the whole endeavor goes sideways but that is not a lottery ticket play, that is a play based on solid data re what is happening to the property at this moment.

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