Undervalued Spotlight #394

Superman Annual #1, DC Comics, October 1960.

In comic collecting Superman has led the way with some 1sts that both collectors and investors love. Action Comics #1 gave birth to the whole superhero genre that we all know and enjoy today while Superman #1 started off the 1st title given to a superhero.

This week’s Undervalued Spotlight may not be a heavyweight like the two books mentioned above but it is another example of Superman charting a new course for superhero comics. This week’s Undervalued Spotlight is Superman Annual #1.

Superman Annual #1 is the 1st DC Silver Age annual, its success was immediate as was its influence. I think there were 3 Superman annuals within that 1st year. Batman annuals started up quickly after the success of the Superman issues. By 1964 annuals had become a staple over at the fledgling Marvel Comics. Annuals also morphed into original content and annuals are an extremely important component of the Silver and Bronze Ages for collectors.

Yes Superman Annual #1 is reprints (though I think the 2 page World of Krypton map is new content) but I can argue that Superman #1 was practically all reprints too. The point I want to make is that this is early Silver Age DC, one of the toughest and most sought after publisher/era combos in the business and this is an influential 1st that paved the way forward, in other words it is an important publication.

The scarcity of Superman Annual #1 in grade will surprise you. The highest graded copy is a lone CGC 9.2 and there are only 11 copies graded CGC 8.0 or better.

So we’ve got true scarcity, a desirable publisher/era combo, a principle A list character, an oversized 84 page issue and a trend setting 1st. None of these things seem to be moving the marketplace though, there seems to be a collective ho hum towards this book. Recently a CGC 7.5 sold for about 80% of Guide, lower grade copies sell for about 40% of Guide!

I think the play here is an 8.0 or better, the 8.0 delivers true scarcity at what I think is a bargain price.

The 47th Overstreet price break for this book is $656/$1478/$2300 in the 8.0/9.0/9.2 grade splits.

Reasons to buy this comic book as an investment:

  • First Silver Age DC Annual
  • Influential trend setting publication

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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Chris Meli
6 years ago

First off, I am all about anything Superman up to about 1960 in decent grade (after which I think you have to go really high grade). I think Superman is terribly undervalued in general, and I think it is due to a long-term wave that is maybe decades behind for the comic market relative to other popular culture. I remember in the 1970s there was lots of hand-wringing about how football (read hyper-violent Batman) was replacing baseball (good-guy Superman) as the U.S. national sport. Fast-forward to today, and we see how nobody cares about baseball anymore. Not. Instead, you saw the resurgence of the sport’s popularity and in some sense it is the NFL that is now on the back foot. For comic collecting there is the even bigger question of whether the next generation will continue – but if they do, I predict a resurgence of Superman. I think we are starting to see this in certain respects, and I think Captain Marvel’s recent performance is a harbinger. Early Whiz up 300% or more in two years.

To this book in particular:

– Annual – I will start with stating my usual resistance to Annuals. In this case this is muted because it is a first in so many respects as Walt points out. To me this puts it more in the category of Dark Knight #1 – while I would generally avoid limited series, the first issue of a groundbreaking limited series can make it over the hurdle. Still, all else held equal (especially scarcity), I would probably be more interested in an Action or Superman key (say Superman #100) than this book.

– Reprints – I hate to say it, but nobody cares. In my first life as a collector (up to around 1985), I wouldn’t touch a reprint book, I thought they belonged in the bird cage. When I got back into collecting, one of my biggest shocks was seeing X-Men #73 (I think) in 9.8 auctioning for something like three grand. In hindsight it made perfect sense, and it hammered home to me the key lesson that the true collectibles are the items that everybody else views as disposables. Furthermore, as any decent copy of Superman Annual #1 is probably going to be slabbed, the point is totally moot. The Superman #1 argument of course is the final trump card.

– Cover – Off the charts. Of course good battle covers always command a premium, but for this prototypical “celebration/catch-up compilation”, this is exactly the kind of cover you want. (Shout-out to DC 100 Page Super Spectacular DC-18 as a second generation of this type – with 9.6s selling for an appalling $100.) Incredibly colorful, ultra-classic Swan with all of the key supporting characters. In fact, to completely destroy my hopes of ever owning this book, I will throw an idea out: if the original art for this exists, my guess is it would sell for $200k or (far) above. That makes the single 9.2 the next closest unique copy, and you can have this for $18k on eBay. I can’t make these fairly risky bets at this level, but I think it sounds like a good wager.

– Scarcity – In lower grade this book is plentiful, and this always makes me nervous. A lot of collectors will balk at paying thousands for an 8.0+ when they can have a 6.0 for $200. For this period for DC hero books, I prefer general scarcity across all grades for the issue. You don’t have that here because so many people (rightly) treasured the cover, it was a big book, and a #1. So after many reads they put it in their closet rather than pitching it, and here we are. So I think this pick resting heavily on the idea that people will value the significance for the reasons Walt points out. This further worries me because I have observed “historically significant” books generally getting short shrift.

So undervalued or not? In the grades that Walt recommends, as Jesse Jackson might say, “The question is moot!”. Let us return to U.S. #340 (April 2017), the pick being Sensation Comics #20. At the time I complained that you can’t evaluate whether the book is _currently_ undervalued, because it hasn’t sold in years. There’s a simple reason – it’s a great book! Nobody wants to part with it. I think you can only say “undervalued” if there are recent sales that you see as too low. GPA has no recorded sales for Sensation #20 in the past year, and I haven’t seen any offered anywhere.

Who is selling Superman Annual #1 in >= 8.0? Except for the 9.2 offered at $18k, NOBODY! The last GPA sale is that same 9.2 in 2014 (for $7k). I posit that there is not one holder of this book in 8.0 or above who would sell it (unless their next option is to sell a kidney) for a level in line with that 7.5 sale mentioned. Are you really going to part with an 8.0 for the implied level of about $900 dollars when it is one of only ten in the world, and the best copy is a 9.2? (If you are, let me know.)

(As an aside, I think there is a CGC grade issue here that’s relevant. I notice that people really care more about the “big number” on books – so people will, for example, price the 5.0 and 5.5 about the same, but pay up for the 6.0. I think “8” is a magic level that means just extrapolating from 7.5 in this case is not enough.)

So let’s return to the real world and ask: is it undervalued in 7.5? At the last sale level, the answer is still yes. The reason is when we do see a high price sale on one of those copies at 8.0 or above, it is going to wake people up to the book. I don’t expect a huge run-up – even Schomburg war covers in 7.5 are generally capped at a few thousand dollars – but something like 1.5x Guide seems possible. If I see one of these in 7.5 below $500, that will be that.