Undervalued Spotlight #422

Yellow Claw #1, Atlas Comics, October 1956.

News came out this week of some potential movie plans for Shang-Chi the Master of Kung Fu so I tried to pick a book that could benefit from this. I didn’t want to go with Special Marvel Edition #15 though in its own right it is a must-have.

Some poking around and asking around led me to several strong candidates and in the end, I picked one with minimal connections to Shang-Chi but with undeniably maximum potential. This week’s Undervalued Spotlight shines on Yellow Claw #1.

Yellow Claw #1 was published by Atlas Comics in October of 1956 and it features the first appearance of the villain Yellow Claw. Plan Tzu is his real name and he is said to be a descendant of Genghis Khan himself. Yellow Claw is one of those evil masterminds who thanks to some home-brewed elixirs happens to be 150 years old. If age does bring wisdom then Plan Tzu must be a pretty good mastermind, of course, I can argue that added wisdom should have shown him the error in his ways but that train of thought is of no help in this post.

According to Comic Vine, Yellow Claw has made 127 appearances in comics to date. He is one of the few Atlas characters to transition out of the pre-Marvel Atlas era into the Marvel Silver Age (Groot, Fing Fang Foom are two others) as he reappeared in Strange Tales and then had appearances in Iron Man and Captain America. My tie to Shang-Chi comes in his appearance in Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu. The spec here, of course, is that the Yellow Claw may be a natural villain for the Master of Kung Fu film.

I could be mistaken but he may be the first villain with his own title and if not the first then he is surely one of the first to do so.

Sharing the cover of Yellow Claw #1 is the character Jimmy Woo, Jimmy is an F.B.I. agent tasked to stop the Yellow Claw’s devious plans. Jimmy Woo is actually the more successful survivor out of the Atlas era with 254 appearances to date. He’s famously featured on the cover of 2006’s Agents of Atlas #1. Jimmy Woo is also a natural character to include in any Chang Chi film.

There is also the issue of current world geopolitics. China’s economic and military rise over the past two decades has led to a sadly inevitable adversarial position vis a vis the United States. The Yellow Claw was born out of the Red Communist scare of the 1950s but he’s easily tweaked to fit into today’s geopolitics.

Yellow Claw #1 offers up two very strong first appearances both with good potential going forward. The markets are ho-hum on this book with a recent CGC 7.0 fetching $1025 (2nd highest graded) and a CGC 6.5 fetching $858. I saw a raw 3.5 available online for in the $300s.

The 48th Overstreet price break for this book is $992/$1696/$2400 in the 8.0/9.0/9.2 grade splits.

Reasons to buy this comic book as an investment:

  • First appearance Yellow Claw
  • First appearance Jimmy Woo
  • One of a few Atlas characters to successfully transition to Marvel
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
5 years ago

Now THIS kind of pick is the number one reason why I click on the ComicBookDaily.com logo each week (late on Monday night, or first thing Tuesday morning if I happen to go to bed at a decent hour). My woeful ignorance of Yellow Claw was at first embarrassing, but after some research it appears that ignorance was indeed bliss, because he is One Bad Dude. The villains wiki lists him as a “super-genius”, with “hobby” as “taking over the world”, “goal” of “conquer the world”, and “type of villain” as “World Conqueror”. I have to reach the conclusion that this is a pretty smart guy who has some plan to create a world government or something (maybe he works at the U.N.?). Pretty scary if you’ve seen the movie “Red Dawn” – I haven’t – but still a bit unnerving. I guess I would be even more worried if I lived with you folks in the Great White North, where such a stone cold character could easily slip in posing as a frightened small child.

Oh, wait, that’s right, he’s a comic book character. So I can put aside my concern that he won’t buy enough American goods. (The wiki said “he created a series of bipedal robots armed with death rays and electric discharges”, and it seemed to me that winning a contract for some of these could reduce the focus on Model 3 production issues). Instead I will comment on whether Yellow Claw #1 is undervalued.

– GREAT cover. The Claw is literally coming out of the page. “AT LAST IT CAN BE TOLD!” I want a three-foot poster of that cover for my wall.
– Atlas 1956. I would of course prefer Atlas 1954 or DC 1956, but this is still a key period. This is right at the end of the Kefauver hangover, where the code was still seemingly distrusted by many. (I guess this clearly anti-commie cover should have helped in some cases to reduce this distrust.) All the books from this period are pretty scarce.
– Character longevity, classic type and natural integration into the current universe (with the possible Shang-Chi upside that you note).
– Census scarcity combined with years of higher prices in higher grades. This suggests that many of the nicer copies are already graded. Based on the census I would say the 6.5 and above population should stay stable, and there even is a case that anything above 4.0 should be fairly safe, given demonstrated 3.0 and 3.5 prices above $200 that should have flushed out many copies.

– Super-villain title. To me this is similar to picking an annual. Super-villain titles are almost never a good idea, and they only can work when the “villain” is more of a “I make my own rules” hero. In that sense Batman is a villain title. But it sounds like Yellow Claw is pretty much Dr. Doom, and we know how well his stand-alone titles have gone. Sure enough four and done. If we see signs that Shang-Chi will run into a nuanced, weepy Yellow Claw on the big screen I will lift this objection.
– Pretty much not a superhero book. Sure he was really old, but it sounds like that’s about it. Of course as he was added to the continuity he became more of a standard super-villain, but here this looks a lot more like Danger Trail than Iron Man.
– Speaking of Iron Man, what about The Mandarin? What about all of the other Fu Manchus out there? While the magic of comics is about enjoying shamelessly derivative two-dimensional rip-offs over and over, taken to an extreme (the _same_ character), it’s a really hard sell. Maybe Yellow Claw predated The Mandarin etc., but even Yellow Claw himself was a good bit younger when Detective #1 rolled out. (I see that the back cover only of Detective #1 is for sale for $3k. For $10.95 I will send you “Detective #1” written on a Post-It.)
– Along these lines, I think this is pretty much an all-or-nothing bet on Yellow Claw getting a big screen treatment. As long as half of the ticket sales are in the U.S. and half are in China (more or less!), I think a baddie casting will be a problem. So again – until I hear about some casting like Fengyi Zhang, I am skeptical.

I usually like a comp for a pick, but nothing comes to mind. I decided to cheat and searched up “fu manchu comic book villains”. Wild – Yellow Claw #1 comes in ahead of Detective #1 in Google Images. So I am going with: Wonder Woman #157, October 1965, first appearance of Egg Fu.

No I’m not. But anyway you get the idea. My conclusion is that with four copies at 7.0 and above, the recent $1k price is about right for now. Unless you have a lot of money to spread around, if you really want to bet on seeing Yellow Claw in the movies before that pesky China/U.S. WW III happens, I would say save some cash and try to pick something up in 5.0 to 6.0 for around $400. If the bet works out, these will still yield a great absolute return given scarcity.

5 years ago

I like the reasoning here, however the character’s name is controversial. Marvel Studios will go out of their way to avoid the slightest hint of controversy (the renaming of Black Dwarf in Infinity War; the changing of the Mandarin’s ethnicity to avoid negative reaction in China). They’ll perhaps go with a mentor/adversary based on Fu Manchu – who Marvel had the rights to in the 70s; he was later renamed Zheng Zhu (first appearance SME 15). Essentially a character original to the films but loosely based on comic predecessors like the Darren Cross Yellowjacket or Whiplash/Crimson Dynamo. And just to add Jimmy Woo was introduced in the MCU in Ant Man and the Wasp.

5 years ago

Didn’t Jimmy Woo have his debut in Nick Fury Agent of Shield?

Mike Huddleston
5 years ago

Strange Tales #160 the beginning of the Yellow Claw story in Nick Fury Agent of Shield, by Jim Steranko is where Jimmy Woo was introduced in to the Marvel Comic Universe. He was introduced in Ant-Man and the Wasp in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.