Undervalued Spotlight #423

Detective Comics #153, DC Comics, November 1949.

I was sorting through a pile of old Golden Age a while back and came across a rat chewed Detective Comics that for some reason made me do a double-take. It honestly took me a millisecond before I thought “hey, where’s Robin”. Intrigued, I did some digging and what I found made it obvious that the Undervalued Spotlight had to shine on Detective Comics #153.

Detective Comics #153 features the first appearance of Roy Raymond TV Detective and it also features the origin of the DC version of the Human Fly. Roy Raymond is a surprisingly durable and versatile character that has made 227 comic book appearances since this issue, his backup stories ran in Detective and Superman and he made modern age appearances in Swamp Thing.

Check out that gorgeous cover! Cover appeal is such an important driver of demand and value in today’s comic book marketplace and Dick Sprang’s Detective Comics #153 delivers.

As I mentioned to start, I caught the lack of Robin right away and for some reason, this compelled me to do a little research. I ran through the covers of Detective Comics since Detective Comics #37 (March 1940) and since Batman #1 (Spring 1940), what I found surprised me. Of the 270 or so comic book issues published between the 2 titles in the Golden Age (up until February 1955, the last non-code issue) only 12 did not have Robin on the cover.

Talk about an uber-cool collecting strain! Non-Robin Golden Age Batman covers!

The list is as follows:

  • Batman #47 – July 1948
  • Detective Comics #153 – November 1949
  • Batman #57 – March 1950
  • Detective Comics #159 – May 1950
  • Detective Comics #163 – September 1950 – love this cover
  • Detective #172 – June 1951
  • Detective Comics #179 – January 1952
  • Detective Comics #200 – October 1953
  • Batman #82 – March 1954 – love this cover too
  • Detective Comics #209 – July 1954
  • Batman #85 – August 1954
  • Detective Comics #215 – January 1955

It’s important to note Batman #47 here, Batman #47 is the classic Batman origin issue with its famous Batman and young Bruce Wayne cover. The young boy/Batman motif of Batman #47 has confused collectors into assuming it is Robin at first glance but it is a young Bruce Wayne and it is the true first non-Robinin cover. Batman #47 is very much a realized book that has been a key for decades.

Detective Comics #153 represents the first solo Batman cover since Detective Comics #37. The cover scene is classic Batman depicting the Caped Crusader springing into action alone.

Without a doubt, the most coveted, ogled, revered, respected and worshiped run in comic collecting history has to be Detective Comics #27 to #37. Each of these books are heavyweights on their own but the thought of actually owning the complete set is mere fantasy to most.

You can read a thousand posts online about what the introduction of the Robin character did to the Batman character. Many cite the introduction of Robin as the beginning of the end of that dark and dangerous Batman. I think Robin was gold for the franchise, the addition of the Boy Wonder made Batman as populist as can be and the Dynamic Duo were forever the gold standard for hero/sidekick. Robin with Batman was so successful that the wisdom of the pairing was left unchallenged for 30 years, with Neal Adams starting exploring the pre-Robin mystique of Batman around 1970.

Still, the sheer scarcity of non-Robin covers in the Golden Age makes all the above issues desirable and collectible. I’ve chosen Detective Comics #153 because I see it as the first true solo Batman cover since Detective Comics #37 and it doesn’t hurt that the book delivers a great cover, a first appearance and an origin story.

The market is healthy for this book right now with it trading higher than the other non-key issues around it. Neither the Overstreet Price Guide nor comics.org nor the CGC labels mentions that this is the first solo Batman cover since… so I’m assuming some of the value appreciation it’s enjoying now is cover based and Roy Raymond based but it could also be savvy non-Robin cover collectors based as well. I think the book still has a good amount of appreciation left in it.

Try and grab a nice tight CGC 5.0 and look for one with good gloss, the yellows and the blacks just jump out of the high gloss copies.

The 48th Overstreet price break for this book is $621/$1061/$1500 in the 8.0/9.0/9.2 grade splits.

Reasons to buy this comic book as an investment:

  • First solo Batman cover since Detective Comics #37
  • First appearance Roy Raymond TV Detective
  • Fantastic cover
  • Origin the Human Fly
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

I read about these “collecting strains”, but I just can’t get interested. Even as a wee lad the “collecting” aspect of the hobby didn’t resonate with me – it was the “having” aspect that I was (and am) into. I wanted/want to have certain books or runs because they are meaningful to me in one way or another. As a teenager my main focus was artists, and I did a lot of digging in the dark ages to unearth as many Adams books as possible. Nevertheless I didn’t feel any need to chase any work that didn’t resonate with me: Hot Wheels, etc. And if an idea doesn’t resonate, my feeling is that you are going to misstep if you try to use the knowledge that it resonates with others to make decisions. So I will take your word for it that the book might come into demand for non-Robin-coverists, but that won’t get me interested.

Nevertheless I am pretty much on board with this pick, due to a variant on that “strain” and another “strain”, if you will. While you are unquestionably correct that Robin cemented Batman’s longevity, that was then and this is now. For juvenile readers, Robin turned Batman from a dark, somewhat academic vigilante into the perfect big brother protector, and also made him more “normal” in the sense of other heroes seen in serials each week. But as the readership moved non-juvenile, Robin moved from being an avatar to being a liability. How about this collecting strain: covers featuring Batman rescuing Robin? You need a warehouse for that one. A masked vigilante can maybe use a good assistant, but a bad assistant who just keeps getting himself into jams is buzzkill. And more generally, the lone vigilante is a more interesting character. Even a team of two must share some kind of understandable (if twisted) ethos, but a lone vigilante can have utterly bizarre and unique motivations.

So: the first attraction here is not to “collect non-Robin covers”, but rather take this particular LONE Batman cover as a key step toward recovering the original lone vigilante.

The second strain: “The Flying Batman!” I think this is the real reason that this book has already outperformed. The simple truth is that comic books are about being SUPERheroes, and being “really rich” does not qualify as a superpower (at least in comics). Gadgets are fine, but the name of the game is bipedal beat-em-ups with superhuman strength or abilities. The crossover is super-suits, which the community generally will accept as faux powers, as long as the suit abilities are clearly far beyond those achievable in reality. This book features what appears to me to be only the second cover appearance in either Batman or Detective where Batman uses such apparatus, and in the first case (Batman #41) (which also sells well), the device is a simple strapped-on Buck Rogers jetpack. “The Flying Batman!” seems to wear a much more Iron Man-like flying suit which also looks a lot cooler. So this cover could arguably be the first one to satisfy the constant feeling in the community that Batman should be _really_ super in some way. Obviously this has been revisited innumerable times since, with Miller’s Dark Knight armor at the forefront of my thoughts.

To support my thesis, I offer you Batman #82 (mentioned above), with the original title, “The Flying Batman!”. This book also sells well as it parallels Detective #153. (I looked up the plotlines and B #82 is not a reprint of D #153.)

There is no shortage of good news about this pick: Batman; Detective; no-Robin cover; dark action-packed cover; 1949; scarce; first Roy Raymond (snore); Human Fly origin (zzzzzzzzzz). But we still have to say if it is undervalued.

That is going to be a hard thesis to support based on year-on-year appreciation of >100%, and I am not really buying it based on the “collect non-Robin Detective covers” argument, but for the purpose of comps I will give it a try. B #47 is not a good comp because it is such a key, so let’s move to B #57 (although it could be argued that the cover implies Robin is flying the Batplane). There are few sales, but it appears that the book has recovered to around the level of 2005 prices. This doesn’t given me much feeling that there is any significant pursuit of early non-Robin covers.

So I would pursue my “powered Batman” idea instead, and comp this to the aforementioned B #82. This is a somewhat more common book from a somewhat more difficult period. There is very little to go on, but my conclusion is that a relatively scarcer in higher grades B #82 in 6.0 should sell for $400-$500 versus the realized $700 for D #153 in 6.5. I think that the Batman title generally realizes a premium to Detective, more reason to think that B #82 should price above D #153. So nothing here to make me view B #153 as undervalued given recently realized prices.

Of course I am totally discounting Roy Raymond. which I don’t think is unreasonable. I predict that in 2037 we are going to finally get that awaited Roy Raymond/Jimmy Woo buddy action comedy, but my investing horizon does not extend that far.

So: thumbs way up on the book, thumbs up on getting a copy (solid investment), but thumbs down on “undervalued” at current prices.