Champions #1, Marvel Comics, October 1975.
A friend of mine called me up bragging about a great pick up he had off of eBay a couple of days ago. He said he picked up a CGC 9.4 for about 70% of GPA. My pal Christian has a good eye for value and an even better eye for deals, he and I got talking and we both agreed that his pick up, Champions #1 should be this week’s Undervalued Spotlight.
Marvel is famous for creating some enduring ensemble teams starting with the team of teams, the Avengers. Marvel then went on to patch a few other characters together and created the very popular Defenders. Marvel even played with time to create the Invaders.
Then in 1975 Marvel teamed the Black Widow, Hercules, Ghost Rider, Angel and Iceman to form the Champions. At the time, in the Fall of 1975, I believe the only character enjoying current success was Ghost Rider (he had his own title). Key Ghost Rider issues are hot on the market today as are Black Widow key issues. At the time Black Widow remained a popular character, she had just finished a co-starring run on Daredevil and Marvel was eager to find a new home for her.
Angel and Iceman rebounded nicely having just been written out of X-Men continuity in Giant-Size X-Men #1 and X-Men #94. The team was rounded out with Hercules who as we all know did a stint as an Avenger and had reoccurring appearances in Thor. You can’t beat Hercules for name recognition that’s for sure and Marvel does mythology well, I think Hercules is a character they can develop and get a lot more out of, the Marvel way.
Today’s markets are ignoring Champions #1, CGC 9.6 copies can get $125 while my pal Christian just picked up a 9.4 for $70. A CGC 9.2 copy of Champions #1 recently sold for $33. The last CGC 9.8 spiked up a bit selling for $388. As of this post, there are only 96 CGC 9.8s of Champions #1.
Champions #1 is too good a book to be languishing like this, it is embedded in the heart of Marvel Bronze Age, it is a #1 issue and boasts the first appearance of a popular team.
A good crop of villains show up in Champions #1, Pluto, Ares, Hippolyta, the Amazons, Mutates, Cerberus and Harpies and join in the fight. How many villains can you squeeze into a comic book? I don’t know but the more the merrier, market-wise.
I think Champions #1 is a fun safe pick, you can grab a 9.8 graded copy and not break the bank or you can go on the cheap and grab a 9.4 for next to nothing. Time is on the side of Champions #1.
The 48th Overstreet price breaks for this book are $24/$38/$52 in the 8.0/9.0/9.2 grade splits.
Strengths that make this comic a good long-term investment are:
- Origin and first appearance the Champions
- Marvel Bronze Age #1s are highly collected comics
This pick is a literal milestone from my perspective. I only reinvigorated my interest in the hobby in late 2014, so this is the first time I have noticed a book coming around for a second tout. I am not certain, but I think it was in the 2014 Overstreet that this book got a bit of press. At that point I think the main argument was an Avengers-type book (due to the movie linkage) that was affordable and very mainstream Marvel. Possibly another reason was the longer memory of the commentators, who had seen the much higher prices for the book in 2007-2009.
At first it doesn’t look like much came of that call, but in fact it was pretty solid. Just looking at 9.8s, I would say about a 50% increase since that time. When you take into account various costs (especially one or the other sales commission), let’s say more like 35%, but not a bad investment.
The nice thing about this book is that there are a lot of copies so a lot of sales data. The flow seems to have slowed recently, but for a few years there seemed to be a Champions #1 in every weekly Heritage auction. (That was enough to give me pause. I had the sense that Heritage was slowly unwinding a NM box.) As Heritage gives free access to its database of these auction sales, you can find out population changes because Heritage always notes CGC populations (as an arm of CGC…).
Around the end of 2013 there were 29 9.8s, 97 9.6s, and 121 9.4s. That compares with 96 9.8s, 214 9.6s, and 182 9.4s today (Universal only). This makes the price increase for the 9.8s much more impressive – clearly demand has been growing strongly. On the other hand I don’t think that 9.4 was such a bargain if you think about what the current population implies about the ungraded population. As Ghost Rider #1 is much more valuable book, you can use its distribution to imply what the high grade population of Champions #1 really looks like. Based on the current population (and bear in mind there are probably many more 9.8s and 9.6s out there), I believe that the 9.4 population is maybe 440. The majority is ungraded of course due to the poor economics for grading. Adjusted for this population, I think the 9.4 value should be more like $62.
The population levels can also be compared to Iron Fist #1, which could be a bit better comp because it is a 1975 book. My impression from these comparisons is that Champions #1 was very much viewed as a “collector’s item” right out of the gate, given the much larger number of 9.8s. (Although again there might have been that Heritage NM box.) This has to be a drag on the appreciation, so again it is very impressive that the 9.8s have managed to appreciate to date.
I could go on in this vein but I’m sure all eyes are glazed over. On the qualitative side I will argue that this is a particularly awkward team and I don’t think Hercules fits well into the current Marvel picture. In the popular imagination I think Wonder Woman has the hook into Greek mythology. Maybe a complete rework of the character (he’s really Super Skrull who really dug Arnold’s “Hercules in New York” flick) could be the ticket. Also I would guess Iceman and Angel are going to be X-Men in the movies for some time. Black Widow isn’t getting a reboot any time soon. Etc.
From a more traditionalist perspective, this was always a kitchen sink team with a pretty lame run. Therefore I think the main draws to the book are: 1) Marvel Bronze #1, 2) recognizable team members, 3) very long shot of some kind of big screen treatment.
While it is not very interesting to me because of its commonality, I can support this pick, but only in 9.8. Even 9.6s are below $200, which is around the grading economics threshold, so there is going to be a lot of dilution if prices move up significantly. Also there will probably be a lot of books pressed upward. Finally on a scarcity-adjusted basis, the 9.8s appear to be a bit of a bargain. Maybe if the 9.8s were to triple in price, then selling these to downgrade to multiple 9.6s would be worthwhile. Also with that Heritage flow falling (only two in 2018 that I see), that could indicate the 9.8 population growth is falling off, so if demand continues to grow as it has we should see strong increases.
I think a well-centered, white pages 9.8 at current market levels is a very safe bet.
Verdict: In my estimation, a halcyon Olympian worthy of consideration.
After what Marvel did with Guardians of the Galaxy, I stopped questioning their ability to make bricks out straw in their movie universe. So maybe one day – who knows… But the Champions was (and remains) at best a 4th rate team, lagging far behind the Avengers, FF, X-Men and Defenders, and possibly the Invaders. And the characters the title brought together were cast-offs, who had lost their spots in other titles.
And to Chris’s theory about this issue being a “collector’s item out of the gate” is spot on. Marvel produced a lot of #1 issues in the 70’s, and I had many friends who based there whole comic book buying on getting all the #1 issues, and Champions hit that market perfectly, so everyone I knew had a copy.
I am usually supportive of the comics highlighted in the Undervalued Spotlight, and add them to my list and take a look for those issues at the next con or show I attend. But not in this case. As with many bronze age Marvel comics, I still have the original copy I bought back in the 70’s in very well read condition. But I can’t find any motivation to upgrade to high grade copy of Champions #1.
In looking for a copy of Champions #1, I came across an interesting title called Contest of Champions, which I snapped up given it has a number of firsts. Curious how it would fare in the Undervalued Spotlight.