In 2021 there’s no escaping the superhero craze. For the past two decades we’ve been bombarded by movies, toys, and television shows perpetuating stories dedicated to caped crusaders and friendly neighborhood heroes, and for good reason. Superhero stories are ones we all can relate to.
It doesn’t matter if you’re 8 or 80⏤there’s something for everyone amidst the now infinite rolodex of heroes and villains. Yet, with all the available content out there, we tend to forget the source of these Tales to Astonish.
Comic books are where the current hero phenomenon began. Before Captain America was facing off against Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War, they handled their differences on the pages of a comic book. Before Batman donned the cape and cowl for the big screen, he perfected his technique at your local bookstore.
Since the 1930’s, heroes have been a part of the zeitgeist, and until recently all we had were the pages that kept them alive in our minds. Now, though, with their widespread adoption and adaptation, many comic books have risen to new levels of fame and rarity.
Certain issues have become incredibly hard to get ahold of and can be worth hundreds of thousands⏤if not millions⏤of dollars. Before we get started, distinctions must be made. Expensive comic books don’t have to be rare, and rare comic books aren’t always expensive. They absolutely can be, but those two terms aren’t mutually exclusive.
With that in mind, and without further delay, here are some of the rarest comics books of all time. You might even find some of these in your attics.
Action Comics No. 1
Here it is, the big one. What can we say that hasn’t already been said? This first issue of Action Comics introduced the world to the Last Son of Krypton, Superman. Detective Comics, or DC as it is better known presently, had been in business for a few years before Superman’s debut in 1938, but The Man of Steel was their first big hit. It defined the superhero genre forever, establishing a tone and style for its successors that is still used today. A pristine issue sold on ebay for $3.2 million in 2014.
New Adventure No. 26
Another DC comic, New Adventure is a lesser-known story for a lesser-known hero. Following the escapades of Captain Jim of The Texas Rangers, issue no. 26 is not collected as widely as some of the more popular comic runs of its time. This doesn’t mean that the characters or story are lackluster, though. New Adventure boasts some crazy twists and turns, old west iconography, and a strong message. Because of its obscurity, less than ten known copies exist, according to the CGC database. Nine, to be exact, making New Adventure No. 26 the rarest comic book on the planet. Happy hunting.
Amazing Fantasy No. 15
The first Marvel entry on this list, Amazing Fantasy is another game-changer. Released in 1962, this comic presents arguably the most iconic image in Marvel’s history. There he is: Spider-Man, Web-Head, Spidey, Wall Crawler⏤the nicknames go on and on. He fights crime and swings from webs. What’s not to like? As one of Marvel’s most popular heroes, Spider-Man has stood the test of time as potentially the greatest superhero ever created. We have Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko to thank for that. Our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man is so popular, in fact, that a copy of Amazing Fantasy No. 15 sold to a private collector for $1.1 million in 2011.
X-Men No. 1
A huge Marvel property, the X-Men lineup of hero-mutants is incredibly diverse. This is where it all started. Released in 1963, over the course of the story we are introduced to characters like Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel, Beast, Iceman, and their telepathic mentor, Professor X. Their school for “gifted youngsters” is also explained into existence. It doesn’t stop at the heroes, though, and in this first appearance of the X-Men, Magneto establishes himself as their metal-bending nemesis. With the new Marvel Studios reacquisition of the X-Men property, the future looks bright for “The Strangest Super-Heroes Of All!” In 2012, a near-mint copy sold at auction for almost $500 thousand.
Detective Comics No. 27
The Batman requires no introduction, but if there ever was one, it was Detective Comics No. 27. Coming a year after Superman was introduced in 1938, 1939’s inception of Batman was a stroke of genius by the fledgling comic company. No hero before or since has captured the same level of brooding emotionality and righteousness. At a time when most heroes were glorified boy scouts, Batman burst onto the scene as a dark and tormented vigilante. His humanity, set of ethics, and tragic backstory only adds to the fervor that has surrounded The Dark Knight for 82 years. A tragic backstory, in fact, shared by the Defender of Gotham’s young ward. Speaking of…
Detective Comics No. 38
Robin, the Boy Wonder, Batman’s iconic sidekick. In this large-scale reveal, Dick Grayson is introduced to the world by way of his eerily similar backstory. An orphan himself, Dick is trained by Bruce and the Dynamic Duo go on their first crime-fighting spree. With Batman’s decision to take up a partner on his quest to rid Gotham City of evil, Robin has gone on to be one of the most important and well-known sidekicks in superhero history. So crucial to The World’s Greatest Detective that there have actually been five Robins to Bruce Wayne’s Batman. These are, in order of appearance: Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and Damian Wayne. As each Robin moves on, there’s always a new young ally to take his or her place. Every Robin has a unique backstory and particular skills suited for their role, and in the end all become Bruce’s pseudo-children. It’s Dick Grayson who started it all and holds a special place in the heart of Batman and fans alike. He’s special enough that his comic is worth $107 thousand dollars. “Holy that’s a lot of money, Batman!”
All-Star Comics No. 8
An important DC comic series, All-Star Comics gave the world their first true superhero team: the Justice Society of America, later known as the Justice League. Some of the founding members of the group include Green Lantern, Atom, Flash, Hawkman, and Dr. Fate. However, the issue that has stood the test of time doesn’t surround the Justice Societies creation, but rather a fierce feminine addition to the team: the Daughter of Destiny, Wonder Woman. You might not be able to tell by the cover, but the 1941 issue of All-Star Comics changed the game for female heroes. In the comic, Princess Diana forsakes her home and right to immortality to travel to America and fight oppression. Throughout the story, she displays supreme courage and intelligence, doing so with the kind of level-headedness we have come to expect from the brave Athenian. A copy sold on eBay for $936 thousand in 2017.
Detective Comics No. 1
This is the one that started it all, bringing “Action-Packed Stories In Color!” Beating Marvel to the punch, DC released their first issue in March of 1937. Detective Comics No. 1 does just that, following the detective work of Cyril ‘Speed’ Saunders. Without any notable powers or skills beside his wits and sleuthing ability, Speed remains a character entrenched in the Golden Age of Comic Books. This issue is not without its black marks, though⏤look no further than its blatantly racist cover and the rest becomes clear. In the fledgling days of comic books, DC still hadn’t quite figured out their tone and style. That would come in the subsequent years with the introductions of heroes like Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern. But it all had to start somewhere. With only 32 known copies in existence, DC No. 1 marks the start of something that would later captivate the world.
Marvel Comics No.1
Before becoming one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world, Marvel Comics released its first issue in October of 1939. Without this comic, we may have never gotten the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. In the story, many of Marvel’s most classic characters are introduced⏤characters that very soon would come to a theater near you with all the new Marvel acquisitions, like the Human Torch, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and The Angel. The Sub-Mariner is even speculated to be a character in the upcoming movie Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. (Fingers crossed.) This particular comic is so valuable that even a copy in bad condition is worth more than $15 thousand. The most any copy has sold for is $226 thousand.
Tales of Suspense No. 39
Last but certainly not least, Tales of Suspense No. 39 gave the world one of the most iconic comic characters in recent memory: Iron Man. Before the popularity of the Marvel films and the inspired performance of Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man was a B-list hero. Although incredibly cool, he was never able to quite stack up against Spider-Man, the X-Men, or the Fantastic Four. Yet since Iron Man’s introduction in 1963, the character has gotten a few upgrades along the way. In this first story, Tony Stark is introduced as the “…genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” that he is. Donning his Mark I suit, the narrative loosely follows the first act of the original Iron Man film released in 2008. Tony is badly wounded in an internment camp, and must craft technology to stop the progression of shrapnel to his heart. In doing so, he creates the Iron Man armor and the rest is history. A copy sold in 2012 for $375 thousand. The lasting impact that Downey Jr. and his portrayal of the chrome-plated godfather of the MCU cannot be understated.
It’s pretty clear that comic books are here to stay. Once nerdy and unpopular, they have grown to become a cultural unifier across the globe. Superheroes are everywhere, and audiences can’t seem to get enough of them. So go out there and buy some comics. They don’t have to cost thousands of dollars to be worth something. The rarity attached to these stories and characters only proves that these tales are meant to be appreciated. By understanding their rich history, their value becomes clear⏤not just in money spent, but in the hope they inspire.