For the last half of 20/20, I am going to try and put several blog pieces together that look back at popular speculative books with the full benefit of hindsight. In doing so, I will try my best to consider books from generally the same time frame and generally the same level of “key” status. This week I’m starting off with Amazing Spider-Man #129 and Hulk #181.
“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”
With GoCollect’s massive database of sales data, we can know precisely what would have happened if we had purchased book X instead of book Y at Z grade 10 years ago. Does that information help us going forward? Does it introduce bias? What new information can we use if we are dropping our hard-earned dollars on these books today?
Hopefully, the data and knowledge of the general popularity of a book can help guide our decisions going forward.
Let’s jump right in.
Looking Back to 1974
What a year it was back in 1974. Watergate hits its climax. Hank Aaron hits home-run number 714 to tie Babe Ruth. “Lucy” hit the scene as the possible Missing Link. All this, plus the Punisher and Wolverine hit newsstands for the first time in Amazing Spider-Man #129 and Incredible Hulk #181 (arguably).
It’s hard to imagine a time before these two superstar superheroes were a part of our comic lives. Until 1974, we didn’t know about the Punisher logo, “Snikt,” or adamantium skeletons. Since that time, these two major keys have become some of the most sought-after comic works in history.
Looking back five, ten, and twenty years, which was the better key to own, relative to purchase price?
Amazing Spider-Man #129 (February 1974)
Early that year, Spider-Man was forced to reckon with a mercenary. This mercenary was hired by the Jackal to end the web-slingers life once and for all. From this point forward, the world would get to know Frank Castle as a takes-no-prisoners, slightly unstable assassin who carries out revenge on all who he believes deserve his style of vengeance.
It’s not a stretch to say that Punisher has probably never been quite as popular as Wolverine, so this key is generally cheaper across the board in 2020. However, Prices on high- and mid-grades have risen dramatically over the years.
GoCollect has data all the way back to sales in 2001 on CGC 9.0. While there is evidence that this book sold for as low as $173 in 2001, most in that time frame sold for about $300-$400. So, we will call it $350 for the sake of comparison. Today, fair market value (FMV) on this book is $1,700. If you bought in 2001 and held on, your investment would be worth 486 times what you paid for it. A ten-year review of a CGC 9.0 shows similar positive returns. The average sales price in 2010-2011 was about $550-$600. Assuming the same FMV of $1,700 that is at minimum a 283% return on your purchase. Hopefully, those who bought at the turn of the century didn’t get trigger happy when there was little movement in the first 10 years and waited out the comic book key boom of this past decade.
Let’s say you invested in the mid-grade, trying to get in at a more affordable level. GoCollect has data back to 2004 for a CGC 6.0, and it would have only set you back about $100 at that time. Comparing to today’s $750 FMV, that’s a staggering 750% return. In 2010, however, CGC 6.0 copies were still only selling for about $200 each. Even in this middle grade, a 10-year hold on this book would net you about 375%
So it’s safe (and not surprising) to say that the value of the first Punisher has exploded over the long term. Certainly helping this fact is the relatively cheap price tag this book held in the first decade of the century. In this relatively down period for Frank Castle – no recent screen appearances, Punisher Soviet was only 88th in total comic sales in March – I wonder if we will see some price softening which will present a strong buying opportunity for investors looking again into the long term. In fact, all grades 8.5 to 9.8 are down in market value over the past 12 months.
Incredible Hulk #181 (November 1974)
Canada’s favorite son actually first showed up in the pages of Incredible Hulk #180, but it is in the November issue we get our first full look at the character and what he is capable of. Over time, Hulk and Wolverine have carried out their love-hate relationship across many of Marvel’s pages. Wolverine came to be one of the most popular X-Men members of all time.
So while Wolverine’s first appearance is typically more costly, higher buying price doesn’t always correlate to a higher return on investment.
Consistent GoCollect data for a CGC 9.0 copy goes back to about 2005 when copies sold for around $1,100. Today, FMV on that grade is consistently around $5,500. Representing a 500% return over a little more than 15 years of growth. Looking back just 10 years, CGC 9.0 issues sold for right at $1,000. So according to our data, there was either a flat or slightly lower FMV between 2005 and 2010. But just like with ASM #129, investors that held firm were rewarded over the next 10 years, with similar 500% returns to those who bought in 2005.
Going down to CGC 6.0, copies typically sold in 2003-2005 for around $250. In 2020, they routinely are selling for about $2,500. I’m no math wizard but that looks like a 1,000% increase to me. With Hulk currently under-explored in the MCU and Wolverine yet to make an MCU appearance, it seems there could potentially be even more room to grow on this book. The best data we have tell us 6.0 grades in 2010 sold for about $450. This almost doubles an investment made 7-8 years earlier. But comparing it to the $2,500 price tag today, that value shot up to a 555% return.
Who Wins? ASM #129 or Hulk #181
In this game of mega Bronze Age keys, there are no real losers. I haven’t done much research on this, but these might be the two most famous issues from the Bronze Age. Both are firmly in the top ten of GoCollect’s Bronze Age top sellers. But if we must choose one, Incredible Hulk #181 has been the better investment over the long term. Looking forward, Wolverine is likely to remain the more popular overall character, although Punisher is having a moment of cultural relevancy as Marvel and the creator of Punisher (Gerry Conway) have come out against riot police using the Punisher logo against protests and have created a new Black Lives Matter Punisher logo. Wolverine will undoubtedly receive a massive bump when he pops up in the MCU. Alongside Hulk or whichever avenue Feige and Co. use to pursue his introduction. It will sting the wallet a little bit more, but if you’re on the fence about which one to buy, go Canada.
This post is the first in an ongoing series in 2020 where I will apply 20/20 hindsight to two books from a similar timeframe. From there I will determine which has been the better investment to this point and which might be the best book to own going forward. If you have suggestions for books to compare, please let me know in the comments!