Of all the comics sought out by collectors there are none more valuable than the very first appearance of a popular character. But while the debate still rages over whether a cameo is more important than the first full appearance of a popular hero, there’s a subset of books that contain what can be called the ‘very earliest’ appearances of a given character. Did you know that Doctor Strange, the Hulk, Supergirl and Iron Man all have prototype appearances?
In this post I want to look at some of the most valuable prototype books produced by Marvel and DC in order to ask the following question: Are prototype books worth owning? Or should you save your money for the genuine first appearance of your favorite character?
Before analyzing the data on prototype appearances, let’s establish the boundaries for what is (and what is not) a prototype. On the criteria used below, Xemnu the Titan, first appearing in Journey Into Mystery #62 will be considered a Hulk prototype because (a) he shares notable characteristics with the Hulk and (b) he was created by Stan Lee and is explicitly called ‘The Hulk’ in his first appearance. However, the Shadow (first appearing in print in “The Living Shadow” from April 1, 1931), will not be considered a Batman prototype. A prototype must have some noticeable and direct connection or characteristics to the hero they represent and must more or less disappear after the more popular character gains a following. This didn’t happen with the Shadow, and since Batman is different enough that no one easily confuses the two, it seems odd to think of the Shadow as merely a Batman prototype.
Using the above criteria, let’s take a look at some notable prototype appearances:
Chronologically Supergirl has her first prototype appearance in Superboy #5. It’s the second appearance, however, in Superman #123, that has a much stronger claim to being a first official prototype appearance of the actual Supergirl. This is because the earlier prototype featured in Superboy #5 is not at all like Supergirl. For one thing, her uniform is completely off, with strange purple and gold colors. Moreover, she’s called Lucy Regent the Queen of Borgonia and is not Kryptonian. When we turn to Superman #123 we not only have an exact lookalike to Supergirl, but she has all of Superman’s powers and is said in the comic to be the ‘Girl of Steel’. This is more or less a try-out and has dibs to being called a first appearance, but since she disappears after this issue, we can consider her a genuine prototype. The sales numbers on this book are currently mixed. A certified 7.5 copy sold on ComicLink for $2,122.00 on March 15, 2019. Returns over the last three months are as follows: 5.0 down -37.9% after 2 sales (last sale eBay auction $325.00 on March 26 2019), 4.5 grade, up +76.8% after 2 sales (last sale eBay auction $419.00! on March 31, 2019) and up in 3.0 grades by +26.5% after 3 sales (last sale, eBay auction for $250.00 on April 4, 2019).
Even people who don’t read war comics know Sgt. Rock. Like Supergirl, this DC character actually appears as a prototype in an even earlier comic (G.I.Combat #68 cover date January 1959). However he is first given the rank of ‘Sergeant’ in this book. Created by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert, Sgt. Rock is a mainstay of war comic genre and that makes his early prototype appearances highly sought out. Our Army at War #81 currently has a FMV of $8, 500.00 in 9.0 grade, $625.00 in 5.0 and $325.0 in 3.0. The last two sales have been on May 3, 2019 when a 1.5 graded copy sold for $199.95 (slightly above FMV) and February 4, 2019 saw a 3.0 sell for $278.00 on a ComicLink auction (slightly below FMV for that grade).
The Incredible Hulk would appear as a grey monster in May of 1962, but two years earlier there was a prototype also created by Stan Lee: Xemnu. Simply called ‘The Hulk’ on the cover, with 102 copies on the CGC census the returns on this early appearance of a Hulk creature are mixed. On January 4, 2019 a 4.0 copy sold for $150.00 as a best offer on eBay. That gives 4.0 graded copies the best returns on all grades over the last year. Currently they are positive +13.4% after 3 sales. Balance that with the negative returns on 2.5 grades, down -2% after 2 sales (the last for $125.00 sold on eBay on 11/06/2018).
Does Iron Man get more love than Hulk in prototype form? Only 72 copies of this comic have been sent into CGC but the returns over the last year look a bit better and with more sales activity. The last four sales are as follows: on June 10, 2018 a 3.5 graded copy sold for $120.00 on eBay. Then, on June 17, 2018, a 7.5 grade sold for $500.00 (eBay), followed by the sale of a 3.0 on July 12, 2018 for $199.99 (eBay) and on January 13, 2019 a 6.0 sold for $204.00 on Heritage Auction.
The take away here is that prototype appearances are never worth as much as what collectors recognize as genuine first appearances, but since they present characters with a resemblance to those popular heroes we love, these early imitations can sometimes fetch strong prices and are therefore worth seeking out.