The battle over the first cameo appearance versus the first full appearance will never end, but what makes one more collectible than the other? The cover art.
A solid cover can make all the difference. Certainly, there will always be the argument between the “true first appearances.” Take a closer look, and what makes the difference in many cases is the cover art.
THE NEVER ENDING ARGUMENT
If you want to stir up trouble online, find a comic book group on social media and post that Incredible Hulk #181 is the second appearance of Wolverine. Just be ready for the endless arguing and a few insults hurled your way.
All debates aside, there’s no arguing that between Incredible Hulk #180 and Hulk #181, the latter claims all the glory. Wolverine made his first appearance in the final panel of Hulk #180, but collectors have long sought out #181 and turned it into a “holy grail.” If Wolverine made his debut, albeit briefly, in #180, why isn’t it a holy grail?
The longstanding argument is that the first full appearance outweighs the cameo. Instead of getting a preview of a new character, sometimes even in a mysterious shadow, readers get a complete look at this creation. In the case of Wolverine, Hulk #181 advocates cite his being part of an entire story as the reason it is a bigger key. The real difference-maker, I argue, is that Wolverine is on the cover of #181.
WOLVERINE IS NOT ALONE
Speaking of symbiotes, both Eddie Brock and Venom’s first cameo appearances in Amazing Spider-Man #298 do not get nearly the same amount of love as ASM #300, which is one of the most beloved covers ever created. As for Venom, he wouldn’t make his first cover appearances for another 15 issues, but that iconic art from #300 sets it apart from #298.
To a lesser extent, it is the same case for fan favorites Cable and Apocalypse. Cable’s face is shown in the last panel of New Mutants #86, but only hardcore Cable fans want that one. Then there is Apocalypse, who had a cameo first in X-Factor #5 before his full debut in X-Factor #6.
The big news lately is the soaring prices for Knull’s first appearances. Which comic is seeing the most impressive numbers? The third print of Venom #3.
So what makes one more collectible than the other?
THE DIFFERENCE MAKER
In all three cases, the comics that have the larger following (and significantly higher prices) have the new character on the cover. I argue that if Hulk #180 had Wolverine on the cover, Hulk #181 would be the consolation prize for collectors. The same is true for X-Men Annual #14, ASM #298, ASM #360, and, to a lesser extent, X-Factor #5.
Putting the new character on full display on the cover sells comics. Even in the secondary market, collectors have always gravitated to the first cover appearance. Look at the first appearance of Bishop. Granted, he is not in the same league as Wolverine, Gambit, or Carnage. Be that as it may, he is seen on the last page of Uncanny X-Men #282. He doesn’t make his first full appearance until the following issue, yet #282 is by far the bigger seller. Why? Bishop is the front and center of #282.
Of course, there is no universal rule for this. Case in point: Fantastic Four #48. Silver Surfer and Galactus debut in this holy grail comic. The Surfer is featured in full in F.F. #48 while Galactus is teased both on the cover and in the final pages. Both characters make their first cover appearances in Fantastic Four #49, but it sorely lags behind in terms of market value.
While neither character is on the cover of F.F. #48, emblazoned on the cover is the ominous words, “The Coming of Galactus.” That is very nearly a first cover appearance for what would become one of Marvel’s iconic villains.
As more new characters are thrust into the market almost monthly, the lesson to be learned here is to always grab that first cover appearance. Even if it is not the true first appearance, make sure to invest in the cover art.
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