How Cover Art Makes a Second Appearance a Holy Grail

by Matt Tuck

Hulk-181-cover-200x300 How Cover Art Makes a Second Appearance a Holy GrailThe 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.

Hulk-181-Meme-200x300 How Cover Art Makes a Second Appearance a Holy GrailTHE 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.

Im-Tired-of-Pretending-Its-Not-Hulk-181-281x300 How Cover Art Makes a Second Appearance a Holy GrailWOLVERINE IS NOT ALONE

The same argument can be made for Gambit’s debut. He had a brief cameo in X-Men Annual #14, but the far more valuable issue is his second overall appearance in Uncanny X-Men #266.

Again, we see the same issue with Carnage. He was teased in Amazing Spider-Man #360 and readers saw his face for one page. However, the money is clearly behind Amazing Spider-Man #361.

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.

Dark-Nights-Metal-2-interior-300x150 How Cover Art Makes a Second Appearance a Holy GrailI’ll even raise you a Batman Who Laughs in this debate. His true first appearance was in Dark Nights: Metal #2, but collectors place more emphasis on Teen Titans #12.

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?

ASM-299-first-Venom-169x300 How Cover Art Makes a Second Appearance a Holy GrailTHE 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.

FF-48-cover-198x300 How Cover Art Makes a Second Appearance a Holy GrailTHE EXCEPTION

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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Jacob Champlin July 29, 2020 - 9:24 am

I really love the cover argument, I have been trying to make it for years. The way I phase it is “The cover must represent the reason you want to own the comic”. You don’t want the reason to own the comic to be hidden away in the interior pages, especially in the days of slabbing, but even to a lesser extent with bags and boards. This also explains why just a great cover can make a comic a “key”. EX: Detective Comics #880

Ariosto Montisano July 29, 2020 - 10:02 am

Very interesting post and I like that you have a final conclusion on your opinion. As a Walking Dead fan, Negan’s first appearance in Issue 100 is an example where I prefere the cover where we see him (althought not his face) to any of the variant covers. Probably also because I don’t like variant covers.

Matt Tuck July 29, 2020 - 10:50 am

Thank you for reading, Ariosto. I like variants, but I am picky about which ones I am willing to buy.

Daniel Genest July 29, 2020 - 11:15 am

There’s NO true first or whatever you might want to call it.Some people have been trying to manipulate the market for quite some time with this….to no avail.Why do you think CAMEO has been taken as a word for over 50 years? CAMEO is a glimpse of the character the writer/artist team want you to be prepared for.A Trailer if you will. A 1st appearance is a complete story with THAT character being meaningful to the story,not just a glimpse with no importance to the story.Is that really so hard to understand? IF you want to see what those trying to manipulate the market can do while playing with words to fool unexperienced collectorss/peculators just look at that Winter character in Thor.

Matt Tuck August 6, 2020 - 4:18 pm

I don’t think it’s so much market manipulation as it is clarity. If a character is seen in at least one panel of a comic (and not in a preview), it is the first appearance. Which one the market dictates is the more valuable is another story.

Steven Moore July 29, 2020 - 11:23 am

Kamala Khan is a great example too. Captain Marvel #17 2nd Print sells at a price suggesting that collectors consider it her first appearance (even when you factor in rarity–this issue is expensive!), while her true first full appearance in All New Marvel Now! Point One #1 sells at a comparatively low price point.

Matt Tuck August 6, 2020 - 4:15 pm

Second prints have become big business for that reason. Look at prices for the 1:25 Legends of the Dark Knights with the Robin King on the cover for proof.

Will July 29, 2020 - 5:14 pm

I’ve been thinking this about Amazing Spiderman 238 for some time. He really just appears on the last page, but dominates what is now a classic cover.

Getoutandstayout August 3, 2020 - 4:27 pm

Ok, now, FF #48 doesn’t compare in cover art to #49, which is an all-time classic Marvel cover, next to Silver Surfer #4. FF #49 *should* be the grail issue, not #48. I have no idea why the latter is the more expensive of the two. It’s just like Hulk #180 and #181.

Matt Tuck August 6, 2020 - 4:14 pm

Like I mentioned in the article, it is close to being a cover appearance for Galactus. He’s at least teased in epic fashion.

Jim Lee August 6, 2020 - 3:02 pm

No matter how people try and spin it in their favor Incredible Hulk 181 is not the first appearance of Wolverine. 180 is the first true appearance of the character. A cameo is like a fist punching through a wall, or a person in the shadows, or just seeing the characters eye or something small hence the phrase CAMEO.

Matt Tuck August 6, 2020 - 4:13 pm

There’s no arguing that #180 is the first appearance, but it will never have the values of #181 because of the covers.

Rob Langford October 9, 2020 - 5:24 am

Then you get Amazing Spider-Man #365 being listed as first appearance of Spider-Man 2099 when it is a PREVIEW appearance rather than a true first full which is Spider-Man 2099 #1 (and he’s on the cover). By the logic here, Summer of Spider-Man, which has a preview of Avenging Spider-Man #9 (First Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel) should be more desirable.

Ultimately the market wants what the market wants and we just have to do best guess.

Preferring more and more to go after famous covers (ASM 601, Detective Comics 880) as they will always be sought after


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