One area of focus in comic collecting that has been overlooked since other forms of media began to have such a great influence on the hobby is that of hunting down key comics by top creators. Never fear. We’re here to help you sort through the top books by individual creators, both in terms of investing and reading. This time the spotlight will be on John Byrne.
First Key Book
Few artists were as popular and prolific as John Byrne from the mid-1970s through the 1980s. In fact, so prolific was Byrne, I have been forced to break this blog into two parts lest I leave out anything important. Beginning his career at Charlton on Doomsday +1, the Rog-2000 backup stories in issues of E-Man, and multiple cartoon and TV show-based comics, Byrne quickly captured the attention of Marvel and landed his first regular series with Marvel Premiere #25.
The issue marks the last appearance of Iron Fist in the series before moving on to his own book. The issue is also the first pairing of Byrne with writer Chris Claremont. Iron Fist lasted 15 issues before being folded into Power Man and Iron Fist.
There are 233 graded copies of Marvel Premiere #25 in the CGC census. Only two copies have sold so far in 2023: a 9.4 selling for $75 and a 7.5 selling for a slashed $100. Prices have dropped 50% in the 9.4 grade since selling for $150 in a fixed-price eBay sale in August 2021.
In fact, other than a brief dip in 2020, prices for this book in the 9.4 grade haven’t been this low since 2016. If you can get one for $75 or less, I definitely recommend picking up a copy.
Byrne was the penciler on all 15 issues of Iron Fist. His other work at the time included a short stint on Champions and a year on Marvel Team-Up. There are three key issues in the first Iron Fist run: Iron Fist #1, Iron Fist #14, and Iron Fist #15.
There are 2,860 graded copies of Iron Fist #1 in the CGC census. In the 9.8 grade, sales are beginning to climb once more, albeit slightly. The current 90-day average stands at $1,455 while the 30-day average is $1,560, approaching the one-year average of $1,583.
Of course, these prices pale in comparison to the $5,000 paid for a 9.8 in 2014, the high-water mark for this comic in any grade.
Easily the highest-valued comic in the series is Iron Fist #14, the first appearance of Sabretooth. There are a whopping 6,763 graded copies, and the most recent sale was a 9.8 going for $5,040 in an April 2 Heritage auction.
That bests the one-year average of $4,563 by a decent amount, although down quite a bit from the $6,000 paid in a December 2021 Heritage auction.
If you’re looking to pay more reasonable money for a Byrne Iron Fist key, look no further than Iron Fist #15. Featuring the X-Men and pre-dating Byrne’s work on that series, census numbers are much lower at 1,193, as are values.
A 9.4 sold in an eBay fixed price sale on March 20 for $120. That’s down from the previous two sales in this grade of $140 and $169.
Byrne’s next key work is the one for which he is most well-known and sets his legacy in stone. The Claremont/Byrne/Austin issues of Uncanny X-Men (although it wouldn’t officially be known by that title until the end of Byrne’s tenure) are widely considered one of the greatest runs on a superhero comic ever.
There are so many key issues, I’m hard-pressed to narrow it down. However, let’s start with X-Men #108, Byrne’s first issue on the series, and the culmination of an epic cosmic storyline that revealed Jean Grey’s true potential as the Phoenix.
There are 2,111 graded copies of X-Men #108 in the CGC census, not atypical for early issues in the “new” X-Men series. In grades 8.5 and above – the top 74% of all graded issues – values have just begun to climb again in all but the 9.4 grade. However, in the 9.8 grade, the current price paid average of $890 is still nearly $100 below the one-year average.
This book has a long way to go if it wants to catch up to its peak average of $1,339 set in September 2021, making for a potential buying opportunity.
One of Byrne’s greatest creations would first see the light of day in X-Men #120 and X-Men #121. Alpha Flight was Marvel’s Canadian super team, not surprising considering Byrne’s Canadian heritage (although he was born in the UK).
While Vindicator had first appeared in X-Men #109 as Weapon Alpha, the rest of the team – Shaman, Snowbird, Sasquatch, Northstar, and Aurora – would make their first cameo appearance in X-Men #120 before duking it out with the X-Men in X-Men #121.
There are 3,507 graded copies of X-Men #120 in the CGC census, and a 9.8 sold in a March 30 eBay sale for $6,500. That’s down a ton from this book’s peak: $11,501 paid in a September 2021 ComicConnect auction. While it’s not uncommon to see big drop-offs in value as you move from the 9.8 grade down to the 9.6 grade, in the case of X-Men #120 that decrease in value is extreme.
The 30-day average price for a 9.6 currently stands at $816, just 12% of the value of a 9.8. If you absolutely have to have this comic but don’t have the means to afford a 9.8, definitely consider a 9.6.
Collectors definitely consider X-Men #120 to be Alpha Flight’s first appearance, as they’ve voted with their wallets. While there are more graded copies of X-Men #121 – 4,341 – the current 30-day average price paid for a 9.8 is $1,560. That’s up from the 90-day average of $1,236 as we’re starting to see a rise in value.
Alpha Flight would be very popular with fans initially, enough so that they would eventually receive their own series, but more on that later.
The Dark Phoenix Saga
Claremont and Byrne (along with Terry Austin on inks and Tom Orzechowski on letters) had become a team supreme on X-Men and they reached their creative zenith on the Dark Phoenix Saga, a story they had been building to for many issues and one which finally exploded in X-Men #129 through X-Men #137.
X-Men #129, the first issue in the Saga, is highly coveted by collectors due to the first appearances of Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw, and the Hellfire Club, as evidenced by the 6,922 graded copies.
The most recent sale of a 9.8 was for a slashed $2,400 on April 9, continuing an overall downward trend. At its peak in 2021, this book was selling in the 9.8 grade for over $6,000. Even in March 2022, you would have been hard-pressed to find a 9.8 copy of X-Men #129 below $5,000. So, prices have come down in one year by more than 50%.
Kitty Pryde, in particular, could make for an excellent viewpoint character in a future MCU X-Men film. Combine that with Emma Frost’s first appearance, and the fact that you have a comic this highly regarded that has dropped markedly in price… Do with that information as you will, but this looks like a good investment opportunity to me.
As the X-Men had grown in popularity, one character, in particular, had begun to stand out as a fan favorite – Wolverine. Something of a feral anti-hero, Logan hadn’t yet become the vastly overused character he is today. In fact, other than some hinted-at scenes in The Savage Land earlier in the series, fans had yet to see Wolverine really cut loose.
That all changed in X-Men #133. While the Comics Code Authority was still in effect and prevented fans from seeing all the punishment Wolverine inflicted on the Hellfire Club guards, there would be no mistaking that this was an increase in violence way beyond what comic fans were used to seeing in a Marvel comic and was a precursor of the character’s depiction ever since.
There are 3,183 graded copies of X-Men #133 in the CGC census, with 50% graded 9.4 or higher. While highly-priced in the 9.8 grade – $1,378 90-day average – you should be able to find a 9.6 for less than $400 and a 9.4 for less than $200.
Like most comics, it’s down from early 2022 peaks. However, this one has yet to recover from the recent downturn in prices.
The Dark Phoenix Saga culminated in X-Men #137, a double-sized square-bound issue that saw the death of Jean Grey, one of the original X-Men. Despite its importance in X-Men lore and Marvel history, it’s not as valued as X-Men #129. In fact, 9.8 values are down as low as $575. That’s down from a peak less than a year ago – in May 2022 – of $1,699.
One thing to be careful with when purchasing this comic – there were many copies that were miscut in the printing process, some covers even displaying a white line at the bottom and the yellow ad at the very top.
There are some 9.8 graded copies that show signs of these miscut errors, although rarely this extreme. Just be judicious when inspecting a copy for purchase. If you’re paying for a 9.8, you should get a 9.8.
The Dark Phoenix Saga remains to this day one of the pinnacles of superhero comic book storytelling. If John Byrne were to have ended his career at this point, he would still be remembered as one of Marvel’s great artists. But he wasn’t done yet. Heck, he wasn’t even done with the X-Men.
The Dark Phoenix Saga, which would have made for a fantastic swan song for any artist, however, would often be overshadowed by what came next.
Days of Future Past
In X-Men #141 and Uncanny X-Men #142 (the name change became official with this issue), Claremont and Byrne crafted a very tight dystopian time travel tale that would, in time, be more influential on X-Men lore and the wider Marvel multiverse than any comic story that had been told before or has been written since.
The two issues are widely considered one of the best X-Men stories ever and one of the best comic book stories to be printed.
The first half of the story, X-Men #141, features the first appearances of Rachel Summers, Destiny, Pyro, and Avalanche. As such, it’s the one more valued by collectors. There are 7,539 copies in the CGC census.
Recent sales include a 9.8 selling in a March 18 ComicConnect auction for $1,050 followed quickly by one selling in a March 21 Heritage auction for $1,020. Both are down by nearly half from the 2021 peak of $1,950. The general trend has been downward since.
In comparison, there are 6,333 graded copies of Uncanny X-Men #142, and prices are much, much lower. A 9.8 sold in an April 15 eBay auction for just $349, down an incredible 73% from its 2021 high of $1,275.
While it’s certainly possible that prices could continue to drop, I can’t imagine they will much more.
The Claremont/Byrne run on X-Men would end with Uncanny X-Men #143, at which point Byrne left for a long tenure on Fantastic Four as both writer and artist. While Claremont would guide the X-Men for nearly two more decades as the series writer, his collaboration with Byrne is the series’ – and perhaps Marvel’s – high water mark.
Few comic books have encapsulated the scope and grandeur of the storytelling in those issues of X-Men.
Avengers, Fantastic Four, and Captain America
Before we wrap up Part 1 of this Key Creator blog on John Byrne, it’s important to note that Byrne wasn’t working on X-Men in a vacuum. He regularly penciled other comics while working on Marvel’s merry mutants. In fact, for about six months in 1979 Byrne was the penciler on all three of Marvel’s biggest superteam books – X-Men, Avengers, and Fantastic Four. He also worked with writer Roger Stern on a short but influential run on Captain America in 1980.
All of the issues in each of those series are worth reading. For collectors, the latter half of the Avengers issues, Avengers #185 through Avengers #189, including Scarlet Witch’s possession by Chthon, are worth consideration for your collection, as are Fantastic Four #209 through Fantastic Four #214, a storyline that climaxed with a duel between Galactus and the Sphinx and would feature the first appearance of Terrax. If you’re looking for a really nice retelling of Captain America’s origin, Captain America #255 fits the bill.
In Part 2, we’ll take a look at Byrne’s work on Fantastic Four, Superman, She-Hulk, Next Men, and so much more.
One of the greatest of all time! Discovered the X-Men with issue 126 and it quickly became my favorite series, I still buy copies of 126 when I run across them.