Speculators Past and Present: Iron Man #1

by Norman Robinson III

Speculators-past-and-present-300x157 Speculators Past and Present: Iron Man #1It was a time of turmoil, a time of greed, a time of comic books, a time of need. It was the 1990s. Speculators were everywhere, including many in the comic book market. They had hoarded tons of New Mutants, Brigade, X-Factor, and X-men ad infinitum to name but a few. These speculators were overflowing with storage units filled with comic books. The end came soon after. Like the dinosaurs before them; the 90s’ speculators looked up in the sky and screamed as one comic book retail establishment after another burst into smoke and disappeared overnight.  Much like the prehistoric pterodactyls, they could feel the change in the winds of fate. What catalyst brought speculators back to comic books? Further, what comic book character played a huge role? That’s right. It’s Iron Man.

Screen-Shot-2021-01-23-at-11.26.37-PM-193x300 Speculators Past and Present: Iron Man #1The First Age of Comic Speculation

The end for the 90s speculation crowd came in a frenzy of thousands of storage units being left stuffed with Modern Age books not worth the material they were printed on.  Then, the remaining retail establishments rolled in and bought everything for pennies.  Speculators scrambled, but most lost their money and saw their investment equity completely evaporate.

This was the first “Age of Comic Speculation” and was snuffed out overnight as the comic book publishers printed insane amounts of unsellable books right up until the bitter end. Though many retailers went under from this speculation bust. The strong ones that survived amassed staggering fortunes well beyond what most comic book stores were ever previously able to achieve. To be clear, when you are able to buy an entire decade of comics for pennies on the dollar, then you have possibly just made a fortune.

stores-300x258 Speculators Past and Present: Iron Man #1The Retail View

How did this destruction of an entire generation of speculators work out for the surviving retailers? Quite simply, the retailers of the time that survived were able to buy Bronze Age books very cheaply, Silver Age books at a huge discount, and Modern Age books for next to nothing. Imagine if you will, Amazing Spider-Man #361 with fifty copies in just one long box that you pay $20 for, if that. Now you are getting the picture. So let’s fast forward to the present day…


“Making a Killing” or “Roast Speculator, Anyone?”

The same retailers that made a killing on the backs of poorly informed speculators have been selling their wares for the top dollar over the years. By top dollar, I mean pure profit. For the last twenty years, the only people buying books have been collectors. So this retail group is used to creating a nice, comfortable atmosphere for a collector class. 

Collectors are Sophisticated Knowledgable Buyers

Collectors can be the most sophisticated buyers in the comic book lineup. They usually don’t care that much about price. Even the best is willing to pay market prices, and happily. This led to many retailers getting spoiled by a collector class who mostly was willing to pay top dollar. Imagine a pack of wolves with no known predator in their ecosystem. They would slaughter their prey and, with no challenge, grow fat and happy. 

iron-man-clayton-crain-1zg8-221x300 Speculators Past and Present: Iron Man #1The Coming of Iron Man

Life was good for many years, then everything changed yet again. With the coming of Iron Man in 2008 and a slew of great Marvel movies percolating hype and interest. This popularity aroused the speculators to pounce into the market. As more and more money was paid for Detective Comics #27 and Action Comics #1, the speculators grew and grew well beyond the 1990 population. Finally, much like in the stock market today the internet is equalizing the advantage the retailers once had. This allowed a level playing field that speculators have thrived in. This spike in demand drove prices and garnered more interest and hype which has led to three separate classes of an even larger group of comic book buyers namely collectors, investors, and speculators.  What does Iron Man #1 return over the long-term?

Title Grade Last Sale CGC Census Return
Iron Man #1 9.8 $18,600 36
  6.5 $550 515 +49%
  4.0 $400 342 +23%

iron-man-100-195x300 Speculators Past and Present: Iron Man #1Conclusion

Speculators are here to stay, the knowledge base is available to everyone, and the movie catalysts will continue for the next 20 years. To be frank, my generation will never get sick of seeing their heroes on the big screen 4K in their house.  I sure won’t.

I believe the future of comic collecting is bright. Essentially there will grow an investor class that is collector, speculator, and realizes the value of a comic book collection as an investment. The future is really for a hybrid of all three. Which is a good omen for those of us that love collecting comic books and don’t want to see this obsession/hobby go the way of  Devil Dinosaur.

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1 comment

Harry Stone III February 20, 2021 - 1:13 pm

Great article and I appreciate the positive, alternative point of view. This topic needs to be discussed more. My question is this: Comics are doing better than they have in decades thanks to movies. Speculation is back with a vengeance and isn’t going anywhere, we can agree on that. But why exactly is it going to turn out better than it did last time? Because of movie catalysts and accessible information?

Most of the information that is being fed to people is from garbage Youtube channel hot lists and shady sellers and personas on Instagram. The Gamestop comparison is spot on, but that is a tale of the little guy getting screwed. If you’re going to reference Gamestop stonks, most retailers bought in when the price was already soaring thanks to social media echo chambers and uniformed hype. No one did their due diligence. GME has since precipitously dropped back to $50, many people bought in at $200 or even $300. Retailers got absolutely crushed and lost everything they had because of that mess. Just like with Gamestop, social media is causing an unsustainable feeding frenzy that will only hurt comic collectors buying at these artificially inflated prices.

There is also something to be said about the influence of cell phones on collecting. Robin Hood has been accused of the “gamification” of trading on phones. One kid apparently have 150,000 trades in a year. I think that is bleeding into collecting. Applications have people approaching collecting like day trading and video games. FOMO is rampant and super obvious with the bidding wars going on with Modern books right now. It is also rampant with the flagrantly rigged auctions on Instagram. It’s like people are begging for outside parties to come in and regulate something that is fun because there is no regulation. Fraud is Fraud.

I think ASM 361 is a perfect example. Silver age comics are rare and I have no problem with recent price corrections for those, but anyone buying a comic with hundreds of thousands of copies at 1k is going to lose money. I’m sorry, I don’t see this playing out to the benefit of anyone other than the sellers you said have copies for a dollar. Great time to sell for them, buyers are going to get fleeced. Again, I don’t think it is coincidence the same books from the 90s are being pumped now. A lot of the books being speculated upon and pumped are showing troublesome prices that I can’t rationalize during troubling economic times. The market manipulation in the last year has been rampant and consistent. For instance, Wolverine 1 is showing signs of shill bidding and is hitting 750 dollars as of late. That book was always low because there are tons of them. Do we really think there is suddenly that much new money in collecting in the last year to cause a tripling in price? And if there is, why are these people willing to pay way above historical prices? You’d be hardpressed to find a Copper age key that didn’t triple in value in the last year. I mean it’s a little fishy no?

People forget that before the comic bust of the 90s, there was an 80s black and white bust caused by the Ninja Turtles. Independent comics were the next big thing until they weren’t. Here we are decades later watching those with megaphones pump the Turtles again. These busts happen and history shows us they happen in the exact environment we’re in now. I’m not seeing how this plays out differently. I am not saying the comic market is going to collapse, the movies will undoubtedly keep it alive. But regular everyday collectors are going to lose money, there is a correction coming. This rapid growth is just insane. I hate to think of someone spending 1k on a book only to have it worth 200 months later.

Speculation is fun and inevitably comes with the hobby. I know I sound super negative and I’m sick of the doom and gloom myself. I just don’t like the idea of older collectors and retailers who bought in for a comic at a dollar pumping prices to four figures and tricking new collectors into accepting these prices and this kind of exponential growth as normal. They are anything but normal. I have multiple copies of ASM 361 from when I was a kid, so I hate to be writing this.

Don’t mind me. Discussion is how we all learn right? Apes together strong.


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