The majority of collectors agree that Spider-Man #1 is one of the most iconic comics of all time. Even the most casual Spidey fans recognize Todd McFarlane’s classic cover and all of the variants that came with it. What many do not agree on and often get wrong is how many variants are there and what are their print runs?
This topic causes a lot of confusion, so I thought I’d take it upon myself to put everything I’ve learned over the years in one place and provide a comprehensive resource for chasing this all-time favorite.
A Little History
Todd McFarlane is a living legend within the comic book industry and his nickname is Toddfather with good reason. McFarlane’s attention to detail and adult artwork quickly earned him the role of illustrating Marvel’s premier title, The Amazing Spider-Man, in 1988. His run, from issues #298 to #328, is one of the best in comic history and made McFarlane a superstar. How can you go wrong starting your tenure by introducing Venom and then ending it with Spider-Man punching Hulk into outer space?
After his residency on Amazing Spider-Man, McFarlane went on to write and illustrate the fourth ongoing Spidey series, Spider-Man, in 1990. Spider-Man #1 went on to be one of the best-selling comics of all time with 2.5 million copies sold, a feat that is both unimaginable and probably impossible by today’s standards. To say that the series was a popular success is an understatement.
As a child of the 1990s, I can tell you McFarlane and Spider-Man #1 were everything back then. His work definitely made me and many others fall in love with comics. I still have my Gold Spider-Man #1 that my father gave me for Christmas that year and was managed to pull a 9.8 exactly 30 years later. I wanted the Platinum Edition, but if my memory serves me right, that was 200 dollars at the time and there was no way they were handing that to an 8-year-old. These variants still hold a special place in a lot of people’s hearts, and if this applies to you, I hope the following helps clear up any questions you might have.
What is a Comic Book “Variant”?
What exactly is a comic variant? This is a question that has become a little muddied in the last few years. For a long time, a variant was a comic book that simply, and intentionally, had various different covers. The first comic book with a variant was Man of Steel #1 in 1986. This issue had two distinctly different covers, one sold on newsstands and one sold in comic shops. Another common example would be Jim Lee’s X-Men #1 with its four different versions, five if you include the gatefold collectors edition.
Newsstands were also simply considered first prints sold on, guess what, newsstands. They were never described as variants until the last couple of years. You’ll often see the phrase “direct variant’ in listings now. I am not even sure what that means, but I digress, and for the purposes of this article and to avoid even more confusion, I will consider all of the books discussed as variants, newsstands included.
So how many variants are there for Spider-Man #1?
If you include all intentionally different covers, direct editions, newsstands, and polybagged collectors editions, there are a total of Eight Spider-Man #1 variants. Why does this matter? Well while many of the differences between these covers are extremely subtle, some are much rarer than the others. Rarity equals higher fair market values. Most importantly, who among us doesn’t like to hunt down rarer books?
Don’t feel bad if Spider-Man #1 confuses you. This comic confuses everyone from grading companies to YouTubers to eBayers. Sellers often incorrectly describe these comics in their listings. CGC often does not designate a difference between these issues, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t as collectors. CGC also mislabels many of these a solid 50% of the time, which can be to your benefit if you have a detail-oriented eye. The problem is that back in 1990, variants were new and there was no Comichron to give us print runs. Much of the information we have today is from retailers active at that time or from McFarlane’s website and all of that information is less than crystal clear. Now that we have the background info out of the way, let’s take a look at these many Spider-Man #1 variations.
Direct No Polybag Green Edition
The Direct Green Edition was sold in comic shops and did not come in a polybag. It is identifiable by its green/yellow background, grey webs, and Spider-Man face in the UPC box. One of the problems with identifying this issue is that it has been lumped together with the other green editions by everyone including Marvel, comic distributors, sellers, and grading companies, making it hard to pin down print runs and CGC populations. Combined with the direct polybagged green edition and green newsstand, it has a print run of 1 million copies.
CGC does not differentiate between these various Green Editions, as they were all considered the same thing until very recently: first prints. CGC, unfortunately, does not differentiate between newsstands and direct edition comics to this day minus a few exceptions, one of them being the Gold UPC variant below. With a graded population of over 9,000, this edition is one of the most common, explaining its current FMV of $120.
Polybagged Newsstand Green Edition
The Newsstand Green Edition of Spider-Man #1 was sold in polybags on newsstands and spinner racks in grocery stores and airports. It can be identified by its green/yellow background, grey webs, and the UPC if the polybag has been removed.
While CGC may not differentiate between these various green editions in their census, newsstands made up 15% of Marvel’s comic book sales in 1990. We can estimate that there are 150k of these, give or take, out of the 1 million “green background” print run.
The smaller print run of this “variant” is why this issue demands a premium of $220 dollars in a 9.8. Personally, I don’t think it’s rare enough to command that price. I would stick to other editions unless you really love barcodes that much. If you’re going to buy an overprinted 90’s comic, at least go with the foil.
Direct Polybagged Purple Webs Green Edition
The webs of the Green Purple Webs Edition is where things get a little sticky. Sorry/not sorry for the bad pun. This issue is nearly identical to the first green edition above when removed from its polybag, causing confusion for sellers, buyers, and grading companies alike. It has the same green/yellow background, also has Spider-Man in the UPC box, and was also sold in comic shops as opposed to newsstands.
The difference is in the webs. The webs of this variant are a deep purple. While the picture here may not do them justice, if you see them in person you will notice the stark contrast between them and the dull grey of the other green issues. I find this edition more aesthetically pleasing than the others. The purple really pops with the green/yellow background.
This is one of the variants of Spider-Man #1 that CGC will consistently mess up with their grading. If you’re specifically looking for this edition, ignore the slab and make sure to check the webs. This variant will often not have a polybag designation on the CGC label, while the no bag version will often say “polybag removed” on the label when it never had one in the first place.
The Silver Variant of Spider-Man #1 is distinguishable with its black background, silver foil webbing, price in the corner box, and lack of a polybag. It is one of the most common, if not the most common, editions of this comic. With an estimated 1 million copies in circulation, you can find these things everywhere. They were readily available in dollar bins for years and probably still are if you get lucky. Sellers would often give them away for free with sales. I still have 5 copies from childhood and have probably had as many as 20 copies of this pass through my hands over the years.
Considering how many copies of this are floating around, I wouldn’t look to this one as an investment either. That being said, it is still one of my favorite editions of this comic. McFarlane art looks great slabbed on a wall, so it can’t hurt to grab a 9.8 while graded copies still hover around $100.
Gold Edition (2nd Print)
The Gold Edition 2nd Print is discernible from other editions by its lack of a polybag, black background, gold foil, and Spider-Man in the UPC box. This edition had a massive print run of 450,000 copies, a number that is nothing to sneeze at although smaller than some of the other variants.
Unlike the green editions of this book, CGC has designated the Gold Variant from the others with its own unique CGC population. There are 4,719 copies on the CGC census and 1,830 Universal 9.8s.
Not a rare book at all, but rarer than the green and silver variants. An FMV of $230 dollars for a 9.8 makes this book a fun pick-up that won’t break the bank.
Polybagged “No Price” Silver Variant
The Polybagged, “No Price” Silver Variant is identifiable from the standard silver edition, if removed from its polybag, by the lack of a price in the corner box. It has a lower print run compared to the other Silver Edition, coming in at 125,000 copies, making it much more rare. This scarcity is reflected in its CGC population with a total of 1,396 copies and only 278 9.8s. Polybags will leave marks on the backs of books over time, which combined with the lower print run, might help explain this lower 9.8 population.
Considering the low CGC population, this book is extremely undervalued. It is often lumped in with the other Silver variant by collectors despite its distinct CGC population. Graded 9.8 copies were readily available for a mere 75$ one year ago, but it seems like this sleeper pick is getting some traction with recent sales breaking 200$. CGC regularly makes mistakes when grading this book and sellers often incorrectly list it, so keep an eye out when searching on eBay or go double-check your collection. You might have one already and not know it.
The infamous Platinum Spider-Man #1 variant is easily distinguishable from the other editions with its platinum-colored foil webbing and title as well as the oversized “1” in the corner box. You will often see sellers incorrectly and deliberately describe the silver edition as platinum in order to trick buyers. Not only do they look completely different, but the standard silver edition has a print run 100 times higher than the Platinum and a much, much lower FMV.
The Platinum was a retailer exclusive sent to stores as a thank you for their business and was accompanied by a letter which you will often see accompanying listings for this book. It had a print run of 10,000 according to the letter, making it one of the rarer of all the variants and arguably the most sought after. The letter states that even in 1990, it had a “street value’ of $400. Having lived through it, I can tell you this was the comic that everyone wanted back then.
This 90s grail has a unique CGC population of 1,833 copies, with only 124 Universal 9.8s and 288 9.6s. This book was relatively undervalued for a long time considering its rarity. At the start of the pandemic, I was looking at graded 9.6 copies for $550 to $650, but that ship has since sailed as 9.6s regularly sell for north of $1000 now. Still a smart investment? I think so given the low population of high grade copies and its enduring popularity.
Walmart UPC Gold Edition
The Walmart UPC Gold Edition of Spider-Man #1 is easily distinguishable from the Gold Second Print by the UPC in the corner. Exclusively sold at Walmarts, this variant has an estimated print run of under 10,000, making it the most rare of all. The UPC Gold edition is one of the only newsstands given a designation on the CGC label and a distinctive CGC population. The scarcity of this variant is reflected in its very own CGC population with only 604 graded copies total, 149 Universal 9.8s and 86 9.6s.
Higher grade copies of the Gold UPC variant have experienced a 100% increase like many comics in the past two years. Considering the rarity of this variation, I still like it as a blue chip long term hold. You can’t miss with rare, iconic McFarlane covers often chased down by nostalgic 40-somethings. If you’re up for the hunt, you can still find these out in the wild at flea markets and in thrift stores being sold by people that don’t know the UPC makes all the difference.
For the sake of being thorough, I thought I’d briefly discuss my favorite Spider-Man #1 reprint, the “chromium” Marvel Collectible Classics #2. This reprint from 1998 had a low print run of 7,500 and has all the cheesy foil goodness you can ask for from a comic from the 1990s.
I’m a sucker for foil, and with only 310 9.8s on the CGC census, this comic has a lot of appeal. While you’re at it, you might want to check out it’s sibling, Marvel Collectible Classics #1, the chromium reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #300.
Wrapping up this Web
Do you have any information on Spider-Man #1 that I left out and would like to contribute? Did I get confused myself and smudge some of the numbers/facts? Which is your favorite variant and why? Leave a comment below and let’s sort this out together. Thanks for reading!