The original six Hulk issues are some of the rarest and most valuable issues of all of Marvel’s major characters. But why were there only six issues? What happened back in 1962 and the years that followed that produced such scarcity and demand?
When I first got back into collecting as an adult a number of years ago, I knew some of the characters I wanted to start adding to my collection: Daredevil, Juggernaut, Colossus, and Incredible Hulk. It didn’t sound too daunting until I started looking at investing in some of the oldest Hulk books. The prices were simply staggering.
Back in my pre-teen and teenage collecting years I had no concept of Hulk’s origins in comics and how it was almost a swing and a miss by Marvel, but it’s not a stretch to say Hulk almost didn’t survive the Silver Age to become the uber-popular character he is now.
Let’s dive into the mysterious story of the green goliath to look at how we got here.
The Original Hulk Run
It was clear to Stan Lee and Marvel after only six issues of The Incredible Hulk (which ran from late 1962-early 1963) that it was a title that needed to be shelved. According to comic research site Comichron, Hulk does not appear in the top 40 titles in total sales in either 1962 or 1963.
A complicated story that provided no plot consistency led to low sales and even lower interest. In a couple issues Hulk only transformed at night, in a couple others he had to be exposed to gamma radiation each time the Hulk was to appear, and in the sixth issue in February 1963 he could finally become Hulk through anger and aggression. By that time it was just too late. They missed their shot with the first monster/anti-hero title.
This convoluted intro to Hulk didn’t catch on with kids and comic book buyers alike. According to this great description from Bomber-Bob, a collector who posted on the CGC site, it was simply a matter of priorities.
“Just to give a perception from a kid collecting comics at the time…..The price of comics had just gone up from 10 cents to 12 cents. A lot for a kid’s budget. You had to be selective and buy maybe one less book a week. DC was still bigger. In order to buy that Hulk #1, you had to put back one of your DC titles. Giving up a title you regularly read for a ‘monster’ book was a tough sell. Marvel’s other titles were coming on strong. The Amazing Spider-Man, Thor, and FF were much more appealing. Also, the Hulk didn’t have the personality.”
When your choices were Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, or Hulk, buyers made their voices heard with their 12 cents and didn’t immediately dive in. This lack of interest saw the character fade away after six issues, and he wouldn’t return for another seven months for just three issues as part of The Avengers (September 1963), and then not again as a regular until Tales to Astonish #60 in October 1964.
The Incredible Hulk title would not return until H
ulk #102 in April 1968 after the first volume of TTA wrapped up with TTA #101. TTA kickstarted his popularity, and the Hulk volume would then run non-stop until #474 in 1999 and has seen several reboots since.
This lack of attraction in the original six issues caused most copies to wind up either in the trash or remain on dime-store shelves. If you’re lucky enough to have any of these issues, you are likely looking at a valuable comic. How valuable? Let’s take a look.
While the total distribution and sales for Hulk #1 are not known, the title does only have about 1,800 total copies (blue, yellow, and green) on the CGC census. Compare that to 5,000 for X-Men #1, 3,400 for Amazing Fantasy #15, and 4,400 copies of Avengers #1, and you begin to see where scarcity comes into play in the high value of this book.
The last seven sales of a CGC 5.5 copy of this book averaged about $20,000. Copies of a CGC 1.0 have recently crossed $6,000. Compared to other Marvel holy grails, only Amazing Fantasy #15 beats those prices.
We know that the first appearance drives much of the value. None of the other five issues in the run has more than 1,200 in the CGC census. As a result, these books to follow are even rarer than this one.
The first appearance of the green Hulk in The Incredible Hulk #2 is certainly high up the list for his fans looking to obtain Hulk keys. Keeping with the confusing theme of the first six issues, no reason is given as to why he is green in this issue and not gray like in the premier.
While prices obviously don’t come close to issue #1, this book will still set you back over $2,500 for a CGC 5.5. What few copies exist of a CGC 1.0 are selling for more than $500. For some perspective, that’s the same as a similar grade of Hulk #181 – the first full appearance of Wolverine.
After the odd choice of the Toad-Men as the villains in issue #2, Marvel introduced Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime in The Incredible Hulk #3. Add in the fact that this issue is another retelling of the Hulk origin and it’s becoming quite clear why these didn’t sell.
A CGC 5.5 here is still going to be four figures, recently closing in on $1,100 in 2020. That amount can also get you the first appearance of the Punisher in Amazing Spider-Man #129 in a CGC 7.0. That’s a shocking comparison for a third appearance of a hero with no major other introductions. CGC 1.0 of this issue will set you back $300.
Hulk #4, Hulk #5 and Hulk #6
By The Incredible Hulk #4, we have no new major characters, a new villain named Mongu, and General Ross using an “iceberg rocket” against the Hulk. And yet, investors still must drop $600-$700 for a CGC 5.5 and $200+ for a CGC 1.0. It’s important to make another comparison here. The fourth appearance of Thor in Journey Into Mystery #86, which also includes the first appearance of Odin, sells for under $200 for a CGC 2.5. We are really starting to see scarcity play a major role here with less than 1,000 blue label CGC of issue #4 in existence.
Both The Incredible Hulk #5 and The Incredible Hulk #6 have fair market values north of $700 for CGC 5.5s and north of $150 for a CGC 1.0. Again, both have under 1,000 blue label issues on the CGC census. I can’t say that I have done an exhaustive search. However, I bet we would be hard-pressed to find a sixth appearance of a superhero that features no other major introductions that sells for these prices.
Hulk-sized Prices and Returns
A book I am currently on the hunt for is The Incredible Hulk #2. It’s certainly a tough one to acquire when shopping on a budget. I looked at the returns for this book over the past 10 years, though. Now I think that this might be a worthy piece to purchase despite the high price tag.
The GoCollect analyzer on this book is as green as the Hulk himself. Every grade in this book from 1.5 to 9.4 has appreciated by at least 16% in the last 10 years. Ten grades in that range have increased by more than 50%. I use this issue just as an example. You will see similar figures across all six issues of the original run.
Hold Your Hulks
The bottom line on these books is that while the story, plot, and execution in these books may be haphazard and confusing, scarcity rules the day here for collectors. Each one of these books is a stronghold right now. Don’t be afraid to pick one up if you find a good price while hunting.
Do you have these books? Let me know the future plans for your copies in the comments!
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Years ago I realized that these comics were undervalued and under appreciated. Yes the stories were hard to get through but I picked up copies 3 to 6 as these were ones I could find in higher grade and the price was right. Issue 2 was always hard to find in nice condition so I gave up as the prices, even then, were not cheap. issue 3 was slabbed at a 7.5. I was going to pick up issue 1 for $1,200 In 9.2 but the book was moderately restored. As I said I bought these many years ago. I decided to pick up TOS 39 instead for $1,500 in 9.0. Sometimes I wished I picked up the Hulk 1 instead but my friends said the right choice to buy was the TOS 39 as it wasn’t restored. I still think the Hulk 1 was the one to pick up even moderately restored. The book looked gorgeous. Today I couldn’t afford a low grade copy. This book is hard to find in good shape and affordable. You are right these books are hard to find and I agree hold onto these as long as possible. These books keep going up. I am going to use these books as part of my retirement nest egg.
Ryan…nice breakdown. I have been collecting Hulk for years. I am fortunate enough to own a 2, 3 and 6, all in decent condition, as well as the majority of the Tales to Astonish run. I did notice that you mentioned Hulk made his return in TTA 60, but it was in 59 that he made that triumphant return with that classic Hulk vs Giant-Man cover. Great to see those early Hulks getting some love. It seems it is only the die-hard collectors that even know about the first 6 issues. Great article.
This was a very interesting article. Thank you! I really enjoyed it and it gave me some additional appreciation behind these early Hulk issues!
Great blog. I started collecting comics at 14 (now 46) and the Hulk was always my favorite. By the time I was 18, I had every issue from 102-then present, including 180 & 181. I remember buying them for about $30, and even have 2 copies of 181. Wolverine was becoming super popular so I jumped at the chance to buy a second copy of 181 for $50. I continued to collect and hit a pause in 06, then started again in 07. Due to my military career, I wasn’t always consistent, but I have almost every issue of the main title. I might be missing 50 books +/-.
As any Hulk fan, issues #1-6 were a dream to own but I couldn’t afford them…until recently that is. Last year I acquired them between 3.5 and 7.0 CGC grades.
I don’t have any plans except for putting them on display in my man cave for now. Until then, I’m looking for extra copies so if I do sell them, Ill always have the set on display.