What Makes a Comic a Key Issue?

by Joseph Overaitis

Key-Issue-300x157 What Makes a Comic a Key Issue?I have had several people ask me what makes a comic book a key issue.  This is such a simple question and yet knowing the answer can help you in the long run. I will be focusing on major keys.  That is your first lesson; not all keys are created equal.

I. The First Appearance

eyJidWNrZXQiOiJnb2NvbGxlY3QuaW1hZ2VzLnB1YiIsImtleSI6IjM2ZjdkOGY1LWNhMmItNGUxZC1hZjQ1LTQ5MTY0MWI4MDlhNi5qcGciLCJlZGl0cyI6W119-200x300 What Makes a Comic a Key Issue?I will not get into the cameo or first appearance distinction.  You can read a blogger dome on that topic.  Instead, let us then look at why these books are key issues. Any time something happens for the first time it is important.  First appearances in comic books are very important.  This can be the first appearance of a character or even the first appearance of a character that has not been seen in a while.

Many collectors can not afford the first Golden Age appearance of Catwoman.  As a result, Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #70 is a book many investors and collectors consider a key.  It is the first Silver Age appearance of Catwoman.  The Lois Lane title is an underappreciated series that rarely draws interest from collectors and investors. The first Silver Age appearance of Catwoman is an exception to that rule because this issue is a key for both Silver Age and Batman collectors.

A first appearance can also be a character or object who does not appear to be important at the time.  Avengers #66 is not an issue that many hobbyists would consider a key.  The irony is that this issue features a key first appearance ignored by my collectors and investors.  Ultron is the featured villain of this story.  Part of what makes this character formidable is his outer shell is made of ….Adamantium!  This is a compound that becomes extremely significant a few years later when this metal appears on a truly iconic character’s claws. A book that may seem insignificant years ago may be extremely important in the future.

II. Significant Event

eyJidWNrZXQiOiJnb2NvbGxlY3QuaW1hZ2VzLnB1YiIsImtleSI6ImIwNDE1ZTYyLTgxODYtNDk2Mi1hOGRjLWM1MzI3ODdjMGRlNC5qcGciLCJlZGl0cyI6W119-197x300 What Makes a Comic a Key Issue?An iconic moment in comics is also considered a key issue.  I had a friend who always had a great fondness for Amazing Spider-Man #121.  This issue has a classic cover that foreshadows the death of a major character.  That character was Gwen Stacy.  This event becomes even more significant when it is revealed that she died because of the whiplash effect that resulted from our hero trying to save her from a fall.   The tragedy of this event affected our hero for years to come.  It also affected readers who debated with great fervor, Mary Jane or Gwen.  This debate was second only to the fandom choice of Mary Ann or Ginger.

Artists can also create significant events in comic books.  Green Lantern/ Green Arrow #76 marks the first Neal Adams work on the title.  Adams introduced a peek into the real world in his work.  Drugs and race were subjects of his landmark work in this run, but it is issue #76 that collectors desire.  The significance was not in a fantasy world, but the work of a truly talented artist drawing our reality into that world.  Mention the name Neal Adams and the first thing many people think of is the iconic cover of Green Lantern/ Green Arrow #76.

III. First Issue

eyJidWNrZXQiOiJnb2NvbGxlY3QuaW1hZ2VzLnB1YiIsImtleSI6ImQ2NDM2OGRmLWM5Y2QtNGM5OC04MzI4LTVlNDQyOTU2ZDIwMi5qcGciLCJlZGl0cyI6W119-196x300 What Makes a Comic a Key Issue?The first of anything is important.  That is never more true than in dealing with comic books. The first issue of any title run is usually highly valued and coveted.  First issues may contain the first appearance of characters like New Gods #1.  This first issue had multiple first appearances and was the introduction of a new universe by a noted comic book artist.  I always consider this the gold standard of first issues in displaying how the first issue of a comic book is a key book.

First issues of a title also mean a character has arrived in the comic book world.  Black Panther #1 was not the first appearance of the Black Panther.  This issue is important because it is evidence that the publishers believed in the character so much that they created a title to feature him. Major events could happen later in the series, but a first issue is usually considered a key issue of the title.

This rule is known by collectors and investors.  It is also known by publishers who can take advantage of this fact. Be wary of first issues with very large print runs.  Even key first issues could have their investment potential diminished by large print runs. This is the classic “supply vs demand” model at play.

IV. Warning about Keys

eyJidWNrZXQiOiJnb2NvbGxlY3QuaW1hZ2VzLnB1YiIsImtleSI6IjFiY2FlZGY4LTExMjItNGVhNS04YmIyLTc2NjkxNWZlZjM5ZS5qcGciLCJlZGl0cyI6W119-196x300 What Makes a Comic a Key Issue?Publishers produced comic books to make money.  They also realize that key issues can draw interest in a title where none existed before.  Publishers can take advantage of this by producing extremely large print runs that could impact the long-term investment potential of a book.

The death of a character is also a key issue that interests collectors and investors.  The death of Superman was mentioned in mainstream media.  Every collector had to have a copy so the publishers made this possible.  Normally the death of a character is a key and, thus, desirable. The problem is that such a large print run of this key affected the investment potential of this book.  Someone was going to make money off of this key book.  This time the money was made by the publishers and not the investors who bought this book.  Superman #75 is a key book. The problem is that the high print run has affected the value of this book.


If you are looking for a comic book to invest you may want to look at key issues.  These issues are important in one area to the hobby.  That means there will be a market for the book.  One must always remember, though, that just because a book is a key does not mean that it will be valuable. Other factors can influence if the book has investment potential.  High print runs can negatively impact the desirability of a book.  In contrast,  issues can be keys long after they are produced.  So many factors can influence the worthiness of keys, but that does not mean you should ignore these types of books.  Keys are important in starting your car, getting into your home, and giving you great books to invest in.

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johnnyspruce April 8, 2021 - 3:45 pm

What people don’t get is that not all key issues are not created equal. But right now, newer fans seem to think that. That’s why they paying higher than FMV for lower tier keys. Youtubers and sellers are trying to drill into the heads of these newcomers is that a key is a key and all keys are worth paying big money. This is not true.

Joseph Overaitis April 8, 2021 - 3:59 pm


As I said… not all keys are created equal. The problem is exactly what you said, sellers keep harping that books are keys. I have seen every star wars first appearance as a major key book. How is that possible? Keys are subjective and can change based upon the times. You have to learn what is a key and act accordingly.


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