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July 16, 2012

Comic-Con frenzy: Why did one Marvel issue go from $60 to $6,000?

Posted in: Comic-Con,Comics

iron man 55 strip Comic Con frenzy: Why did one Marvel issue go from $60 to $6,000?

Jim Starlin’s work in the cover image of a key 1972 issue of “Iron Man.” (Marvel Comics)

You hear a lot of bizarre alien conversation at Comic-Con International, but the strangest one I heard this year was between a vintage comics dealer and a shocked collector asking about a nice copy of “Iron Man” No. 55, the February 1973 issue that features the first appearance of Thanos.

“I’m asking $6,000 for it,” the dealer said Sunday afternoon without irony or wink. “I know that’s high — hey, that’s really high — but that’s next year’s price.”

The issue was a nice one (a slabbed copy, a certified 9.6 grade in appraised condition), but that sounded like an example of galaxy-level overpricing to me. I walked over to an adjacent booth where I saw a familiar face, Ted VanLiew, the owner of the Hampton, Mass.-based Superworld. He seemed only mildly shocked by the Never Never Land negotiation and the number of zeros involved. A year or two after you could buy a decent copy of the issue for $60, there’s a frenzy for it.

iron man 553 Comic Con frenzy: Why did one Marvel issue go from $60 to $6,000?

“Iron Man” No. 55 was the first appearance of Thanos. (Marvel Studios).

“That is the chosen book this year,” VanLiew said. “It tends to rotate by the year or the season, and it depends on the activity in Hollywood with the films or [if in the comics] there’s a new story line and an existing character is getting new attention. And — spoiler alert — after everyone saw the Avengers movie and the end of it, ‘Iron Man’ No. 55 is that book.”

If you’ve seen “The Avengers,” you know that Thanos makes a tiny but memorable inter-dimensional cameo. If you haven’t seen “The Avengers,” well, why are you this far into an Internet story with Marvel in the headline? The Joss Whedon-directed movie has made $1.5 billion in worldwide box office, and the unfinished-business vibe of the Thanos appearance has made Marvel fans believe he is poised to become the Darth Vader figure in the Marvel Universe on screen.

“You know it was going to go up after that, but it’s just rocketed to the moon in a way I didn’t see coming,” VanLiew said. “I had a 9.4 certified  copy that I sold here for $1,200, which was a bargain, the guy just snapped it up because they’re going to $1,600 or $1,700 online now. But $6,000? I think he’s getting a little happy there.”

What about Guardians of the Galaxy? On Saturday, Marvel Studios let go of the worst-kept secret in Hollywood when studio President Kevin Feige confirmed that the lesser-known team of interstellar heroes is getting its own film and that it would be released in August 2014. The Guardians first appeared in 1969 but got a major reinvention in 2008 (and the membership in the movie is more beholden to the 2008-launched mythology, with Star-Lord, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon and Groot), so on the vintage market the impact has been less bombastic than the Thanos example.

But VanLiew said a four-issue story arc that began in an August 1975 issue of “The Defenders” might be the next bags-and-boards sensation. “The issues of ‘The Defenders’ No. 26-29 with the Guardians of the Galaxy and intergalactic story line, those are the ones that guys are starting to ask for. They’re dirt cheap in the guide — they are like $10-12 — but take my word, in the next few months those are going to go nuts. So start looking.”

— Geoff Boucher

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