Comic books are best known for featuring superhero and supervillain stories. Most comic books are quite expensive.
The top two names, Marvel Comics and DC Comics have their characters in specific universes where we are led to believe that all the characters live or have lived in the same place and time.
This gets a little confusing as there are many renditions of popular characters and their stories change over generations.
Some books are so rare that they haven’t exchanged hands in Near Mint condition in a generation. While this list holds very few surprises as to which books make the cut, you will be surprised by exactly how much they have sold for.
This article will highlight the 10 most expensive comic books in the world.
Types of Comic Books
These are a few predominate types of comic book types:
10 most expensive comic books in the world
Here are the 10 most expensive comic books in the world.
1. “Action Comics” #1
Many people see this as the “holy grail” of comic book collectibles (although a good case could be made that “Detective Comics” #27 is the true holy grail of comic book collectibles.
If you rank the biggest individual sales of comic books, “Action Comics” #1, featuring the debut of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s historic Superman will take up most of the spots on such a top ten list, with an astonishing four different copies having sold for a million dollars or more.
It has a 9.0 CGC ranking selling on eBay in 2014 for over three million dollars making it the most expensive comic book in the world.
2. “Amazing Fantasy” #15
We can’t talk about the relative value of comics until the cows come home. But, at the end of the day, when these things go to auction, you never know just how much people are going to bid, and sometimes the results will surprise you.
Like this copy of “Amazing Fantasy” #15 by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, the first appearance of Spider-Man sold for over a million dollars in 2011, making it the second most expensive comic book in the world.
Experts certainly were expecting a very high total, but considering that the record for a Silver Age comic book at the time was under $300,000, this comic going for over a million was quite the shocker.
3. “Detective Comics” #27
Never has the vagaries of grading when it comes to the sales of valuable comic book collectibles been quite so acute as the fact that “Detective Comics” #27, containing the first appearance of Batman, is only the third-ranked book on this list.
This is after initially setting the record for the most expensive comic book of all time when it sold in late 2010.
No one has sold a copy of “Detective Comics” #27 above an 8.0 ranking in the modern era. The Chuch Collection copy is graded at an 8.5 and it hasn’t been on the market since 1994 (when it sold for $125,000!).
There are a handful of 9.0 copies and above out there, and if they ever went to market, they would sell for a lot more than $1,075,000, making it one of the most expensive comic books in the world.
There is a good case to say that a theoretical 9.2 “Detective Comics” #27 is the most valuable comic book in existence.
4. “Batman” #1
This is the fifth most expensive comic book in the world.
An energetic bidding war in 2013 led to this classic comic.
The first issue of Batman’s ongoing series and the first appearance of both the Joker and Catwoman, becoming one of the very few comic books in history to ever crack the $500,000 barrier.
5. “X-Men” #1
The effects of the slight grade increase are evident in this 2012 sale of the first issue of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s “X-Men” series.
As the previous copy sold was a 9.6 that sold for a little less than half the price of this copy, which is the highest graded book of any of the comics on this top ten list.
This comic book sold for $492,937.50 making it one of the most expensive comic books in the world.
6. “Flash Comics” #1
Now would be a good time to discuss Edgar Church. The church was a commercial artist and avid collector of pulp magazines and comic books.
Due to where he lived in Colorado, his basement worked as a sort of humidor, keeping the books in stunning condition.
Most of the best quality Golden Age comics in the world come from his collection (most of which were purchased by Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics, leading to books from this collection being referred to as either being from the “Mile High Collection” or the “Church Collection.”
This copy of “Flash Comics” #1, the first appearance of the Golden Age Flash and Hawkman, is from this collection. It sold in 2010 for what was, at the time, the second-largest amount of any comic book ever.
This comic book sold for $450,000 making it one of the most expensive comic books in the world.
7. “Tales Of Suspense” #39
Speaking of grading, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s “Tales of Suspense” #39, the first appearance of Iron Man, is a major example of the effects of a high grade on major collectibles.
This 2012 sale was likely also buoyed by the attention that Iron Man has been given as a movie character in the years since the first Robert Downey Jr. film was released.
This comic book is worth $375,000 making it one of the most expensive comic books in the world.
8. “Marvel Comics” #1
The advent of the comic book grading industry at the turn of the 21st Century is what has driven the recent explosion in the comic book auction market.
Thus, it is important to note that “Marvel Comics” #1 (the first comic book published by the comic company that would eventually become Marvel Comics, and also the first appearances of both Namor and the original Human Torch) is only this low on the list because the highest-graded copy sold is “just” a 9.0.
The typical rule of thumb is that prices double for every 0.2 after a 9.0.
When you add in the fact that this copy sold in 2003, a higher graded copy of this comic will very likely eventually end up at the highest end of this list (similarly, “All-American Comics” #16, the first appearance of Green Lantern, isn’t even on the top 10 list, but when the next 9.0 or better copy goes on the market, it almost assuredly will end up very high).
This comic book supposedly sold for $367,000 making it the eighth-most expensive comic book in the world.
9. “Captain America Comics” #1
If people think that Nick Spencer’s “Captain America” is too political, you would think that they’d be shocked by the first issue of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s “Captain America Comics,” which features their creation punching the leader of a country that the United States was not even at war with at the time.
The comic became a sensation, leading to death threats against the two young Jewish comic creators. This copy was sold in 2011. It sold for $343,057 making it one of the most expensive comic books in the world.
10. “Incredible Hulk” #1
Perhaps the hottest collectible comic book in recent years has been the first appearance of the Incredible Hulk in this 1962 comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
There is only one copy known to exist that is graded better than the 9.2 that sold in August of 2014.
That sale followed another 9.2 copy selling in June for $320,000 making it one of the most expensive comic books in the world.
Yes, twice in a matter of months people paid over $300,000 for the Hulk’s first appearance!
This big leap in the price for the comic (the $326,000 copy sold for less than half that five years earlier) has led to a multitude of other copies of this comic going to market, with prices rising for copies of all sorts of conditions.
Ages of comic books
Here are the different ages of comic books.
Platinum Age: 1897-1938
Published in 1897, The Yellow Kid in McFadden’s Flats is the first comic book, in so much that it bore the phrase “comic book” on its back cover.
Although images of caricatures with related wording have existed since the Middle Ages, comics gained popularity through publication in the British humor magazine, Punch, where several Golden Age illustrators honed their craft.
Richard F. Outcault’s The Yellow Kid became so popular that in 1896 it was drawn in two different newspapers by two different artists at the same time—William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal American by Yellow Kid creator Outcault, and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World by artist George Luks—driving up sales of both newspapers.
The use of sequential panels and word balloons in the comic strip had a tremendous influence on the future of cartoons and the comic book industry.
Far from the full-color glossy comic books of today, The Yellow Kid in McFadden’s Flats featured black and white reprints of popular newspaper comic strips.
Subsequent comic-strip compilation books included reprints of The Katzenjammer Kids, Happy Hooligan, Buster Brown, and Mutt & Jeff.
The first monthly comic book, aptly titled Comics Monthly, began publication in 1922, though it also featured reprints of daily newspaper comic strips. In 1933, Funnies On Parade became the first color comic book printed in the now-standard size of 6 5/8 x 10 1/4 inches.
In February 1935, DC Comics’ precursor, National Allied Publications, published New Fun #1—the company’s first comic book and the first-ever comic book consisting of completely original material.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, soon to be known for creating Superman, began working on New Fun in October 1935. In the March 1937 edition of Detective Comics #1, Siegel and Shuster introduced their character Slam Bradley, the forebear of Superman.
Golden Age: 1938-1956
The Golden Age of Comic Books began in June 1938 with the debut of Superman in Action Comics #1. Batman premiered less than a year later in Detective Comics #27.
In October 1939, Marvel Comics’ predecessor, Timely Publications, released Marvel Comics #1 which included the Human Torch, Angel, and Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner.
Along with Fawcett Comics’ superhero Captain Marvel, DC Comics’ Flash and Green Lantern debuted in 1940.
Marvel’s Captain America and DC’s Wonder Woman were first published the following year.
The period from 1938 through the mid-1940s represents the peak of comic book popularity.
Whereas current monthly sales of popular comic book titles hover around 100,000 copies, in the early 1940s Superman, Batman, and Captain Marvel titles each regularly sold in the range of 1.5 million copies per month.
During the return to normalcy in post-war America, superhero comic books sales plummeted and many titles ceased publication.
Through the mid-1950s, the void was filled by comic books containing more serious themes such as crime, romance, Western, and horror. However, through this period comic books based on the Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman characters retained a modest audience.
Silver Age: 1956-1970
In 1954, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham wrote in his bestselling book Seduction of the Innocent that comic books of all types were corrupting the youth of America.
Wertham posited that Superman represented fascist ideals, Batman and Robin promoted a homosexual lifestyle, and Wonder Woman was a lesbian with a bondage fixation.
Members of Congress were so alarmed that they called Wertham to testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.
Sensing public backlash, that same year comic book publishers created the Comics Code Authority to self-regulate their industry, much as the Motion Picture Association of America was formed to prevent government involvement in film production.
The Code set several requirements for comic books:
- “In every instance, good shall triumph over evil…”
- “If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.”
- “Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.”
- “…vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism and werewolfism are prohibited.”
Subsequently canceling many horrors, crime, and romance titles that violated the Code, comic book companies began publishing comic books featuring superheroes from the Golden Age. They revamped existing superheroes and created new superhero characters.
The return of Flash, albeit an updated version of Flash, in Showcase #4 (October 1956) marks the beginning of the Silver Age, when superhero comic books saw a renewed commercial success.
The late 1950s through the 1960s saw a change from dark and supernatural comic book themes to the other end of the spectrum with books containing silly plots and a high degree of camp.
Such plots involved Superbaby and “The Super-Monkey from Krypton” in Superboy #76 (October 1959) and Batman and Robin teaming up with comedian Jerry Lewis to fight the Joker in Jerry Lewis #97 (December 1966).
Heralding the outrageousness of the Batman television series in the mid-1960s, Batman comic books introduced ridiculous characters such as Batbaby, Bat-Ape, Bat-Mite, and Ace the Bat-Hound.
Also during this time, taking the place of serious villains to battle Superman, numerous forms of kryptonite were brought forth—gold, blue, Jewel, red-green, Magno, red-gold kryptonite, and Kryptonite Plus.
Bronze Age; 1970-1985
The Bronze Age signaled a more realistic style within comic books as a younger generation of artists, including Neal Adams, John Byrne, George Perez, Frank Miller, and others, replaced aging artists who had helped to create the superhero comic books of the 1930s and 1940s.
The beginning of the Bronze Age of comic books is marked by the shocking murder of Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy at the hands of the Green Goblin in Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 (June-July 1973).
In a genre where heroes are relied upon to surmount almost any challenge, it was revolutionary to illustrate the brutal murder of an innocent character alongside the ultimate failure of her anticipated savior.
In 1971, the Comics Code Authority relaxed some standards, going so far as to state, “Vampires, ghouls, and werewolves shall be permitted to be used when handled in the tradition …”
This more lenient attitude allowed for the return of the horror comic genre, including titles such as The Tomb of Dracula in 1972 and Ghost Rider and Tales of the Zombie in 1973. Additional supernatural characters Man-Bat, Swamp Thing, and Blade were introduced in the early 1970s.
In addition, socially conscious stories became more numerous in the 1970s, most famously during the collaborative adventures of Green Lantern and Green Arrow as they fought against racism, pollution, and social injustice.
Green Arrow also confronted his sidekick Speedy’s heroin addiction while Iron Man came to terms with his alcoholism.
Understanding that a vast majority of their superheroes were Caucasian men, DC and Marvel introduced a slew of minority superheroes such as Storm, Black Lightning, Blade, and the Green Lantern John Stewart.
Dark Age: 1985-1996
Kicking off the Dark Age of comic books was the publication of the monumental series Crisis on Infinite Earths.
To commemorate DC Comics’ 50th anniversary, DC published Crisis on Infinite Earths as a 12-issue comic book event.
In this series, DC planned to clear up decades of plot inconsistencies, as well as bring together conflicting characters from the Golden Age and the Silver Age.
The idea was to have multiple alternate realities brought together to make one consistent reality, as in reconciling how Green Lantern Alan Scott from the 1940s can exist in the same reality as Green Lantern Hal Jordan of the 1960s.
To wit, the Justice Society of the 1940s (with their Green Lantern) could exist at the same time as the Justice League of the 1960s (with a different Green Lantern).
To solve some of the inconsistencies, certain major characters were killed off, and characters long out of play were brought back with new storylines. Ultimately Crisis on Infinite Earths was a major success for DC Comics.
From the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, anti-heroes were popular. Dark, pessimistic stories reigned, as in Alan Moore’s Watchmen, where a world looks down on once-mighty superheroes, or in Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns where a 55-year-old Batman has retired from crime-fighting, leaving criminals to terrorize Gotham City.
Readers witnessed Superman dying, Batman becoming critically injured, and Green Lantern Hal Jordan slaughtering his fellow Green Lanterns.
The Dark Age also saw the publication of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus, Art Spiegelman’s moving, autobiographical tale of a Jewish family in Poland living through the reign of Nazi Germany.
This period ended with a massive sales slump and industry downsizing caused by a speculator’s market where excess merchandise, too many collector’s editions, and too many series were produced in an inflated market.
The sales slump contributed to the bankruptcy of Marvel Comics in 1996.
Modern Age: 1996-Present
The publication of Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come in 1996, which harkened back to the optimism and strength of Silver Age superheroes, marks the beginning of the Modern Age.
During this period, comic book publishers attempted to rectify their mistakes by creating a leaner business plan and putting more effort into a fewer number of projects.
Following the dismal failure of the motion picture Batman and Robin (1997), superhero films were put on ice for retooling.
In 2000, the modest success of The X-Men helped put the popularity of the superhero movie back on track.
“Action Comics” #1 is worth more than three million dollars
1897, platinum age
The Yellow Kid in McFadden’s Flats
Vincent Zurzolo holds Action Comics #1, which sold recently for $3.25 million, making it the most expensive comic ever sold.
Your Local Comic Shop
Those are the most expensive comic books in the world. It is still possible that there are even more expensive comic books out there waiting to be uncovered, who knows.