Every other Friday evening I make a pilgrimage to my local comic book shop, The Comic Hunter in Moncton, New Brunswick. On those evenings I spend my time going through their extensive back issue bins lost in the pure joy of the hunt. Sometimes, I’ll have a list of specific books I’m looking for, but most times, like this past Friday evening, I go into the store without an agenda and completely free to flip through comic after comic waiting for something to catch my eye.
And so it came to be that last Friday evening I found myself staring at an X-Men book I purchased two summers ago; a book that had more than doubled in value since. The thrill was intense – I had just won at the speculation game and I’m not talking about chump change. Not only did I make my money back, but my investment has earned me $80.00 on the value of the book in question: the first full appearance of Gambit in Uncanny X-Men #266.
Allow me to get my feelings concerning speculators within the comic collecting community straight, right away. I’ve collected comic books for more than twenty years. Along the way my collecting habits have changed, but it wasn’t until two years ago that I started buying Marvel comics. Before then, I only collected DC Comics. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Marvel, or that I’d never read a Marvel book, I have. I even liked them, a lot. However, my best friend really like Marvel, and I much preferred DC, so every Wednesday we would go to the comic shop together, get our new comics, and once we had read that weeks haul, we traded and read what each other had bought. Mine were DC books, his were Marvel.
That, my friends, is the purest essence of comic book collecting. Pooling resources and bounty with friends, collecting books not for any financial incentive, but for a pure love of comics. That is the foundation on which my collection of nearly 5000 books was built upon. Not the tawdry games of free market manipulation as speculators look to buy low and sell high. No turn around is too quick so long as the sweaty, greasy bastards make some coin on their initial investment.
If I haven’t been clear, I don’t much care for speculators.
When my son was born, I started thinking about building a collection specifically for him. I want to share that pure love of comic books with him, a father-son thing unto ourselves. Because, he’s already going to have to deal with 5000+ DC books, I decided to start him on his own Marvel collection. His collection will trace my youth, from the early 1990’s on.
Excited at the prospect of beginning this project of love for my son, I made my way to the Comic Hunter not long after he was born. As I flipped each bagged and boarded comic over I quickly learned that if I was going to achieve my goals for this collection I was going to have to accept a cold truth: to collect Marvel Comics is to take part in the speculation market. There is no escaping that fundamental truth. I have long despised the speculators in the comic book market, now I was forced to partake in their sordid honey-badgering.
Despite the funky taste it left in my mouth, I dismissed my reservations justifying wading into the sordid, fetid waters of the speculator market. First, the easiest and most bulletproof justification of the two: this collection was for my son. Nuf’ said, right? Second, I take my collection seriously, and being a trained historian, I curate my collection with an eye for historical significance. What constitutes ‘historical significance’ to me is a very flexible concept, but generally speaking it would include important story-arcs or events, deaths, costume changes, new artists, writers, editors, etc. There are titles and stories that are important for their commentary on larger social issues, or for capturing and reflecting the zeitgeist of American pop-culture. The list goes on.
Those guiding principals have served my DC collection well. There are a number of issues in there that I am very proud of, such as my first printing, Very Fine condition issue of New Gods #1; or, my the complete run of Crisis on Infinite Earths; or my complete run of “A Death in the Family” in which Jason Todd, the second Robin is murdered by the Joker; or, my complete run of the cross-over story line “A Lonely Place of Dying”.
Although they aren’t the most valuable comics in my collection, “A Lonely Place of Dying” is probably one of the most, if not the most important story written throughout the entire inter-Crisis years. I would go further to argue that “A Lonely Place of Dying” is one of the most important story-arcs in DC’s publishing history.
Without it there is no Tim Drake, Without Tim Drake there is no Robin as an entire generation of comic and Batman fans have come to know the character today. The DCU, and the Bat-mythos during the inter-Crisis years would be completely unrecognizable without Tim Drake. There may have been no Young Justice, or Teen Titans without Drake, and if there was, they too would be completely different without the boy trained by the Bat.
These are landmark issues, their importance cannot be understated.
The purpose of listing those examples from my collection is to eventually illustrate a point about speculation. The most expensive of those books listed was New Gods #1, a title that I spent $80.00 to acquire. The various Crisis books hovered around $5.00 to $8.00 with the obvious exception of issues seven and eight in which Kara Zor-el, the original Supergirl first introduced in Action Comics #252 in May 1959, and the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, who first appeared in Showcase #4 in October 1956, were killed. For those books I paid no more then $30.00 for either one, give or take a couple bucks.
The same is true for the issues that comprise “A Death in the Family” – an arc that would become a bedrock moment in the fictional foundation of DCU … well, most were under $5.00 with the exception of the ‘death’ issue; that ran me $24.00.
As for “A Lonely Place to Die” – those most crucial and collectable issues that defined the Boy Wonder for a generation of fans – Batman #440, the first appearance of Tim Drake, I bought it for $8.00. The first appearance of Tim Drake in the Robin costume, Batman #442, I bought it for $11.00.
I felt like sobbing then, I still do.
To beat a dead horse even more, Tim Drake is the second longest serving Robin, the first being Dick Grayson. His popularity among young fans like myself at the time would support a solo self-titled series that ran for more than one hundred and forty issues between 1993 and 2009. As hinted at above, Tim would also become a leader of both Young Justice and the Teen Titans.
The importance of the father-son relationship that developed and was tested over time humanized Wayne. When Batman is unable to save Tim’s father from being murder by Captain Boomerang in 2004’s Identity Crisis, the raw emotional response from both men is built upon two decades of fighting crime side by side in the alleys of Gotham City and a love for one another as unconditional as any relationship between father ans son.
Within the DCU, in his role as son to Bruce, as Robin to Batman, within the Bat-family, and as leader of young titans like Superboy, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl, Tim Drake is not just a side kick, he is one of the most important and consequential characters in DC’s seven decade publishing history.
By comparison, Gambit became a fan favorite and an extremely important character within the X-Men mythos throughout the 1990’s and on, but the Marvel Universe could have proceeded without Gambit.
To be fair to Gambit, he was extremely popular in the 1990’s. The romantic relationship that developed between he and Rogue is essential to the way team dynamics played out in both The Uncanny X-Men and X-Men. If you are an X-Men fan and if you collected comics throughout the 1990’s then the love story between Gambit and Rogue and the extreme lengths they would go for one another based on that love is crucially important to the X-Men mythos.
It is also a tale that is largely confined to the X-Men titles, and unlike Tim Drake none of those story lines would influence larger Marvel events.
I bought Tim’s first appearance two months ago for $5.00. By comparison, I bought Gambit’s first full appearance – Uncanny X-Men #262 – two years ago for $60.00, I found a copy in the back issue bins on my last trip and found that Uncanny X-Men #262 was now selling for $200.00.
There is only one reason Gambit’s first appearance has exploded in value, Sony is making an independent X-Man film about the character and Hollywood star Channing Tatum is set in the lead role. That movie has been plagued by obstacles from the start. At one point Channing Tatum announced that he was leaving the film, only to change his mind quickly after. As of July, 2017 Tatum was on the record stating that the film is restarting from scratch.
For those who might venture the ‘wait and see’ argument. You’d be correct that Sony has managed to consistently do very good X-Men films, and they’ve already proven they can hit a solo-film based around Wolverine, so maybe there is reason to hope.
So, sure, Sony could hit Gambit out of the park. The odds are just as likely, based on Sony’s track record that the film could be absolute shite.
In the interest of fairness, I do also have to acknowledge that Robin has yet to show up in the new DC Extended Cinematic Universe (DCEU). Whether it will be Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, or Damian is too early to know. There are zero rumors that I’m aware of today speculating about Robin and who the Boy Wonder will be under the mask. If it’s Jason Todd, Tim Drake, or Damian Wayne I might be in for a big windfall.
See, speculating is so very addictive…
There is a difference between a collector and a speculator. A collector curates a collection according to their own personal tastes. A speculator buys only those issues where the potential for a quick return on investment is possible. Speculators are attracted to first appearances and death issues like June Bugs around a porch light, and in the process the true value of the issue to a collector is obscured by the speculative market which plays by it’s own rules of free market demand.
Without a doubt the Marvel Cinematic Universe is fueling this new wave of speculation in the comic book market. Every movie they’ve put out has been near perfect, and the darker, gritter Netflix shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron First, and most recently, The Defenders) have found an ideal platform to present their street level super-heroes. An issue of Alias #1 (2001) with a cover price of $2.99 USD, $4.75 CDN, was valued at over $800.00 at the Comic Hunter.
So far, despite the wildly popular DC television shows – Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow – there has been almost no appreciation in the books that have had their story lines – whole or in part – featured on the show. The same is true so far for books tied to Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman.
Collecting Marvel comics amounts to a forced participation in the speculative comic book market. I have learned to hold my tongue and take part. Yes there are issues that I want that I know I will have to pay for, but there are lots others that I won’t.
I admit, I bought that first appearance of Gambit for the express purpose of watching it’s value ebb and flow as news about the movie surfaced until its release; if it would be released. I justified it in the same way I justify going to the Moncton Casino with $20.00 to feed into the slot machines. If it doesn’t pan out, I’m comfortable with what I spent for it, but if I win ….
Well, I won. It felt great. I’m going to be looking for another prize investment this Friday night.