Before Marvel became the universe’s largest comic (and film!) universe, they were an uppity little comics company known as Timely Publications, trying to nab some market share from the companies that would become DC Comics. Timely indeed, considering the Golden Age of Comics was just blooming after Action Comics #1 (1938) gave us Superman, the world's first superhero. By the ‘50s, what would become Marvel Comics had mostly morphed into Atlas Comics. In 1961, we finally began to know Marvel Comics as we generally know it today, thanks in no small part to the realism (as far as superheroes go) of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s The Fantastic Four and the other influential characters that Marvel would go on to create (Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, etc.).
Since collectors tend to be as impressed by age as much as pop culture importance, it makes sense that only three Marvel (or what would become Marvel) titles rank in the top ten most valuable comics of all time - as priced by Nostomania, a UGC evaluator of comics, coins and magazines, which projects prices for mint condition titles today, assuming such copies exist. Even though Marvel is responsible for some of the biggest comic book characters in the world as we know it, the majority of those important characters came far later than their DC counterparts. Still, if you happen to have a well-kept copy of any of the books below, take care of it, because you’ve got one of Screen Rant’s 10 Most Valuable Marvel Comic Books.
10 Marvel Mystery Comics 128 Page Issue (1942) – $159,000
This book is a direct descendant of Marvel Comics #1, which you'll see about later on this list, and the first comic offering from Timely Comics, which was the first comic book venture of pulp publisher Martin Goodman. They added “Mystery” to the title after the first book, even though it was a bon-a-fide hit right from the get-go.
In 1940, with the world on the brink of all-out war, Canada sought to reduce their trade deficit with the United States by passing the War Exchange Conservation Act, restricting the importing of non-essential foreign goods. Since that included comics, Canadian comic book publishers had to satisfy the growing market, and did so with “Canadian Whites,” -- as they came to be known -- comics with colored covers and white pages inside. This comic, along with a couple below, skirted the law and were somehow published by Timely Comics in the United States, then distributed specifically in Canada.
Evaluators of this 1942 issue sometimes refer to it as having 132 pages, even though the cover art, which comes from Marvel Mystery #33, says otherwise. It depends on whether or not the covers are counted, since the inside pages of both covers are blank. The rest of the book is filled with black and white reprints of earlier editions of Timely Comics’ Captain America Comics and Marvel Mystery Comics. Also adding to the value is the fact that there are very few of these war-time offerings left.
9 Fantastic Four #1 (1961) – $166,000
This book started to take form when Goodman spoke to Lee about creating a team of superheroes to go up against DC Comic’s (as it had become nominally known) Justice League of America. But the team’s place in history owes a much greater debt to Lee, who made it the most personal story he’d ever written. "For just this once, I would do the type of story I myself would enjoy reading.... And the characters would be the kind of characters I could personally relate to: they'd be flesh and blood, they'd have their faults and foibles, they'd be fallible and feisty, and — most important of all — inside their colorful, costumed booties they'd still have feet of clay," said Lee in 1974’s Origins of Marvel Comics. And so, Lee gifted us Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Thing, and Human Torch (a different character than the Golden Age’s flaming android).
As such, FF, this issue in particular, is one of the most important titles of the Silver Age of Comics, as it helped to establish a new level of realism in comics. So the title may seem low on Nostomania’s list (only the 30th most valuable book overall), especially when considering where we are today, what with most comic book movies on firm footing, regardless of which comic book universe we’re talking about.
This book is also significant for being the first superhero team created by one of the best creative teams ever, writer/editor Stan Lee and artist/co-plotter Jack Kirby. This is the book where they developed a collaborative style, known as the “Marvel Method,” where the writer would give a story synopsis to the artist/plotter, who would then plot and draw the story, allowing the writer to go back and write the dialogue. It became a house style, which made credit fuzzy, but quality super clear.
8 Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 (1939) – $193,000
Further back, in the Golden Age of Comics, Centaur Publications art director Lloyd Jacquet started First Funnies, Inc., (which would become Funnies, Inc.), an early “packager” who created comic content for other publishers, including Timely Comics, the company that would become Marvel Comics. First Funnies planned to move into publishing with this 36-page book – which had a color cover and black and white insides – intended as a giveaway for theater goers, an attempt to lure new customers to comics. The project only got so for as these initial samples, which were specifically created for theater owners to try to woo them on the idea.
Only eight or nine copies of this sample exist. Which, in its own right, might not make it valuable enough to merit placement on this list. But that price goes up exponentially when you pair the limited quantity with the fact that the book also introduces a major Marvel character, who is still swimming today: Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Written, penciled, inked, and lettered by Bill Everett, this April 1939 story delved into the origin story of Marvel’s first mutant, and its first major anti-hero too. Everett attributed Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” for inspiring the character’s name. And to come up with Namor, after writing down a bunch of “noble” sounding names backwards, he finally decided on Roman spelled backwards.
7 Captain America Comics 128 Page Issue (1942) – $198,000
Pearl Harbor was but a month raw when this 128-page volume of previous Captain America Comics sold as a 25-cent special in January of 1942. But while you would think American patriotism would fuel the popularity of this book, and thus the value, this book is actually valuable more so because it was only sold in Canada. Featuring Captain America No. 22 cover art by Syd Shores, and the contents of Marvel Mystery Comics No. 33 and Captain America Comics No. 18, this is another one of Goodman’s “Canadian Whites” that collectors like so much as of late, as you can see by the book’s 105.8% three year gain.
Like the other Canadian books on this list, this was a square bound giant with 128 or 132 pages (depending on who you ask). It also depends who you ask whether these should be considered Canadian comics, since they were only distributed there. If so, all three would certainly be some of the most valuable Canadian comics around.
6 Marvel Mystery Comics #9 (1940) – $198,000
Aside from showcasing Bill Everett’s inimitable cover art, this book is also valuable for being the first ever crossover comic, featuring two superheroes – Human Torch (though not the Fantastic Four version of the character) and Namor, the Sub-Mariner – who had previously occupied different worlds. As the cover tells us, the story finds New York City “rapidly being wrecked as the Sub-Mariner ran wild. Could the Human Torch stop this mad destruction?” As with many a good crossover, after doing battle at the Statue of Liberty, NYC’s water reservoir, and a chemical company, the epic showdown ends in a stalemate, which is continued in the next issue.
The book also contains a second story, starring the Angel, in which the costumed detective takes on a mad scientist who is trying to put an ape’s brain in a woman’s head. Meanwhile, out west, story number three finds the Masked Raider mussing with some gold thieves in Lawson City. The book’s final story finds Electro and Professor Zog taking on Jago and his Dragon-Men in a heroic effort to save Queen Nara of Ligra.
5 The Incredible Hulk# 1 (1962) – $228,000
Another Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Silver Age creation, “the strangest man of all time” debuted in the starring role of this May 1962 title. Kirby and inker Paul Reinman’s cover enthusiastically asked “is he man or monster, or is he both?” The creative team sought to answer as much, partly inspired by The Fantastic Four’s already popular Thing character, Frankenstein’s monster, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Cold War, and the Jewish mythological creature, the Golem. The character was originally grey, so as not to suggest ethnicity, but colorist Stan Goldberg had trouble getting the shade consistent. So after this first issue, Lee decided to change Hulk’s color to green.
The Hulk’s original series only lasted another five issues, before closing out with issue #6 in March of 1963. But the Hulk would return that same month as a guest star in The Fantastic Four #12, and six months later as a founding member of the Avengers. And he’s been coming back ever since, with the character’s popularity surging in the past few years, thanks in no small part to Mark Ruffalo’s acting skills. In the last three years, the value of this original book has gone up 48.1%. Also adding to such a dramatic spike is the fact that Hulk #1 is twice as rare as Amazing Fantasy #15, Spidey’s first appearance, and prices are still adjusting to that.
4 Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962) – $405,000
It’s somewhat surprising that this issue is only the 12th highest valued comic on Nostomania’s list. (It’s also surprising that The Amazing Spider-Man #1 isn’t higher than the 42nd most valuable book ever, considering that series is the world’s most collected.) First of all, AF #15 features the first ever appearance of fan-favorite Spider-Man, who was created to be an everyman, a teenager who wasn’t a sidekick, who turned out to be one of the most relatable of all of Marvel’s flawed heroes. Also, the most recent sale, in 2011, of a mint condition copy cashed in to the tune of $1.1 million. One of the reasons for the low evaluation is the number of issues that are out there, since it was a surprisingly successful issue that sold well.
Still, we’re talking about the fourth most valuable Marvel comic around. The title actually debuted as a science fiction/fantasy anthology called Amazing Adventures, along with the cover motto: "The magazine that respects your intelligence." In 1961, starting with issue #7, the series was renamed Amazing Adult Fantasy (oh my!), and remained as such until August of 1962 when Amazing Fantasy #15 introduced Spidey in the lead feature of the series’ finale. Steve Ditko was Spidey’s first artist, but Lee rejected his cover art and commissioned ‘ol reliable Jack Kirby for the job. Even though the issue was a surprise hit, the series was still cancelled, as had been the plan (a big reason why Lee was able to take creative chances with the character). But seven months later, Goodman and company had the good Spidey-sense to launch The Amazing Spider-Man title.
3 Marvel Mystery Comics 128 Page Issue Variant Edition (1942) – $482,000
Often, a variant issue will fetch more moolah than the original it’s based upon. But when it’s a variant of a rarity, you’re going to start breaking the bank. As with #9 and #7 on this list, this “Canadian White” is 132 pages if you count the blank inside cover pages. The 1942 book features the same Marvel Mystery #33 cover as the previous title, which finds Human Torch and Sub-Mariner fighting the “Jap hordes in the New York terror air-raid!” (oof). But this variant issue actually contains different Timely Comics reprints, in this case Captain America Comics #22 and Marvel Mystery Comics #41. And far fewer copies were printed. Since it was only distributed in New York City, only five copies are known to exist, making it one of the rarest comics you can find, so rare, in fact, that very few have ever been sold. But perhaps that will change, what with the value increasing by over 75% over the last three years.
2 Captain America Comics #1 (1941) – $629,000
Though Pep Comics' American flag rocking superhero The Shield predates Cap by over a year, Captain America became THE patriotic hero for the ages. The sixth most valuable book of all-time, the worth of this book keeps climbing, though it’s hard to imagine it ever overcoming DC’s grip on the top spots (with their flagship characters Batman and Superman remaining as popular as ever). Still, as far as Marvel characters go, they don’t get much more important than Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s Captain America. And as far as Cap titles go, they don’t get more valuable than Captain America Comics #1.
As Kirby’s classic cover indicates, for ten cents, in March of 1941, you could enjoy “45 thrilling pages” of Captain America, the “Sentinel of our Shores,” taking the good fight to Hitler and the Nazis. And you were even promised an appearance by Bucky, Cap’s “young ally” (whose name was plucked straight from Simon’s friend and star high school basketball player, Bucky Pierson). This first issue contains Captain America’s (whose own name started as “Super American” but was changed to Captain when Simon decided there were just too many “Supers” in comics already) origin story, along with first appearances of Agent X-13 (Betsy Ross), Professor Reinstein (Abraham Eskine), and the Red Skull.
Cap went on to become Timely Comics’ most popular character during the war-time era. Alas, after the war, superheroes fell out of fashion, and Cap was discontinued in 1950, while making a short revival in 1953. After a one-issue tease to test the Silver Age’s audience reaction to one of the Golden Age’s favorite characters, Kirby and Stan Lee defrosted Cap from suspended animation in Avengers #4 (1964). And the character’s popularity has gained strength, and value, ever since.
1 Marvel Comics #1 (1939) – $859,000
The most valuable Marvel title is also the third most valuable comic book in the world, behind the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 and the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27. As a direct result of those characters’ success, in October of 1939, Goodman put out 80,000 copies of his, and Timely Comics’, first comic effort, which was filled with content purchased from Funnies, Inc. Marvel Comics #1 was an instant hit, selling out its initial printing and meriting a second printing of 800,000 copies, which also sold out.
The book featured a two-page auto racing story called Burning Rubber, and stories about Ka-Zar the Great, and the Masked Raider. But more importantly, the title featured the first appearance of Carl Burgos’ android superhero, Human Torch, and Paul Gustavson's detective who dressed like a superhero, the Angel. The book also expanded by four pages the original eight-page Sub-Mariner story introduced in Motion Picture Funnies Weekly.
What’s the most valuable book you’ve got in your collection? Do you have a collection strategy? How’s that panning out? Let us know in the comments below.