Comic books are an enduring art form which stretches back hundreds, if not thousands of years (depending on what you count as a comic). Some of the most poignant elements of popular culture originate in comic form, from Hollywood’s current obsession with superheroes, to the ever useful Bechdel test for measuring how well a cultural product does at representing women.
Being such a powerful and important art form, there’s no wonder that demand for certain pieces of comic book history, such as issues which feature the first appearance of a key character, or comics which are somehow misprinted or difficult to find, tend to be in high demand.
This is particularly the case of a lot of comics from the nineties, when publishers, aware of the high resell value of their work, went out of their way to make comics that were as valuable as possible by adding quirks and gimmicks to a wide range of hard to find variants.
Not all of these books have turned out to be successful, though, as there’s a big difference between rarity and value. Still, most of the books on this list will fetch a few hundred dollars on eBay at best, assuming you can find any of them. Here are the 18 Rarest And Hardest To Find Comic Books.
19 Star Wars #1 35c Edition
It’s hardly a surprise that the original Star Wars comic has turned out to be a collector’s dream grab. Debuting several months before the release of the movie of the same name, the Star Wars comic was hardly a huge success until George Lucas’ cinematic masterpiece hit theaters, and as such, most copies of the book had lined waste paper baskets before the 1977 Star Wars buzz started in full force.
As rare as issues of the original Star Wars first issue might be, though, there is an even rarer prize out there. A small run of these comic books were printed with a 35c price tag as an experiment on Marvel’s part to see how the price would fare. While the majority of the books bear a 30c price, and are rare enough as it is, only 1,500 copies of Star Wars #1 were sold at 35c, and with most of those lost to the ages, any remaining copies of this book with the slightly higher cover price are worth their weight in gold.
18 Detective Comics #27
Of course, this comic had to make it onto the list. While no single issue of Detective Comics is particularly rare, there’s no denying the appeal of the very first appearance of the character described on the cover as “The Batman” – the inclusion of the word “the” in the hero’s title dates back long before Ben Affleck was set to direct a movie of the same name, and even before the animated series The Batman.
There are less than two hundred copies of Detective Comics #27 remaining in the world today, which would mean that it’s actually fairly common compared to some books on this list. In spite of that, though, thanks to its impressive place in the annals of comics, this is one book that you’re unlikely to ever own, as each of the surviving copies of the book are worth at least a six figure sum.
17 Action Comics #1
More noteworthy even than the first appearance of Batman is the debut of the hero who single-handedly kicked off modern interest in superheroes. Action Comics #1 is a ridiculously expensive book for anyone hoping to add it to their collection, as even a tattered copy of this comic will sell for well over a million dollars.
Back in the day, comics weren’t exactly considered collector’s items, and most were either immediately thrown into the trash, or later recycled as part of the war effort during World War II. Nobody thought anything of discarding a simply children’s comic book, just as nobody would bother holding onto a print newspaper for more than a day.
Now, fewer than a hundred copies of Action Comics #1 are known to exist worldwide, making this an incredibly difficult book to get hold of. But that’s just the start of the rare treasure trove of comics that exist out there for fans to pine over.
16 Marvel Comics #1
Timely Comics is a company which has been around for an exceptionally long time. Stan Lee later pushed to rename the company Marvel Comics, in large part because of the popularity of their longrunning comic of the same name.
Marvel Comics #1 has a lot of claims to fame. In addition to being the first publication to bear its iconic name, the book introduced the world to enduring characters like the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch (a different character to Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four). These early stories are still part of Marvel canon, and this book shows just how far the superhero powerhouse has come over the years.
While Marvel Comics #1 doesn’t sell quite as well as Action Comics #1, it is a lot rarer – there are only 26 known copies of the issue surviving, although that doesn’t mean that there might not be others in attics across the country, just waiting to be discovered.
15 Bloodshot #0 Error Variant
As rare as early Golden Age comics might be, they don’t hold a candle to many of the books put out by publishers during the speculator bubble of the nineties. Comics publishers would put out incredibly limited runs of certain books, in order to drive up sales of special issues as collectors fought to grab as many rare books as possible.
Back in 1994, Valiant comics – one of several new publishers who were attempting to break into the industry – took advantage of trends of the time to publish a limited run of comics with gold foil on the covers. Only 5,000 copies of Bloodshot #0 were ever printed, which would be enough to make any book rare. That said, some issues of this book are even more difficult to find.
Printing gold foil onto a cover can occasionally cause issues, though, and as such, a few very rare copies of this book exist which have unusual colors in their foil. There are 22 copies of Bloodshot #0 floating around which are known as “Platinum” variants, which are believed to be a limited run to test the printing before the rest of the copies were printed with gold coloring added to the process.
Even rarer, though, is the Pink Gold variant, which is believed to be the result of a printing error. Only one copy of this color book, with a pink tinted cover, has ever been founf.
14 Maxx 1/2 Red and Blue Foil Prototypes
Another limited run foil-covered comic (thank heavens this trend has all but died out in the modern comic industry), Maxx 1/2 is a fairly forgettable book which is most notable solely because of its shiny cover.
The standard special variants of Maxx 1/2 feature a foiled cover, showing the book’s logo in shiny purple in order to make it stand out. These are rare, but not quite as sought after as some prototype variants that were produced before the purple coloring for the comic was decided on.
Around ten issues exist that have red foil instead of purple, while another ten issues feature blue foil instead. These are rare collector’s pieces, and are hotly sought after by the kind of people who still care about comic collecting if it doesn’t involve a character that anybody’s ever heard of. Once upon a time, Wizard sold some of these prototype books on their website for $49.99 each. This, it turns out, was a pretty good deal, as today an issue will sell for several hundred dollars at minimum.
13 Damsels #1 “Red Rose” Scott J Campbell Variant Cover
Variant comics remain a big way that comic book companies make money to this very day. The system behind these sales is utterly bizarre – comic companies will print limited runs of certain variant covers, but won’t sell these individually. Instead, comic stores have to order a certain amount of normal issues, and for each five or ten of fifty issues the store orders, the publisher will provide one special issue with a rare cover. The comic store is then able to sell that rare variant at an inflated price thanks to its collector appeal.
It's a weird system of making money, but one that will continue to work for as long as comic fans have an interest in owning rare covers. Thus, while Damsels #1 is hardly a well-known book, its rare “Red Rose” variant, featuring sketched cover art by Scott J Campbell, is one of the rarest books on Earth, despite only having been published in 2012.
The Red Rose cover variant was limited to just ten books, and while other variants were more widely circulated, these are by far the hardest to come across. Each one comes with a certificate of authenticity, and the books seem to have fallen into the hands of collectors who’ll be holding onto them for quite some time, as it’s incredibly rare for one of these to appear on eBay or other auction sites.
12 Turtlemania Special #1 Gold Variant
Back when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were first introduced, nobody had any way of knowing just how popular the heroes in a half shell would become. Originally designed as a parody of the ultraviolent Frank Miller Daredevil comics of the time, the first Ninja Turtles books were printed cheaply for small and indie press distribution – they were the kind of this you’d see at a local zine fair, rather than the world of a big name publisher.
Following the initial success of the Ninja Turtles, the rare book Turtlemania Special was published, featuring unseen artwork from the original creative team. These came in a variety of colors, with the standard issue being limited to around 3,000 copies, while only a hundred “silver” variants were printed with grey paper covers. The rarest of all, though, is the “gold” variant, on yellow paper. Only ten of these were printed and hand numbered, along with a sketch from the artist. Thanks to the popularity of the Ninja Turtles, these now have an estimated value of around $4,500 each.
11 Superman #409 Superhombre Logo Variant
Holding onto a trademark can be difficult.
Often, companies will want to keep hold of a particular design just in case they ever need it in the future, without wanting to have to put it to use regularly throughout the intervening years. The problem, of course, is that the whole point of a trademark is that a company is supposed to be using it, and as such, in order to maintain control of a design from 1944, DC Comics has to periodically make use of their Superhombre logo, whether they want to or not.
The solution, at least in the case of renewing the trademark in 1985, was to publish a few issues of Superman #409 which use the logo, simply to prove that the company is still digging it out of a box every now and then. DC printed less than ten of these issues with an alternate cover, purely for legal purposes, and those few that have ended up in the hands of collectors have ended up being highly sought after.
10 Evil Ernie Octogon Editions
Sometimes is seems that variant comics exist solely to annoy collectors.
How, when a comics fan deals primarily with carefully sealed paper books, are they to find an adequate storage solution for a leather bound single issue? As frustrating as that question might be, it’s clear that the publishers of Evil Ernie figured this wasn’t their problem to have to worry about.
The result is a series of four issues of Evil Ernie which come with a highly sought after leather cover, each of which features sketch art from the artist. Only eight leather-bound copies of each of the four issues were produced, making these particularly rare gems for any collector who can figure out an adequate solution to storing leather alongside standard comic books without damaging the material.
These comic issues originally sold for $100 each, and are now worth approximately ten times that much – despite being comics about a character that nobody has given a second thought to since the comic speculator bubble crashed.
9 New Adventures #26
Time to take a break from the ridiculous leather-bound speculator comics of the nineties to look at another classic from a bygone era of news stand comics.
New Adventures #26 doesn’t fetch the same astonishing price at auction that comics like Action Comics #1 can manage, but it is actually significantly rarer than Superman’s first appearance. Unlike Superman, the cover art for this particular comic is somewhat less recognizable, which may go some way to explaining why more copies of the book haven’t surfaced over the past few decades.
Regardless, there are only five known copies of New Adventures #26 remaining in the world, making it one of the rarest finds of any era of comics, even beating out most of its peers from the decades when comics were instantly thrown out as trash the moment they’d been read cover to cover. It’s just a shame the book doesn’t contain any actually significant characters, otherwise it’d be worth a whole lot more money!
8 Lady Death: Phoenix Rising Edition
Okay, so maybe claiming that nobody cares about Evil Ernie anymore is a bit of a stretch. Believe it or not, there are other genres of comics besides superhero books that maintain a cult following, with horror books always maintaining a quiet yet persistent level of interest from fans who want something slightly darker from their comic book experience.
A spin-off from Evil Ernie, Lady Death is a character designed to appeal to the cross-section of comic book fans who also enjoy scantily clad women with unnaturally pale skin. A variant cover from 2011 capitalized on this by making Lady Death come to life (sort of) in the form of cosplayer Alex Hayes, who had attended Phoenix Comic Con dressed as the character, and who, as a result, appears in photo form on the front of five copies of a special variant for the Lady Death comic.
As so few of these exist, they’re exceptionally rare – especially as these books weren’t ever sold to the public, and have never appeared at auction. So if you’re hoping to add one of these to your comic collection, good luck! It’s not easy to cheat Death herself!
7 DC Comics Presents #22 Whitman Variant
Every now and then, a new variant on a classic comic emerges from the shadows to rock the comic collecting community. Such was the case when a new version of the classic 1980 DC Comics Presents #22 turned up out of nowhere, without anybody knowing that it existed.
The cover of this unusual variant issue doesn’t look particularly different from any other copy of the book, which is possibly why it went unnoticed for so long. In the top right hand corner, though, where the date and year are printed on a standard issue of DC Comics Presents #22, this variant instead bears the logo of Whitman Comics, a publisher that was active at the time.
There are a few different Whitman variant comics available, but as only a few issues of DC Comics Presents #22 have ever been seen, they’re without a doubt the rarest of the whole range.
6 Unity #1 Golden Ticket Variants
Back in 2013, Valiant Comics released a brand new line of five different comics under the Unity title. In order to promote these books, the company launched a special competition wherein readers who got hold of “Golden Ticket” variant issues of the books would win a series of special prizes. One of these Golden Ticket variants was made for each of the five books, meaning that five one of a kind comics entered circulation.
Of course, everyone should be able to spot these variants the moment they turn up in comic stores, right? Well, just to be extra sneaky, Valiant hid the identifier for the comics – the only discernible difference the inclusion of the phrase “#UnityGoldenTicket” below the barcode on certain issues, meaning that, ideally nobody should notice that the Golden Ticket issues were in any way remarkable until they were already in the hands of consumers.
What’s more, the company didn’t actually announce the competition until after the book was on sale, making these books even harder to track down as most people weren’t even looking for them. To date, only three of these unique variants are accounted for, meaning that somewhere out there, two incredibly rare comics have yet to be discovered.
5 Action Comics #7 Ashcan Cover
Long before variant covers were a popular way of differentiating books, comics publishers printed special one-off versions of their covers for legal reasons. These cheap, sketch cover comics were printed in very limited numbers – generally two per issue – with one copy being stored at the publisher in their files, and a second copy being sent to the US Patent Office.
Ashcan comics, because of their rarity, are among the most highly sought after prizes from the Golden Age of collecting. Any of these covers will fetch a fantastic price at auction, but as they’re so rare, and were considered completely disposable, only a few issues’ ashcan comics survive.
One such issue, Action Comics #7, was sold at auction in 2004 for $34,500. The next year it went back up for auction again, this time raising $37,375. These covers are exceptionally rare, and are only gaining in value among those few collectors who like to get their hands on truly unique pieces of Golden Age comics memorabilia.
4 Venom Lethal Protector #1 White Error Variant
Error comics are always highly sought after pieces of pop culture history. Something that’s misprinted, as long as it’s made in a small enough quantity for it to be unique, is a sure-fire way to attract attention from comics collectors who want to own something that nobody else has.
As such, it’s hardly surprising that an error in printing the foil cover for Venom Lethal Protector #1 has created some of the rarest, most keenly sought-after comics in the world.
A correctly printed copy of the comic features Venom with a red foil web behind him. In cases where the foil didn’t take in the embossing process properly, the issue was instead shipped with a simple plain black background, leading to comics fans seeking out mistakenly printed issues as rare additions to their collections. Around five hundred of these comics with the black background exist, but each is worth as much as $450 if in perfect mint condition.
Even rarer, though, are the mistake issues from a variant gold web version of the cover. These instead feature Venom in front of gold web foil, but in cases where the gold hasn’t been printed correctly, the cover’s background is instead white.
Only one known issue has this rare printing error, making it the Holy Grail of nineties comic collecting. That said, there may be more of these comics out there still, waiting to be discovered.
3 Solar, Man Of The Atom: Gold Ink Prototypes
The problem with printing lots of foil covered comics, is that it’s not exactly a cheap process. During the speculator boom of the nineties, these special books were in high demand, but that didn’t mean that comics publishers wanted to shell out for the foil needed to produce them.
As such, with Solar, Man of the Atom, a new prototype was developed which used gold ink instead of foil, as a test to see whether this different material would produce a shiny and durable cover that could conceivably be sold instead of foil.
Only one copy of each book was ever produced for the test, and when they weren’t needed any more, artist Janet “Jay Jay” Jackson kept them for herself, before eventually selling them in 2015.
The test for this gold ink ultimately worked, leading to a line of Valiant comics that featured gold ink instead of foil, and helping to cement the publisher at a time when they’d only just entered the comics industry.
2 My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic #12 1 Million Variant
Who would have thought that the rarest commercially printed comic book in the world would be a My Little Pony title?
Okay, so perhaps there are plenty of other comics for which only a single copy exists, but the special One Million variant for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is highly sought after nonetheless.
The My Little Pony comics broke records for publisher IDW in 2013, when the company managed to sell a million issues of the series within its first year on comic store shelves. In this era, such an achievement is impressive to say the least, when most other books consider 100,000 to be a benchmark for success.
To celebrate, IDW printed a single variant for My Little Pony #12, which celebrated the series’ phenomenal milestone. This issue was sold at auction to raise money for charity for $6,572.50.
What’s interesting that, in the same charity drive, IDW also auctioned off the original cover art for the variant, which was drawn by Sara Richard. This actually sold significantly less than the comic, going for a mere $3883.75 – clearly, the draw of a unique comic book far outweighs the chance to own original artwork from the book in question!
Comics collecting can be challenging at times. No matter how hard a collector tries, they’re never going to be able to get their hands on every book they may want.
Most, if not all of the books on this list will remain out of reach for the majority of collectors who want a chance to own them. But while books from the Golden Age of comics are worth the most money, it’s gratifying to know that there are still rare comics being produced in the modern era that instantly become collector’s items, and earn enormous price tags.
For those who collect comics, it’s worth remembering that there is hope. New comics are being produced all the time, and hidden gems exist among the current crop of new titles. You never know when you might stumble across one of these rare books, or end up picking something up that will go on to become one of the most highly sought after comics of the generation.