What makes one comic book worth more than another? Why is Incredible Hulk #176 worth a few bucks while #181 is worth thousands? There can be a lot of reasons, many lumped into the term “key issue”. By far the most common way for an issue to be key is to be the first appearance of a new character.
What Does “First Appearance” Mean?
A first appearance is the first time a character appears in a comic book. Mostly. Showcase #4, for example, is unambiguously the first appearance of The Flash. For contrast, Incredible Hulk #180 features the bombastic last-page debut of Wolverine. Since he only appears on the last page, that’s considered a cameo and the following issue is his first “full appearance”. That is a common distinction made among fans, but ultimately a very capricious one.
The publication of fan magazines and official previews can muddy those waters even further. Spawn, Todd McFarlane’s signature creation, appeared in three major promotional pieces prior to his official first appearance in Spawn #1. All three sell for several times what Spawn #1 does. This is because those promotional mags and newspapers were more ephemeral, more likely to be tossed out than preserved, than Spawn #1. As such, they are much harder to find in good shape than the regular comic book.
Not Every Character Debut Is Valuable
The notability of the character affects the value of their first appearance. For some characters, like Wolverine or Spider-Man, are evergreen. Other characters become surprise hits. For example, Detective Comics #300 was worth just enough to buy you lunch not so very long ago. James Gunn’s 2021 flick The Suicide Squad introduced millions of viewers to Polka-Dot Man, the villain whose first appearance graces the cover of Detective Comics #300. That book’s value increased exponentially, almost overnight!
Contrast that with Edge of Spider-Verse #5. It is the 1st appearance of Peni Parker, pilot of the SP//dr mech suit. She appeared in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and her robot was a notable fixture of the movie’s merch. And yet her first appearance does not reach the heights of value that those of her fellow spider-folk do.
Which is why a bit of discernment is required to separate the genuinely sought-after issues from the ones folks are trying to hype up. That’s where consulting with experts like Back to the Past is so helpful. Our comic evaluators can usually flip through a box of comics and tell you definitively if there’s anything of notable value in there in minutes. When you’ve got a comic collection you don’t know what do with, let us help! And if you’ve got a quick question or comment, chime in below or hit us up on socials @b2pcollect.