The Usual Suspects 20
Welcome to this week’s edition of The Usual Suspects. In our hobby some books transcend their titles and become singularly identifiable by their issue #’s alone, almost like legendary athletes. If I was talking NBA and I mention #23, or bring up the NHL and comment on #99, then you probably know the two players I mean just by their numbers alone.
Ok just a quick tangent, did anyone else watch that Saturday Morning cartoon Prostars staring Jordan, Gretzky, and Bo Jackson, or was I the only one? I loved me some Bo Jackson. #34 was a beast. Shame what happened to him.
Anyway, getting back on topic, comics can be recognizable by their numbers alone as well. If I were to say that I was planning on grading my #48, #129, #98, and #266; there is a better than average chance that you would probably know what four books I was talking about.
And some of these books become so big, that people discuss their membership to informal clubs based around owning particular issues. If I were to ask, “Who else is a part of the 181 club?” I would probably get multiple responses from folks showing off their copies of Incredible Hulk #181. But what if I were to tell you that there was another #181 that you should also be paying attention to?
And while Hulk 181 is the Chocolate Babka of the comic world, it is not the only Babka (#181) on the block. I would have to say that Batman #181 is the Cinnamon Babka of collectors and speculators. Is it as valuable or sought after as the Chocolate? Maybe not, but is this a lesser Babka?
Batman 181 takes a back seat to no 181. People love cinnamon. It should be on tables at restaurants along with salt and pepper. Anytime anyone says, “Oh this is so good. What's in it?” The answer invariably comes back, Cinnamon. Cinnamon. Again and again. Lesser 181?
That said, what I also find interesting about these two books is that they not only share the same issue #, but they both actually have interior bits that many folks removed back in the day leaving behind many Qualified Green Label Graded copies, Incomplete, and significantly less valuable books in their wake. For the Hulk 181, everyone knows to look for the MVS (Marvel Value Stamp), but for the Batman 181, there was a poster insert that many people pulled out, making a complete copy all the more difficult to find. So if you are out looking at a raw Batman 181, make sure you check for the Insert Pin Up.
And with that…let’s get into it.
1st appearance of Poison Ivy, (Pamela Lillian Isley)
The “other” 181 isn’t some modern book flashing on the scene with less than a year on the market. This book is over 50 years old and it requires a different lens when viewing pricing history. As such, I am looking at sales over the last year and 5 years, as opposed to my usual 3 months and 12 months.
So, I didn’t originally plan to cover this issue this week. I was toying with another idea, but then I happened to come across this book at the flea market this past weekend, so it pushed this book to the front of the line. I had seen this kid selling books a few weeks ago out there. I say kid because he was in his 20’s and I am a crotchety old man closing in on turning 41.
Anyway I had bought a few books from him before, and he had a good mix of cheap 4 for $1 books and some decent Bronze/Silver age stuff. Apparently it was his uncle’s collection who passed away and left him his books. First time out I think he got raided of a lot of his treasures by the haggling flea market hunters I battle with each and every Sunday. So this time out the kid came better prepared. His books were priced a bit closer to market and he had a bit more organization in his boxes.
So as I was pulling some 4 for a dollar Batgirl books that I may put in next week’s Dollar Bin Digging article, the kid asked me if I wanted to see some of his more expensive books. I said of course and he pulled a small cardboard box out from the back of his pickup truck. Inside he has some early X-men in the teens, a couple low numbered Amazing Spider-man’s, including a decent looking copy of ASM 41 1st Rhino.
In fact, a couple guys I see out hunting every week picked up an ASM #50 off him for like $200 from what I heard. But I digress, I had seen this book, Batman 181 in the pile and paused. I have wanted this book for a while. Copy was okay, maybe VG condition, but had a $300 price tag. I don’t carry that much cash on Sunday mornings at the flea market, so was I gonna buy this after checking on the pin up insert?
I passed. Anyway, the guys who scored the ASM #50 came back and were looking at the 181 and confirmed the insert was there. No idea if they bought it or not as once the decision was made to pass, I had to walk away. Sure I could’ve tried to haggle, but truthfully I’m not a good haggler. It’s not my thing. I see a price and I am either good with paying it or I’m not. I know that’s silly in this hobby, and especially at a flea market of all places; but it’s just how I feel. I always feel dirty when I start to haggle. I don’t know why.
So my search for the other 181 continues. And after that anecdote, maybe we should at least go over why this book is important. If you haven’t guessed by the cover, this is the 1st appearance of Poison Ivy. She’s a classic Batman villain and one of the most well-known female villains out there.
Sure they really blew an opportunity with her lone cinematic appearance in that god awful Batman and Robin movie. I don’t get it. Why was she talking like she was doing a parody of a 1920’s talkie? It was almost as silly as her hairstyle. Why was she wearing Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour bra on her head?
Anyway, the last couple of years this book started to gain some steam as there were rumors of a Gotham City Sirens movie on the way. With the popularity of Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn in the otherwise pretty forgettable Suicide Squad movie, it seemed like a good bet that these gals were gonna make it to the screen. Those hopes seem to have been dashed now that the movie has morphed somewhat into the upcoming Birds of Prey movie, and Poison Ivy doesn’t appear to be a part of that flick.
But regardless of an upcoming media appearance, this is a key book and one worth keeping an eye on as prices have been trending up the last few years. Even if there have been some dips more recently when it became known that she wasn’t bound for the big screen, overall this book is up in all grades.
Active Listings: A quick eBay search returns over 70 results. Most copies are in the low to mid-grade range. Many put right in the title whether it has the pin up or not as that is as important as an MVS for this book.
Right now the most expensive listing is a CGC SS 5.0 triple signed by Adam West, Burt Ward and Carmine Infantino available for $6,375. That’s a pretty unique item right there. I don’t know much about signature series, but I imagine finding an Infantino on any book would be difficult let alone on a key like this.
Following that book, we have a CGC 9.0 looking for $4,850 which is just under the last recorded 9.0 sale from back in September. Grades and prices drop significantly after that as we have some in the 6ish range looking for around $1k.
Slabs aside, if you are like me and prefer hunting for cheaper raw copies, then you have plenty of options to sort through. The top raw copies listed are a pair from the same seller looking for about $800 for a listed Fine copies with the centerfold attached. The bulk of the listings seem to be in that $300 range with varying degrees of quality, some with centerfolds and some without.
You can take your chances on some auctions, but who knows where those will end up. The absolute cheapest Buy It Now copy is a Poor Condition from Mycomicshop for $120. That said, if you want at least a GD/VG copy you would have to shell out at least $200 on this book.
Market Analysis: Considering this book is over 50 years old, there aren’t a ton of 9.8’s out there to be had. In fact, the CGC census only shows 2 and no sales that I could find since the year 2000.
I reviewed a 5 year period of graded sales for this book, and the biggest sale was a blue label 9.4 sale for $6,600 back in march of this year. Not a lot of copies trading hands in the higher grades. In fact that sale was one of only 15 CGC sales of 8.0 or higher completed in the last 5 years. That averages out to only about 3 a year.
No, the volume of sales for this book are definitely in the raw copies and the mid grades. Most sales within $300-$1,000 for the mid-grade slabs. Raw copies are a bit trickier to pin down as you have sales ranging from $40 beater copies to $880 in high grade. The average raw sale finds itself in that $150 range and that’s covering 151 sales tracked by Covrprice.com
Like most older books, your best bet is if you can find a shop that prices off the Overstreet Guide. Many shops still use this as their bible, especially in the older books. If you are lucky enough to find a shop or dealer working off the bible, you may score yourself a deal. Personally, I’d be more than happy to shell out under $200 for a Fine copy of this book if the opportunity presented itself.
Now I realize I made a whole thing about Batman 181 being the other “white meat”; but is this the only alternative 181 out there?
1st appearance of Scott Lang, (later becomes Ant-Man II)
Sure good ol’ Scotty has already had his day in the sun with 2 features to his credit and a memorable appearance in Civil War. It appears that the all-time high sales for this book were back at the tail end of 2014 and into 2015 prior to the July release of his first film. Best guess is that the spike aligned with the first trailer drop.
Prices then seemed to drop off for a while before spiked again right around the release of the second movie this past July. CGC 9.8 sales approached those high level from 2015 but haven’t quite matched them. Diminishing returns or just leveling off the value?
That is a question I debate with myself as Scott Lang has never been a huge deal in the 616 comic universe. Sure Paul Rudd sold him as an entertaining lead that can carry his own MCU movie, but what can really be said about Scott Lang from the comics? Right now I would say his biggest claim to fame is that he is Stature’s father.
It really is the MCU that has driven the interest in this issue, because outside of those movies, this would prob be about as desirable a book as the 1st Speedball or 1st D-Man.
Ok so maybe not D-Man, but you get the idea.
Active Listings: Just over 100 listings up on this one. Being released in the late 70’s there are plenty of copies available. Not a hard book to find at all and definitely one you can find for a reasonable cost.
That said, CGC 9.8’s have a wide spread in prices right now. There are 4 copies up right now ranging from a $300 CBCS 9.8 up to a $550 CGC 9.8. And unlike my well documented gripe with charging shipping on high end listings, I fully expect to see shipping costs on books down in this range. But only charging $7 or less to ship a slab? I would question the quality of the packing and shipping job at that cost. You think you can safely pack and ship a slab for $7 or less?
I don’t know if any of you have shipped a slabbed book, but it isn’t easy to ship one safely or packaged properly for under $12. It can be done under the right circumstances, but not by much. A shipped slab is easily over 1 lb. which cuts out First Class as an option. This doen’t qualify for Media Mail. You could get lucky and be shipping a couple lbs. Priority Mail to a state close to you; but that will still run you close to $9. Chances are you are shipping that bad boy to the opposite coast. That’s just how it is, and that’ll run you closer to $13 most of the time.
Anyway, enough on slab shipping. The top raw copy on the market is looking for $150 and is presenting itself as a 9.4. Lots of copies around $100 or less. There are many NM copies on the market looking for around $75 at present. So this is a book most of us can pick up if we really want one.
Market Analysis: So this is not a book that will break your bank. Sure CGC 9.8’s are still moving at an average of about $325, but outside of the 9.8’s and 9.6’s, this is really a $50 book.
Looking at the graded sales or the raws, most recent sales have been in the $40-70 range regardless of the averages. Quite a bit of red showing here, but that isn’t surprising given that we normally see drops after a film’s release. And Ant-Man and the Wasp wrapped its theatrical run over the summer, it’s already on Blu Ray.
So we may see this bounce back if we see some new footage highlighting Ant-Man in an Avengers 4 trailer. But given the secrecy of this film and what follows, we may have to wait until the film’s release in May to find out what role Scott Lang plays and whether that drives speculators back towards this book again.
“Death” of Elektra, Bullseye & Kingpin appearance. Punisher cameo.
Okay, here we have yet another “key” book sharing the issue #181. Now as most of you are aware of Frank Miller’s iconic run on Daredevil back in the early 80’s, you probobly also know that there is no 1st appearance here. This book actually features the “death” of a character.
Back then, a Death was definitely a bigger deal than it is today. As we all know with comics, no one truly stays dead. Even the old jokes about no one staying dead outside of Bucky or Uncle Ben or even Bruce Wayne’s parents aren’t true anymore. So even though, Elektra did not stay dead, this book is an iconic moment in comic’s history. This moment was clumsily reenacted in that unfortunate adaptation back in 2003.
Granted, I realize comic movies have changed quite a bit in the last 15 years, but that doesn’t alleviate the film of some of those awful moments. As bad as Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin was, the playground scene in this movie is only matched by the basketball scene in Halle Berry’s Catwoman when it comes to worst scenes in comic movie history. I cringe just thinking about this scene.
Shaking off that nonsense, this is a great book to own and affordable. The whole story is worth grabbing, but if you are a newer collector looking for a cheap classic “key” book, you can do a lot worse than this book.
Active Listings: Nearly 300 active listings for this book, it isn’t hard to find. You walk into any LCS and there’s a better than average chance they have at least one copy of this book. If you discount the pair of CGC SS 9.8’s with triple signatures of Stan Lee, Klaus Janson, and Frank Miller looking for over $1,300, then this is a relatively affordable book.
There’s a blue label CGC 9.8 asking under $200 or Best Offer right now. That could be less than many of these 1st to market hot rando modern book of the week sales. And plenty of 9.6’s can be had for under $100. You want a raw, you can easily grab one for $20-30. Not a big buy in, but a great book to have in your collection. Plus that yellow cover pops.
Market Analysis: So as you can see, some upticks in the recent sales over the last year average. Can’t really tie this to the Netflix show as they already pretty much dealt with the death of Elektra differently there in Season 2. So this could just be natural appreciation in price as time marches on.
Not really a lot to say here as some recent sales seem to have bounced above the recent averages. While not directly tied to Daredevil Season 3 on Netflix, perhaps that show just remind folks to look at DD books in general. DD 131 has seen a nice uptick of late with the 1st appearance of Bullseye. But that’s a book for another article.
And with that, it is now time for us to leave the number 181 behind us. I got no more for you today. That’s it…
“I’m out.” – Cosmo Kramer