The Usual Suspects #21
Welcome to this week’s special edition of The Usual Suspects. By now we have all had a few days to process Stan Lee’s passing and reflect on what he’s meant to all of us as individuals, as well as what he meant to this hobby. And to the entire medium of comics for that matter.
Stan was one of us. He loved comics and he was genuine. I personally never had the pleasure of meeting him in person. In a life with few regrets, that will be one for me. I’m not a big Con guy so I never made the pilgrimage myself. I say pilgrimage because from everyone whom I’ve known who had met Stan, they talk about the experience with a reverence typically reserved for religion. Considering the man created a Universe it’s not that far of a reach.
That may sound crazy, but for many of us, comics are that integral to who we are as people. An identifiable characteristic. A way of life. A special club. C’mon raise your hand if you are known as comic aficionado to your muggle friends. Are you the one they seek the opinion of before going to the movies? Do they ask you the questions about every little detail about every comic themed show or movie? It’s ok.
And I have been working to indoctrinate my 6 year-old son into this life. The little guy knows all the heroes and villains and many of Stan Lee’s Marvel creations adorn his bedroom walls. I had planned to take him to meet Stan one day once he was old enough to appreciate who we were meeting. Sadly that day will never come, but Stan undoubtedly left his mark on me.
The above was my bible when I was a kid. I studied it. I completed every lesson. I realize Stan was not an artist, but his words gave me all the direction and inspiration I needed. Every spare moment I spent either reading comics or drawing superheroes. I didn’t get out much. I suppose you might say I was more of an indoor kid.
I still remember when I found the VHS version of this book at the West Coast Video in my hometown. We didn’t have a Blockbuster back then, we had a West Coast Video with its secret adult back room and that small section of oddities and documentaries like Faces of Death, Sweatin’ to the Oldies, and this little gem.
I must’ve rented that video a hundred times. There was no Amazon for me to order it to buy for myself. And buying a VHS back then was like $100 or something crazy for something like this. So I had to keep renting it. I had wanted nothing more than to draw Stan’s creations one day, and after watching that video I felt like I could. I could’ve been the next Jim Lee. If you’re curious, you can find that video for free on Youtube. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it.
Anyway, getting back on topic. Stan was one of us. Not just a figurehead like a Walt Disney, or an aloof auteur like a George Lucas. Stan Lee was just Stan. He gave Marvel a face. You could write Stan and he’d write you back. If you ran into Stan he would talk to you. If you had stupid questions, he would answer them.
I’m not going to go over all of Stan’s creations. We all know the list by now, and if you don’t you can do the research. Go use your On Demand and check out Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics episode 1. Some great stuff in there about Stan and Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko. Sad that we lost 2 of them this year. I wonder if Stan Lee will make the Oscar In Memoriam segment this year. Personally I’m pulling for them to use this clip from Thor Ragnarok.
But to honor Stanley Leiber in the way that I know how, I want to look at a couple of his greatest hits. It’s funny to me that he changed his name for Comic Book purposes to Stan Lee. Thinking he would eventually write the Great American novel, he wanted to distance himself from being known as the guy who writes funny books under the name Stan Lee. Kinda like how Peter North went by Matt Ramsey in his early days. And if you know what I am talking about, then you should probably be ashamed of yourself.
I had originally considered writing these articles under a pseudonym. Somehow Pete Ren sounds too Summer’s Eve, if you catch my meaning. And if you don’t, here’s a visual representation to drive the point home.
Anyway, these are old school classics that I had never planned to cover as they are all well out of my reach. These are Usual Suspects. These are cornerstone, Mount Rushmore type books. Books I can’t even daydream about being able to afford. I know I’m not alone in that. These are big baller books.
No, no, no. Not this joker. A true Big Baller. The O.G.
And with that…let’s get into it.
Origin & 1st appearance of the Fantastic Four
(Marvel's 1st super-hero team), & the Mole Man
The book that started it all. Sure I know Stan worked on Cap before this book, but I’m pretty sure we can all agree that this is where the Marvel Universe, as we know it, was born. With the FF Stan had created something special. These were regular people put in extraordinary circumstances. That was always the biggest difference between Marvel and DC back in those days. DC gave you the ideals, while Marvel gave you the “real” people with flaws.
It should also not be ignored that Stan didn’t do this alone. No one can deny the greatness of Jack Kirby. He had given us a new way to see the world so full of emotion, from the unique perspectives and in your face action not seen before in this medium. While Stan got all of the credit as he was the front man of the band, The King was just as important to the birth of the Marvel Universe and everything that came after. So hats off to “The King.”
That said, this is an article about Stan. So now that we have acknowledged Jack, let’s move on.
There was a story that Stan was ready to quit the business before creating the Fantastic Four. He didn’t like what he was doing. It wasn’t until this book that he took a chance and wrote it the way he had wanted. He gave us real characters with flaws and foibles and room for growth. What a “novel” idea. The villains were even sympathetic. Sure we all knew Moleman was the bad guy, but you could see their point of view. Plus he’s one of my favorite side characters on the Simpsons.
Active Listings: Try typing in Fantastic Four 1 into an eBay search and you will get the phone book. I got over 2,600 results. Most copies are other volumes and other FF related books. But there are copies of the original to be found on there.
The most expensive listing is a CGC 8.0 triple available for $125,000. Let me just double check my PayPal balance. Maybe if I get a couple of those outstanding payments…
No I am not, but for that book you can call me Shirley. For $125k you can call me whatever you want. That said, moving down to a 7.0 it would only cost you $84k. Still too steep? If you jump down a couple grades to a 5.0 it’s only $25k.Go down another half a grade and save another $4k? Do I have your attention with a $19k 4.0? If we drop all the way down to a CGC 1.5 for $7,200…
Ok, I can’t move the needle with a slab, what if we look at the available Raw copies? Top Raw Dog is a book $35k for a seller estimated 5.5-6.0. Personally I don’t know how you can spend that kind of money on an eBay listing. If I’m dropping that kind of coin, I need to do this face-to-face. And if you want to go in on the cheap you can pick up one of the available coverless copies for $3k.
Market Analysis: By and large this is not a book that sales very often. But that isn’t too surprising considering the dollar amounts we are looking at. While there have been some significant gains in the sales from this past year over the average over the last 3 years.
In the 3 year period I reviewed, the biggest sale was a blue label 9.0 sale for a whopping $165,000 back in August of this year.
I can’t wrap my head around most of these sales. I feel like I am talking about monopoly money. There were 2 sales of 9.0’s in the last year and they were both for over $160k. With values this high, let’s just say that prices are up over the last year as well as over the last few years. I’m sure a lot has to do with excitement over the 1st family of Marvel coming to the MCU soon. I mean Kevin Feige has to do better than these right?
Getting back to Stan, he had a hit with Fantastic Four so what do he and Jack Kirby follow that with just a few months later?
Origin and 1st appearance of the, Incredible Hulk.
1st appearance of, Rick Jones, Betty Ross and General Ross.
Once again, this is not your square-jawed All-American icon like Superman DC book. This is a Jekyll and Hyde tale of an accident that transforms a man into a monster. Sure by today’s standards this seems like a cliché. But back in 1962, this was something new and different.
Compelling stories with interesting characters married to evocative art, and you have yourself another winner. Take a look at these panels and even after 56 years, tell me that you aren’t compelled to read more.
And these two men would go on to create Marvel Icon after Icon over the next couple years. This was an unprecedented run of creativity that I don’t think will ever be equaled. What they created over 50 years ago is not only still relevant, but dominating the entertainment industry with the MCU. Absolutely amazing.
But the Hulk will always be special to me. He was my favorite when I was a little guy. Hulk themed birthdays and my favorite TV show growing up. Sure it’s dated now, but 35 years ago, this was the pinnacle of awesome.
Active Listings: Once again a simple eBay search will return nearly 1,000 results. But the original Incredible Hulk is also quite a pricey book. Not as many available as FF#1, and none graded nearly as high on the market at the moment. But in any grade, slabbed or raw, this is the very definition of a grail.
That said, the big dog on the market that isn’t part of some larger collection is a CGC 6.0 up for just under $40k. Then you have a couple 4.5’s up for around $20k each. Also in that range you can grab a CGC 7.0 Restored Purple Label. I know how much everyone enjoys a Purple Labeled Book. Go ahead try it.
If you only have about $10k to spend, you can either get a Purple 5.5 or a Blue Label 1.5 instead. That’s how much the dreaded purple affects the price.
Top raw is a restored copy looking for $8,500. Purple label just waiting to happen. And that’s it.
Market Analysis: So this is another book show a lot of gains both over the last year as well as the 3 year window I decided to look at. No new movie news driving these prices. This is just all natural appreciation.
Even the slight bits of red are just at a slight discount over the normal averages. The only exception is a CGC 3.0 hat supposedly sold for less than half the normal rate back in October. Not a lot of feedback on the seller who doesn’t seem to normally sell books. So I don’t know if a buyer got lucky, or if this isn’t a real transaction. It is what it is. If you want this book, it’s gonna cost you.
I find it amusing that with our next book, Stan decided after the first few pages, that Jack Kirby wasn’t the guy for his idea. He made the hero a bit too heroic. Sounds silly, but Stan Lee decided that Steve Ditko was the man to bring nerdy Peter Parker to life in a way that no one else could. Not even the King.
Origin & 1st appearance of Spider-Man, (Peter Parker)
1st appearance of Uncle Ben & Aunt May
This may be Stan’s most famous creation. Absolute Top 3 All-Time superhero and one of the most recognizable characters in the world. You say the name Spider-man and you just want to start singing the song.
Now we all know the history of Spider-man and why this is an important book. So instead of yammering on about stuff you can look up yourself, I’ll give you my personal angle on this. I mentioned the song because that’s how I know Spider-Man. I’m coming up on 41 shortly, and Spider-man and his Amazing Friends was my jam.
I know I’m not alone in that. This preceded my love of comics. I wasn’t spending my free time reading at 5 years old. I was watching cartoons and playing with my Megos. No, not these Migos.
And that Hulk was a nightmare. The torn purple pants would always get caught in his joints. Kids today, just don’t know. But this was my childhood. I can’t believe how much time I spent as a kid making up my own stories while playing with my action figures. Figures based on ideas that Stan had some 15 years before I was even born.
It may seem silly to be writing an article about Stan Lee and be talking about VHS tapes and action figures, but that’s what Stan meant to me as a kid. Those were my interests and they were a direct result of these comics that I will most likely never own. And that’s ok. I’m working on my ASM run. I will probably never complete it, but I’ll keep tracking them down on the cheap. And I will most certainly never have an AF15, but Spidey is more to me than just those key books. Spidey to me is his cartoon with his Amazing Friends and this awesome black suit figure. And that’s enough.
Active Listings: Surprisingly a lot of copies to choose from for AF15. I can’t afford any of them, but they are there. If I wanted to sell my house, maybe I could grab one. But I ain’t selling for the top 2 on the market. Both are pretty wonky.
Let’s see for $280k I can either have a CBCS 8.5 Purple Label Restored, or an 8.5 PGX signed by Stan Lee that is also Restored. Nearly $300k for restored books?
If given the choice and cost wasn’t an issue, I’d much rather have the CGC 7.5. And that happens to only be $189,000. And then from the world of you must be crazy, we have a CGC 3.0 asking $109k. Never mind that the recent 3.0 sales are only around $20k, there’s a CGC 6.5 listed for $98k. $110k for a CGC 3.0?
Now there are tons available in the $20-30k range from 2.5-3.5’s. And a few raws mixed in. In dealing with a book like this at these amounts, I feel I would almost have to buy a graded copy. That way I have at least some level of comfort that it isn’t a counterfeit or restored. Who am I kidding, I’m not getting this book. I might have a shot to get a graded page which seem to be readily available in the $2k range.
Market Analysis: Once again another mega key that is showing gains all over the place. Shouldn’t be too surprised by this. I mean if Hulk 181 can do what it’s done the last few years, you had better believe AF is popping as well.
Biggest sale was back in 2016, when a CGC 9.4 sold for $454,000. And that should not overshadow the 9.0 that sold this past March for $415k. That’s insane. House or comic which do you choose? Go.
But seriously, another book where grades mean tens of thousands of dollars. It’s beyond me, but fun to look at. I did see a few at the last con I was at. Don’t recall grades but I remember a lot of $15k price tags. Now if I had $15k lying around and I had to choose between an AF15 or investing in the stock market, I know which I’d choose. And I work in wealth management.
Origin and 1st appearance of the X-Men,
(Professor X, Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Beast and Marvel Girl) and Magneto.
It’s no secret that the X-men were created to mirror the Civil Rights movement. Mutants and Mutant Rights as a parable from what was going on in society at the time. Bold moves by a bold creative team. In the X-men, Stan had created another set of characters that would go on to superstardom. Though not right away as before long the title would slip into obscurity after a few years.
We glossed over this a couple weeks ago when I covered Giant Sized X-men. So if you’d like I can recap all that again, you know. Even though it was only 2 weeks ago, I don’t mind.
Okay, so let’s skip the recap. Now I’ve made it no secret how much the X-men meant to me. The Jim Lee era is a defining run of my formative years. That was when the X-men were at their height. Best Selling single issue of all time. Classic cartoon. Yes please.
Much like Spidey and his Amazing Friends I know you guys can all hear the X-men theme song play in your head right now. Sure this came out while I was starting high school, but I wasn’t ashamed. By then I had already appropriated the identity of the comic book kid in school. Thankfully, I wasn’t ostracized too much for it.
Now it certainly wasn’t cool as it is today, but it wasn’t that bad either. It was just who I was. The kid who could kinda draw and read funny books with pictures. No my art skills have atrophied over the years, but here we are over 25 years later and I’m still the comic book guy to those that know me. It could be worse. I could be known as the guy with a snake on his face.
Active Listings: For my final offering of the day, we have what is potentially the easiest to find of the bunch. Of the 4 of these books, I would have to say if I had a shot at obtaining any of them, this would be the one. I still need nearly 50 more to complete my run of X-men. Of course they are all from issue 88 and earlier. But maybe one day I can score an X-Men #1.
Now if that day were today and I had just won the lottery then maybe I could grab the top dog on the market which is currently a CGC SS 6.5 signed by Stan Lee for $250k. Now l loved Stan Lee. But there is no way I am paying $250k for a book that normally costs $10k just because Stan signed it.
Also the list points out this is 1 of 42 in the world. What baffles me is what that means? Where did the 42 come from? And is that CGC SS X-men 1’s? No, because there are actually 623 CGC SS books in the census across all grades. Oh so maybe they meant 42 CGC SS 6.5’s. OK, but that would be weird because 6.5 isn’t that high of a grade. I mean there are at least 500 higher grade copies than a 6.5. this isn’t a tough book to find. But even the census only shows 17 CGC 6.5’s. So I don’t know what the 42 means unless. It’s the Answer to everything…
Market Analysis: Lots of Green here to. Disney acquiring Fox has had this book heating up for some time, as evidenced below. Top sale was a CGC 9.4 back in March for over $150k. With these prices swing up on me I may need to rescind my expectation on obtaining one eventually. I mean maybe I get lucky and find a Good copy at a shop that is using Overstreet and can score one for $1200, but that is unlikely.
Maybe I can save up. Or maybe I just stick with my Marvel Milestone edition. Good enough for now. I’ve run a bit long on this one, and you can read a spreadsheet by now. The market is below. Have at it.
Now I’m sure you’re all waiting for some Doogie Howser Moment where I type the lessons learned and offer some great insight into the life of Stan Lee…I got nothing for you. We all know how great Stan was and what he meant to us each individually. I’ve made my peace with his passing over the last few days and hope you have as well. So I hope you enjoyed this bit of levity and a minor celebration of some of his great creations, but this was only a drop in the bucket in what Stan left behind as his legacy. So this week’s quote goes to “The Man”.
“Excelsior!” – Stan Lee
I know the quote usually comes at the end but it worked better up there. But if you’ve made it this far, then come back next week for what I had originally planned to do today, when I take a look at some Adam Hughes covers. And with that…