Just last month, the so-called “Rocket Copy” of , which introduced the world to Superman, changed hands for an astonishing $3.4 million in a private deal brokered by collectibles marketplace Goldin.
That comes just months after the same comic sold for a record $3.2 million at Dallas’s Heritage Auctions in January (to a buyer who clearly wasted no time flipping the high-profile acquisition).
“When you look at the cover of this comic and see Superman lifting a car, you feel a little bit like a superhero yourself,” Ken Goldin, the company’s founder and executive chairman, said in a statement. “That’s why superheroes were invented, to inspire people to be the best versions of themselves.”
The copy of the series’ inaugural issue is named for the rocket stamp that the original owner used to mark the cover when he was just 13, way back in 1938.
The two mammoth sales—of a comic with a condition grading of just six out of 10 by the Certified Guaranty Company (CGC)—illustrate the red-hot market for comic books and their art, both at auction and in private deals. In 2021, there were eight sales over the $1 million mark, followed by nine in the first half of 2022 alone, according to CGC.
In January, the Man of Steel’s first eponymous comic, 1939’s , became the most expensive comic of all time with a $5.3 million private sale brokered by Tony Arnold of Tony eTrade Enterprises. The 8.0-graded copy was part of the Mile High Collection of some 20,000 vintage comics amassed by Edgar Church, perhaps the most famous collection in comic history and the first recognized by CCG as a “pedigree.”
Meanwhile, original art created for use in comic books is seeing a surge in prices as well, with a black-and-white drawing from a 1984 Spider-Man comic setting a new auction record for an interior comic panel with its $3.4 million sale, also at Heritage in January.
Ahead of New York Comic Con, which runs October 6 to 9 at the Javits Center, we’ve rounded up the top 10 most expensive comic book sales at auction—all of which were made in the past two years. Here they are, ranked from lowest to highest price:
$807,300, June 2021
A bit of a battle broke out for this near-mint 9.6-grade copy of the original X-Men comic book, which attracted more than 40 bids on Comic Connect. (The auction listing proclaimed that “anyone who owns a copy of knows they are sitting on a goldmine, which is poised to explode in value beyond current, already impressive expectations.”)
The comic features the original X-Men line-up, with Professor X, Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel, and Marvel Girl, as well as the team’s main antagonist, Magneto. The property, of course, has since launched a huge number of spinoffs, in both live-action and animated television, and the long-running film series, as well as in the comic world.
$1.5 million, April 2022
This Silver Age comic brought the world its titular superhero team the Fantastic Four, made up of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Girl, the Human Torch, and the Thing. Following the comic’s success, creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee revived the then-dormant Captain America, and introduced such popular characters as Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and the X-Men.
Thanks to skyrocketing comic prices in the past two years, this 9.2-graded copy far exceeded the $210,000 value suggested by the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. Only five other copies of the issue have ever been given a higher grade.
$1.6 million, June 2022, Heritage
Male superheroes unsurprisingly dominate the list of most-expensive comics. The exception is this book featuring the first appearance of Wonder Woman in an eight-page story, a copy of which with an impressive 9.4-grade set a record auction price for the title. The comic features art by art by H. G. Peter and is considered one of the most important releases from the company today known as DC Comics. The Amazonian princess proved so popular she became the lead of later that year.
$1.74 million, May 2022
When it comes to Golden Age Comics, there are two contenders for the most significant issue ever released—Superman’s introduction in , and this historic comic where the world first met Bruce Wayne—better known as Batman. Only 36 unrestored copies of the issue, with its cover drawn by Bob Kane, are known to exist, and only eight of them have better grades than the one that currently holds the highest sales price.
“What’s great about it and makes it so rare is it was not issue number one, which people may have saved back in the day. It was issued number 27—who knew that one of the most iconic superheroes of all time were going to be introduced in issue number 27?” Ken Goldin said in a video ahead of the sale. “This comic, in comparison to a trading card, is rarer than the T206 Honus Wagner, the holy grail of sports cards.”
Proving the issue’s desirability, other copies sold at Heritage for $1.5 million in November 2020, $1.14 million in January 2022, and $1.13 million in June 2021, as well as an even $1 million—way back in February 2010.
$2.22 million, January 2021
Batman’s first standalone title is an important milestone for the comic world, marking the debut appearances of classic villains the Joker and Catwoman, both of whom have gone on to star in their own standalone films. Featuring Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson’s dramatic cover art of the Dark Knight and Robin swooping in to save the day, it helped solidify Batman’s place in the pantheon of superhero greats—and this particular copy has the best grade of any known to survive, a near perfect 9.4.
Collector Billy T. Gates owned it for more than 40 years, having purchased it for $3,000 at a Houston comic book shop in 1979. After he died, in 2019, Gates’s son decided to sell it, cashing in nicely on his inheritance.
$2.42 million, March 2022
A major landmark in the history of comics, Marvel Comics No. 1 marks the origins of the Marvel superhero universe, which has since birthed the wildly popular MCU film series. The first issue features the introduction of Marvel figures such as the original Human Torch and Angel, as well as Namor the Submariner, who will finally make his live-action debut in the upcoming .
This 9.2-grade “pay copy” sold at Comic Connect is embellished with handwritten notes from the publisher notating how much the writers and artists were paid—Frank R. Paul, who drew the cover, got just $25. It’s unclear why the annotated book was saved, but it turned up in a filing cabinet around 1993.
“It’s an incredibly important look into the world and behind the scenes of the [comic’s] creation,” ComicConnect cofounder Vincent Zurzolo told the Associated Press.
The sale, which attracted 33 bids, topped the previous record for the title, set by a 9.4-grade book from the Windy City pedigree collection that sold at Heritage for $1.26 million in November 2019.
“Without question, this is the granddaddy of all Marvel Comics, without which we would not have the characters and stories we enjoy in today’s comics and feature films,” Heritage senior vice president Ed Jaster said in a statement.
$2.6 million, December 2021
The original owner of this 7.0-grade copy of the first standalone appearance of Superman sold it in 1979 through his neighborhood comic book store for just $1,000. That’s a big mark up from the original 10-cent sticker price, but obviously nothing compared to the profit made by the man he sold it to, Mark Michaelson, who finally parted ways with the title in 2021.
“Cherish it for 40 years, like I did,” he instructed the winning bidder, speaking to the . (A lifelong comic fan, Michaelson actually met his wife at Comic Connect’s booth at New York Comic Con, 10 years to the date of the sale—but didn’t tell her about his prized Superman comic until about two months before selling it.)
Billed as “the complete story” of the alien superhero created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the 64-page book, originally intended as a standalone, clearly left readers clamoring for more.
There are only two known copies of the issue with a higher grade, of 8.0, and most are “literally disintegrating,” Comic Connect cofounder Stephen Fisler, who created the industry standard grading scale, told the .
$3.1 million, April 2022
In a memorable debut from creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Captain America faces off with Nazis, delivering quite a wallop to Adolf Hitler on the cover of . (The issue was released nine months before the U.S. entered World War II.)
The consigner had originally purchased the comic at auction in August 2019 for $915,000, then a record for the issue. He nonetheless decided to try and capitalize on the pandemic-driven demand for rare collectibles just a few years later. The move paid off with the book becoming the fourth-most expensive comic ever to hit the auction block.
$3.2 million, January 2022
The introduction of Superman is widely acknowledged as jumpstarting both the Golden Age of Comics and the superhero genre as we know it. Only a small percentage of the original print run is known to have survived—CGC has only certified 75 extant copies, only 43 of which have not been restored.
As explained in the intro, the auction record-setting “Rocket Copy” has now been sold twice in less than a year after remaining with its original owner for more than 70 years. But other copies of the first issue have also commanded impressive prices, such as a $3.25 million private sale at ComicConnect in April 2021.
“This is the comic that started it all,” ComicConnect cofounder Vincent Zurzolo said in a video announcing the sale, at a time a record price across all comic books.
$3.6 million, September 2021
Just edging out Superman for the most expensive comic book issue ever at auction is the debut of Spider-Man, the web slinging teenage hero. It is written by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko with art by Jack Kirby. The comic introduces one of the most memorable superhero origins of all time, with Peter Parker’s fateful radioactive spider bite and the character-forming death of his Uncle Ben, as well as the classic line “with great power there must also come great responsibility!”
The record-setting book is one of only three that have a 9.6 grade, making it tied for the best condition of all known extant copies. Upon its first release, it sold for just 12 cents.
“What better book to break the record than the debut of Marvel’s most beloved character, Spider-Man?” Heritage vice president Lon Allen said in a statement. “Amazing Fantasy No. 15 is the Action Comics No. 1 or Detective Comics No. 27 of the next generation.”