Something old, something new, something variant, something blue.

§ July 5th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 12 Comments

In 1987, Marvel Comics finally married off its most arachnoid of bachelors: Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, was going to tie the knotted webbing with that jackpot of a redhead, Mary Jane Watson, in a vast multimedia event. The marriage was going to take place more or less concurrently in the shockingly long-running Spider-Man comic strip; in an actual live event, with actors and everything, and Stan Lee himself officiating, at New York’s Shea Stadium in front of a possibly perplexed audience waiting for the baseball game to start; and of course in the actual medium of funnybooks, in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21.

Given its presence here in our ongoing series on variant covers, you’d be correct in guessing that variants were indeed offered for this momentous event. It may seem underwhelming by today’s standards, where the equivalent event would require a dozen or more different covers of varying availability based on retailer orders (“1 in 10,000 ratio variant, featuring Steve Ditko’s blood in the ink — DON’T ASK HOW WE GOT IT”) but two covers were provided.

Harking back to the then-recent Man of Steel #1’s strategy, the image on the front of the version provided to your regular newsstand outlets, like your Stop ‘n’ Elevens and such, featured Spider-Man in his fightin’ togs, a be-wedding-dressed Mary Jane by his side, while super-powered mayhem was about to ensue in the background:

Meanwhile, direct market copies, sold through comic book stores and other specialized markets, provided a more subdued portrait, with Peter Parker in his tuxedoed civvies as the supporting cast looks on:

The different covers were, of course, aimed at attracting different audiences. The superhero-y newsstand version was more likely to grab the eye of the casual browsers, whereas the dedicated Spider-Man reader patronizing the comic shops would 1) buy their Spidey comics anyway, regardless of cover, and 2) would be more likely to recognize the characters. And naturally, there’s reason 3, discussed before, in which retailers were able to order copies of the newsstand version as well, meaning they had both versions side by side on the rack. And, as we know from, oh, the three and half decades of the comics market, if you offer multiple covers, a non-zero percentage of customers will buy more than one of them.

In researching the matter over at the invaluable Comichron, their year-end review for 1987 singles out the Amazing Spider-Man Annual for special attention, noting that the comic was in fact delayed in release by the decision to go with a variant cover. And that Diamond Comic Distributor orders for the direct sales version were close to double its orders for the newsstand edition. In addition, newsstand orders were actually very high for Amazing at the time, and even throwing in orders from the other comics market distributor Capital…it looks like significantly more copies of the newsstand version with Spidey on the cover were printed than the Peter cover for comic shops.

Now as far as I can tell, after checking eBay listings and various online retailers, the newsstand cover sold through comic shops retained the standard UPC code, and wasn’t replaced with a promo message, or Spider-Man’s head, or something similar. Not even the black crossbar across the UPC’s face. Thus, it looks like the newsstand cover available on actual newsstands and in comic shops were identical? Printing two covers delayed things already, so printing additional variants with different UPC boxes was a problem with which they didn’t bother?

I don’t know…my own entry into working comics retail came a year after this, so I don’t have direct experience with it aside from buying a copy (the Peter Parker cover, natch, from the store I’d eventually work at). Any additional information is welcome and I will update this post accordingly.

About twenty years later, DC followed suit by marrying the most iconic romantic couple in superhero comics history, aside from Popeye and Olive: Superman (or rather, Clark Kent) and Lois Lane were to be wed! Which came as bit of a surprise, as in the comics the characters were on the outs, in a storyline intended to last a while, until the Lois and Clark TV show opted to have the characters wed in their storyline, goosing DC a bit to alter their own plans.

Whatever their motivation, DC ended up publishing Superman: The Wedding Album in 1996, featuring the official union of the two characters. And, you guessed it, with variant covers. There was the deluxe “Collector’s Edition,” a stiff embossed cover available exclusively in comic shops that’s just going to show up as all white here:

And there was the “standard edition,” which was the version available on newsstands:

Unlike Amazing Spider-Man #21 (again, far as I know), the “newsstand” edition available in comic shops did have an altered UPC code, reading “direct sales” in the box:

And there was an edition printed with this “DC Universe” logo:

…which you can read about on this site. In short, a reprinted version of the original that was apparently sold on a cable shopping network…I’m guessing probably for way too much.

Anyway, back to ye old Comichron for the month of November 1996, and it’s probably no surprise that the Wedding Album deluxe edition outsold the direct market version of the standard edition by about 4 to 1. (Not sure what sales were on the actual newsstand version, but I’m guessing comic book sales through non-comic shop venues in the mid-1990s were not great.)

Now for this wedding I was behind the counter, slingin’ those comical books, so I have a little more direct experience with this release. I don’t recall the exact numbers we ordered (though I do have possession of the old store’s mid-1990s invoices that my former boss passed along to me for research purposes…I should actually start researching those someday) but I’m reasonably certain our orders were along the lines of Comichron’s sales charts: a lot more of the deluxe edition, not so much of the standard one.

In general I noticed, that when given the option, most customers would spring for a fancier edition of a comic book. Yes, it cost a little more, but the perceived value sometimes outweighs the price difference. Sure, you can get the regular version for a buck less, but for only a buck more you can get all the bells and whistles. You don’t want to miss out on anything, after all.

But what’s interesting in this specific case, the “Collector’s Edition” and the “Standard” editions of Superman: The Wedding Album both retailed for the same cover price of $4.95. I imagine in some cases that made the decision easier…you gotta drop a fin to read the story anyway, might as well get more for your money: i.e. that fancy cover.

Personally, I went with the standard version. I mean, that white cover was neat an’ all, but I wanted an actual image I could see on the comic I bought. I mean, sure, okay, that John Byrne cover is a tad bland-ish, but it suffices. Plus, I just have an easier time reading a comic when I’m not fighting that thicker, stiffer cardboard cover. Your basic floppier paper cover is fine by me, and certainly easier to handle.

Most of our customers did not agree with me, however, and ’twas the deluxe edition that moved out the door. Though I should note that we did sell out of the standard version…our orders were lower, sure, but still enough demand to wipe us out of them. And we had plenty of the deluxe version left over…we sold a lot of them, absolutely, but the remnants stuck around a bit. I do wonder, if we had more of the standard edition initially, if there would have been more parity between the two? Later acquisitions of the standard edition in collections would sell quickly as a back issue, while the deluxe copy’s sales were moribund. So…who knows?

The dichotomy of newsstand versus direct sales variations is still fairly cut and dried at this point, with the actual cover image (or other specific qualities) being the main driver in demand. It had long been conventional wisdom that all other things being equal, a comic where the only difference whether or not a UPC code was present made no difference in pricing. But now it is no longer necessary to have an entirely different cover; just being a newsstand version of a comic, with a regular ol’ UPC code, is enough to send prices skyrocketing, in this new back issue market desperate for new things to be collectible to replace the scarcer old things that don’t seem to show up quite as often anymore.

But perhaps that’s something we can talk about next time.

12 Responses to “Something old, something new, something variant, something blue.”

  • Brian says:

    The truth lies somewhere in between those two Spider-man covers. Peter has forgotten to take off his tights when quickly throwing on his tux, and his pant leg is riding up along his red-and-webbed “stockings,” while behind the happy couple is a brawl between Aunt May and Doc Ock — as happens when you mistakenly invite two exes to your wedding…

  • Les McClaine says:

    Somewhere between ’86 and ’96 Byrne started drawing Superman as that skinny little wiener and he never figured out how to draw him right again.

  • Michael Grabowski says:

    I’m curious if either Marvel or DC sprung for an actual big-name wedding dress designer to create the dresses for MJ or Lois, or if they left that up to the artists.

    As it is, MJ’s dress has the odd effect of making her look like a guppy, something I would expect the fashion model to want to avoid.

  • Mikester says:

    Michael – an actual big-name designer, Willi Smith, designed Mary Jane’s dress. Sadly, Smith passed away the same year this comic was released.

  • JohnJ says:

    Unfortunately, I remember the Superman/Lois wedding as the single issue I over-ordered on the most. I was still remembering how I was caught short on the death of Superman being an actual news story years earlier and was hoping for much better results, even running a newspaper ad DC provided. I think the marriage in Lois and Clark at the same time actually worked against the book, since it also cut into the morning shows covering the wedding as a “news” story.
    Also, one of the “facsimile” comics Marvel never followed through on in 2020 was Annual #21. I still have an order for that with my comics retailer. Wonder if they’ll ever print it.

  • Remco says:

    I’d have sprung for the ‘white’ version of the Superman comic, because holy moley! What’s up with Lois’ arm and hand? And Superman’s foot?
    That said, Peter Parker also seems to have a case of big-hands – perhaps been a bachelor for too long!

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    I am assuming that Peter Parker actually invited his friend Curt Conners, and not the Lizard. Also, inviting the Kingpin makes a bit of sense–he recognizes the value of good public relations, so you would presume that he would not start any trouble at the ceremony, and he is rich so you might hope that he would bring a nice present. However, inviting Doctor Octopus and Electro was just asking for trouble.

  • Andrew-TLA says:

    That newsstand Superman cover is kind of amazing, in that it manages to be a spoiler while also being rather non-indicitave of the contents.

    On the most pedantic level possible, it was Clark Kent who got married, not Superman. Especially since Superman doesn’t appear outside of flashback (via unused Curt Swan art!), since he’s still powerless after the Final Night event.

    As for the spoiler? Byrne drew him with short hair. The interior artists, meanwhile, kept the then-standard long hair until the actual ceremony.

  • Matthew says:

    I wonder if that that DC Universe logo in the UPC box showed up anywhere else.

  • Snark Shark says:

    Well, a JOHN BYRNE cover is a JOHN BYRNE cover! you made the right choice!

    I rather like the “Peter Parker” cover over the “Spidey” cover for the ASM annual, as well.

  • Kurt Onstad says:

    As I recall, the Deluxe Edition of the Superman Wedding issue was more difficult to find in mint condition almost
    immediately, as an all-white cover made of more stiff and embossed material made scuff marks a) more easy to see and b) more easy to make.

  • […] comics in this collection were “newsstand” editions, with the standard UPC codes. As noted before, there seems to be increased collector interest in newsstand editions, as they’re seen as […]