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Alas, no Bloodshot Bellywash.

§ March 8th, 2024 § Filed under promo, valiant § 6 Comments

So my dad’s clearing out the wine cellar at his house, and next to his cask of Amontillado, he uncovered this particular bottle of spirits:

That is a bottle of Darque Brew, a beer distributed as a promotional item by Valiant Comics in the early 1990s. The label features Master Darque, one of Valiant’s villains.

Here’s a closer look at the label:

And here’s a pic of the label by the cap, where you can see it was produced by the Capital Brewing Company:

Now the real mystery of this bottle that was in my dad’s possession was…where did it come from? I mean, yes, the obvious vector here is me, the son what worked in the comics business for more decades than is likely healthy. But he didn’t remember me giving it to him, and I certainly didn’t remember ever having it in my possession.

I remember my former boss Ralph having a bottle of Armstrong Ale, another Valiant Comics beer featuring one of the stars of Archer and Armstrong. He had the bottle stashed away in the back of the shop for years and years and I’m sure I saw it about a million times just in the course of my work days there.

When I think of Valiant’s beers, which to be entirely honest is not something I dwelt upon with any regularity, what I think of is that Armstrong Ale. If you’d asked me in the last few years how many different beers did Valiant release in the ’90s, I would have said just the one. I had no recollection the Darque beer even existed until my dad showed me this bottle.

Anyway, I brought up this Darque Brew to Ralph, saying both my dad and I were puzzled as to how he got it. Ralph replied “yeah, it came to my store addressed to you, so you kept it and gave it to your dad since you don’t drink alcohol!” I absolutely have no memory of this ever happening. But Ralph was a little half-annoyed that I got it, since he wanted it to go with his Armstrong Ale, so that mild annoyance kept the memory stuck in his mind, I suppose, whereas my near-immediate passing along of the Darque Brew probably flushed it out of my short-term memory right away.

Another mystery pretty much solved by the fact that my brain’s capacity for comics trivia does in fact have its limits. Think I’ll probably go ahead and let Ralph have this bottle to finally complete the set. Oh, and I should note there was more Valiant Comics beer produced in 2016, it seems.

For some additional info about the original Armstrong Ale, here’s an article that features pics of the packaging and inserts that came with the bottle.

Birthquakes sure make a fella thirsty.

§ March 23rd, 2022 § Filed under promo, valiant § 1 Comment

Sitting in the backroom of the old shop, unseen for decades…a promotional water bottle and a folder of press releases for the 1995 Valiant Comics event “Birthquake.”

Variant Comics! (You know, like “Valiant Comics,” only with “Variant” — okay, fine.)

§ May 31st, 2021 § Filed under valiant, variant covers § 6 Comments

So I contacted old, old customer Sean (not the Sean who’s been giving me Golden Age content lately, but another Sean, who by the way is actually still quite young, frustratingly enough) to verify a particular memory I had regarding him.

Specifically, I asked if he, along with pal Victor, were the ones who, in the early 1990s, dressed up as Valiant Comics characters Archer and Armstrong, sent in a photo of themselves to Valiant, and received a Gold variant of an issue of Archer and Armstrong as a special prize from the publisher? Or, you know, have I dropped too many boxes of Ultraverse backstock on my head over the years and I just made the whole thing up?

Thankfully, Sean verified that I was not in fact suffering from brain misfires and that the events transpired as I recalled. He was even kind enough to dig out the materials from the collection and take a photo of them to send my way, and he graciously allowed me to share it here:

You can click on the pic to Armstrong-size it. That’s Sean on the left there in the photo, beneath all that padding.

What brought this on was, well, my series here about variant comics combined with a recent acquisition of a Gold Unity #1 in one of what feels like a dozen collections of comics I’ve purchased in the last week or so. Here’s my slightly askew photo of it:

Currently priced at the shop for $12, if anyone’s interested! Anyway, that also reminded me that not long ago I had written a bit about the Gold Valiant books, and by “not long ago” I mean “9 years ago,” which you can read here (BONUS: includes a link to a Fake AP Stylebook gag I wrote). (EXTRA BONUS: the very Customer Sean I was talking about here shows up in the comments…he’s like the one guy to actually comment about the post instead of going on about Swamp Thing.) Before you ask, no, I didn’t keep the Gold Turok and I can’t remember what we sold it for.

Anyway, to repeat some of what I’d said then, I can’t recall the exact circumstances of distribution of these, though I know at least some were just straight up sent to shops in the mail directly by Valiant as promos or “thank-yous” or stuff like that.

I first planned this post to emphasize the fact that, as comic publishers in the 1990s went, Valiant didn’t do a whole lot of variants, focusing mostly on gimmick covers (like chromium covers or this dumb thing). In fact, aside from the Gold variants, the only ones that immediately came to mind were the Harbinger trade paperbacks, with most having the black bird logo:

…and some (apparently exclusive to Diamond) with the blue logo:

And the other one I remembered was the Harbinger #0, the comic you got when you mailed in all the coupons from the early issues of the series:

But you could get this blue-ish variant packaged with the self-same Harbinger trade:

Save your cards and letters, Valiant Fans, because I know I was wrong! This list here includes the variants Valiant had put out over its lifespan, as well as noting prints runs. (This is an archived page, and you can visit the current site.) I’m especially embarrassed that I’d forgotten about the pink-logoed variant for X-O Manowar #15:

…because those came packaged with a certain brand of comic supplies which we sold a ton of as singles, which meant opening box upon box of these things and we were swimming in copies. They were so common that even the hardcore Valiant collectors were like “nah, I’m good.” And of course I haven’t seen a copy of this particular variant show up in a collection in…well, forever. Another example of a once-common thing becoming harder to track down now that a lot of the stores that originally carried them are gone? Could be.

Another variant listed there was the Predator Vs. Magnus Robot Fighter Platinum Edition #1, which meant they used a silver-ish ink on parts of the cover instead of whatever the regular colors were. This was another one I recall floating around the previous place of employment for quite some time. I think we had one early one when the series was new that sold right away, and then received a copy in a collection long after the 1990s market crash when Valiant was no longer in collectable favor.

While I do recall some of the other variants listed on the site, the only other one about which I have a specific memory is the Deathmate Yellow Gold variant. Which, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell apart from the regular Yellow cover. I mean, sure, looking at the scans at that link they seem like they look different enough, but honestly, looking at them in real life I kept having trouble. Look, Deathmate Black Gold Edition was pretty easy to pick out. I just kept getting fouled up on this one.

And that’s what I gots to say about variant Valiant comics. Even since the 1990s market crash there’s been this quiet background demand for Valiant comics, particularly the rare-ish ones like these variants and the latter issues of some of the ongoing with the smaller print runs. Some of the pricing I see there on the site doesn’t surprise me. I know I’ve made a pretty penny off the oddball Valiant book over the years.

Now later iterations of the Valiant Comics publishing concern have had variants of their own, especially the current company which issues probably three or four variant covers for every comic they produce. But then, many companies do that nowadays to help drive up initial orders from retailers, so I guess I can’t really single them out for that. However, they did release this “talking” X-O Manowar variant:

…which I’m pretty sure was produced by Satan, so there you go.

Okay, the variant cover-age continues next week, with…gah, I haven’t decided yet. Wait, hold on, something just occurred to me as I typed that, a publisher I was just reminded about by one of my customers a couple of days ago, but it may be too horrible. We’ll see if I’m brave enough to tackle it next Monday. As always, thanks for reading, pals.

Look, just go read the entire Wikipedia article on Deathmate.

§ May 1st, 2020 § Filed under market crash, publishing, retailing, valiant § 4 Comments

So the other day I saw that comics artist Dan Panosian had posted a photo from the Deathmate promotional tour he and other artists did in the 1990s. (Here’s another pic showing more of the particpants.)

For those of you who weren’t there in the comics field during the ’90s, or were there and have since buried those memories. Deathmate was a high-profile intercomany crossover event between Image Comics and Valiant Comics. It…had some scheduling issues, shall we say, mostly on the Image side, with one chapter (Red, as they were IDed by color not issue number) coming out after the Epilogue. End result…sold well at first, then customers just kinda gave up on it partway through, leaving retailers with plenty of unsold copies.

I’ve noted Deathmate on this site here and there before, mostly in the context of how it was a symptom of/contributor to the comics market crash of the ’90s. I remember having boxes of these things in the back, and aside from a very brief flurry of interest in Deathmate Black due to it having an early appearance of the now mostly-forgotten Gen13, there were no aftermarket sales. Well, okay, that’s not entirely true, at one point at the previous place of employment we brokered a deal to sell 100,000 copies of our overstock to someone-or-‘nother for literally pennies apiece, and thus were we rid of these things. We got a nickel each, and we were glad for it.

Anyway, back to the tweet…I retweeted Mr. Panosian’s tweet with the comment about how “I’m here for Deathmate content,” which amused him. In the ensuing exchange we had (in which I assured him I wasn’t making fun, I’m genuinely interested in this period of comics) he asked “did it ever finish?”

Okay, you know publishers done screwed up when the folks who worked on the comics don’t even know if the series ever completed. I let him know “well, yes, technically” and that was that.

What amazes me most about Deathmate is how it should have been a slam dunk. Valiant was red hot, Image was red hot, a series pairing up all their characters written and drawn by strong creative teams (and they were!) should’ve sold like each copy was bagged with an original Incredible Hulk #181. And as I recall, the initial installments sold very well…and dropped off almost immediately after that. Even I tried only the first couple of issues and gave up (I think primarily because I was interested in the Valiant characters, but not so much the Image ones). The long delays on many of the books didn’t help, and despite it being emphasized that you could read the installments in any order, that apparently wasn’t true. All in all, it turned out to be a huge mess, and you should really read former Valiant honcho Bob Layton’s thoughts on the topic.

I am curious if any of you folks out there braved the entire series. My opinion of the project is based somewhat on those two issues, but mostly on the retail end of it, where I could probably have built a house using the leftover copies. I’m also curious if anyone is trying to revisit it today, as Valiant is a current thing again and, I don’t know, maybe someone out there has an interest in early Image publications? (If so, send them my way, I’ve got some Spittin’ Image to sell them, too.)

One last thing…as I was looking up those tweets, I found this one where I posted a pic of an original promotional poster for the Deathmate event. Being the wag that I am, I noted the optimism of the poster declaring the event as taking place “over the summer.” But then Twitter pal Corey outwagged me with “they didn’t specify only one summer” and fair play, sir. Fair play, indeed.

The bottle of Armstrong Ale is still the best Valiant promotion of all time.

§ May 18th, 2015 § Filed under valiant § 3 Comments

So one of the side effects of doing my End of Civilization posts (which I haven’t done in a while, I realize…I plan on doing one when the next Previews comes out) is that it gets me to pore through the order catalog fairly thoroughly a couple of weeks prior to my actually having to go through it for work-related reasons and generate my order numbers.

Since I’ve been out of the End-of-Civilization-writing mode for a few months, I haven’t done my close reading of Previews ’til just a few days ago, as I started working up the monthly order. As such, I didn’t really look into the details on the Legends of the Geomancer deal from Valiant Comics ’til then.

“What the heck is that?” you may be asking. Well, here’s the deal. The full title is Book of Death: Legends of the Geomancer, which is a companion series, containing an all-new story, to Valiant’s crossover event mini-series Book of Death. The catch here is that Legends of the Geomancer is a “retailer incentive” — for every certain number of copies of the regular Book of Death first issue I order, I can get one copy of the Legends of the Geomancer first issue. If you’re a store who has a dozen customers who all want to read Legends of the Geomancer, you’re gonna have to order hundreds of copies of Book of Death in order to accommodate them. And unless you have hundreds of Valiant fans shopping at your place, I don’t know that you’re going to order that many…and if you do, you’re going to have more than a dozen of them wanting that Geomancer series, most likely.

Now, the press release says Legends of the Geomancer is never being collected into trade, which of course leaves the possibility open for deluxe hardcovers or digital download or whatever, but it also compares the planned scarcity of this comic to the Harbinger #0 from the original Valiant Comics of the early ’90s. Now, as someone who was there for that particular situation, I can tell you that these are two different things. Harbinger #0 was obtainable by everyone who bought the initial issues of the Harbinger series, in that if you collected the coupons from the first few issues and mailed them in, you got yourself that #0. It wasn’t “we only put coupons in 1/25th of the print runs of those early issues, so only people who managed to find those coupons could mail away for it.” Everyone who read those issues and wanted the #0 could get the #0.

As time went on, and the comics investment craze of the ’90s went into full swing, Harbinger #0 did increase in demand and was hard to find, both as readership of Valiant books increased and people who didn’t jump on at the ground floor sought it out after the coupon offer ended, and as people looking for “hot, rare” comics snapped ’em up. But even then, the story was eventually available, as the Harbinger trade paperback was released, polybagged with a reprint edition of that #0. (There were also collectible variants of those trade paperbacks, but that’s a story for another time.)

Point being, anyone who wanted to read that Harbinger #0 could do so, in some form, eventually. It wasn’t hard to get initially for folks originally picking up the series, and it was offered up again later for anyone who missed the boat the first time.

Valiant saying that the story related in Legends of the Geomancer is known only to a few people in the Valiant Universe, and thus its limited distribution in our universe will reflect the scarcity of that knowledge, is clever and all, but potentially frustrating to anyone with a vested interest in following Valiant’s comics. The current comics market combined with our current economic state is not one where you can afford to give people excuses to not read something, and it would be too easy for someone to say “well, if I can’t read all of this Book of Death event, then I won’t read any of it.” On the other hand, another difference between the then of Harbinger #0 and the now of Geomancer is the fact the second a comic gets into someone’s hands, it’s scanned and thrown up on a torrent site for anyone so inclined to read it that way. Hey, no money for the publisher or me, the friendly neighborhood retailer!

I’m not trying to be to harsh on Valiant. Good on ’em for trying something different to create some buzz, and they’ve done some interesting promotional stuff in the past. I just think this particular stunt isn’t a good idea, and I hope they reconsider making Legends of the Geomancer more widely available, especially given the strong creative team on the book. To be fair, Valiant is offering some generous deals to retailers to make it a little easier to order the numbers necessary to obtain the rarer book (such as returnability and deep discounting) but it’s still ordering a lot of one comic in order to get a precious few of the other, and it feels almost wasteful getting too many of something you’re just going to have to destroy for returns later.

There are workarounds, of course, such as selling the main Book of Death for cheap and hopefully moving more copies that way. But I want good comics to be easier to find, not harder, and I’d be a lot happier just being able to order what I think I can sell to customers who just want to read the books, rather than jumping through hoops to fit my business plan around someone else’s marketing gimmick.

There’s gold in them thar funnybooks.

§ July 9th, 2012 § Filed under collecting, market crash, retailing, turok, valiant § 9 Comments

While the Valiant Comics collectability heyday of the 1990s is now a distant memory, along with most collectability of ’90s comics for that matter, there still remains some market desirability for certain Valiant releases: the early “pre-Unity” issues (Unity being Valiant’s line-wide crossover event series), the last issues of some of their series (with their smaller print runs, you see), the early video game comics (Captain N, Super Mario Bros.), some of the #0s and mail-away/promo books, and the gold logo/gold foil variants of some of their regular issues.

Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve thought about how these gold variants were distributed to retailers…I don’t think it was like how variants are doled out by the big publishers today, where you get one special variant for every 10, 25, 100, whatever regular covers you ordered. I suspect, at least in some cases, that the gold editions were just mailed out to retailers for us to do with as we wish. In any case, in recent years these gold variants have been selling for a pretty penny on the eBay, and the few we’ve acquired in collections over the last few years turned over some sizable profit via the online auctions.

However, I suspect we may experience where the line is drawn vis-à-vis Valiant gold-logo collectability with this recently-acquired golden edition:

It’s probably a bit hard to tell, but that’s a gold corner box and a gold foil logo on that Turok #1. Now, as I’ve written before, Turok #1 was, if not a cause, at least one of the primary symptoms of the ’90s market crash. Hot collectable company produces what should be a hot collectable #1, every retailer on the planet orders a royal assload of said #1, #1 comes out, nobody cares. So all those retailers end up with a huge ol’ turkey that they try to blow out in their bargain bins in the subsequent decade or two since.

Now, it’s possible that someday we’ll experience the Shazam! effect, where the greatly-anticipated release of Shazam! #1 in 1973 resulted in a huge abundance of that comic in the marketplace, with many copies going straight to quarter boxes. There they sat, thumbed over and exposed to the elements, until suddenly…oh, hey, it’s awfully hard to find mint copies of that comic nowadays, and now price guides have mint copies of Shazam #1 at, I don’t know, $40, $60 maybe? I don’t have my guide in front of me, but you get the idea. But if that happens to Turok #1, ever, it may not be until after I’m long dead, so, you know, in ten years or so. But basically what I’m saying is that Turok #1 is not seen as a desirable collectable by pretty much anyone, and I suspect even having a gold logo may not make that much of a difference. This site, which has been monitoring online Valiant sales, notes the market value at about $12, but ain’t too bad, I guess, but not really a patch on some of the money we’ve made on other gold Valiant variants.

But still, that gold edition Turok is nice-looking. And I do like Turok comics. Maybe I’ll just keep it.

Speaking of gold editions…this strictly isn’t just a variant, as such:

…but a second printing, which DC indicated by changing the frame of the cover from the first printing’s dark blue to this printing’s gold adding a gold border (thanks, Old Bull Lee!). Mostly I was just going to bring up the fact that Deathstroke, at one point in history, was popular enough in his own title (due in part to a brief renaissance of the Teen Titans franchise at the time) to warrant a second printing for his first issue, but then, oh yeah, it happened twice.

Every once in a while, I remember that Aerosmith appeared in a Valiant comic.

§ September 5th, 2010 § Filed under valiant § 6 Comments

from Shadowman #19 (Nov. 1993) by Bob Hall & John Dixon

Well, it was no Howard the Duck meeting KISS, but it was certainly…something.

Shadowman, like many of the early Valiant superhero books, was an interesting title, with the main character finding out in the time-and-space-spanning epic crossover event Unity that he was fated to die in 1999, with that knowledge coloring his actions and emotions through the rest of the series. Of course, that series ended before actually reaching the year 1999, and I don’t know if that particular plot point was resolved or even addressed in any of the spin-off material, like the next two Shadowman series which featured new characters, or the halfway-completed mini Unity 2000 by Jim Shooter and Jim Starlin. But it was a clever twist on the superhero crossover event, in that for once something that happened in one of these events actually had a dramatic, serious, and more-or-less permanent impact on the character involved. No “Hulk breaks a leg!” here.*

So, Shadowman…another reason why I miss those initial Valiant Era comics. Even that goofy Aerosmith issue.

* Yes, I know Shooter was involved with that, too.


§ September 19th, 2005 § Filed under market crash, valiant Comments Off on Deathmike.

As I’ve mentioned previously on this here weblog, one of my projects at the store lately has been going through dead stock in the back room. We have a buyer who just wants to buy a lot of comics in bulk, and doesn’t care what they are…we’re not getting much for ’em, but “a little” is better than “the nothing” we were getting for them before. Plus, we’re freeing up lots of valuable store space, and that’s the half-full cup I’m focusing on.

The vast majority of the bulk comics we’re unloading are from the early ’90s, that crazy period when comics were booming, recent back issues were selling like you wouldn’t believe, money was coming in by the crateful, and these good times were never going to end, never! Well, they ended, all right, with promised blockbusters not busting a darn thing, and the collectors/investors that were driving the inflated comics market bailing out and buying, I don’t know, Beanie Babies or some darn thing instead.

One of those comic market bombs was the much-ballyhooed Image Comics/Valiant Comics mini-series Deathmate, which I mentioned briefly before. As I noted, a crossover between two red-hot companies was sure to be a sales success, and most stores ordered accordingly. However, it ended up tanking, whether it was due to its erratic shipping schedule, lack of the more popular Image characters (like Spawn), or just plain awfulness, it’s hard to say. Actually, it’s not hard to say…it was all three, surely.

At the time, I was still enjoying some of the Valiant books, and though I had little to no interest in the Image characters represented, I thought I’d give the series a try. No go…after the first two issues, I decided that it wasn’t for me, and I hardly gave it another thought. Well, as a fan, I didn’t give it another thought. As a comic store manager, I gave it plenty of thought…”well, crap, what am I going to do with this boatload of Deathmates?”

My plan for this weblog today was to gather together a full set of Deathmate, read the series from beginning to end, and do a (hopefully) light-hearted and fun review of the comics, and we could all have some fun reminiscing about this strange time in the comics industry.

That was the plan.

However, to pull the plan off, I would have to read the comics in question. And you know what? They’re really, really bad. They’re like the epitome of what early ’90s “hot” comics were like…barely competent art, extremely sparse plots that still managed to turn into jumbled messes, laughable dialogue. I managed to give a full read to the first couple in the series, but could only manage to skim the rest.

The overarching “plot,” as it were, of the series was that Solar (from the Valiant Universe), heart aching from the loss of his life-long love, flings himself into a some kind of interdimensional limbo and finds the WildC.A.T.s’ Void (from the Image Universe). The two of them get down with some cosmic lovin’, and as a result, the two Universes are merged, and the rest of the series is characters running around shouting at each other that something is wrong with reality.

The best part of Deathmate (and by “best” I mean “oh, look, the dog poop on my shoe isn’t so thick by the heel”) was probably the first story in the Prologue, which is at least is by Bob Layton and Barry Windsor-Smith (inked by Jim Lee), so it’s at least competent. It is a nice companion piece to the generally excellent early issues of Valiant’s Solar series, in which Solar’s companion Gayle asks him to stop extending her life with his powers…to let her die. It’s affecting, in its way, and kicks off the whole “Solar seeks companionship with ultra-powerful cosmic being” thing I mentioned earlier. It’s a bit more complicated than that — isn’t it always? — but that’s the gist of it.

Now, as for the rest of the series…lemme explain first, for those of you blissfully ignorant of how this whole Deathmate thing worked. Instead of issue numbers, which would have made things easier, the issues are identified primarily (har har) by color. The Prologue and Epilogue issues have silver foil covers, and the other issues have blue, black, yellow, and red foil. There are also variant covers, of course, since this was the ’90s, but I’ll get to those later.

The foil cover on Deathmate Yellow is probably the worst of the bunch. Scanning it doesn’t do it any justice…I tried, these guys tried, but nothing quite properly conveys the piercing, acidic yellow on this cover. Sunday at the store I was packing up a pile of these for the bulk sale, and that yellow actually started to make me physically ill. And no, it wasn’t the thought that we dumped so much money into this comic…I was having an honest-to-God reaction to that horrible, horrible shade of yellow. I’ve no explanation.

Anyway, back to the actual contents…the majority of the stories in the Deathmate series are Valiant and Image characters fighting each other, but the first story in Yellow features Valiant characters Armstrong and the Eternal Warrior being “Jerked Through Time” (that’s the title, I swear) to ancient Rome. As a result…quite possibly the finest use of a vomitorium in an intercompany comic book crossover:


And, yeah, that’s pretty much the highlight of that book. In fairness, it’s not a terrible story, given that Armstrong is so slovenly a character that he’s usually fun to read.

Deathmate Black is notable for being the only issue of the series to have even the slightest aftermarket demand, primarily due to the brief appearance of the briefly-popular Gen 13. Also, this issue provides a good microcosm of the ’90s comics market. Here’s what about half the books from Image looked like:


And here’s the other half:


The most infamous issue was, as I recall, the one that was the most delayed, Deathmate Red. I believe it was also returnable, at least partially, as well, making it the hardest to find. Though why you would want to find it is beyond me…it’s Youngblood and Bloodshot, with Rob Liefeld at the helm for at least the first half, and you can glance at this cover for a taste of its greatness.

Aside from the core series, there were also variants and a “preview” issue. The preview is generally referred to as “Deathmate Pink,” and you can see a pic of it here. It’s simply a few pages from Yellow, with Shadowman sitting down and having a quiet cup of tea with Grifter. Oh, okay, not really, they’re actually fighting. “Pink” was distributed with the Diamond Previews catalog, though, according to some of the signage I still had with our copies at the shop, copies may have also been distributed with boxes of Ultra Pro comic supplies.

The variants were simply gold foil editions of the books, which made the variants for Blue and Black stand out, but the gold variant of Yellow always used to make me look twice. It was just close enough to not be immediately obvious to me at the time, though looking at it now…well, the fact that the gold foil doesn’t make me sick should be difference enough.

I should admit that, as I was processing the Deathmates for disposal, I thought I’d better check the back issue bins in case the Deathmate section needed restocking. Surprisingly, we needed Blue…though seeing as how this is probably the first time I’ve checked this section is, oh, a decade, who knows when it actually sold.

So anyway…so long, our backroom Deathmate stock…we barely knew ye, but I’m glad to see the back-end of you as you become someone else’s problem.

Of course, with my luck, suddenly Deathmate will become red-hot again as soon as we unload all these turkeys. Though I shudder to think of a comics industry shift that would make Deathmate popular.

In which Mike goes on way too long about things that happened 12 years ago.

§ September 12th, 2005 § Filed under death of superman, market crash, valiant § 3 Comments

So we purchased yet another comic collection the other day, and in this one was a copy of Adventures of Superman #500. “Oh, big deal,” you’re surely saying, “every comic book store has about a bazillion of those damn things.” And, ordinarily, you’d be correct, but this is the platinum edition, friends. It’s packaged in a black bag with a silver super-“S” on the front, and with the phrase “limited platinum edition” (or something like that) printed along the bottom.

Okay, now you can say “oh, big deal.”

What amused me about this comic is that, like its non-platinum counterpart, it is sealed in the bag so that you can’t see the comic inside without opening up the bag. And the comic inside is also some kind of variant as, unlike the regular edition, the letters of the Adventures of Superman logo are embossed and raised up from the cover.

Now, the sort of person who is interested in buying the limited “collector’s” edition of the pre-bagged Adventures of Superman #500 wouldn’t be terribly likely to open up the bag and, um, appreciate the variance of the cover inside, I’d imagine.

Maybe I’m wrong…perhaps whoever buys this will not care about maintaining full resale value, and oh so carefully trim open the top of the plastic bag in order to slip the book out. (And yeah, I believe that Overstreet Price Guide‘s official policy is that carefully opening a prepackaged-in-a-polybag comic doesn’t affect the value, but as someone who sells these things for a living, it doesn’t work like that in the wild.)

Anyway, the point of all this was that, of late, I’d been reflecting back on the big comics market crash of the early ’90s. Specifically, which comic you could point at and say, “the market crash began with this very issue.”

For several years, the comic I pointed at as being the turning point for the comics industry decline was Turok #1 from Valiant Comics. When Valiant first started their superhero line, their books were warming shelves coast-to-coast initially, but all of a sudden, a collector’s frenzy (spurred on by the new price guide magazine Wizard, and an influx of collectors/investors from the then recently-collapsed sports card market*) sprung up around these books. Prices began to skyrocket on early Valiant issues, which were being ballyhooed as hot, rare, investable items. New #1s flew off the shelves, and sometimes we even had to tag the new books with “1 per customer” signs — and, as I noted before, that tended to encourage further sales.

And then Turok #1 was announced for release in 1993. Comic fans (including me) had fond memories of the original Dell/Gold Key Turok Son of Stone series, and the investors who couldn’t care less about comics industry were still excited about yet another Valiant Comics #1. Plus, it was going to have a shiny “chromium” cover, and people liked the chromium back in the day. Plus, Turok was introduced to the Valiant Universe in 1992’s Magnus Robot Fighter #12, which was commanding some significant coin of the realm in the secondary market.

So, basically, perceived demand was high.

Retailers, who were getting the “high demand” vibes for the book, ordered massive numbers. Turok #1 was going to be like printing money, for certain!

Well, even if you weren’t there for it at the time, I’m sure you see where this is going.

Since everyone ordered large numbers on Turok #1, there was plenty to be had. Racks were overflowing with Turok #1. Part of the collecting appeal of Valiant Comics was the apparent scarcity…Turok #1 was the exact opposite of “scarce.” The investors who preordered dozens (or hundreds) of copies quickly realized that there was no way they were going to be able to turn them around into quick cash. And retailers realized that there was far more Turok out there than there was demand. Some people began blowing out copies of Turok for below cover, further damaging the perceived collectible value of Valiant Comics, and comics in general.

Plus, the chromium cover ended up being an embossed cover with a oversized chromium card glued to the front. It’s not bad looking by any means, but people were expecting an actual full-chromium cover and not a glued-on card. It may be that’s what was originally solicited, but it wasn’t what people were expecting.

It’s not as if the market immediately collapsed into nothingness following the release of Turok #1, but I think we all really began to realize that the glory days were over, and more and more collectors began trying to divest themselves of their investments over the following months…and years.

Another possible “death-knell” for the ’90s comics boom was the aforementioned Adventures of Superman #500. If you remember the day Superman #75, the “Death of Superman” comic, came out, most comic shops were madhouses. Apparently a slow news week combined with increased media interest in comics resulted in a lot of news coverage of this particular storyline, and it seemed like everybody wanted to be in on it. On the day it came out, we had a line of people outside our store, stretched down the block waiting for us to open.

Now, keep in mind that we ordered Superman #75 a few months in advance, with absolutely no knowledge of what was to come. We did bump orders up to about four times what we normally received on our Superman books, which were okay sellers at the time, but nothing outstanding. So, seeing that line outside the store, we were forced to do the “1 per customer” thing, even posting signs in the window stating as such. Well, let me tell you, that pissed off some people something fierce, but if I had to choose between having someone mad at me because they one got one copy of Superman #75 and having everyone mad at me because they couldn’t get any copies due to the first person in the door buying everything we had, well, it’s not really much of a choice, is it?

And it was crazy even past that first day. I had huge waiting lists for fourth printings of Superman #75. That may seem like crazy talk, but I swear it’s true.

So the “Death of Superman” story wraps up, the “Funeral for a Friend” storyline that follows wraps up, and the Superman books go on a very brief publishing hiatus.

And now, we have to order Adventures of Superman #500.

This isn’t the issue where Superman comes back to life, but it is the kick-off for the long storyline that eventually would lead into the return of Big Blue. Demand is still huge for the Superman comics. People come by or call every day asking about what’s up with Superman. “Is he back yet? Is he back yet?

So, thinking about what we could have sold on the original, black-bagged, “collectors” edition of Superman #75 had we only known of the buying frenzy to follow, and considering the interest we were still getting in Superman, we place our orders for the white-bagged Adventures of Superman #500.

And so does most every other retailer.

You see where I’m going with this?

When Adventures of Superman #500 comes out, while it does sell relatively well, there’s no attendant media push. The “Death of Superman” thing is old news, why should the media cover it again? Thus, there’s no huge audience of “civilians” who otherwise couldn’t care less about comic books lining up outside comic shops waiting to get their hands on the next new collectible. It’s not a dog like Turok #1 was, but there’s still plenty to be had, and for the investors that can drive collecting frenzies like the one for Superman #75, a lack of scarcity can only mean the bloom is off the investing rose (or, um, something like that). Coupled with the sudden realization that perhaps the black-bagged Superman #75 isn’t worth the premium prices paid on the secondary market (at the time, I heard about someone selling them for $100!), this too surely was a contributor to the comics market crash.

Now this was just local market conditions…for all I know, someone in Wisconsin was selling Turok #1s and Adventures of Superman #500s like they had twenty-dollar bills stapled to the cover**, but it seemed to me that these two books did indeed mark the point where the comics market began its decline, as readers became disenchanted with event books and variant covers, as investors bailed out and starting buying toys and Beanie Babies instead, as comic stores started to shut down across the nation (we lost about seven or so in our tri-county area during that period)…wow, I’m bumming myself out, here. We were able to ride out that rough spot, but in some ways our store (and others, I’m sure) are still recovering from that huge crash.

It was a hard time, with some hard lessons learned regarding our own ordering habits…no one forced us to order that many Turoks, for example, but it sure seemed at the time like we wouldn’t have any problem moving them! Of course, I’m moving them now…I’m blowing them out in our bargain boxes. I don’t think I’ve had anyone pay cover price for a Turok #1 in years. Adventures of Superman #500 does still sell on occasion, but we have a pretty good clientele for Superman books, so that’s not too surprising. We’ve still got plenty of ’em, though.

So, does anyone else have any likely culprits which, like Turok #1 or Adventures of Superman #500, seemed to trigger the ’90s comic market crash?

* I could tell the new comic collectors fresh from the sports card market by the way they asked for “comic book Becketts.”

** If they did have twenties stapled to the covers, you could be sure someone would complain “but, but…it’s not mint!”