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To me, my variants!

§ May 3rd, 2021 § Filed under market crash, retailing, variant covers, x-men § 14 Comments

If you’re trying to decide “what’s the most famous example of variant comic covers of all time” — first, c’mon, what’re you doing with your life, and second, I think just through the sheer magnitude of copies that were unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, it’s gotta be 1991’s X-Men #1:

There were four different covers produced, the first three featuring a different mix of members of the team, with the final cover presenting their arch-nemesis Magneto. The four covers formed a single image when connected together, but if you didn’t trust your hand-eye coordination to assemble so complex a puzzle, Marvel had your back with the fifth variant: a gatefold cover that opened up to present the full image.

Unlike Spider-Man #1, the covers weren’t released all at once. Instead, Marvel decided to dominate comic sales for over a month by releasing each cover one per week, starting with the A, B, C and D covers (as they are usually referred to), culminating in the gatefold cover in the final week.

Orders were gargantuan. In total, over 8 million copies were produced, though as has been noted by multiple observers, and just through my own personal observation, a good chunk of those remained in retailers’ hands.

Speaking of personal observations, I’ve written in the past about how once impossibly-common comics from the ’90s marketplace are becoming slightly less easy to find in the wild, simply due to the attrition of stores that were active then having shut down in the intervening decades and taking their backstock with them. I’ve also written about how many of the people buying comics at the time either had no idea how to take care of their comics at the time (despite the wide variety of comic storage supplies being offered, and purchased, in sizeable amounts), or simply neglected their collections and let them fall to disuse and ruin over the years.

The point being…a comic that was once so commonplace and contemptuously familiar that copies were given away free with purchases is now, kinda sorta, becoming “collectible” again. Not to keep referring to things I’ve said in the past, but I’ve said in the past that even without actively buying copies of X-Men #1 in collections, I’m accumulating a backlog of it. And I’d say only abut a third of the copies I’ve seen have been in Near Mint or better, and when you actually have a copy in Near Mint (and not, say, VF- which you’re calling “Near Mint”) it can sell for a pretty good price nowadays.

Again, this all depends on local supply. There are probably still plenty of areas of High X-Men #1 Concentrations where they flow like water, and you merely need to dip your hand in a stream to retrieve a copy or three. And they’re all over eBay, natch. But, in areas populated primarily by newer stores, where even the bespectacled old men who have direct memories of those times and will gladly share them with you (ahem), they may not be as in deep a stock as they historically had been.

It was a large confluence of causes that resulting in this massive amount of orders:

  • The ’90s were a boom time for collectible comics, with a huge influx of new customers driven to comic shops primarily by the 1989 Batman movie, with earlier successes like Dark Knight, Watchmen and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helping to push the expanding market as well.

  • It was the time of The Hot Artists, and Jim Lee may have been the hottest artist of the time. Launching an expansion of Marvel’s popular franchise with Lee on art chores couldn’t help but grab market attention.

  • The investors were out in force. The aforementioned Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arguably kicked off a new wave of folks looking to make their fortune trading in “rare” comic books, and what could be rarer than eight million copies of X-Men #1? Okay, nobody knew it was going to sell that many copies, but it was a pretty easy guess that it was going to move some large numbers. That didn’t stop people from buying boatloads of copies in the hopes that they’d be able to turn them into houses or kids’ college funds down the road.

  • This may be hard to imagine, but there was a time in comics publishing that when a new series was launched, the expectation was that the series would continue so long as sales held out, and maybe if sales dipped a little, the publisher would try things like “new directions” or “fresh creative teams” or more promotion to support the book. The idea that new #1s for titles would flash by like strobe lights was not one that was considered. As such, retailers would order plenty of first issues of titles, as that would likely be the most sought-after number in the back issue bins over the years, and hopefully decades, of the title’s life.

  • And yes, the multiple covers. Outside of investors, just plain ol’ folk who bought comics and weren’t necessarily looking to turn a buck. As I brought up early on this ongoing series of “variant covers” posts, having different cover images was a way to encourage the regular reader to pick up more than one copy of a particular item. Plus, having the additional twist of making all the covers connect into a larger picture…it’s a cunningly evil plan that, I can tell you at least from my memories of selling the things at the time, worked quite well indeed.

Some have pointed to this as being one of the causes of the ’90s market crash, and…I don’t know, I think there may be worse offenders (I won’t say any names, but the initials stand for Deathmate) since, all things considered, X-Men #1 actually sold (though again, not nearly as many as were ordered). There were bigger stinkers out there, at least to the point that X-Men wasn’t seen as a flop, whereas something like Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was. That said, I’m sure enough people got burned on their investments on ’90s comics, including X-Men #1, that they, and their money, fled the marketplace, reducing cash flow and feeding the crash.

So wither X-Men #1? It remains a popular seller, as do assorted issues from the 1991 series as a whole. There’s a whole new audience of comic book buyers and X-Men fans who weren’t around thirty years ago when this series launched. And there are plenty of customers who were around but misplaced, sold, or damaged their copies in the meantime and want replacements. And, of course, there’s the current wave of speculation mania driving sales on any “key” and/or first issues.

I don’t always have every cover in stock, but I usually have at least two or three different ones on hand. The cover I see the least? The gatefold cover. The one I see the most? Surprisingly, the fourth cover with Magneto, given that, according to this article, it was the poorest selling of the first four. And that gatefold cover was the highest selling. Huh, go figure. (Again, it all depends on how many copies actually got into people’s hands, and didn’t disappear with the retailers who ordered them.) It’s my memory that, as each cover was released every week, sales dropped a little with each one, with a boost on that final fold-out issue. But I could be wrong…it’s been 30 years, after all.

And which cover did I buy, since as a 1990s comics buyer you were legally required to buy at least one copy of X-Men #1? Why, the gatefold edition, of course…I wasn’t going to miss out on any of that artwork!

Next time in my variant cover-age, even though John kinda beat me to the punch: Robin comics! A whole lot of ’em! Holy gimmick covers, Batman!

Oh, right, remember Miracleman?

§ July 8th, 2020 § Filed under self-promotion, superman, this week's comics, x-men § 4 Comments

So a couple of days ago I asked you all for a little help regarding my eyeball-related medical treatments and associated bills via a GoFundMe campaign. I was thinking at best I’d reach the goal amount, which would cover some outstanding bills, a couple laser treatments to hopefully, finally stem the constant bleeding in my eyes, and a few follow-up visits (likely requiring more injections).

Well, you really came through for me. The goal was reached within twelve ours, and folks are still contributing. Any extra money I receive will continue to go to medical bills and debt. If, with any luck, I finally get through this eye stuff and money is left over, I’ll find a worthy charity to give it to.

I said this on the GoFundMe page, and I’ve been blathering about it on Twitter…but I have been very moved by this enormous outpouring of help from everyone. I just couldn’t believe so many people care about some dude who sells comics and also types too much about them on the internet. I can’t possibly thank you all enough for what you’ve done.

• • •

Okay, so this week’s new issue of Superman reminded me a lot of the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League series from the ’80s, and I’m sure having that series’ artist Kevin Maguire on this new book helped a lot.

It was mostly a light, funny read except, of course, when it wasn’t, as Superman and Dr. Fate try to work out whatever problems Supes is having. More something that’s essentially talking heads (what, in a Bendis book, who would’ve guessed) it remains compelling reading as Superman works through his feelings on recent events in his comics. It’s not often you see your mainstream superhero books tackle the emotional impact of whatever super-shenanigans they were responsible for. And here you do, and somehow it’s interesting.

Plus I forgot we had a new Dr. Fate, which is from…I don’t know, two or three reboots ago, right? So I didn’t know if that new Fate was still around or if we were back to the original dude. If the new guy’s turned up in other stuff recently, I don’t know, since I’m still behind on just about everything. I’m catching up, though, one comic at a time!

Now this one I was interested in, as, hold onto your hats, I’ve never actually read the original graphic novel! In fact, my primary memory of God Loves, Man Kills is when I somehow managed to catch some religious TV show in the early 1980s looking at some then-recent comic books, including that very volume. I can’t remember many specifics about what the panel on this show had to say, except they weren’t entirely thrilled with the imagery of Professor X being crucified, and that the ended the discussion with “this cost $5.95? I remember when they were ten cents!” (Also, they talked a little about Thor, and his being the “God of Thunder” which was also apparently a problem.)

Anyway, I finally have my mitts on at least half the story, and since this is the “extended cut,” there are a few new introductory pages of what I’m presuming to be a framing sequence (with the other part of the frame in #2), featuring Kitty Pryde. Oh, and it’s by Chris (excuse me, “Christopher”) Claremont and Brent Anderson, the folks what did the original book. You know, that’s kinda neat. And there’s some back matter, too, interviews and such about the making of this story.

The story is pretty much Peak X-Men, with all the characters you’d expect, hanging out in the mansion, getting persecuted for being mutants, all that sort of thing. I mean, when I think “X-Men Comics,” this is what I think of, down to being written by Mr. Claremont, back before the 1990s arrived and the X-franchise was splintered and more-or-less destroyed. Well, okay, maybe the endless array of never-ending subplots aren’t as involved, but you can’t have everything.

And it turns out, it’s a good story, in case you hadn’t heard about this here graphical novel. A Falwell-type religious leader has it in for them mutants, successfully taking them on in the media, and meanwhile, some bad people are going around killing mutants, and The X-Men Are There to put a stop to all this. A nice point that’s made is that in a televised debate between said religious leader (Stryker) and leader of the X-Men, Professer Charles Xavier, it’s Stryker who comes out the clear winner, being charismatic and convincing and knowing ahow to play to the cameras, while our Professor X, who doesn’t know how to deal with the media, comes out a bit off-putting. A nice comment on how “truth” and “facts” can get easily steamrolled.

Another interesting bit in this half of the story involves Kitty, and the aftermath of her fight with a fellow dance class student who thinks Stryker’s got the right idea about getting rid of mutants. Kitty, a mutant herself, clearly objects to this, and her classmate refers to her as a “mutie-lover.” Following a brief scuffle, the instructor of the class, Stevie Hunter, a Black woman, tries to calm Kitty down, to which Kitty responds how Ms. Hunter would have responded if the other student had said “n*****-lover” instead.

The N-word is not censored in the comic, which I wanted to address, if only because not that long ago, in Marvel’s Miracleman reprints, the same word was censored, when it wasn’t in the original. I suspect the difference is context, in which the X-Men usage is simply making explicit the X-Men’s allegorical themes regarding racism and bigotry, while in Miracleman it’s a Black man using the word to describe himself in a derisive manner. Both uses are about the racist treatment of Black people, but the X-Men example is a little more obvious in its purpose. …Or, you know, just different editors making different decisions, and I’m just reading too much into it, which, you know, I never do. Regardless, it was still a bit of a shock to see, particularly in the current questioning of whether white people should even be using that slur in any context, no matter the point being made. Look, I don’t even like typing the censored version here.

I am glad I finally read this, or at least half of it, after all these years. It’s definitely a product of its time, with evil folks using religious as a weapon against the oppressed. Whew, thank goodness that doesn’t happen anymore. Anyway, maybe I’ll get around to reading that New Mutants graphic novel next. Nobody spoil it for me.

“I’ll keep this reasonably short,” he lied.

§ November 29th, 2019 § Filed under obituary, x-men § 3 Comments

So I’ll keep this reasonably short since it’s Black Friday and the day after Thanksgiving and y’all have better things to do that to read some old guy’s blog. I just wanted to say that I recently watched Chris Claremont’s X-Men, a documentary about that very thing that I found on Amazon Prime. I thought it was quite interesting, with lots of onscreen interviews with Claremont, one of his editors Ann Nocenti, other-mutant-writer Louise Simonson, and former editor-in-chief of Marvel Jim Shooter.

Lots of discussion about what went into making the book what it was, how certain storylines were put together, and how it all began to fall apart. My big takeaway from it, and one that wasn’t explicitly stated but could certainly be inferred (particularly by someone like myself who watched things happen on the retail end in real time) was that Marvel’s biggest mistake in the long-term health of the X-Men franchise was the straight-up discarding of Claremont after his shepherding of the property for so many years.

I went on bit of a Twitter-tear about this a couple of days back, where I essentially said that if Marvel had just kept Claremont in control of the book, instead of booting him off in favor of the Hot Artists that were in vogue at the time…in essence, if Marvel had thought about the health of the X-Men over the long haul instead of chasing that short term dollar, the X-books might have maintained their relatively-large audience (give or take the impact of the overall market decline in the ’90s) all these years. It could have been a consistent moneymaker, rather than a series of diminishingly-returning reboots/relaunches.

As pal Andrew rightfully noted, near the end there Claremont’s writing on the titles was, perhaps, not as keen as it had once been, and in need of a change. I do believe, however, that a carefully managed changeover to a new committed writer, maybe even keeping Claremont on as a consulting editor, would have been an overall better decision than, you know, what they ended up doing. (And who knows, Claremont could’ve found a second wind on the title…if it was necessary, as readers mostly seemed to think even the latter day stuff was just fine.)

One of the unique aspects of the X-Men, like the Legion of Super-Heroes before it, was the large fandom that surrounded it, attached itself to the characters, and were highly involved in the ongoing soap-opera aspects of their lives. Once that singular vision started to splinter with Claremont’s replacement by Many Hands, that addictive soap opera element began to lose its hold…and with cancellations and reboots, the perceived chain of continuity going back years seemed to feel lost. See also…the Legion of Super-Heroes, strangely enough. And New Teen Titans, too.

Of course, there are plenty of other (X-)factors at work here…I already mentioned the declining comic market, which may have forced reboots and relaunches anyway, whether or not Claremont was still on the title. And maybe, like all things, X-Men may have had its run and declined into obscurity. But I still can’t help but feel if Claremont had stayed on the book, or at least overseen a smooth transition to new creators who could have maintained the book’s approach, maybe those readers would have been kept behind, we’d have a book building on its own past, and we wouldn’t have had multiple restarts and #1s over the last few years.

I think having Jonathan Hickman as sort of the overriding “voice” of the new spate of X-titles isn’t a bad idea…the number and frequency of those new titles is a bad idea, but that’s just how Marvel is nowadays. But people are excited about the X-Men (if not especially the other new related titles) again, which is something that hasn’t happened in recent memory. Of course, as soon as Hickman is gone, everything’s getting new #1s again and we’ll be back at square one, but it is nice to pretend that maybe we’ll see an X-Men issue number…100 again? One can only hope.

• • •

I should note the passing of comics legend Howard Cruse a couple of days ago. He was a great cartoonist, by all accounts a fine human, and it’s sad to know he’s no longer with us. His classic graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, is coming back in a 25th anniversary edition next year, and if you haven’t read it yet, you really should. If you’re new to his work in general, his official website has plenty of strips you can peruse.

So long, Howard.

Just reminding you that original Nightcrawler mini-series is nearly thirty years old. You’re welcome.

§ November 6th, 2013 § Filed under pal plugging, x-men § 7 Comments


So it’s been a while since I last bought an X-Men book, and I had absolutely no intention of picking up Amazing X-Men until I actually held it in my hand. I’ve liked writer Jason Aaron’s work in the past, I enjoy Ed McGuinness’s art, and I have enough fond memories of the classic Dave Cockrum Nightcrawler mini, which the cover and parts of the story somewhat invoke, to decide to take it home. It’s a light enough adventure, with minimal wallowing in current X-continuity that even a dabbler like me can dive into the setting with only the slightest exposition. And then there’s the bonus oddball theological aspects that always crop up when you have superheroes bouncing in and out of the afterlife, which can be embarrassingly campy when handled poorly, but goofy and fun when handled right, like here. Well, they’ve got me for five issues, anyway, which is how long this initial arc is apparently going to last. We’ll see what happens when the inevitable crossover tie-ins begin to invade, but I am going to continue hoping this remains a fun Nightcrawler book, the other X-Men just supporting characters, becoming a solo title in all but name only. I’m not going to bet on it, but it’s nice to think about.

In other news:

  • How Did This Get Made is an entertaining podcast where the comedian hosts of the show spend an hour shouting at each other about a different terrible movie every couple of weeks, and it’s always hilarious. This week the film of choice is Daredevil, and some of you may be interested to note that comics writer Ed Brubaker (whom you may recall wrote the Daredevil series for a while) joins in on the fun, bringing his funnybook knowledge to the proceedings.

  • Hey. Hey, you. Awesome Hospital is back with an all-new two-part adventure. Go check it out.

I apologize in advance for using the word “pamphlets” to describe comic books.

§ September 16th, 2013 § Filed under cerebus, collecting, x-men § 9 Comments

So I recently acquired a comic that’s been haunting the back of my mind for nearly thirty years:


I glanced through this comic in the shop back when it was released in 1986, and two parts of the book have lingered with me all this time. One, the pronunciation guide on the cover (and repeated several times inside as a running gag):


I have been sort of privately pronouncing the name “X-Men” this way in my head for years. I usually don’t say it out loud, unlike “Defective Comics,” which I say every time I pull down the Detective Comics box because I think I’m hilarious.

And two:


…the shocking Cerebus cameo has stuck with me, because, you see, in the regular X-Men books, Professor X uses Cerebro, a big ol’ computer thingie, to enhance his mutant psychic abilities to find mutants. However, in Xmen (pronounced ZHMEN, one syllable) it is, of course, Cerebus who tracks mutants for Professor X, because “Cerebus” sounds sorta like “Cerebro.” Or, excuse me, “Cerebos,” as the clearly-edited-after-the-fact Us in these word balloons would have it:


I’m not even really sure why I kept this comic, which showed up in a collection recently. It’s not as if I haven’t had opportunities to pick it up in the past, since copies turned up at the shop from time to time. The comic itself as a parody doesn’t really do anything for me. There’s the funny names for the characters, the poking at X-Men tropes, the satirizing of then-current X-Men plot twists and character quirks, and so on, which might play a little better for someone more invested in the X-universe. The comic does feature some nice early work by Charles Troug, who would go on to illustrate Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man, so there’s that.

I suppose I mostly kept this comic to finally have a physical representation of those two wires this comic crossed in my head so long ago, a print version of the memories still echoing from that brief exposure.

Speaking of Cerebus, this comic came out last week:


…an anthology of parody/tribute stories by cartoonist Cerebus fans, using the Cerebus character as per creator Dave Sim’s decision to allow other folks to use it in new creative works. For the cover alone this probably deserves a place in your Cerebus collection, and you can read about its creation here (and buy a color print here!). The contents are amusing as well, with even the…less polished entries still having an undeniable and entertaining enthusiasm. Like the Xmen book above, it’s probably best appreciated by those folks still in the bag for the property being parodied, and a little too much “reading someone else’s mail” for the uninitiated. But, I’m still game for new Cerebus spin-off stuff, making me the target audience, I guess.

Almost universal reaction from customers at the shop (and even an employee or two) to seeing Low Society on the stands has been “a Cerebus parody comic…now?” which, well, fair enough. It has been nearly ten years since the series ended, but I do have to note that I’m seeing a small uptick in sales on Cerebus trade paperback collections lately, so someone out there is still discovering and reading it. Or, at the very least, upgrading their collections from the pamphlets to the phonebooks. At any rate, I did fear that once it was over, Cerebus would fade into memory, but there appears to be a little life sticking to it yet. It’s a complex, multilayered, and (especially in the latter half) divisive, problematic and controversial work, and still contains a wealth of material to be mined, discussed, criticized, and, yes, parodied.

Anyway, Cerebus: I still need to reread that someday.

I too have a savage fighting ability and an incredible wit.

§ September 4th, 2013 § Filed under found art, x-men § 8 Comments


Found in that blue X-Men box, this coloring book from 1994.

 
 

The only image in the entire book upon which
a coloring attempt was made.

 
 

That is one stern-looking (or poorly “referenced”) Kitty Pryde.

 
 

We are very disappointed in your sense of mutant duty, Strong Guy.

 
 

Goodbye, Tiny Wolverine…

 
 

…goodbye.

How to get me to buy an issue of Wolverine and the X-Men.

§ September 29th, 2012 § Filed under x-men § 6 Comments


Put Doop in it.

 
 
 

from Wolverine and the X-Men #17 (November 2012) by Jason Aaron and Mike Allred
– also, here’s your Doop translator

You mean…like a…mutant?

§ August 27th, 2012 § Filed under found art, x-men § 13 Comments

Recently acquired at the shop…issue #59 of X-Men (August 1969), with a special message for you X-fans scribbled onto the logo by some anonymous comics critic:


And apparently our critic wasn’t satisfied with warning you on the cover…he hit the first page, too:


Just what we needed…a back issue that deliberately insults possible buyers. …Surely that’s my job?

You go ahead and read your Avengers Vs. The X-Men

§ May 17th, 2012 § Filed under collecting, x-men § 19 Comments

…and I’ll read my 1993 trade paperback of X-Men Versus The Avengers:


I kind of miss the days when Marvel would put spangly foil logos on their trade paperbacks. (Of course, this ain’t a patch on those all-foil covers Marvel put on their Age of Apocalypse trades.)

ALSO: haven’t looked at panel one of any of these new Avengers Vs. The X-Men comics or tie-ins, but I feel pretty safe in saying there probably isn’t anything in them as cool as that battle between Ursa Major and Doctor Druid from the older series:


I’m sure there are only another, oh, three or four dozen more comics to go in this current Avengers/X-Men hoohar…hopefully there’ll be room to revisit this classic rivalry.

Suddenly…a 1986 Rogue sticker drawn by Art Adams…

§ January 21st, 2012 § Filed under trading cards, x-men § 8 Comments

…from the Heroic Origins card set from Comic Images:


I certainly hope they remembered to trademark that image. And logo. And hair.

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