Wolverine: A Bronze Age Anomaly

I was in Wal-Mart the other day with my one-year-old son. I was looking for baby food and got lost in the toy section. That’s when I spotted this: 

IMG00803-20140115-1606

Which one of these things is not like the others? Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor are four of the original Avengers. The inclusion of Wolverine in this package is, I think, both weird and important.

Keep in mind this is a toy for 3-year-olds. It’s supposed to serve as a kind of introduction to superheroes. These are the “basic” or “fundamental” superheroes we’re seeing here. Another way to think about it is that these are the characters Marvel thinks are most recognizable and the most marketable. If Spider-Man was the fifth character in the package, I wouldn’t have batted an eye, but Wolverine? Bit of a surprise. It suggests Marvel believes Wolvie is now one of their flagship heroes, one of the faces of their franchise.

Of course, Wolverine has been one of Marvel’s most popular characters for a long time. He’s always been able to move comic books. As I write this there are no fewer than four comics featuring Wolverine on sale every month (Wolverine, Savage Wolverine, Wolverine and the X-Men, Uncanny Avengers). And once Days of Future Past hits theatres this year, Hugh Jackman will have brought the character to the big screen six times. But here’s the thing: once Marvel starts making Wolverine toys for pre-schoolers, that’s a sign Wolverine has gone mainstream. He’s becoming a household name.

One of the reasons this is interesting is because Wolverine is the only hero in that box of toys created in the Bronze Age (approximately 1970-1985).

Most of the superheroes who’ve become household names were created in the Gold and Silver Ages. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Hulk  were all created between 1938 and 1963. Wolverine’s first appearance occurred a decade later in 1974 in The Incredible Hulk #181. When you think about it, there’s really no other character created in the last 40 years that has attained the popularity that Wolverine has.

If it’s fair to say that Wolverine has now ascended to the highest order of superheroes, then that makes his first appearance something of an anomaly, because, as a Bronze Age book, the first appearance of Wolverine is actually attainable.

Incredible_Hulk_Vol_1_181

I went through the Overstreet guide to compare the values of the first appearances of these top-tier, mainstream heroes. I chose VF condition (8.0), so we’re comparing apples to apples, and also because it’s a lot more likely you’ll be able to lay hands on a VF copy of one of these books than a NM copy. Here’s what I found:

Iron Man
First App. Tales of Suspense #39 (1963) VF $9,000

Thor
First App. Journey into Mystery #83 (1962) VF $13,000

Hulk
First App. Incredible Hulk #1 (1962) VF $30,000

Wonder Woman
First App. All-Star Comics #8 (1940) VF $31,500

Spider-Man
First App. Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962) VF $50,000

Captain America
First App. Captain America Comics #1 (1941) VF $84,000

Batman
First App. Detective Comics #27 (1939) VF $680,000

Superman
First App. Action Comics #1 (1938) VF $870,000

Compare these to the first appearance of Wolverine:

Wolverine
First App. The Incredible Hulk #181 (1974) VF $750

That’s a big gap. Granted, $750 is still a significant chunk of change. But it’s also a realistic goal. If I saved up $50,000 and spent it on a comic book, I’d better be able to make sweet love to it, because I’d be divorced shortly after purchasing it. If I had $870,000 to spend on a comic book, I would be Nicholas Cage. Since I don’t want a divorce and I don’t want to be Nicholas Cage, I’ll never own the first appearance of Spider-Man or the first appearance of Superman. But the first appearance of Wolverine? I can own that. It just requires time and a little bit of discipline.

I’ve decided I’m going to save up and buy a copy of Wolverine’s first appearance. It’ll make a great addition to my collection, and I don’t think there’s a better investment comic on the market. Wolverine has become a mainstream character. He’s not going anywhere, and his popularity is not going to decline anymore than Batman’s popularity is going to decline. Thus, his first appearance is very likely to appreciate in value significantly over time.

Now obviously, scarcity matters here. Golden Age comics are harder to find, so they’re worth more. That’s really the only reason the first appearance of Captain America is worth more than the first appearance of Spider-Man. It stands to reason that there are significantly more Bronze Age comics floating around than there are Silver Age books too, so it’s unlikely the first appearance of Wolverine is ever going to hit $300,000 or $50,000. But here’s the point: Wolverine has gradually clawed (HA!) his way into the top tier of the superhero pantheon. If you’re looking for one book that’s going to steadily and significantly increase in value over time, Hulk #181 is that book.

Copper and Chrome

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One thought on “Wolverine: A Bronze Age Anomaly

  1. Pingback: Comic Book Ages | Copper and Chrome

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