As Marvel’s first comic book fetches $1.26 million, here are five things to know about the superhero business


(Lena Rose, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Charlotte Edmond, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • Marvel’s first comic book just sold for $1.26m.
  • Movies have contributed to the enduring popularity of superheroes, bringing in new audiences.
  • The printed comic is still big business, worth over $1bn in North America alone.

Kapow! Thwack! Boom! Who knew the price tags on comics could pack such a punch?

A 1939 Marvel comic book just sold at auction for $1.26 million – and it’s not even the most expensive comic out there.

The copy of Marvel Comics No 1 is the most expensive Marvel issue ever sold. It introduces characters such as Marvel’s very first superhero, the Human Torch, and its first mutant, Namor the Sub-Mariner.

It was originally purchased by a Pennsylvania mailman, and its condition has been rated as 9.4 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Original marvel comic
The near-pristine Marvel comic reached a record price.
Image: Heritage Auctions

With superhero movies and paper comic books seemingly as popular as ever, here are five more things to know about the industry.

First Superman comic
Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

1. Superman tops the comic book charts

Superman’s debut in the number 1 edition of Action Comics, released in 1938, holds the crown for the most expensive comic. It was sold on eBay in 2014 for $3.21 million. Three years earlier, actor Nicholas Cage sold another copy of the same edition for $2.16 million. Only 200,000 copies were originally printed.

Avengers films draw huge revenues at box offices worldwide.
Image: IMDB

2. The Avengers top the box office

The four Avengers films are the highest-earning superhero films, together bringing in nearly $8bn at the worldwide box office. Avengers Endgame is the highest-grossing movie to date.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the most popular superheroes out there. Batman has had 11 different films made in his name, with four different directors.

Comic book films highest grossing
The Marvel Cinematic Universe films were the highest grossing film series of all time, in October 2019.
Image: Statista

3. The printed comic market is still big business

Research suggests the comic book industry has been growing steadily since the early 1990s, driven in part by the profitability of licensing and advertising. But since 2017 the market has started to slip. Total graphic novels and comic sales dipped 6.5% in the United States and Canada in 2017, but nonetheless remain in excess of $1bn.

Luke Cage comic debut
Luke Cage later got his own Netflix series.
Image: Marvel Fandom

4. First black superhero to have his own comic

Luke Cage was the first black superhero to get his own comic book. In 1972, Marvel created this man with unbreakable skin – the Hero for Hire – in the wake of the popularity of films like Shaft and Superfly.

A recent survey leaves the public divided on the diversity of superhero movies, but a surprising number of people can relate to the characters as depicted in films.

5. Marvel vs DC

It’s a divisive topic among fans, with both empires using TV and film to expand their fan base.

In the cinematic universe, Marvel films are undeniably more prolific, with characters such as Spiderman, Ant Man, Iron Man and The Avengers on the big screen.

According to a 2018 YouGov survey, more people prefer Marvel over DC.

Marvel and DC public preference
When asked, more people preferred Marvel media to DC.

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