The Golden Aged of Marvel

The Avengers
movie opened this past weekend to buffo box office numbers more than 49 years after the original comic book appeared in 1963.

I had that comic book. In fact, I collected almost every comic book from that period from the early-to-mid sixties: Spider-man 1-50, Fantastic Four 1-100, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, Dr. Strange, X-Men 1-30. These were the original versions of these superhero comics that, if I had them and sold them today, could easily put my son through a Harvard education. X-Men number 1 alone is valued at almost  $100,000 in mint condition.

My mother used to pick me up after school and take me for an allergy shot every Tuesday, and my reward was a stop at the local Drug Fair to pick up all the latest issues of every Marvel comics at 10 or 12 cents a piece. I spent about a $1.20 for 10 at a time. I had a few subscriptions to Fantastic Four and others, where the comic would arrive FOLDED in a brown paper slip cover. I’m sure collectors today would shudder in horror at the thought. I remember quickly pressing them straight as soon as I got them because I wanted to preserve them as perfectly as possible, too.

I kept my comics in excellent condition, but I read them multiple times first. We didn’t have plastic comic bags back in those days, and we would have never thought of buying two copies of an issue to save one without opening it just for possible resale. But that’s why the comics from the 60s are worth thousands of dollars in their mint or near mint condition, and why the comics that came later in the 70s or 80s, when EVERYONE was collecting and preserving, are practically worthless. Rarity of a comic in great condition is what makes it valuable. Try finding a mint condition of an E.C. horror or science fiction comic from the even earlier 50s.

My comic collection, which ended up around 1,200 strong, earned value to the point where when I sold most of it when I went to college ten years later, it easily paid for a pair of 80 lb.ESS speakers with 15-inch woofers that I paid more than $300 for, and which I still use to this day. I like to say that I am still listening to my Marvel comic collection. But there are times I cringe a bit thinking just how much that total collection would be worth today. I thought I made a good deal when I got as much as $40 for individual titles in my collection. If you think about it, that’s still a 3200 percent profit markup from the price I paid for one. I can be satisfied with that.

What truly makes me sad, though, is that, at the time my life was devoted to reading and collecting Marvel comics, there were no such things as Marvel Superhero movies. We had a few lame attempts to create them in cartoons or on television, such as the Lou Ferrigno Hulk series in the 70s, but how could you film what would have been enormously expensive battle sequences and special effects back when Superman still had to fly by planking himself on a stationary post while a rear screen projection simulated the effect of clouds in the sky passing by? I suppose it’s better that we didn’t have a collection of the movies made back then and were stuck with our vivid imaginations instead.

The original Avengers line up was Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Ant Man and Wasp Woman. The new version drops the two pipsqueak people and replaces them with Hawkeye and Black Widow or whatever her name is. Those two characters were never around in the original 60s line up. But I guess it’s hard to cast a big star masculine actor in today’s market to play … Ant Man; especially when people realize all his parts would have to be proportional.

I’ll go to the Avengers movie, but probably not to fight the crowds on opening weekend. And I’ll remember sitting in my basement room of the house in Maryland I grew up in savoring the latest stash of Marvel comics from the Drug Fair that easily transported me away from the lingering sting of an allergy shot.

And then I’ll crank my ESS speakers up really loud.

— A. Wayne Carter

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