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Only Bruce Wayne Could Afford These: The Enduring Power and Value of Batman (and His Comic Books)

Only Bruce Wayne Could Afford These: The Enduring Power and Value of Batman (and His Comic Books)
April 6, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

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Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney, Bale, Affleck, Pattinson.

There's a reason Hollywood persistently reboots and remasks Batman without shame or hesitation. Okay, maybe a little shame when it comes to Clooney's nipple-laden Batsuit (which sold for $57,500 this summer, by the way)...

The world simply loves the stories of the Caped Crusader, and that's been the case since the late 1930s. Today, it's not at all uncommon for people to lose interest in things they were obsessed with just months or even weeks ago. Attention spans are short. But for more than eight decades, Batman has held the attention of generations. Despite all its flaws and darkness, and perhaps because of them, you, your father, and his father before him have at some point enjoyed taking to the streets of Gotham, eager to watch as Batman attempts to clean them up.

Batman is an entertainment institution, and people simply don't tire of the masked vigilante's grappling with legendary villains and his own moral dilemmas. Collectors have not tired either - far from it - and there remain no grails more significant than the early source material: comic books from 1939 and beyond in condition that defies their age.

Last week at Heritage, over $5.1 million in Batman comic books and comic art sold across more than 80 lots. That means that the character accounted for approximately 30% of total sales at the Signature event.

Much of the value realized was concentrated in three books of utmost significance: Detective Comics #27 and two copies of Batman #1. Detective Comics #27, the first appearance of Batman, sold for $1,740,000. That ties the record for the most expensive sale of the book, which was established for a higher graded 6.5 in May of 2022. This example was graded a shade lower at a CGC 6.0.

That it was able to equal the record despite a lower grade and the passage of significantly turbulent time in markets is demonstrative of the book's unyielding strength, fitting for a hero of Batman's stature. There are just 37 CGC Universal (meaning not restored or qualified) copies of Detective Comics #27, with only 14 graded higher than a 6.0.

A copy of Batman #1, graded CGC 8.0, sold for $1,110,000. The book features a special, custom CGC label, celebrating the "Fantast Collection" from which it hails. That collection and the label, though, tell the tale of a family's significant struggles with a father's collecting obsession. Though that obsession produced myriad treasures like this copy of Batman #1, it also broke the family apart, leading to divorce and toxicity. It's unclear if that type of heartbreaking pedigree, despite the unique nature of the custom label, was additive to value.

At $1,110,000, the sale comes in lower than the last few sales of an 8.0. Rally shareholders sold their copy of an 8.0 for a now clearly remarkable gross offer of $2,000,000 in February, while the most recent auction sale was for $1,440,000 in September of 2021. Last week's sale nestles just narrowly ahead of a $1,050,000 April 2021 result.

The other major copy of Batman #1, graded CGC 7.0, sold for $660,000. There are just 141 CGC Universal copies of Batman #1, with just 15 higher than a 7.0 and a mere 8 higher than an 8.0. A 7.0 had last sold publicly for $334,600 in 2018. It was not the same exact copy, but that would represent gross annual appreciation of approximately 14%.

It may be fair to wonder if the simultaneous availability of three Batman trophy assets led to some cannibalization, but their ability to combine for over $3.5 million in sales in spite of that is a feat achievable perhaps only by Batman, Superman, and Spiderman. Superman leaped that total in a single bound at ComicConnect in December of 2021, with $2.6 million paid for Superman #1 and $1.6 million paid for Action Comics #1 in the same week - guess two books make that a double bound, but you get the idea. Peter Parker likely holds the crown, swinging his way to over $7.2 million in total sales at a September 2021 Heritage event that saw Amazing Fantasy #15 become the most expensive book ever sold at the time at $3.6 million.

When it comes to superheroes that have persisted in the cultural eye for generations, it's been best not to bet against their collecting power. If Clooney's Batsuit wasn't enough to derail Batman, it's hard to see what would be.

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