Monday, 2 November 2009

Oooh! Shiny!

The mid-90s saw the comic speculator boom reach its crescendo, as a whole bunch of stupid people decided that, because Amazing Fantasy #15 and Detective Comics #27 were worth a fortune, then all comics would eventually be worth a fortune. These stupid people went forth and bought a shedload of comics, which they then either bagged and tagged, to sell in the future once said comics had become valuable, or, hilariously, sold them to even more stupid people, who believed that because the comics were being bought in large numbers, they must be worth lots of money NOW. Before anyone could realise these spectacular profits, the bubble burst, the speculators went on to the next big thing (pogs, probably, or trading cards), and comic sales dropped like a stone, taking most of the comic shops with them. Before you laugh, bear in mind this sort of "logic" is pretty much exactly what caused the house-buying boom of the last few years, and you saw how well that turned out.

The rise and fall of the speculator market can be symbolised by looking at the use of foil covers in comic books. Bear with me.

In 1991, Silver Surfer #50 came out. This book featured a battle between Surfy and the reborn dark titan, Thanos, and was a prelude to the Infinity Gauntlet, a cosmic event which touched on most of the Marvel Universe (except the X-Books, which for some reason managed to dodge such things). Some bright spark at Marvel decided to celebrate this milestone issue, by issuing the book with a silver foil cover.

I imagine it did well, I recall friends being excited by the (really not done justice by scanners) cover. In any case, Marvel followed this up the very next month with a glow-in-the-dark cover on Ghost Rider #15.

Nice enough, I'm sure you'll agree, but, really, why the need for a gimmick cover? This issue did feature a confrontation between the 90s Ghost Rider and his 70s equivelent, but it was the concluding part of a three parter, and not even a particularly good three parter at that.

1992 saw Marvel issue a few more books promotional covers Most of them seem justifiable enough:
Amazing Spider-Man #365, Spider-Man #26 and Spectacular Spider-Man #189 all celebrated Spidey's 30th anniversary with neat little holographic panels.
Hulk #393 commemorated the Hulk's 30th anniversary and revisited his origins.
Guardians of the Galaxy #25 featured the 31st century heroes battling Galactus.
Spider-Man 2099 and Ravage 2099 introduced the world of tomorrow.
And, er, Silver Sable #1 celebrated the bounty hunting blondeshell getting her own book at last.

In 1993 , Marvel were churning out the gimmick covers, on, by my count, 44 comics. Some, such as the Avengers and the X-Men's 30th anniversary, were reasonable. Then there were such "essentials" as Namor #37, which celebrated Subby getting a new costume. Or Fantastic Four #371, in which the Human Torch accidentally set fire to Empire State University. Or Venom: Funeral Pyre, in which the world's most overrated supervillain takes on the Punisher (spoiler: nobody dies). By 1994, just about every comic had a gold, silver, platinum, 3D, die-cut, prismatic cover, or it felt like it. Every anniversary, no matter how trivial, every first issue, every "landmark" issue, had a pretty cover, and an inflated cover price to match. Sales were spiking all over the place, based not on how good the books were, but on the relative "buzz" generated by Excalibur #75 or Nova #1.

By 1995, the speculators were getting tired, and by 1996, most of them had vanished off in search of the nearest shop selling Magic: The Gathering cards. Other than a couple of Marvel 2099 books, the foil cover phenomenon vanished without trace virtually overnight.

It would be a good long while before Marvel would try another attempt at getting those speculator dollars, through the use of variant covers on books. A glance at the shelves of your nearest comic shop will show that Marvel doesn't really seemed to have learned any lessons from the 90s speculator boom, as just about every comic out at the moment is available with at least two covers. Disaster lies ahead...

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