Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wednesday Comics (on Thursday): The #1's That Got Away

I think anyone who is an avid collector is generally disatisfied in some way.  There is a desire for completion of sets and scooping up great deals.  As a collector of comics, I have bought a number of comics speculating that they would be either very good reads or very valuable one day.

Of course the latter led to the burst of the comic book bubble in the '90s.  People thought that the #1 issue of anything would one day have value.  It is an understandable mistake for someone who knows nothing about comic books. 

"I heard that Superman #1 sold for, like, a million dollars."
"Look!  There's an X-Men #1 for sale!"
"Then let's buy 40 copies!"

The comic book companies milked that cow until it ran dry and keeled over.  And many of those number one issues are next to worthless (I'm looking at you Youngblood #1).

And yet there is something inside most comic book collectors that innately pulled to the #1's.  I know that a lot of people get annoyed when a book they like, The Amazing Spider-Man for instance, gets cancelled and rebooted with a new #1.  It feels like a cynical marketing ploy.  It is, but it works.

That is why DC started all of their books over with #1's, even the ones that didn't reboot their stories, like Green Lantern.  That is why Marvel NOW is rolling out new #1 issues each month.  Because it comes down to this simple truth:  People buy #1 issues.

It feels good to get in on the ground floor of a story.  There are a lot of books that I missed out on because I did not start it from the beginning and jumping on seemed too difficult.  That is the major problem with serialized storytelling.  The richer and more complex you make it, the more difficult it becomes for new readers to jump on.  I always wanted to read Marc Andreyko's Manhunter, but I could never find a good time to jump on.  I read Starman from the beginning, but I couldn't imagine trying to understand it if I started half-way in.

But beyond that, there is also the thrill of finding that buried treasure.  You pick up a book that suddenly becomes rare.  I remember that after Kevin Smith left Green Arrow, they hired an interim writer to take a few issues before the new regular writer took over.  After Smith left, sales for the book plummeted.  I stuck with the interim writer because the story had a character I liked in it.

That writer was Brad Meltzer, who many people in comics know, has become one of the most critically acclaimed comic scribes in the last decade.  After word spread about the quality of his stories, demand for the book went back up, but they needed to go to reprints.  But I had my original and it felt like treasure.  A small treasure to be sure, but a treasure nonetheless.

And yet, I don't remember many of the number ones that I have like that.  I do remember very clearly all of the number ones that I could have had and then let go.  I know a lot of collectors who remember the #1 that got away.  It is the bad decision that makes you want to kick yourself for.

I remember back in the '90's Image comics had flooded the market with #1 issues of silly, young superheroes.  So when an equally silly-looking comic from Image came out called Gen 13, I didn't think much of it.  I picked up the comic, looked at it, and decided not to buy it.  It would, of course, go on to be one of the most sought after Image books.

I also remember being in a comic book story and seeing the #1 issue for a new book called Ultimate Spider-Man.  I distinctly remember thinking: that is SO stupid!  Like we needed a hip, young reboot of Marvel's flagship character.  I thought it would be a flash in the pan and then fade quickly.  So I didn't buy it.  And as we all know, that book not only became worth a mint, but it kicked off one of the best runs on Spider-Man ever.

And there are other stories like this.  It is sad, but I think often fear moves me to buy a new #1: fear of missing a story or losing a tiny treasure.  But buying those #1s has opened up stories to me that I never would have read before, but I'm very glad I did.

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