Let's Talk Comics

 
 
Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
Let’s tally up the body count.
 
Superman died. Spider-Man’s first love Gwen Stacey died. Even Peter Parker died. Robin died. Captain America once died. Superboy died. So did Supergirl and the Flash.
 
In one issue of DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, the storytellers slaughtered six characters.
 
And now, the X-Men’s Professor X, short for Charles Francis Xavier, the man who sought out mutants and brought them together as the X-Men, well, he's dead. He was killed off by X-Men character Cyclops, whose persona was taken over by an evil entity.
 
It's not the first time Professor X "died" in a story. In X-Men 42, first volume, the good doctor was whacked while battling a character called Grotesk. But really, he managed to talk to a former villain to impersonate him, while X was off somewhere unbeknownst to his fellow mutants preparing a defense for the pending invasion of aliens known as the Z'Nox.
 
By issue 65, X is back in the house and in a coma in issue 66, but is alive.
 
The question now is how long will Professor X stay dead? That’s the $64,000 question. Or maybe a lot more than that as collectors are probably buying as many issues as they can.
 
This is a happening in comics that collectors sometimes resent, especially after the infamous death of Superman in 1992. The deaths often turn out to be dreams, or occurring in alternate universes, or, as many would say, the deaths are just money grabs. But every now and then, there is a good story line involved.
 
The industry, which had been in the doldrums prior to Superman story arc, bounced back with Frank Miller’s excellent The Dark Knight in 1986. A retired, and darker, Batman dons the costume again, joins up with a new Robin — a girl named Carrie — and they fight crime.
 
Once again, Gotham City is saved. But so was the comics biz as it got a much needed financial and credibility boost with the four-part story that brought many idle and new collectors back into the fold.
 
But you think no one got killed? Ha! Rest in peace Joker and Alfred. At least this story takes place in the future.
 
Riding that wave of success, DC planned and hyped the death of their Number 1. It was a televised media event as Superman’s killer Doomsday plows into superhero.
 
There were four different edition runs of Superman 75: A collector’s edition sealed in a bag (don't open it!); a newsstand edition; a direct sales edition sold only at comic stores; and a platinum edition, distributed to dealers who purchased a specific amount from the wholesaler.
 
Then there were the second to fourth printings of the direct sales edition.
 
Let's say the comic never sold at the stands at its cover price of $2.50 U.S. There were line-ups for the books as non-comic collectors plunked their hard-earned money for these books.
 
Prices started at around $10 and worked up. At a convention I was a dealer at, prices reached $25 for a copy of the bagged edition. I left them at $15. Because I was in a section of the East York Arena that for some reason people visited last, I saw a lot of fallen faces when they finally walked past my table. I sold most of my copies to other dealers.
 
Prices for the bagged edition continued to rise, much to the dismay of many collectors. Hardcore collectors knew that the death was a passing fad. Superman - the flag bearer of the DC line - could not, would not, stay dead.
 
Within six months, the sizzle fizzled.
 
I recall collectors felt they were taken advantage by the fad. It was considered by some as a money grab and it had no lasting significance to the Big Guy’s storyline.
 
Other comic companies wanted a share of the pie and tried to hype their books with holograms embedded in covers, multiple covers for the same edition, higher-grade paper, alternate story lines, reviving or altering characters. It was a whirlwind of corporate activity, much for naught as people’s interests peaked and dropped in shorter spans of time.
 
Superman 75 is now listed in the Overstreet Price Guide at $20 for Near Mint Minus, but I think you'll be hard pressed to find a dealer who gets anywhere near that. The platinum edition, even with its limited press run, guides at $60 in top condition, but again, I'd be surprised if any dealer gets that.
 
So today, Supes is back with us and he's okay. Indeed, he's been dating Wonder Woman since August. Wow. What a guy!
 
Now, what about Professor X? Will he stay dead? He's been around for a very long time and is integral to the X-Men, so probably not.
 
Once the dust settles, and the storywriters and plotters get shuffled around, the mutant boss will most likely be returned to the comic. And it shouldn't have much, if any, of an impact on the value of earlier X-Men comics.
 
These are the comics, you know. It's sort of like soap operas. Not even Spider-Man’s first amore, Gwen, stayed dead. She came back as a clone.
 
As one leader in the comics business is wont to say: Sheesh.
 
Rob's body count for dying comic characters
 
 
 
1 - X-Men 42 2 - Spider-Man 400 3 - Ultimate Spider-Man 120
 
Next column: Caring for comics
 
Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on his career as a not-so-mild- mannered crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a little bit of history the past three decades.
 
You can reach Rob at lamberti@cogeco.ca
 
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