Direct Edition vs. Newsstand Edition Comic Books

Darker Image #1 — Newsstand $1.95 Cover Price Variant (1st Maxx Appearance)

By Benjamin Nobel, January 4, 2017

Figuring out the CGC credit for 1st appearance of the Maxx was something of an interesting mystery…  I literally couldn’t find it at first!   I started with Overstreet, where the credit I found indicates Primer #5 published by Comico contains this key first appearance credit:


Example Overstreet guide page, crediting Primer #5 as “1st The Maxx.”

Yet, when I located a CGC graded copy of Primer #5, I found that it doesn’t mention The Maxx on the label… it mentions Max The Hare:

Example CGC label for Primer #5, Comico, 1983.

Example CGC label for Primer #5, Comico, 1983.

Here’s a zoomed-in look to point out what I mean:


The CGC key comments note reads “First appearance of Max the Hare.”

And the cover of Primer #5 itself says “Max The Hare” (not “The Maxx”):


The cover of Primer #5 reads “Sam Kieth’s Max The Hare”

If you say the word “Max” (with one ‘x’) aloud, and then say the word “Maxx” (with two x’s) aloud, the two sounds are indistinguishable…  Could this simply be a case of “mistaken identity” where an early but completely different Sam Kieth character with a similar-sounding name, has been confused by Overstreet with the character he later created under Image Comics?

A search of Sam Kieth’s blog turns up the following:

Sam Kieth's blog page states:

Sam Kieth’s blog page states: “…here’s some layouts from the first Darker Image story Maxx first appeared in.”

His words here, “the first Darker Image story Maxx first appeared in” would suggest that Darker Image #1 would carry this first appearance credit.  Yet, when I found a CGC graded copy of Darker Image #1, I observed that just the 1st appearances of Deathblow and Bloodwulf were mentioned on the label in the key comments note… nothing about The Maxx.  Here’s an example older label:

An older CGC label, for Darker Image #1, Image Comics, 3/93.

An older CGC label, for Darker Image #1, Image Comics, 3/93.

Here’s a zoomed-in look to point out what I mean:


An older CGC label for Darker Image #1 reads “1st appearance of Deathblow & Bloodwulf” (the Maxx is not mentioned).

So if CGC was not crediting Primer #5 with the 1st appearance of the Maxx, and was not crediting Darker Image #1 either, then which book in their database was carrying that credit??

As it turns out, the answer was: none.   The key 1st appearance credit for the Maxx was unassigned.  In trying to work out this mystery, I think I see what must have happened here: the Overstreet credit must have been inputted into CGC’s database, but then, once CGC actually graded a Primer #5 they realized it was Max The Hare (and not The Maxx) in that book, changed the Primer #5 database entry accordingly, but then never re-assigned the 1st appearance credit for The Maxx.

But now they have re-assigned it.  To Darker Image #1.  Here is a recent CGC label picture, to show you:

A recent CGC label for Darker Image #1 (this is a Newsstand Edition copy).

A recent CGC label for Darker Image #1 (this is a Newsstand Edition copy).

Here’s a zoomed-in look to point out what I mean:


As you can see, CGC now credits Darker Image #1 with the 1st appearances of Maxx, Deathblow, and Bloodwulf.

Darker Image #1 — Collecting This Comic Book

These are the retailer incentive variants you probably already know about.

Above: These are the retailer incentive/reward variants you probably already know about if you’ve looked at collecting Darker Image #1. MyComicShop for example has listings for these broken out… but they do not presently have the $1.95 newsstand variant in their system.

There are a few different versions of Darker Image #1 out there: the prevalent plain-old “direct edition” version, which makes up the vast majority of copies you’ll encounter out there in the marketplace, and then you’ll also see a few variants.

There appear to have been two different retailer incentive/reward variants, a “gold” version (embossed logo with gold lettering), and a “platinum” version (where the cover is black & white and the logo is embossed with platinum lettering). The platinum version, with its black & white cover artwork, is visually quite striking and cool.

One thing to notice about the gold and platinum variants is that there’s no cover price on them… the price box is blank.  This allowed retailers to “fill in the blank” so to speak, with whatever price they felt they could demand… whatever the market would pay.  At the comic shop I frequented as a kid, copies like this with foil-embossed lettering were given super-premium prices and kept up on the highest shelf — “see the embossed letters?” the proprietor would say to an assembled crowd of wide-eyed kids…

But there’s yet another CGC-recognized variant that you should know about when going after Darker Image #1, a variant comic shop owners kept their lips sealed about (if they knew of it at all)… a variant which I for one like even more, on a relative value basis, than these others…

$1.95 Cover Price Variant (Newsstand Edition)

Ask the average collector today if Image Comics was exclusive to the direct market, or whether there were any newsstand copies sold, and that average collector probably wouldn’t know the answer, or, would assume Image was exclusive to the direct market. Heck, even book authors have concluded Image was exclusive to the direct market (note the last line in the quote below, “these books were exclusive to the Direct Market”):

Image Comics Direct Market

This slide is part of my post entitled Newsstand Rarity Discussion & Estimates where I have collected quotes and graphics related to the discussion of direct edition versus newsstand comics.  “Unfortunately, accurate statistics are not available for the launch of Image Comics, a publisher made up of popular artists who broke away from Marvel to start their own company. It is believed that the first issues of several of their titles sold in the general area of 700,000 to one million copies, and these books were exclusive to the direct market.” — Todd Allen, Economics of Digital Comics

This is an entirely understandable conclusion for anyone to reach, given that if you actually went looking for a newsstand copy of any given Image issue, it would be buried under a mountain of direct edition copies. So it would be perfectly understandable if you gave up and concluded that newsstand copies simply didn’t exist… But it turns out that Image Comics was not exclusive to the direct market, and newsstand copies do exist.  However, the number of them is so minuscule as to be practically invisible…  According to Chuck Rozanski, they do indeed exist but were a mere 1% of Image’s distribution!

But this tiny percentage only tells us half the story of the rarity of these newsstand comics surviving today in 2017, because remember, at the time these comics were originally sold on the newsstands, nobody considered them rare collectibles at that time.

The retailer incentive variants, by contrast, were immediately considered rare collectibles — so the typical buyer would have carefully preserved them. Local comic shop owners who did enough business with Image to obtain the gold or platinum variants didn’t sell them to their comic collector customers for regular cover price, instead they charged an enormous premium, just as they do today with 1-in-whatever incentive variants.  So they too were careful to preserve condition, when these variants came in to the shop.

What all of this means for the survivorship difference between newsstand copies and the retailer incentive variants should be fairly obvious: excepting accidental damage and loss, it is hard to imagine much destruction or damage to the incentive variants sold in comic shops — nobody would have been taking the condition down by reading the retailer incentive variants they bought from high up on the top shelf where comic store owners kept the highest value books out of reach.

Indeed, the typical behavior of the buyer would have been to take great care of such retailer incentive copies and treasure them (after paying through the nose to own them, they were not about to then toss them haphazardly into a pile or risk opening them up to read them when they got home from the comic shop).  So it would be hard to imagine very many incentive variants getting “naturally destroyed” after their sale — lost or damaged in the mail, sure; accidentally stepped on or dropped, sure; a younger sibling raided the comic box, sure.  But the typical copy would have survived through to the present in great shape.


Over on the newsstands, the typical buyer had no clue that the comic they just bought was drastically more rare than the rest of the print run (Rozanski did not publish that 1% figure until 2013)… they didn’t buy it for collectible value originally, they simply bought it to read it!  And they paid $1.95 for it: an entertainment purchase; something that might even get discarded after being enjoyed.  Excepting the occasional collector buying comics off of newsstands (the exception, not the norm), newsstand copies as a group would therefore have seen a high destruction rate.

I like to think of it this way:  the two distribution channels (direct edition and newsstand) effectively sorted the market into two groups: a mostly-collector-group making their purchases in the comic shops (and taking home direct edition copies), and a mostly-reader-group making their purchases on the newsstands and actually reading the comics.  High grade survivor copies out of the direct edition channel are therefore far easier to find, versus high grade survivor copies out of the newsstand distribution channel.

Newsstand comics are only “broken out” by CGC as distinct from their direct edition counterparts in certain special situations; and it turns out that newsstand copies of Darker Image #1 actually check multiple boxes that would qualify them for a separate census entry.  Not only are there manufacturing differences as compared to direct edition copies, but newsstand copies are also cover price variants as well, carrying a $1.95 (US) price.  CGC denotes these on census as “Newsstand Edition” and here is what this type of copy looks like:


A Newsstand Edition copy, graded by CGC. Note the $1.95 cover price. You can also spot a newsstand edition copy by the existence of a UPC code at the bottom left corner of the front cover.

As of this writing, collectors have not actually sent in a great number of Darker Image copies to CGC for grading, but perhaps the copy count will increase in the future, on account of the recent change by CGC to their 1st appearance credit…  Collectors looking to own the first appearance of The Maxx will see that Darker Image #1 is the book that carries CGC’s 1st appearance credit, and thus will need to own this issue.

As of today, there are 50 “regular” copies (direct edition) on census, 111 “platinum” copies (CGC actually denotes these as “Black & White Edition”), 34 “gold” copies (which CGC denotes as “Gold Foil Edition”), and, finally, 5 copies are denoted Newsstand Edition (these being the $1.95 copies like the one pictured above).  Which type should get your collector dollars?  On a relative value basis, i.e. getting the best “bang for your buck” as far as taking home a highly rare and interesting comic, I favor high grade $1.95 newsstand copies hands down, as the most desirable variant of Darker Image #1 to collect: it is a CGC-recognized variant, represented a minuscule percentage of total copies originally sold (equivalent to a 1-in-100 variant based on Rozanski’s 1% figure), but were not recognized for their rarity by original buyers and had a high destruction rate from there… to me that makes the rare $1.95 newsstand edition variant more desirable in top grades, versus the retailer incentive/reward variant versions.

Happy Collecting 🙂


5 thoughts on “Darker Image #1 — Newsstand $1.95 Cover Price Variant (1st Maxx Appearance)

  1. B says:

    Nice articles!


    I have seen 3 types of Amazing Spider-Man #400:

    1. Die-Cut variant (grey outer cover),
    2. Collector’s edition (white outer cover, limited to 10,000)
    3. Regular cover (states ‘Direct Edition’ in UPC box, but all listings on eBay mention this is the ‘Newsstand Edition’ in listing title- I have asked sellers why this particular supposed ‘Newsstand Edition’ states ‘Direct Edition’, they have no idea why. So is this version actually a ‘Direct Edition’ or a ‘Newsstand Edition’ that was mid-labeled?


    • Category #1 that you listed for ASM #400 is one of the rare situations where the UPC code is located on the back cover instead of the front — spot the newsstand copy in the pair of copies below:

      Amazing Spider-Man #400 (Back cover comparison), Newsstand vs Direct Edition.


      Every copy in category #3 that I’ve seen carries the Direct Edition code, despite what sellers may be calling it (hard to blame them, it “seems” like it would be a newsstand version and the direct edition would meanwhile be the “enhanced” cover, but indeed, the “enhanced” cover was sold on newsstands as you can see above — and I can find no copies out there of the regular cover with a newsstand code on them [but maybe I’ve just not looked hard enough!]).

      – Ben


  2. JEFFR WALKER says:


    Thanks for the informative and interesting article on the rarity and difference between certain newsstand and direct UPC comics. I went back and revisited my older Image comics and a fun find, here, is what I found deep in my box:

    – 2 x #1 Darker Image newsstand
    – 6 x #1 Spawn newsstand
    – 3 x #3 Spawn newsstand
    – 1 x #6 Spawn newsstand
    – 1 x #8 Spawn newsstand
    – 1 x #12 Spawn newsstand
    – 2 x #1 Savage Dragon
    – 1 x #1 WILDCATS
    – 2 x #2 WILDCATS

    I also have an AMS #400 newsstand with Die-Cut variant (grey outer cover) with UPC in back cover (no direct edition on back with UPC bar).

    None of my LCSs seem to have an idea on the rarity or difference between newsstand and direct editions.



    • Nice finds, Jeff! I check the sold listings on eBay from time to time for Spawn #1, and just did so again today, where I observed that direct edition copies in CGC 9.8 have been going for $70-100 lately, while newsstand copies in 9.8 have meanwhile been going for $200-250/ea lately; a SS 9.8 newsstand copy went for $399 in January. So I hope finding those six Spawn #1’s with UPC codes on them brought a huge smile to you face!! 🙂

      Spawn #8 is another great one among the early books in that series, as a cover-swipe of Spider-Man #1 — I think it is especially cool when creators cover-swipe themselves, and I get a huge kick out of seeing “After ME” under McFarlane’s artwork signature (just above the UPC code).

      The WildC.A.T.S. series, I have a strong memory of my local comic shop proprietor telling me how an investor was buying 250 copies of issue #1 and thought it was going to be a smash hit by Jim Lee. It is incredible to think back to how that person stored away 250 direct edition copies ordered by the comic shop… and meanwhile, the “real” collectible version of issue #1 (most rare/desirable) was off-the-radar over on newsstands. As the 1st WildC.A.T.S. appearance, it’s one of the early Image mega-keys for sure; and issue #2 features the 1st Wetworks appearance. I also like how newsstand copies of issue #2 have a unique artwork version with the blue/white color scheme, versus the prevalent prism cover direct editions sold in the comic shops.

      And of course the Savage Dragon Limited Series #1 … well let’s just say it is one of my personal favorites out of the early Image issues; something about that cover just evokes so much happiness whenever I look at it, it is like an encapsulation of all those 1992-era memories of the excitement that was in the air back then over the break-away of all those superstar creators to form their own company and launch all new characters! Really interesting too how the 1st appearance credits have evolved; that one recently has been “promoted” (if that’s the right word) to “1st Appearance of The Savage Dragon” at CGC while the Megaton series was “demoted” (if you will), to just “Dragon Appearance” — seems there was a recent delineation of the character to separate Savage Dragon. Maybe having to do with preparation of Larsen’s screenplay / movie rights issues? Or maybe CGC simply graded Graphic Fantasy #1 for the first time and re-assigned all the 1st appearance credits accordingly? Whatever the reason, it sure is interesting how the entire industry can think about a 1st appearance being in a certain book — for decades — and then it all gets shaken up at a later date!

      Congrats again on your great finds, thanks for sharing! 🙂

      – Ben


  3. Great article, Ben! Thanks for taking the time to write an informative piece on this matter. Though, I believe, you omitted one version of Darker Image #1 from your listing: the Ashcan version. I know this was more of a preview than a proper release, but — at the time — those ashcan versions were big money to collectors.


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