Key Comics From The 80’s — Variants

February 14, 2017

Key Comics From the 80’s — Intro

The 80’s marked a great decade in comics, but also a decade of tremendous industry change. Some publishers of comic books, like Gold Key, kicked the bucket in the 80’s because they didn’t adapt to the dramatic decline in newsstand sales industry-wide, which paralleled the explosion of the Direct Sales model of distributing comic books — a new model introduced at the end of the 70’s, where a distinct batch of comics lacking the typical newsstand bar codes were direct-sold to specialty comic shops on a non-returnable (but heavily discounted) basis.

This differed from the newsstand distribution model where comics sat there on newsstands waiting for a buyer to take them home, and any unsold copies could be returned to the publisher for a refund (a common fate for these returned copies was to be pulped/recycled forward).

Newsstand comics and direct edition comics are discernible from one another for that very reason: so that the publisher could distinguish the refund-eligible comics (newsstand copies with their standard bar codes) from the non-returnable ones (direct edition, which began with a “strike” through the bar code, followed by logos in place of the bar code [like the “Spider-Man Rectangle” logo], and then in later years the bar code reads “direct edition” or “direct sales” next to it).

When collecting comics from the 80’s, the existence of these two distribution models running in parallel should be understood and kept in mind, because the impact on the number of copies out there can be huge — direct sold copies began to outnumber newsstand copies by the middle of the decade and newsstand sales continued to fall further off the cliff from there.

And while direct-sold copies were well preserved by both comic shop staff and the collectors who took them home, newsstand copies as a generalization were handled without care by staff, then beaten up and often simply discarded by readers.  Even with comics from the early 80’s like Wolverine Limited Series #1 from 1982 we see the newsstand destruction rate overwhelm the original distribution split to make highest-grade surviving newsstand copies dramatically more scarce than highest-grade direct edition copies out there in the marketplace.

“Our experience has shown that the comics sold in comic shops had a 90% probability of being put into a plastic bag and preserved, while comics purchased from newsstands had a 90% probability of either being read to death, or thrown away.” ~ Chuck Rozanski

As far as sheer comic book content, the 80’s was a fantastic decade in comics, producing a great number of excellent “keys”… and the decade also features one of my favorite categories of cover price variant comics: these being 75 cent variants (followed by 95¢ and $1.00 variants)!  And for Marvel and D.C., those higher cover price variants were newsstand exclusives, so we have that industry-wide distribution shift and survivorship difference layered on top of restricted geographical area for the higher priced copies, resulting in estimated rarity of ~2-7% of the total sold for any given issue being the variants for Marvel and D.C., depending on the publication year [with the typical high newsstand destruction rate coming into play from there], which is a level of rarity competitive to that of the 35 cent variants of 1977.  

[In the table of keys below I’ve calculated the observed CGC census rarity percentage for each of the variants; also see this case study of the Amazing Spider-Man #252 variant where census data going back to the year 2001 shows that the variant percentage for this issue has been within a 1-2% band for the last decade and a half].

So when thinking about lists of key comics from the 80’s, there’s the broader question of all types of important comics from the 1980s, and then, one could also ask a more narrow question: key comics from the 80’s where rare variants exist.

How might we come up with such a list of key 80’s comics with the existence of rare variants?  One way to “tease out” a list of key 80’s comics is to rely on the wisdom of the crowd — the more important the comic, the more likely its owner will want to have it graded and slabbed!  So a neat way of listing out key comics from the 80’s is to rank the entire universe of 1980’s comic books, according to the number of copies of each one that have passed through CGC’s doors to date — this list-building technique removes any “judgment call” about what’s a key and what isn’t, and also removes all sales price information.

And then, by cross-referencing such a list against the CGC census to determine if a rare variant is confirmed to exist issue by issue, we can arrive at a pretty darn good list of key comics from the 80’s that have an even-more-rare variant version in existence for that issue!

Of course, there are plenty of flaws to this exercise which should be kept in mind: for example not all variants have actually been sent in to CGC to date, and the data used here is from one snapshot in time (year-end 2016). I don’t want anybody to think of this list (or my broader all-inclusive variant + non-variant list) as a “rank” of importance or even as being an all-encompassing exhaustive list… all we’re ranking here is the sheer number of copies that have passed through CGC’s doors as of year-end 2016, and cross-referencing that against the existence of variant copies on record to date.

That’s it! We’ll get a highly interesting list of key 80’s comics with variants out of this exercise, but, this list is no replacement for judgement and no replacement for pricing data — it is simply one more tool for our tool-belt.

So without further ado, here’s the list! [ Also note: I’ve posted more lists of key comic books by year including other decades; special thanks goes to Greg Holland whose research website was the tool that made these pages possible to assemble ].

Key Comics From The 80’s — Variants

(Census data as of year-end 2016 — the last three columns show the CGC census count of “regular” copies, the count of variant copies, and the percentage of total graded copies of the issue that are variants, as of that date)

Rank Issue Date Publisher CGC Count Variant Count Variant %
1. Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #8 12/84 Marvel Comics 8,834 43 0.48%
2. Amazing Spider-Man #252 5/84 Marvel Comics 7,346 131 1.75%
3. Amazing Spider-Man #238 3/83 Marvel Comics 3,944 41 1.03%
4. X-Factor #6 7/86 Marvel Comics 3,811 17 0.44%
5. Web of Spider-Man #1 4/85 Marvel Comics 3,787 13 0.34%
6. Wolverine Limited Series #2 10/82 Marvel Comics 3,645 12 0.33%
7. Wolverine Limited Series #3 11/82 Marvel Comics 3,317 10 0.30%
8. Wolverine Limited Series #4 12/82 Marvel Comics 3,014 14 0.46%
9. Tales of the Teen Titans #44 7/84 D.C. Comics 2,375 36 1.49%
10. Thor #337 11/83 Marvel Comics 1,720 29 1.66%
11. Amazing Spider-Man #239 4/83 Marvel Comics 1,582 16 1.00%
12. X-Factor #5 6/86 Marvel Comics 1,576 16 1.01%
13. Batman #404 2/87 D.C. Comics 1,543 1 0.06%
14. New Mutants #1 3/83 Marvel Comics 1,527 1 0.07%
15. Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #1 5/84 Marvel Comics 1,499 5 0.33%
16. Punisher Limited Series #1 1/86 Marvel Comics 1,366 4 0.29%
17. Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 10/85 D.C. Comics 1,275 4 0.31%
18. Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 4/85 D.C. Comics 1,222 6 0.49%
19. Saga of the Swamp Thing #37 6/85 D.C. Comics 1,174 6 0.51%
20. Legends #3 1/87 D.C. Comics 1,109 4 0.36%
21. Uncanny X-Men #201 1/86 Marvel Comics 981 2 0.20%
22. X-Factor #1 2/86 Marvel Comics 921 1 0.11%
23. Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 11/85 D.C. Comics 896 3 0.33%
24. Marvel Team-Up #141 5/84 Marvel Comics 867 6 0.69%
25. Alpha Flight #1 8/83 Marvel Comics 852 5 0.58%
26. Star Wars #68 2/83 Marvel Comics 768 7 0.90%
27. Suicide Squad #1 5/87 D.C. Comics 750 3 0.40%
28. G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero #21 3/84 Marvel Comics 743 4 0.54%
29. Batman #357 3/83 D.C. Comics 741 2 0.27%
30. Uncanny X-Men #171 7/83 Marvel Comics 735 4 0.54%
31. Amazing Spider-Man #275 4/86 Marvel Comics 682 2 0.29%
32. Wonder Woman #1 2/87 D.C. Comics 669 2 0.30%
33. Amazing Spider-Man #265 6/85 Marvel Comics 648 2 0.31%
34. Uncanny X-Men #205 5/86 Marvel Comics 519 3 0.57%
35. Daredevil #190 1/83 Marvel Comics 513 1 0.19%
36. Booster Gold #1 2/86 D.C. Comics 505 2 0.39%
37. Punisher Limited Series #4 4/86 Marvel Comics 502 2 0.40%
38. Superman #1 1/87 D.C. Comics 495 1 0.20%
39. Batman #368 2/84 D.C. Comics 479 6 1.24%
40. Daredevil #196 7/83 Marvel Comics 461 5 1.07%
41. Longshot #1 9/85 Marvel Comics 459 1 0.22%
42. Amazing Spider-Man #259 12/84 Marvel Comics 459 3 0.65%
43. Uncanny X-Men #173 9/83 Marvel Comics 448 2 0.44%
44. Daredevil #188 11/82 Marvel Comics 433 1 0.23%
45. Brave and the Bold #200 7/83 D.C. Comics 417 2 0.48%
46. Batman #400 10/86 D.C. Comics 415 1 0.24%
47. Daredevil #187 10/82 Marvel Comics 413 2 0.48%
48. Justice League #1 5/87 D.C. Comics 409 4 0.97%
49. Punisher Limited Series #5 5/86 Marvel Comics 408 1 0.24%
50. Flash #1 6/87 D.C. Comics 406 7 1.69%
51. Amazing Spider-Man #245 10/83 Marvel Comics 401 2 0.50%
52. Marvel Graphic Novel #4 1982 Marvel Comics 400 42 9.50%
53. Legends #1 11/86 D.C. Comics 383 3 0.78%
54. Amazing Spider-Man #250 3/84 Marvel Comics 383 2 0.52%
55. Amazing Spider-Man #253 6/84 Marvel Comics 366 3 0.81%
56. Rocket Raccoon #1 5/85 Marvel Comics 366 4 1.08%
57. Amazing Spider-Man #258 11/84 Marvel Comics 365 1 0.27%
58. Uncanny X-Men #168 4/83 Marvel Comics 364 1 0.27%
59. Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #10 2/85 Marvel Comics 363 2 0.55%
60. Thor #344 6/84 Marvel Comics 358 1 0.28%
61. Transformers #3 1/85 Marvel Comics 357 1 0.28%
62. Uncanny X-Men #164 12/82 Marvel Comics 356 5 1.39%
63. Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #7 11/84 Marvel Comics 354 3 0.84%
64. Thor #338 12/83 Marvel Comics 354 23 6.10%
65. Uncanny X-Men #202 2/86 Marvel Comics 350 1 0.28%
66. Uncanny X-Men #200 12/85 Marvel Comics 350 2 0.57%
67. Amazing Spider-Man #260 1/85 Marvel Comics 341 4 1.16%
68. Uncanny X-Men #188 12/84 Marvel Comics 341 1 0.29%
69. Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #4 8/84 Marvel Comics 338 2 0.59%
70. Thing #1 7/83 Marvel Comics 336 4 1.18%
71. Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #9 1/85 Marvel Comics 333 2 0.60%
72. Avengers #257 7/85 Marvel Comics 333 4 1.19%
73. Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #12 4/85 Marvel Comics 331 1 0.30%
74. Amazing Spider-Man #261 2/85 Marvel Comics 330 6 1.79%
75. Amazing Spider-Man #254 7/84 Marvel Comics 329 2 0.60%
76. Transformers #4 3/85 Marvel Comics 328 2 0.61%
77. Amazing Spider-Man #251 4/84 Marvel Comics 325 4 1.22%
78. Uncanny X-Men #207 7/86 Marvel Comics 316 1 0.32%
79. New Mutants #16 6/84 Marvel Comics 306 1 0.33%
80. Amazing Spider-Man #255 8/84 Marvel Comics 303 1 0.33%
81. Amazing Spider-Man #244 9/83 Marvel Comics 300 4 1.32%
82. Alpha Flight #33 4/86 Marvel Comics 296 1 0.34%
83. Uncanny X-Men #197 9/85 Marvel Comics 295 1 0.34%
84. Detective Comics #576 7/87 D.C. Comics 290 2 0.68%
85. Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #11 3/85 Marvel Comics 290 1 0.34%
86. Thor #339 1/84 Marvel Comics 288 4 1.37%
87. Amazing Spider-Man #274 3/86 Marvel Comics 287 2 0.69%
88. Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #1 1/83 Marvel Comics 269 3 1.10%
89. Daredevil #191 2/83 Marvel Comics 260 1 0.38%
90. Detective Comics #577 8/87 D.C. Comics 259 1 0.38%
91. Transformers #5 6/85 Marvel Comics 256 1 0.39%
92. Detective Comics #578 9/87 D.C. Comics 256 2 0.78%
93. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi #1 10/83 Marvel Comics 250 6 2.34%
94. Uncanny X-Men #196 8/85 Marvel Comics 248 1 0.40%
95. Batman #423 9/88 D.C. Comics 239 1 0.42%
96. Uncanny X-Men #174 10/83 Marvel Comics 236 1 0.42%
97. Amazing Spider-Man #240 5/83 Marvel Comics 235 2 0.84%
98. Thundercats #1 12/85 Marvel Comics 231 5 2.12%
99. Incredible Hulk #300 10/84 Marvel Comics 225 1 0.44%
100. DC Comics Presents #87 11/85 D.C. Comics 218 1 0.46%
101. Amazing Spider-Man #236 1/83 Marvel Comics 218 4 1.80%
102. Amazing Spider-Man #241 6/83 Marvel Comics 217 4 1.81%
103. Transformers #8 9/85 Marvel Comics 214 1 0.47%
104. New Mutants #18 8/84 Marvel Comics 211 1 0.47%
105. Amazing Spider-Man #249 2/84 Marvel Comics 211 1 0.47%
106. Uncanny X-Men #195 7/85 Marvel Comics 210 1 0.47%
107. New Mutants #26 4/85 Marvel Comics 208 1 0.48%
108. Fantastic Four #250 1/83 Marvel Comics 207 2 0.96%
109. Uncanny X-Men #203 3/86 Marvel Comics 205 1 0.49%
110. Amazing Spider-Man #248 1/84 Marvel Comics 202 2 0.98%
111. Amazing Spider-Man #234 11/82 Marvel Comics 197 2 1.01%
112. Amazing Spider-Man #243 8/83 Marvel Comics 193 3 1.53%
113. Amazing Spider-Man #263 4/85 Marvel Comics 190 1 0.52%
114. What If? #35 10/82 Marvel Comics 189 1 0.53%
115. Spectacular Spider-Man #90 5/84 Marvel Comics 187 3 1.58%
116. Uncanny X-Men #206 6/86 Marvel Comics 184 1 0.54%
117. Iron Man #170 5/83 Marvel Comics 183 1 0.54%
118. Amazing Spider-Man #233 10/82 Marvel Comics 182 1 0.55%
119. Uncanny X-Men #182 6/84 Marvel Comics 180 1 0.55%
120. Amazing Spider-Man #235 12/82 Marvel Comics 176 1 0.56%
121. Daredevil #227 2/86 Marvel Comics 171 1 0.58%
122. Amazing Spider-Man #237 2/83 Marvel Comics 162 2 1.22%
123. Blade Runner #1 10/82 Marvel Comics 161 1 0.62%
124. Iron Man #169 4/83 Marvel Comics 153 1 0.65%
125. Uncanny X-Men #208 8/86 Marvel Comics 149 1 0.67%
126. G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero #4 10/82 Marvel Comics 138 2 1.43%
127. Amazing Spider-Man #247 12/83 Marvel Comics 137 2 1.44%
128. Amazing Spider-Man #242 7/83 Marvel Comics 137 1 0.72%
129. Droids #1 4/86 Marvel Comics 135 3 2.17%
130. Daredevil #197 8/83 Marvel Comics 135 4 2.88%
131. G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero #5 11/82 Marvel Comics 132 1 0.75%
132. Fantastic Four #252 3/83 Marvel Comics 129 1 0.77%
133. Star Wars #100 10/85 Marvel Comics 127 1 0.78%
134. Fury of Firestorm #23 5/84 D.C. Comics 126 1 0.79%
135. Fantastic Four #249 12/82 Marvel Comics 122 1 0.81%
136. Star Wars #81 3/84 Marvel Comics 115 2 1.71%
137. Spectacular Spider-Man #85 12/83 Marvel Comics 114 2 1.72%
138. Vampirella #113 1988 Harris 114 2 1.72%
139. Cloak and Dagger #1 10/83 Marvel Comics 112 1 0.88%
140. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi #4 1/84 Marvel Comics 111 5 4.31%
141. Rocket Raccoon #2 6/85 Marvel Comics 110 2 1.79%
142. Fantastic Four #253 4/83 Marvel Comics 110 2 1.79%
143. Transformers #11 12/85 Marvel Comics 107 1 0.93%
144. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1 3/89 Archie Publications 107 4 3.60%
145. Transformers #9 10/85 Marvel Comics 105 1 0.94%
146. Star Wars #74 8/83 Marvel Comics 104 5 4.59%
147. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi #3 12/83 Marvel Comics 104 5 4.59%
148. Fantastic Four #248 11/82 Marvel Comics 103 1 0.96%
149. Thor #341 3/84 Marvel Comics 102 4 3.77%
150. Transformers #19 8/86 Marvel Comics 101 1 0.98%
151. Fantastic Four #251 2/83 Marvel Comics 101 1 0.98%
152. Transformers #17 6/86 Marvel Comics 100 1 0.99%
153. Voltron #1 1985 Modern Pub. 100 4 3.85%
154. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi #2 11/83 Marvel Comics 100 4 3.85%
155. Rocket Raccoon #3 7/85 Marvel Comics 99 1 1.00%
156. Batman #353 11/82 D.C. Comics 99 2 1.98%
157. Daredevil #233 8/86 Marvel Comics 98 1 1.01%
158. Batman #367 1/84 D.C. Comics 98 1 1.01%
159. Rocket Raccoon #4 8/85 Marvel Comics 92 1 1.08%
160. Star Wars #67 1/83 Marvel Comics 92 4 4.17%
161. Transformers #10 11/85 Marvel Comics 92 2 2.13%
162. Spectacular Spider-Man #81 8/83 Marvel Comics 91 3 3.19%
163. Fantastic Four #255 6/83 Marvel Comics 91 1 1.09%
164. Wonder Woman #300 2/83 D.C. Comics 90 1 1.10%
165. Captain America #275 11/82 Marvel Comics 90 3 3.23%
166. Avengers #236 10/83 Marvel Comics 89 2 2.20%
167. Transformers #12 1/86 Marvel Comics 88 1 1.12%
168. Web of Spider-Man #4 7/85 Marvel Comics 87 1 1.14%
169. Star Wars #86 8/84 Marvel Comics 86 1 1.15%
170. Star Wars #99 9/85 Marvel Comics 86 2 2.27%
171. Fantastic Four #247 10/82 Marvel Comics 86 1 1.15%
172. G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero #14 8/83 Marvel Comics 86 1 1.15%
173. Thor #340 2/84 Marvel Comics 85 4 4.49%
174. Star Wars #77 11/83 Marvel Comics 84 1 1.18%
175. Ewoks #1 5/85 Marvel Comics 83 1 1.19%
176. Thor #342 4/84 Marvel Comics 82 4 4.65%
177. Transformers #13 2/86 Marvel Comics 82 2 2.38%
178. Star Wars #102 12/85 Marvel Comics 81 1 1.22%
179. Star Wars #73 7/83 Marvel Comics 81 1 1.22%
180. Star Wars #71 5/83 Marvel Comics 81 5 5.81%
181. Star Wars #66 12/82 Marvel Comics 80 6 6.98%
182. Man of Steel #1 1986 D.C. Comics 80 1 1.23%
183. Star Wars #78 12/83 Marvel Comics 80 1 1.23%
184. Star Wars #98 8/85 Marvel Comics 77 1 1.28%
185. Star Wars #76 10/83 Marvel Comics 77 2 2.53%
186. Fury of Firestorm #24 6/84 D.C. Comics 76 2 2.56%
187. Star Wars #75 9/83 Marvel Comics 75 1 1.32%
188. Longshot #2 10/85 Marvel Comics 74 2 2.63%
189. Blue Beetle #1 6/86 D.C. Comics 74 1 1.33%
190. Star Wars #104 3/86 Marvel Comics 72 1 1.37%
191. Jonah Hex #92 8/85 D.C. Comics 72 1 1.37%
192. Star Wars #95 5/85 Marvel Comics 71 1 1.39%
193. Avengers #260 10/85 Marvel Comics 71 1 1.39%
194. Star Wars #85 7/84 Marvel Comics 71 1 1.39%
195. Flash #324 8/83 D.C. Comics 69 1 1.43%
196. Star Wars #97 7/85 Marvel Comics 68 1 1.45%
197. Star Wars #91 1/85 Marvel Comics 68 1 1.45%
198. Star Wars #65 11/82 Marvel Comics 68 3 4.23%
199. Archie’s Girls, Betty and Veronica #320 10/82 Archie Publications 68 14 17.07%
200. Fantastic Four #264 3/84 Marvel Comics 68 1 1.45%
 « The 70’s  The 90’s » 

Key Comics From the 80’s — A Note About CGC Census Lookups

Note that when looking up any of the key comics from the 80’s off of the list above, the Canadian cover price variants are denoted by CGC as “Canadian Edition” on census.  There has been much discussion in the hobby about the preferred terminology for these and other type 1a price variants, stemming from the fact that the variants are indeed 1st print copies, produced simultaneously with the rest of the print run (so their publisher and therefore their “origin” is identical to the rest of the print run, the interior pages including the all-important indicia page are identical to the rest of the print run as well… essentially, if you took a pair of scissors and clipped out just the cover price box then you’d have absolutely no way of telling whether that resulting book was originally a variant).

So: if the US newsstand and Direct Edition version of any given 80’s comic book issue were printed in the USA then so was the Canadian newsstand version of that issue as well— on the exact same printing equipment and at the exact same time…  So that cover price variant truly was therefore “born here” and the other newsstand and direct edition copies out there are its “brothers and sisters” having come from the same “parents” (creators/publisher/printing equipment).  In this analogy the price variant sibling arguably then has the same claim of “citizenship” as its brothers and sisters — but it may have “grown up abroad” because the intended market for it was a Canadian newsstand).  Here is what CGC has to say on the subject of naming convention:

“Comic Book Collectors, by and large, have understood for years and used the term ‘Canadian Edition’ to refer to comic books printed with a different (usually higher) price to be distributed in Canada. Most collectors understand that these books were PRINTED ALONGSIDE their USA counterparts, along with Direct Edition copies that have both prices listed.” ~Brad Bradley, Modern Age Finalizer, CGC

However, you may find copies from other grading companies out there that use different terminology, for example PGX labels these variants as “Canadian Price Variant”…  Similarly, big comic shops like MyComicShop use the phrase “Canadian Price Variant” when listing these for sale on their website and on eBay.  Most eBay sellers seem to do the same.  Using the search term “Canadian” after the comic you’re looking for is a good rule of thumb; example: “Secret Wars #8 Canadian” as a search term should get you what you’re looking for assuming there are any on the market.  However, to really cover all your bases, you can look through all listings for a given comic, spot the ones with bar codes, and then check the price box.  Because not all sellers actually recognize that their copy is a variant! For a step-by-step practical guide on how to do this, see the following: Canadian Price Variants — How To Spot Them.