Key Comics From The 90’s — Variants

February 15, 2017

Key Comics From the 90’s — Intro

Ah the 1990’s… what a roller-coaster in the world of comics!  We enter the decade in the midst of a major “boom” period — eventually followed by a “bust” accentuated by Marvel famously declaring bankruptcy at the end of 1996 (they survived on, but only after a debt restructuring).

The 90’s also saw the continuation of the explosion of the Direct Sales model of comic book distribution, where distinctly-printed copies were sold to comic shops on a heavily discounted but non-returnable basis.

These “Direct Edition” (aka “Direct Sales” or “Direct Market”) copies flooded the comic shops in such quantities that direct sold copies began to outnumber newsstand copies by the middle of the 1980’s and this trend continued to such a degree in the 1990’s, that direct edition comics made up the vast majority sold during the 90’s, with estimates out there for newsstand rarity percentages of a mere 15% by 1990 and 10-14% by 1999.

Meanwhile, this slim minority of each issue that were newsstand editions were not nearly as well preserved.

“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

Against this backdrop, a couple of highly interesting developments took place within the world of newsstand comics.  Incredibly, Marvel experimented with Australian cover price variant newsstand copies during the 90’s — that window included mega-keys such as New Mutants #98 — with such low estimated numbers as to boggle the mind.

Another highly interesting development as it related to the world of newsstand comics was the 1992 emergence of Image Comics onto the scene.  As a newcomer where attaining any newsstand distribution would have been a challenge, some concluded Image was exclusively direct edition.

But as it turns out, under the mountain of direct edition copies they sold, there was also a small sliver of copies that were indeed distributed on newsstands and printed differently — 1% newsstand by one insider’s estimate.  We see a lot of CGC-recognized newsstand variants published by Image around this time, because, possibly as a cost-saving measure to remain competitive, they quite often were manufactured differently (manufacturing differences are one of the “special situations” that causes CGC to “break out” newsstand comics as distinct from their direct edition counter-parts — here are the other special situations I’m aware of where CGC breaks out newsstand comics which includes cover price difference).

Given that the industry-wide newsstand percentages had gotten so absurdly low by the 90’s, coupled with the fact that newsstand comics were absolutely notorious for getting man-handled by newsstand staff and then similarly mistreated by the typical newsstand buyer (a reader), a growing group of collectors have been focused on specifically seeking out newsstand copies of key comics from the 90’s, especially those in the highest grades.  Already, a large market premium exists for the more-rare newsstand copies, as compared to their prevalent direct edition counter-parts, including some highly visible examples of market price separation including Spawn #1 & #9, and Amazing Spider-Man #300 [recent sales presented about half way through this linked post].

Clearly, collecting the newsstand version for any 1990’s key is the preferable choice as compared to the abundant direct edition version.  Here is a “full” list of key comics from the 90’s including both where CGC-recognized variants exist and where they don’t: List Of Important Comics From The 1990s. Even when CGC does not break out the newsstand version on census, collectors can still discern them, so reviewing the “full” list of keys is a good idea.

But what about where CGC does “break out” newsstand variants on census? I have assembled a list of confirmed CGC-recognized variants and am about to share a table of them from the 90’s below, but first I want to describe how I arrived at the list so that you’ll know the approach and also the limitations of that approach.

One way to “tease out” a list of key 90’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 90’s is to rank the entire universe of 1990’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 90’s that have an even-more-rare CGC-recognized 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).  Therefore, I don’t want anybody to think of this list as being an all-encompassing exhaustive list… nor should this be considered as a “rank” of importance…   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 90’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 of key comics from the 90’s with confirmed CGC-recognized variants! [ 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 90’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. New Mutants #98 2/91 Marvel Comics 11,846 5 0.04%
2. Amazing Spider-Man #361 4/92 Marvel Comics 5,855 2 0.03%
3. Uncanny X-Men #282 11/91 Marvel Comics 1,836 1 0.05%
4. Spawn #9 3/93 Image Comics 1,554 52 3.24%
5. X-Force #11 6/92 Marvel Comics 1,084 1 0.09%
6. Wolverine #75 11/93 Marvel Comics 498 1 0.20%
7. Pitt #1 1/93 Image Comics 373 4 1.06%
8. WildC.A.T.S. #1 8/92 Image Comics 356 18 4.81%
9. Gen 13 Limited Series #1 2/94 Image Comics 333 6 1.77%
10. Spawn #8 2/93 Image Comics 295 4 1.34%
11. The Maxx #1 3/93 Image Comics 294 1 0.34%
12. Spawn-Batman #nn 5/94 Image Comics 276 13 4.50%
13. Savage Dragon Limited Series #1 7/92 Image Comics 203 7 3.33%
14. Spawn #10 5/93 Image Comics 185 3 1.60%
15. Spawn #12 7/93 Image Comics 95 1 1.04%
16. Amazing Spider-Man #434 5/98 Marvel Comics 65 5 7.14%
17. Darker Image #1 3/93 Image Comics 50 5 9.09%
18. Wildstar: Sky Zero #1 3/93 Image Comics 33 1 2.94%
19. G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero #132 1/93 Marvel Comics 25 1 3.85%
20. Fathom #5 5/99 Image/Top Cow 22 1 4.35%
21. Savage Dragon Limited Series #2 10/92 Image Comics 15 2 11.76%
22. Visitor vs. the Valiant Universe #1 2/95 Valiant 10 1 9.09%
23. Jurassic Park #1 6/93 Topps Comics 7 3 30.00%
24. Spawn/The Savage Dragon #1 8/96 Image Comics 6 NA NA
25. Captain America #384 4/91 Marvel Comics 6 1 14.29%
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