Batman No. 1: a rare comic book goes up for sale

Batman No. 1 is one of the world's most prized comic books, with fewer than 300 copies thought to exist.

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    Batman No. 1 comic book launched the Batman brand in 1940.
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Batman No. 1 was anything but a rare comic book when it first hit newsstands. The original press run for the comic in 1940 was thought to be about 500,000 but today fewer than 300 copies are believed to remain in existence.

The copy going up for sale this week belongs to Alaska comic book collector Mike Wheat, who bought it in 1974, along with two other comic books for $300. This week the aging comic book is expected to fetch about $40,000.

That pales in comparison to a couple of recent $1-million comic book sales. Earlier this year records were set when mint-condition copies of Action Comics No. 1 (in which Superman made his world debut) and Detective Comics No. 27 (in which Batman first appeared) were both sold for more than $1 million. (The previous world record on a comic book sale had been $317,000 for a less-well-preserved copy of Action Comics No. 1.)

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Some observers attribute the increasing value of comic books to the popularity of recent movies starring comic book heroes, including Batman, Spider-Man, and Iron Man.

But Wheat, who is a serious collector with 16,000 comics in his private collection, and about 35,000 more duplicates and other comics available for sale, says he's a collector because he loves the classic artwork and sense of history they provide.

“It’s truly the only American art form,” he told the Fairbanks Daily News. "Comics were started here, done here, came from here.”

Wheat's copy of Batman No. 1 has an interesting history. It was hidden – along with two other comic books – in the stuck drawer of a secondhand dresser sold for $25 to a Fairbanks, Alaska, businessman in the early 1970s. The buyer owned the dresser for some years before he loosened the drawer and discovered the comics, which he then sold to Wheat for $300.

Those years spent in the drawer are probably the only reason that this copy of Batman No. 1 is making headlines today. Not only did its secure hiding place prevent the book from being thrown away, but the cool, dark nook it inhabited may also have contributed to its current good condition. (On a scale of 1 to 10 the book has been rated a 5.5 – a surprisingly good number for a vintage book.)

"I see how most comics from that era look," Barry Sandoval, director of comic auctions and operations at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas – where the book will be sold – told the Associated Press. "Most 70-year-old comics are in pretty rough shape."

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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