Superman is perhaps the single most iconic and well-known superhero in the world. Since his debut in Action Comics, he's seen countless ups and downs, ranging in power from an above-average man to a universe-destroying godlike being, while at the heart of it all remaining the man of steel, the man of hope, the man who represents everything good and pure about humanity.
Such an enduring icon, of course, brings with him a wake of collectibles. Numerous key issues and important books throughout his history, since his first appearance in 1938, circulate through high-end collectors' markets, auction houses, and private sales. So, what are the most valuable Superman comics?
Action Comics #1
The grand-daddy of them all, Action Comics #1, is widely considered to be the most valuable comic in the world. It's certainly considered the most iconic, at least for Superman collectors. The thing is, it's not actually the most valuable comic in the world. It's not even the most valuable Superman comic! Despite being the first appearance of Superman and one of the foundational stories that created the entire superhero genre, it's actually in third place.
The top three sales for Action Comics #1 have been:
- A CGC 9.0 copy sold for $2.1 million in 2011.
- A CGC 8.5 copy sold for $3.25 million in 2021.
- A CGC 6.0 copy sold in private sale for $3.5 million in 2023.
As for why a 6.0 copy sells for more than a 9.0 copy, two factors need to be considered. The first is time; a lot can happen in a decade, and 2011 was a different era. Virtually every kind of collectible that still holds value has shot up significantly since the 2010s, and the high end is no exception. That same 9.0 copy would likely sell for at least three million if it were to hit the market today.
The second is that a 6.0, in this case, is deceptive. This 6.0 is a special one, given a low grade because the cover is "damaged" by the addition of a stamp. It's the so-called "Rocket Copy" of the book, and because of that unique stamp, it's very likely one of a kind. Value is added, too, because the actual for-real stamp that made the rocket on the cover is included with it.
While Action Comics #1 isn't actually the most valuable Superman comic of all time, it's definitely one of the most unique, most iconic, and most talked-about comics of all time, and if another high grade went to market, it could regain the throne.
Superman was a popular enough character that he almost immediately got a dedicated comic line of his own. Superman #1, with its bright yellow cover and the subtitle "The complete story of the daring exploits of the one and only Superman," makes it a stand-out comic for any super-fan. Nearly as old and as rare as Action Comics #1, Superman #1 is (currently, anyway) the most valuable comic in the world. This record was earned through a private sale in 2022 of a CGC-graded 8.0 copy of the book, which sold for a whopping, record-breaking, astonishing $5.3 million dollars.
If Superman holds ranks #1 and #3 in the most valuable comics of all time, what's #2? Is it another Superman? A Batman? Neither, actually; it's Amazing Fantasy #15, the first appearance of another iconic hero, Spider-Man. Where Superman is the #1 hero in DC's lineup, Spider-Man is Marvel's equivalent, at least as far as valuable books go. Still, at $3.6 million for a 9.6-graded copy, Spider-Man is barely hanging on by a thread to hold that record, and Action Comics #1 is likely to take the #2 spot back once another good copy hits the market.
Superman #1 is also noteworthy as being the source of the true origins and nature of Superman, telling the story of both his home planet of Krypton and the kindly couple of Kents that adopted him. Truly, it's a one-of-a-kind moment in history encapsulated in a few short pages.
Action Comics #10
A whopping 64-page-long comic full of tales of different heroes, villains, and adventures, Action Comics #10 is another of the most valuable Superman comics of all time. While very few comics are ever going to top the seven-figure mark, comics like Action Comics #10 are happily sitting in six figures, with an estimated value of around a quarter of a million dollars.
Action Comics #10 tells a story of Clark Kent's reporting and how that reporting can have an impact on the people he reports on, with a source being tracked and harassed. Superman saves his source and eradicates the gang doing the deed. This comic is also a key step in the slow and gradual evolution of the Superman logo.
Action Comics #7
In most comics, the earlier the issue number, the more valuable the comic is likely to be, with later stand-outs coming only for key moments of the story or debuts of various characters. You'd expect Action Comics #7 to be more valuable than #10, then, but the truth is a little different.
In this case, Action Comics #7 simply isn't as interesting as a story compared to #10. In it, Superman joins a circus as a strongman, saves a falling trapeze artist, and rescues Lois Lane. Overall, it's not terribly exciting compared to many other tales in his storied career. As such, Action Comics #7 sits lower on the scale, having sold in 2008 for $143,000 for an 8-grade copy.
With Superman starring in both his own line and as a regular feature in Action Comics, there were plenty of comics featuring the big man gracing shelves in the 40s.
Clocking in at ten whole cents, Superman #4 tells the tale of an earthquake machine and the race between Superman stopping it from destroying Metropolis and Lex Luthor seeking it for his own dastardly deeds. It's not Luthor's first appearance, but his second, leaving this comic just under $100,000 in value.
Action Comics #2
Action Comics #2 is something of an odd man out in this comic lineup. It's the second appearance of Superman, following Action Comics #1, but it has one huge demerit that keeps it from being anywhere near as valuable: Clark is nowhere to be seen. At least, in graded copies encased in slabs, Superman is buried away. His appearance is in the comic, of course, but he's not on the cover.
Instead, a pair of dogfighting planes fill the background, and a man, parachuting away from danger with a damsel in his arms and a gun in his hand, fills the foreground. While the art is spectacular in that vintage comic way, it doesn't feature the Man of Steel at all, and as such, many collectors don't actually want a copy for their displays. A 7.5-graded copy sold in 2017 for a relatively meager $95,000.
In 1978, a now-famous copy of a Superman book was published as a celebrity tie-in. In it, Superman enters the boxing ring with heavyweight champion and all-around superstar Muhammad Ali, where the two are required to fight by aliens invading the earth to determine who would be the champion and face the aliens' champion. The two train, Superman is de-powered, they fight, and Ali wins the bout.
While this is treated as a novel experience for Superman, it's actually not the first time the man of steel has stepped into the squared circle. The first time was all the way back in Superman #2, where Superman helps the suicidal boxer Larry Trent recover his title and his confidence. It's a touching story and is one of the first forays of the Superman line into tackling some of the heaviest emotional subjects known to man. This book holds a place in the high-$90k range, on par with Action Comics #2 for value. That said, the bright, vibrant cover means a pristine copy might break into six figures as a stunning showpiece if it sells soon.
Additional Action Comics Issues
As you might imagine, pretty much any old copy of Action Comics is going to be valuable, and the ones with Superman in them are going to stand out over the rest.
Other issues of Action Comics that hold value are:
- Action Comics #19, which has a record sale of nearly $80,000.
- Action Comics #23, which has a record sale of around $65,000.
- Action Comics #20, which only reaches $35,000 but could easily increase.
- Action Comics #3, another issue that doesn't have him on the cover.
- Action Comics #13, a prime example of Superman stopping a runaway train.
- Action Comics #9, featuring a racing car on the cover rather than Superman himself.
- Action Comics #5, featuring the fifth appearance of Superman inside, but not on the cover, again. This one is rare, with under 40 known copies in the world.
- Action Comics #4, still without Superman on the cover, but has a story featuring him inside. This story was even reused as part of Superman #1.
Truthfully, you're going to be looking at a price point between $50,000 and $90,000 for just about any issue of Action Comics from back in the 40s; it's just a few, like #1, that stand out with exceptional value.
In the early days of comics, copyright issues and other legal reasons led to the creation of Ashcans. Because of how Trademark Law worked at the time, an object or item with the proposed Trademark on it needed to be created for a company to then be able to register the Trademark. Ashcans, then, were basically empty copies of a book designed to trick the Patent Office into believing the book was real, not just a proposal, and to grant the Trademark. It's all quite fascinating, actually.
Ashcan comics are, essentially, just covers and are black-and-white hand-drawn version outlines of them, as even the coloring process added too much time to the registration. The goal was to use it to register a Trademark, then discard it (by throwing it in the ashcan or trash can as we call it now.) They were disposable. Very few of them still exist, and since they're both empty and colorless, they're not actually as valuable as you might think from all of that. They're also extremely susceptible to damage, as white turns yellow or brown, paper chips and cracks and creases, and it all ends up stained.
Even a good-quality copy of an Ashcan only has so much value to collectors, and even then, it is mostly limited to dedicated Ashcan collectors rather than Superman collectors. There are very few of these around, and while their prices would undoubtedly be higher if they came to market today, they simply don't.
Values Change, but Superman is Eternal
Prices for Superman comics are hard to pin down. Interest in these ultra-high-end value comics is high, but the limited number of people with both the interest and the money to buy those comics when they come to market is a limiting factor. After all, not a lot of people, comparatively, have the hundred grand or so necessary to buy a lot of these comics in a high-grade form these days. This is especially true after the successive bursts in the real estate, cryptocurrency, and covid bubbles. Coupled with the rising cost of living across the board, you can see why values might be tricky to calculate.
That said, all it takes is one good copy coming to market and one interested buyer offering a new record-setting figure to make the news. Action Comics #1 and Superman #1 get all the attention, of course, but there's a whole universe of valuable comics out there.
At Quality Comix, we're the nation's #1 dealer in high-end and valuable comics, whether you're looking for semi-popular keys that cost $1,000 or some of the highest of the high-end books ever seen. So, if there's anything you're looking for – or anything you want to sell – feel free to reach out! We're always happy to talk about valuable comics.