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Thursday, January 27, 2011 

When Superman "died" in 1992, some bought it for profit, not because they cared about the story

The New York Times runs a story about the obsession with death of superheroes, and brings up a very troubling mindset that led to the collapse of the market:
One of the biggest deaths in comics was in 1992 when Superman perished in his fight against Doomsday. The final issue of their epic-struggle came sealed in black plastic with only the Superman-emblem, dripping in blood, showing. This was during a boom time in the industry – when many collectors were buying comics as investments. That November, Frank Rich wrote about the frenzy to buy a copy: “The teen-agers who lined up at the nation’s newsstands and comic book stores on Wednesday had dollar signs, not tears, in their eyes. The issue of Superman in which the superhero from Krypton is killed by Doomsday, a villainous escapee from a cosmic insane asylum, was bound to be worth more than its face value of $1.25 someday. Or so its publishers would have young consumers believe.”
Well gee, isn't that prophetic - it's been nearly 2 decades since that farce, and nobody's going to pay diddly for the story today; it's utterly worthless and just clutters the bargain bins. But more alarming is the kind of attitude cultivated at the time - to care more about monetary than entertainment value. As I said, that obsession with collecting only for now non-existent monetary value is just what brought down the long term profitability of the comics medium. At the end of the article, referring to the tedious tale of the Human Torch's death and the relaunch of the Fantastic Four, they say:
The title will undoubtedly be restarted, in a different incarnation, with a new no. 1 issue (like catnip to collectors)
Like catnip? As it so happens, even that's lost its impact today, as fewer copies of any of these kind of stories are published, since fewer people are fooled or think it'll be worth anything in the future. Buying premiere issues that'll most likely be reverted back to the original numbering for additional short-term profitability has also lost its edge, and wasn't even called for to begin with.

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I worked at a comic store when the "Death" of Superman came out. We had people wanting to buy three to ten issues as an investment. To the one who offered to but extra copies at double or triple the cover price I tried to pull them aside to explain something. I pointed out to them that at best Superman sold about 250,000 copies a month, (at the time), and DC was publishing over sea Million copies of the 1st printing. Only about 2 in ten folks believed me, some even going so far as to accusing me of wanting to limit sales so I could but multiples myself. Today I know of at least two customers of the store I help out at now who paid over $25 that day. I've been told that they have never been able to sell their copies.

I still tell people the one truth of comics, "That is Comic Books, and Soap Operas Death is not necessarily Fatal!"


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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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