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Amazing Spider-Man #121: The Death of Gwen Stacy

In 1973, the Spider-Man creators did the unthinkable and stunned the comic book world. In what is now considered to be one of the pivotal issues that transitioned the comic book industry from the optimistic heroism of the Silver Age to the darker, more violent Bronze Age – the powers-that-be killed off a character that was popular with the fans, Spider-Man’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy.

The webslinger first showed up in the 1960’s and established himself as a different sort of hero. He was young, but was not a sidekick to anyone. He lived a life that any awkward adolescent would live. As a result, young readers who easily identified with him flocked to the comic stores and sales of Spider-Man books soared. Today, he is a cultural phenomenon with a box-office movie trilogy (and another one in the works), video games, tons of merchandise, and still showing no signs of losing steam with the international public.

Flashback to about four decades ago: the Silver Age was a more idyllic time, given to fantastic adventures where superheroes almost always emerged triumphant. When Amazing Spider-Man #121 was published on June 1973, there was little warning about how this would rock everything in the comic reader’s world.

The cover itself seems tame in comparison to the hyped-up character death issues that comics are apt to trumpet these days. The hero is in mid-swing on a yellow background which showed portraits of the people he knew. Even when it’s proclaimed that someone is about to die, readers shrugged it off as another gimmick, perhaps a minor character that’s about to bite the dust.

In the issue, the Green Goblin kidnaps Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, and sets the stage for a showdown on a bridge tower. The villain throws her off the bridge and Spider-Man shoots a web in an attempt to save her. Then there is that heart-breaking panel where Gwen is indeed caught (“Did it! Spidey crows, “Spider-powers, I love you!”). But a small sound effect pops out near her head: “Snap”. The whiplash has broken her neck. It was a sound that sent chills thru everyone who picked up the book expecting the hero to save the day once again.

Things would never be the same. Everyone caught a whiff of the change that was to be the end of an era for comic books everywhere and the beginning of a grimmer, more realistic age where superheroes (and their loved ones) could not expect to face danger and remain unscathed.

Amazing Spider-Man #121 was penned by Gerry Conway and penciled by artist Gil Kane. In a poll created by the Marvel group for The 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time, this issue was voted as the 6th. Comic collectors have since realized the value of this issue, and a near-mint copy can range from $350 to $450.

Captain America #117: First appearance of The Falcon in 1969

Black superheroes have become part and parcel of pop culture. There’s Blade, the half-human, half-vampire creature slayer whose popularity has spawned a huge fan following after four movies; Storm, the mutant weather master, from the  wildly successful X-Men comics and films; Spawn, War Machine, John Stewart (who took up the Green Lantern mantle), the list goes on and on. But before any of these black superheroes, there was Captain America’s winged partner: The Falcon.

The comic industry was a little bit different in 1969, and black superheroes weren’t as common in the comic book landscape. Marvel has previously presented Black Panther, native of the fictional Wakanda country; however, he did not have an African-American counterpart and was not very popular among comic book readers. Until Captain America #117introduced The Falcon – the first superhero who was African-American and who, curiously did not have the word “Black” included in his name. The Falcon debuted four years before Blade made an appearance and six years before Storm whirled her way into the X-Men comics.

The Falcon’s super powers are not that impressive. All he had at first was a mental connection with his bird, Redwing. His ability to fly wasn’t even a superpower; it came from wearing a jet harness with extendable wings that function as a glider. His first appearance in Captain America #117 was equally unimpressive with the cover featuring Captain America gaping at the Falcon’s green-and-orange tights.

But from then on, The Falcon soared through the 1970’s, fighting alongside Captain America, and even got equal billing when the series was named “Captain America and The Falcon” from 1971 to 1978. In the book “Super Black”, author Adilifu Nama talks about how black superheroes affected American culture, and a whole section is devoted to how The Falcon, a black man soaring through the urban skyline, compelled respect and attention, making an impact on the imaginations of young African-American readers everywhere. Even now, he continues to be an inspiration, maintaining a powerful presence in the Marvel Universe as a bad-ass martial artist with an amplified empathy link that extends to all avian creatures.

The Falcon was created by the Marvel comic maestro himself, Stan Lee, and artist Gene Colan. A near-mint Captain America #117 which featured the black superhero’s debut is now pegged at $200-$300.

Silver Surfer #1 Premiered in 1968 near the end of the Silver Age

The Silver Surfer debuted in the Fantastic Four series as a secondary character, conceived by Jack Kirby, who introduced him as the herald of interplanetary conqueror Galactus. Despite not being pleased with Kirby creating a character without asking him, Stan Lee soon developed a great fondness for the Surfer, and over time he’d write numerous stories for him. Such was the case of his first solo series, which debuted in 1968, written by Lee and drawn by Marvel classic John Buscema, Silver Surfer #1. The stories were different in tone to most of Marvel’s titles, and revolved mainly about humanity as seen by the Surfer, who would often be taken for a villain by people and the government, in a story that somewhat parallels that of the Hulk. Originally an alien being who was granted cosmic powers by Galactus, the surfer is confined on Earth after falling from grace with his master. The main character’s nobleman-like speech was one of the title’s main features.

This original series lasted only for 17 issues, but the Surfer remained popular and made regular reappearances in the Marvel Universe, till he got his second series almost 20 years after the first one, in 1987. This time, the cosmic hero had a long and succesful run, which lasted for more than a decade, during which he’d finally break his confinement and live numerous adventures in outer space. Although he’s interacted with several characters of the Marvel Universe, Silver Surfer is most closely related with the Fantastic Four, and many of his fans are also followers of the quartet. As with other early Marvel titles, there are not many mint copies of Silver Surfer #1 in existence, and one in prime condition can reach a price of $1150.

Pep Comics #22 in 1941 featured The Shield, but is best known as the first ever appearance of Archie

Pep Comics started off in 1939 as an anthology comic magazine, primarily revolving around action-adventure stories. Its main feature was The Shield, a patriotic hero notable for sporting a flag-themed suit, more than a year before Captain America debuted. In 1941, even though World War II was at its height, publisher John L. Goldwater decided to introduce some humor in the magazine and, inspired by the Andy Hardie movies, he commissioned the Archie character, who would be drawn by artist Bob Montana. Montana was the main creative force behind the title, and he designed Archie and the supporting cast taking his high-school acquaintances as inspiration to launch in Pep Comics #22. The character was a great success, and would soon start to gain more space in Pep Comics, along with other humor strips. Eventually, he’d replace The Shield as the cover character, and would remain so till the magazine cancellation in 1987. Also, in 1942, shortly after his debut, Archie would get his own magazine, simply titled Archie.

These family-oriented, lighthearted stories were such a hit that Pep’s publishing company, MLJ Magazines, changed its name to Archie Comics, and has since launched dozens of titles of variable lifespan, starring Archie himself or some of the supporting characters, such as Betty, Veronica and Jughead. They’ve also published numerous non-Archie magazines, occasionally revisiting the action-superhero theme. The enduring popularity of Archie has turned him into an icon of american pop-culture, and thus his first appearance holds special significance. Nevertheless, comics were rarely collected those years, and few have survived to present day. A copy of Pep Comics #22 in prime condition will easily reach a price of $50000.

New Teen Titans #1 had its debut from DC in 1980, powered by the team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez

After two early versions, in the 60s and 70s, the Teen Titans most widely known incarnation debuted in 1980, under the name New Teen Titans. Young heroes had always had a place in the DC Universe, and the success of Marvel’s X-Men moved DC to reactivate the franchise, mixing three founding members (Robin, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl) with newcomers Beast Boy (aka Changeling), Cyborg, Starfire and Raven. Despite having to compete with the popular X-Men and better-known adult superheroes of DC, the title was very succesfull, probably due to its outstanding  creative team, formed by Marv Wolfman at the scripts and George Perez at the pencils, who would both author Crisis on Infinite Earths some years later.

The series went on for 130 issues, during which the team would see numerous changes in its roster, as well as in its members’ personalities. New Teen Titans would be cancelled in 1996, only to be re-started with a new name and numeration later that year. Its current incarnation has been running since 2011. New Teen Titans #1, the issue that started this enduring franchise, features the origin story of the team, which was formed by the half-demoness Raven to fight her evil father. Despite being a significant comic-book, copies in prime condition can be found for $25.

New Mutants #87 featured the first appearance of Cable in 1990

Chris Claremont’s run as writer of The Uncanny X-Men in the early 80s was an enormous success, which inevitably led to the launch of several spin-offs. The first of them was The New Mutants, which revolved around the concept of powered teenagers under the protection of Charles Xavier, just like the X-Men, but still in the training phase. Claremont doubled his workload by also scripting this title, which he imbued with a darker tone than the regular series. The New Mutants original members were Karma, Cannonball, Wolfsbane, Psyche and Sunspot, new to the Marvel Universe.

Through the years, the series saw a lot of changes in the team’s lineup as well as in authorship, with varying degrees of success. In 1989, a young Rob Liefeld would take over as penciller and co-plotter, soon revitalizing the title. Pivotal to its popularity was the introduction of Cable, a cyborg-mutant with psychic powers who soon became the leader of the team, and whose surprising origins would only be known some time later. Since Cable’s arrival turned the slow-selling New Mutants into a hit title, issue #87 is arguably the most important in the series run, and the seed for X-Force, the new name it would receive shortly after. Nevertheless, it’s not a difficult issue to find, and mint condition copies can be purchased for $20.

Marvel Mystery Comics #1 premiered in 1939, published by Timely Comics, the first ever Marvel Comic

1939 was arguably the most transcendental year in western comics’ history – It saw the birth of Superman and Batman, and also the debut of the magazine which would become the seed for the whole Marvel Universe. At the end of the thirties, comic-books were becoming popular, and pulp-magazine publisher Martin Goodman decided to expand business by launching an anthology comic magazine, under the name Marvel Comics. The first issue would feature the adventures of characters such as Namor the Sub-mariner and the Human Torch, who would start off as enemies but some time later would become allies. Since the debut issue was a great success, Goodman decided to turn it into a monthly magazine, with a slightly different name, Marvel Mystery Comics.

The magazine had a decade-long run, and it would be the birthplace of another modern Marvel character, the Vision. Its success would encourage Goodman to launch other comic-books under his company Timely Publications, the most notable being Captain America, the legendary hero whose early adventures would be penciled by another legend, Jack Kirby. Many years later, the Timely Comics brand would become the modern Marvel, and that first issue can be rightfully considered the germ of its whole universe. Though almost a million copies were printed, most of them were discarded shortly after publication, which combined with its historical importance makes this an extremely valuable comic. Any near mint copy will sell for no less than $100000.

Fantastic Four #5 features the First appearance of Dr. Doom in 1962

Though not belonging to the golden age, most of Marvel’s series early issues are quite significant and valuable nowadays. Such is the case of Fantastic Four #5, which features the first appearance of Marvel Universe’s king of villains – Doctor Doom. Victor Von Doom, a former fellow student of Reed Richards (aka Mr. Fantastic), arrives by helicopter to the Baxter Building, imprisoning the team and blackmailing its three male members into carrying out a strange plan, least they want Sue Storm killed. They must travel to the past using one of Doom’s inventions and steal pirate Blackbeard’s treasure chest, whose contents supposedly will grant its owner mystical powers.

Thus, this is one of the occasional Marvel stories where time travel occurs, and despite its implausibility it makes for entertaining reading, including a fun twist. Of course, Jack Kirby’s art elevates the affair above the average comic-book. Pirate story notwithstanding, the real highlight of this issue is obviously Doctor Doom’s appearance and origin story, which would get quite more elaborated over the years. Copies have become quite rare, and if you find one in prime condition, you must be ready to pay around $13000 for it.

Detective Comics #38 from 1940, origin and first appearance of Robin, the Boy Wonder

Detective Comics #38 was a landmark in the Batman mythology, since it featured the debut of the caped crusader’s sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder. Thus, whether you’re a fan of the Robin concept or not, the historical significance of this issue can’t be denied. Young Dick Grayson lives a happy life working with his parents as a circus acrobat, but things turn grim when a local mob tries to extort the circus’ owner, whose refusal will result in the sabotage of Dick’s parents performance and their death. Fortunately for Dick Grayson, the Batman, who was investigating the mob, offers him to go under his protection and become a crimefighter too. After several months of hard training, Dick will be ready to fight alongside the dark knight as Robin, thus named after the legendary Robin Hood. While it can be argued that Batman’s nature is more inclined to solitary fighting, his training of Robin makes sense, since young Grayson’s story closely parallels his own. Rather than Batman taking in an assistant, he’s helping a young kid through a situation he had to face mostly alone, acting as a surrogate father.

The story was handled by the usual team of Bill Finger as writer and Bob Kane, as well as Jerry Robinson, who developed the Robin concept. Probably the most striking scene is that of Batman storming into a casino owned by the mob boss, swinging the game tables into the air and wreaking havoc. Although we get to know the whole Robin origin story, this is a quite short affair, at just 12 pages, since Detective Comics was an anthology magazine. Thus, this issue features nine other stories, though it’s obviously Batman’s that makes this a thoroughly sought-after issue. Detective Comics #38 doesn’t reach the outrageous price of issue #27 (Batman’s debut), but a near mint condition copy will go for as high as $85000.

Battlestar Galactica #1, Marvels adaptation of the popular TV series

Before the 2000s Galactica craze there was the original series, back in the seventies, also excellent on its own. After the success of the early episodes, the Glen A. Larson creation was picked by Marvel Comics for a comic adaptation. The pilot of the series, Saga of a Star World, was adapted as an issue of the Marvel Super Special comic magazine, which featured one-shot stories longer than a regular comic-book. This opening story would be later split into the first three issues of the Battlestar Galactica regular comic-book series, which would last for two years.

It’s interesting to note that Marvel’s contract didn’t allow them to adapt the TV scripts beyond chapter 5, so everything that follows after that are original stories. This allowed for interesting plot developments, such as the absence of Captain Adam for six issues –with the resulting problems on the ship- and the introduction of several villains beside the Cylons, mainly alien monsters of different kinds. The creative teamed was most often formed by Roger MacKenzie as writer and none other than Walt Simonson at the pencils. A most interesting detail is that the detachment from the aired scripts allowed the comic-books to wrap up the story with an ending of its own, unlike the TV series, whose 2nd season wasn’t greenlighted due mostly to high costs. Battlestar Galactica #1 appeared in March 1979, with story by McKenzie and art by Ernie Colón, and despite its 32-year antiquity it can be purchased in good condition for $14.