Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Wolverine Conspiracy

While checking around the web I noticed that Incredible Hulk #181 was priced as high as $3800 for a CGC-rated copy. That's freaking ridiculous. What makes that issue so special? Well, according to people that do not know any better and have low IQ's it is considered the 1st appearance of the Wolverine.

It isn't. It is actually the second appearance. No kidding.

The likewise CGC-evaluated Hulk #180 is going for $86. Hulk #180 is actually the comic book debut of everyone's favorite over-exposed mutant.

So why the huge disparity of value between the two issues? What is going on here? Why is Hulk #181 so expensive and #180 so relatively accessible? Well, there are a couple of reasons. One is rooted deep in fan (and comic book store) perception of the character. The other is the effect of the dreaded speculator market that almost destroyed the comic book industry.

As a youngster I followed Marvel pretty closely. I didn't have much choice as the only resource for comics was the nearby 7-11 convenience market spin rack. I had found a few of the over-sized DC Treasury Editions on the magazine rack along with the UFO and CarToons mags but over all DC wasn't represented very well and I can't recall ever picking up a DC book from the stand. Charlton and Atlas had a spot on the rack but oddly, DC didn't. My favorite books, along with those of my friends, were the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk. Hulk #180 wasn't that special to us but we did drive all our mom's insane by running around screaming "Wen-diiiiii-goooooo" all the time. The only intriguing part of #180 was that last panel featuring Wolverine. We all thought he was cool. He had claws!

A few months later when we were all able to find a copy of Hulk #181 we went insane. Wolverine was the best super hero ever! We played Wolverine, we drew pictures *. All the super heroes we made up had claws included in their costumes. Oh, yeah.

You multiply that times all the fans who also discovered Wolverine and there you have the fascination with Hulk #181. That perception was buoyed and carried along until everyone was convinced that Hulk #180 was not that important to the Wolverine story. Hulk #181 became what we wanted it to be. But we are wrong.

The other reason this error has been so compounded and reinforced that Hulk #181, like the cost of diamonds, has been artificially and grossly over valued.

Back in the bad old days of the comic book speculation market it would have been difficult if not impossible to sell Hulk #180 for $200. Let's be honest, Wolverine appears in the last panel of the last page of the issue. That's a hard sell as he doesn't even appear on the cover! But show the much more action filled cover of #181, and page after page of slashy fun and you have a sale! I concede that as a comic Hulk #181 rocks a hell of a lot more than the previous issue, after all it is full of Wolverine (Even though he is wearing the ugly kitty mask) taking on the Hulk and Wendigo in a ginormous battle of the ages. For the investment buyer, the feeling that you are getting what you pay for is important. Buy #180 for what amounts to one small panel at an inflated price and you feel buyer's remorse immediately. I would, and I am a fan.

So to protect the years of artificially induced value of Hulk #181, Wolverine's role in #180 has been actively marginalized and is considered a cameo. This is on purpose. That he has only a cameo in issue #180 is not accurate. To prove this I have included some images to show what a cameo is and is not.

The very definition of the cameo as done by Alfred Hitchcock in the 1940 film Foreign Correspondent.

A Superman cameo in What If #1 (February 1977).

Not a cameo of Superman in the awesome Superman vs. Spider-Man (Marvel & DC 1976).

The famous Sting cameo from the Saga of the Swamp Thing #25 (June 1984), considered by many to be the first appearance of the proto-Constantine.

A cameo of Venom in Spider-Man #298 (March 1988). I would be hard-pressed to call this a "first appearance", but some consider it so. As far as story goes it technically is a first. Then comes next issue, which is also called a cameo for some reason.

Not a cameo. This is stupid and another example of the what constitutes a Wolverine Conspiracy. This isn't considered a 1st appearance but Venom appears on 2 pages of story stalking Mary Jane Watson-Parker in her own home in Spider-Man #299 (April 1988). Why isn't this considered the debut? Because Issue #300 is double-sized, special centennial issue and contains lots of punching. See, comic fans equate what is important to a character with fight scenes. It is not considered a real first appearance in this instance unless the villain is embroiled in a senses-shattering battle with the hero. I guess terrorizing a woman for 2 pages doesn't count on Earth-Fanboy.

Not a cameo. Awful, but not a cameo. From Spider-Man #300 (May 1988).

A cameo of Wolverine from Marvel Graphic Novel #1, The Death of Captain Marvel (1982). Wolverine, along with many others, are just furniture in this scene.

The first appearance of Wolverine in Incredible Hulk #180 (Oct 1974). This is not a freaking cameo. Look...dialog and a full body shot. This is the debut of Wolverine. Sorry, but all you folks who paid big bucks for Hulk #181 got ripped.

The splash page of Incredible Hulk #181 (November 1974). Also not a cameo.

So there is a vested interest in keeping the market value of Hulk #181 high. It is supported by years of inflated costs due to speculation, fan misconceptions and perpeptuated by re-sellers (though not by choice so much now because the issue was strapped onto a greed-rocket years ago). The price-inertia is unstoppable at this point. Too much time and money has gone into maintaining the artificial value of the issue and it will not drop unless the entire back issue market also takes a nose dive at the same time. It is more likely that Hulk #180 will rise to match the price of #181. Sellers will not be willing to take such a huge loss of investment by devaluing the issue. People will continue to pay whatever the market will bear. As long as companies rate and grade an issue and make the price "official" then fans are stuck with it, regardless of the reality.

There would be a poop storm if some company suddenly decided Hulk #180 was worth more than #181 or if #181 was devalued. Doing that would reveal how fragile the back issue market is. I recall some comic book store owners lamenting that the Crisis on Infinite Earths from DC caused a momentary drop in back issue sales due to the reboot rendering all the stories in the older issues moot. The only recourse for buyers and sellers at this point is to inflate the price of Hulk #180. This is not too likely to happen since the issue has been marginalized all this time. I imagine that somewhere there is someone who is buying all the copies of Hulk #180 he can find though, just in case.

Besides, I'm waiting for the value of my copy of Hulk #182 to jump. It has the first appearance of the Wolver-Copter and the Wolver-Cable attached to the Wolver-Bucket lift.

Now that's some toyetic stuff right there.

For an on-the-spot definition of a cameo that doesn't rant or digress, check out Marionette's blog, Dance of the Puppets.

* I created a super-speed hero with Iron Man armor, Wolverine claws (which could shoot out on long cables and snag objects and in one memorable scene, spacecraft), the Gladiator's spinning wrist-blades and nuclear fire-blasting powers. Maybe that was a bit of overkill, but what the hey. It was still a better creation than anything else the last 3 decades of comics produced. The line I am most proud of from the homemade comic book featuring this character was "It's a cheap ship! It's breaking up!"


  1. Who is this "Wolverine" character you speak of?

    And, I'd so totally read your comic book.

  2. great post. iron-man with claws, eh? interesting...

  3. That's not Wolverine. The real Wolverine isn't some pansy-ass takin' orders from the Man and humbly getting into a lift car just because the Man says so and not even having enough gumption to snarl a "bub" at the Man.

  4. Iron Man with claws. Sounds like Darkhawk.

  5. Wolverine may only appear on the last page ( pg 32 ), but they actually begin talking about him on page 3 - the Weapon X referals at the Canadian Military base. The X-Men movies did a nice job of incorporating the Wolverine origin and pg 3 of Hulk 180 into their books.

    I agree, this book is the first appearance and should rise to match Hulk 181.

  6. Wolverine may only appear on the last page ( pg 32 ), but they actually begin talking about him on page 3 - the Weapon X referals at the Canadian Military base. The X-Men movies did a nice job of incorporating the Wolverine origin and pg 3 of Hulk 180 into their books.

    I agree, this book is the first appearance and should rise to match Hulk 181.

  7. Love love love this post! Got Hulk 180 for Xmas and completely agree with you, guy ! Will be reading your blog regularly in the future...


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