The Comic Crash of the 90s

The Bubble and Burst through the eyes of a child
December 30, 2013
I was born in 1980 so I do not have too many memories of the first few years of that decade. Of all the things that occupied my time during those formative years (toys, NES, cartoons) comics were not one of them. Oh I read Archie Comics of course. I would usually peruse the magazine rack at Kroger's and look for those Archie Double Digests that I so loved. I would also look for any issues of MAD Magazine to enjoy. I used to take them on long car trips to pass the time.

Comics came into my life sometime around the second half of 1992. DC had announced that they were killing off Superman. Nowadays superheroes die and resurrect all the time, but at that time a headliner biting the dust was a big one. Couple that with the news of Golden and Silver Age comics selling for 6 figures and we were at the crest of the bubble. Superman 75 was going to mark his death. It was all over the news and I even remember seeing the release of the comic on the local news.

The message to the masses was clear. Superman 75 was going to be a milestone issue. Buy it now and you can put your kids through college in 20 years. I remember my uncle even asking my dad to pick him up an issue. Admittedly this was not the actual message being sent by DC but by speculators and people who stood to make a lot of profit. DC just decided to ride that message to massive sales. This message was fully received by my family. So one Saturday my dad and I drove to the Dungeon Comic Book Store. I remember walking in and seeing the place packed. There were people everywhere, and 85% of them were there to get Superman 75. At this time I had no idea how comics worked so I grabbed an issue of Superman 75 and then looked for 74 so I could get a little back story.

Once I got home I did something that probably would have made those speculators in the store faint. I read the comics. I started off with issue 74. I was dumbfounded that this issue started off right in the middle of the story with Superman and the Justice League fighting Doomsday. What happened before? Then issue 75 started with Superman and Doomsday in Metropolis. What the heck! I then looked at the back and learned what a crossover was. I had to buy multiple comics from 4 different Superman series plus one Justice League just to get the whole story.

Back in 1992 there was no digital distribution or torrents. Also at that time I did not even know of trade paperbacks. Plus I was only 11 going on 12. If I wanted the whole story I was going to have to buy all those issues. I started off by calling all the comics books stores that were nearby (there was an explosion of comic book stores in the 90s). I had found a store by the mall that had them. I begged my mom to drive me there so I could pick them up. The issues ended up costing me 16 bucks total. Keep in mind that these issues were only a few weeks old. Such was the way prices rose in those days. I began to spend much of my allowance on comics. Within a few weeks I ended getting all of the issues from the Doomsday event. I read them all as well. Although I wanted to enjoy the comics I was careful to keep the comics in excellent shape in order to prevent loss of value. Once I noticed a crease on one of the issues and my heart sank. My comic was ruined! It was now only going to be worth hundreds and not thousands!

Within a few weeks Adventures of Superman #500 came out and 4 new superheroes premiered, each laying the claim to Superman. If i remember correctly I had pre-ordered these issues and got both the newstand and direct edition of the issues of Superman where all the new supermen were introduced. However at this time I had started to lose interest in Superman. There was a bigger badder boy on the block. Two bad boys actually. They were called Marvel and Image comics. They began to take my attention away from Superman. As it turned out I did not even finish the DC crossover and never found out how Superman returned until a few years later.

X-men became my new obsession. The cartoon on FOX helped to gain my interest plus I was intrigued by the concept of mutant powers. I was coming in during the X-Cutioner's Song crossover and was intrigued. I began to learn about Apocalypse (who seemed much cooler than Doomsday) and of course Cable and Maverick. Maverick and especially Cable gained a lot of popularity during this time. It was the 90s and Marvel did a good job of making their heroes EXXXTREME and TOO THE MAXXX! Look at the way they were drawn back then. The men had tree trunk arms and concrete pillar legs. One had to wonder how bad they were chafing in their uniforms. The women had waists that would make Barbie jealous and would always stand in an unnatural way that showed their biggest assets to the audience. At the same time Image was fueling the creator-driven comic boom and making people like Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefield household names and millions of dollars. Much criticism has been leveled at Liefield in recent years due to his art style but from my memories everyone tried to draw like him.

During the boom a trip to the comic book store always brought new surprises. Almost every week there was a new comic book out there. I remember getting a few Twilight Zone comics(one was even in 3D and came with a set of 3D glasses), Ren and Stimpy comics, Transformers Generation 2, Useless Redundant Superhero #1, Rebooted Superhero #1, Random Comic #0. Don't forget the bag and board to keep the comics in good shape. Why don't you buy two, one to read, one to put away? Why not grab a copy of all 5 covers of X-Men #1?
One of my most cherished memories during this time was when my dad showed me his old comic book collection. He had early issues of X-Men and Spider-man, along with a bunch of comic heroes I had never heard of. Now he does have some silver age classic comics but most of his collection was not well known enough to command top dollar. I remember him being a little disappointed when he finally got his collection appraised a couple of years after the boom.

Me? I eventually discovered girls and decided to spend my money on clothes rather than comics. Little by little I began to go to the comic book store less and less until I eventually stopped going altogether. My disinterest in comics paralleled the comic book bubble bursting. Late shipments, over-speculating, variant covers, and just too many comics being released led to those looking to to make money getting out. Something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. Comic Book stores started to close around the U.S. All of the comic book stores I had gone to during my youth have all closed.

I came back to comics out of nostalgia in 2000 and have never left. Oh there was a few bubbles since the 90s but none have been as big as the 90s. I remember when CGC came out sellers would buy the latest issue, have it graded, and then try to sell it for $400. I'm not sure if if it ever sold for that price but I highly doubt it. Today comic books are highly priced and have so much convoluted back story that its hard for someone new to get into it. Comic books are now loss leaders that lead to a Hollywood deal. I had a discussion with a friend the other day over the future of the medium. I myself have already switched to digital.

Superman 75? Practically worthless, but there are still many who think S75 is worth a lot. Just Google "Superman 75 worth" and look at the results. Many seem to think they have stumbled onto a gold mine. I have learned that if you look at a pricing guide always cut the value in half and you might not even get that.

The good news was that I learned a lot of good lessons from this:
1. As said before, something is only worth what someone will pay for it.
2. If it says "collectible" it will probably be worthless.
3. Scarcity is what drives value.

I hope everyone who read this already knows about the current state of the comic book market. If you are feeling down about your comic book collection keep in mind you are still sitting on a goldmine of storytelling. There was some awesome stories that came out in the 90s. Onslaught, Ages of Apocalypse, Knightfall, Fatal Attractions, Zero Hour, etc. Go back and read through them, trust me you'll enjoy it.

If you would like to read more about this time please check out these articles:

Thanks for reading!
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