BY MATT TUCK
Giant-Size X-Men #1. Incredible Hulk #181. These two holy grails break records and make headlines every day, but which is the better investment?
Welcome to our first Friday Night Fights, where we put two of the hottest comics on the market head-to-head for an in-depth comparison. To inaugurate the topic, we will start with two of my personal favorites, Giant-Size X-Men #1 and Incredible Hulk #181.
Let’s get down to business.
On one hand, we have the first full and cover appearance of Wolverine. Then there is Wolverine’s second full appearance, but more importantly, the debut of the team that would save the X-Men from extinction.
When it comes to the X-Men, these are two of the giants, both holy grails in their own rights.
And they come with price tags that prove it.
Even the lowest of grades for either of these key issues bring insane figures. The lowest graded, complete copy of Giant-Size X-Men #1, a mere 1.0, brought an impressive $1,560. On the other side, we have a complete 2.5 Hulk #181 that sold for $2,200.
At one point in recent history, 181 was by far the more expensive of the two, but GSX #1’s popularity has skyrocketed since last year. As far as fair market value, it has not caught up with 181, but it is outpacing the former and making bigger gains. It creates an interesting scenario.
Investing your money in either of these comics is a sound strategy, but with the current market values, most collectors can only afford one. Which one should it be: GSX #1 or Hulk #181?
BY THE NUMBERS
These are two of the best-selling titles of the Bronze Age. While Incredible Hulk #181 has been a perennial favorite for years, there was a time when GSX #1 was rather overlooked. In fact, it did not truly launch into the stratosphere until last year, and that momentum is what makes it rival Wolverine’s full debut. Take a look at the current data.
THE HIGH GRADES
Relatively speaking, these two comics are on a similar playing field.
Only a day before this post - April 1, to be exact - a 9.6 GSX #1 obliterated its previous record high when one sold for $26,400.
Consider this: that same 9.6 held steady between $2k-$4k from 2002 all the way to the fall of 2018 when it began to consistently crack the $5,000 threshold. That’s 16 years of holding to within a $2,000 measure. Then suddenly, the records came crashing down one after another. Every year since 2018, the 9.6 has set a new record high sale only to surpass that mark within months and weeks. Now it is literally happening within days.
This latest sale puts this into perspective. In 2019, the record was set at $7,200. It stood for about 14 months when another copy sold for $9k. Between January and February of this year, that record was broken twice, topping out at $9,500. Then came yesterday’s five-figure monster figure, which means that 9.6 just inflated by 278%.
Mirroring that GSX, a 9.6 Hulk #181 set a record of its own on the same day. That particular 181 sold for $31,200 after the previous record had been $25,000, which was set by the previous sale on March 8. Where did this 9.6 stand before this year? In 2020, one sold for as much as $19,200. Where that 9.6 GSX stayed around $3k on average, the 9.6 Hulk #181 hovered slightly higher in the $3k-$4k range. Just like GSX got a boost in 2018, Hulk #181 began steadily raising the bar in 2014 beginning with a $6,573 sale. By 2018, it jumped into the five-digit realm with $14,550. A year later, it brought $17k then one took home $19,200 in 2020. Now here we stand at $31,200.
In the world of Hulk 181, the biggest-selling mid grade for the past 90 days has been the 7.0. Granted, this is a higher mid-grade copy, but it is still in the mid grades.
Two years ago, this 7.0 had an FMV of $2,885, and it didn’t move too much last year, raising modestly to $2,929. The record high topped out at $4,000 in 2018, which stood until January of this year. Month after month, it continues to push the limit, breaking $5k in February only to hit $6,500 in March. The last copy to sell was on March 26, and it set yet another record with $7,750.
On the flip side, we have the 7.0 GSX #1. While the prices are lower than that of the 7.0 Hulk #181, once again the rate of inflation is the real story. Back in 2019, that GSX #1 was averaging $1,570, and it climbed to $1,922 in 2020 with a high of $3,050. Again, 2021 is seeing record numbers. In February, it hit $4,000, and March 16 saw one reach $5,000. That puts the two mid-grades at a similar pace despite GSX #1 being the cheaper of the two.
This is where the story is truly told. If you want to judge a comic’s popularity, you look at the lower grades. Like the aforementioned 1.0, even the 3.0 is a $2,000 comic. Only two years ago, it had an FMV of $750 and set a record of $950. That means it has more than doubled since 2019. That may not be as impressive as the 9.6’s expansion, it is impressive nonetheless.
For comparison, there is the Hulk #181 at a 3.0, which sold for $2,600 in March. Two years ago, it averaged $1,440 with a high of $1,800. As you can see, the rate is not on the same level.
All of that data leads us to the grand question: is GSX #1 or Hulk #181 the better buy? As I wrote earlier, there is no clear cut answer here. The best way to look at it is to look at them in long and short terms. Think of it as winning the short-term battle versus winning the long-term war.
GSX #1 wins the battle on the back of that unbelievable rate of inflation. At this point, there is no indication that it will plateau anytime soon. In fact, despite the outrageous prices, GSX #1 has not even peeked. That will come when the X-Men enter the MCU.
After Disney bought Fox and acquired all its movie and television licenses, the comic world has been waiting with baited breath for the X-Men. Remember why this issue is such a major key. Before Len Wein and Dave Cockrum changed the team dynamic, this was a fledgling series that had not printed an original story for several issues and was on the chopping block. Then Wein brought Wolverine over from his Hulk run, made him essentially an anti-hero, and built a cast of characters around Logan, namely Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler.
This is the first appearance of the X-Men that mattered. Without GSX #1, there would be no X-Men. That is why this issue will continue to rise in value at least until they make their MCU debut, and likely beyond.
This has created a very high ceiling for GSX #1. Between the two comics, it is gaining at a faster pace than Hulk #181, which should translate into a higher profit margin compared to 181 over the short term.
While GSX #1 may be the best bet for the coming years, there is no debate on who wins the long term war: Hulk #181.
Even when the X-Men keys were down in the years preceding the Fox purchase, Hulk #181 kept climbing. Now it’s reaching simply ridiculous levels, and there’s no pumping the brakes. As soon as we get our first direct allusion to Wolverine in any shape, form, or fashion. Then comes the massive nuclear explosion the likes of which we have never seen.
With GSX #1, once we see the full team (and how could it not be some variation of the “Deadly Genesis” team? No one even liked the original lineup), that will likely bring about a plateau in those ever-escalating prices.
On the other hand, Hulk #181, being such a massive key to being with, will continue to steadily balloon just like its been doing for the past 10 years. With Wolverine’s immense popularity, he will be a key piece to the MCU’s overarching plotlines. As I have theorized before, Wolverine may even debut outside the X-Men and join the Avengers to give them some added star power since Captain America and Iron Man are gone.
The FMVs for #181 will keep making gains for a very long time. After GSX #1 reaches its ceiling, Hulk #181 will still be increasing its values.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It all comes down to the MCU, and we have not even seen the first full-blown Easter egg for the team’s arrival (because that WandaVision trolling was rendered null and void after the “Bohner” joke). Neither of these are bad investments, and it is hard to go wrong with any grade you choose. After the X-Men debut for Marvel Studios, then we will have to reevaluate. For now, it is time to enjoy the fireworks.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is also a teacher, freelance writer, comic collector, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.