Variant Covers. They all seemed so much fun back in 1966 when the Marvel Mini Books were each produced in six different colors. Those little 1-inch midget-sized pseudo-comics were made under license and dispensed in toy vending machines.
Six different covers, a few cents back then, but each one costing close to $100 now. Yep, that's quite a hefty price tag nowadays. But on the other hand, it would be another sixteen years until we saw anything even remotely close - in 1982 when the Spider-Man Promo (American Cancer Society) promotional comic was re-released several times over different years with different banners and sponsorship. Some of them are rather obscure. I'm still working on my complete set of those.
Other promotional comics were also released and then re-released with different markings in the 80's. Specifically I'm thinking of the Spider-Man Promo (Newspaper) comics. But technically I'm not sure that any of those really qualify for what we would truly identify as the modern "variant cover". The re-release was due to circumstances, not deliberate marketing decision. No, I think we have to look ahead to 1987 to find the first ever Spider-Man comic book which was deliberately and simultaneously sold to the end consumer with multiple artistically different covers, entirely as a ploy to increase sales.
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man: The Wedding (TPB)|
Yep, it's good old Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #21, the "Wedding Annual". Didn't it seem fun at the time. Two different covers - buy one, buy both, please yourself! At $1.25 each, they weren't particularly cheap. But hey, this was a special occasion, right? The kind of thing that would only happen once a decade at most. Surely?
|Cover Art:||Todd McFarlane|
|Reprinted In:||Complete Spider-Man (UK) #1|
|Reprinted In:||MCC #2 - Spider-Man (1990) #1 Chromium Reprint|
|Reprinted In:||100 Greatest Marvels #17-14|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man: Torment (TPB)|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility #5|
Three years later in 1990, the new "Adjectiveless" Spider-Man title was launched. It eventually acquired nine different covers, including the first deliberately rare variants. But again, it was a one-off blip. Few correctly recognized it as the frightening glimpse of a dystopian future it would turn out to have been.
And indeed, there was another respectable time lapse until 1994 with the foil-stamped cover of Amazing Spider-Man #388. That was followed by a steady trickle of variants. The gold cover of ASM #390 (sold in a bag with a bonus animation cell), then ASM #394 (different covers contained slightly different contents), and by three versions of Amazing Spider-Man #400 which again included a deliberately rare variant (the "white" cover).
But even after that point, it was still just a handful of variants every year at most... isolated incidents... until the 1999 "Reboot". Before we knew what happened, Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #1 had four covers, while Peter Parker: Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #1 and Webspinners Tales of Spider-Man #1 each featured three covers including rare covers from Dynamic Forces. It was a flurry of activity, followed by the number 2 issues of each title which also featured a second rare cover.
However that settled down again over the following few years, with variants the exception rather than the rule. That was, until 2005 and New Avengers #1. Four covers plus a "Director's Cut". Then variant covers of all of the entire run up to #10. It was the "normalization" of variant covers. It was the beginning of the end. Before long, every title would feature three different covers of any #1, or a centenary issue, or a special story arc, or a not-particularly special story arc. It has just compounded on itself, and in July/August 2010 things just became stupid - epitomized by the latest Avengers Reboot.
|Writer:||Brian Michael Bendis|
|Pencils:||John Romita, Jr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson, White|
|Reprinted In:||Avengers Sampler #1|
Yep. This Summer, things just went to a new level with Avengers (Vol. 4) #1 having eight covers, and New Avengers (Vol. 2) #1 having eleven. Eleven! Spider-Man co-stars in both teams. If you were a Spider-Man fan who collected Spider-Man appearances and variant covers, that's close on US$300 for those 19 covers, since a good few of those variants were 1:75 or limited dealer incentive covers. And issue #2 and #3 and #4 all have 1:75 variants, with no end in sight!
But wait, that's not all. Shadowland #1 was released in July as well. Spider-Man co-stars, and there are five different covers there as well. Plus four covers for Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #1, making another $100 to spend and we're not even up to the Spider-Man core titles yet!
Ah yes. Let's talk about Amazing Spider-Man. Let's look at September 2010.
Four issues of Amazing Spider-Man are cover dated September 2010. ASM #638, ASM #639, ASM #640 and ASM #641. Would you like to collect the variant covers on those issues as well? Really? Well get out the emergency credit card, because you're looking at close on US$500. Each of those four Joe Quesada 1:100 sketch covers are going for $90-$100 each. Then you've got Women of Marvel variants, second printings, alternate covers, 1:25 covers. It just goes on. We haven't got them in our database yet. But don't worry, we will.
Up until now, I've been a complete Spider-Man collector. I've collected all Spider-Man appearances, including variant covers. But you know what this feels like? It feels like I'm clinging to the roof of a stolen car as some suicidal meth-head driver goes faster and faster, swerving madly to try and shake me off. But I'm not a sticky-fingered web-head hero. It's as if Marvel just keeps pushing it up a notch, and another notch, trying to find the point where nobody can be a collector any more unless they have a trust fund, an NBA contract, or a bonus paycheck from Lehman Brothers.
Well, I'm calling Shenanigans!
Here's the new Spider-Fan Inclusion Guideline for Variant Cover Spider-Man Appearances
Starting with cover date July 2010, the Spider-Fan comics database will include variant covers only for core Spider-Man Titles. Spider-Fan will no longer include variant covers for Spider-Man appearances, or not even "team" appearances such as Avengers and New Avengers and not spin-offs like Spider-Woman, Spider-Girl, or Venom.
Full details are in our F.A.Q. - Database Overview. For now, we will continue to include in our database the 1:75 and 1:100 "super-rare" variants from core Spider-Man titles. We feel an obligation to be completist in that area. Though personally, I will probably decide to omit them from my collection. They are obscenely wasteful. How many comics do you think are bought each month just to get limited variants?
Every time I ask my dealer to get me a 1:25 alternate cover, he buys a slab of unwanted comics, many of which are never sold. What does that do to the market for regular comics? The "normal" comic books of 2010 are so glutted there's no way they'll ever be worth anything. Most $3 or $4 comics now seem to sell for $1.50 a year later, presumably due at least in part to over-purchasing for variants.
Are the variants themselves going to hold their value, do you think? Or are they going to crash, just like the 1990's, the last time we saw such ludicrous excesses. Anybody reading too much into the distribution numbers for Amazing Spider-Man would be well advised to factor "variant glut" into their analysis.
Does anybody remember when comic collecting was about enjoying reading the comics? For the last year or more, the search and expense of ever-increasing variants has sucked all the enjoyment out of my once-beloved hobby. But this change (both for Spider-Fan and my personal collecting) is going to go a long way to fixing that. I estimate that based on current trends, this simple decision is likely to reduce the number of physical comics I purchase by 30%, and reduce my monthly comic spend by %50.
In fact, it's quite extraordinary. Already, I'm enjoying reading Avengers (Vol. 4) and New Avengers (Vol. 2 so much more than a mere month ago, back when I was desperately trying to acquire and catalog all those stupid variants. So come on and join the Variant Fightback! Let's send Marvel a message.
"We've had enough, Marvel. Stop acting like The Franklin Mint, and get back to producing comics!"
P.S. I used to be an X-Men collector too. But back in 1995 I pulled the plug on the X-titles when they hit the ten different monthly titles mark. Ah, those innocent days where a dozen mutant books was a "bloated" line. At least they were ten different comics - not the same comic ten damn times!