Most die-hard comic fans who lived through the speculation market of the 1990s recall a decade of horrid gimmicks and multiple variants the like of which we would all love to forget. Were there some good stories and amazing art? Of course there were, but even though some gems broke through (let’s not forget this was the decade Image began and Valiant was hot), there was a lot of… well, let’s face it: garbage. This isn’t a hit on the artwork or the stories, but really a conversation of the horrible gimmicks employed by EVERY publisher of the time to try and get us to buy their books.
It didn’t seem to matter whether or not the story inside was any good, only that we bought multiple copies of every book we wanted. Whether you were buying comics because you loved to read them or because you thought they were a good investment (they weren’t), most people felt that they needed to get one copy to read and one copy to keep safe in the hopes that nobody else would, thus rendering theirs the diamond in the rough worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars. This speculative market nearly destroyed the industry and it took years before it could recover. In all fairness, many of these were innovative and creative, but that’s not really what we are discussing here. We dug through the back issue bins and found these 15 ’90s Comic Book Covers That TANKED The Industry.
15. X-FORCE #1 (1991) – THE PROBLEM WITH POLYBAGS
The polybag: one of those things a collector loves and hates at the same time. In this particular issue, X-Force #1, written by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza with pencils by Liefeld, the bag includes a collectible trading card ONLY available within the collector’s edition comic. That’s all well and good, but given that a copy of the book is more valuable in an unopened bag, collectors needed to purchase two copies of this book and any other similarly bagged.
This little trick did wonders for the speculation market and a large number of comics were bagged to include small keepsakes you could only find within. Some comics were bagged without enclosing anything extra, making an additional purchase unnecessarily necessary. People bought so many of these on speculation that the value dropped considerably. You can pick one up today for around $3.
14. ECLIPSO #1 (1992)
When DC decided to reintroduce Eclipso in Eclipso: The Darkness Within, the character was revamped such that the character became a malevolent spirit who could possess anyone who came in contact with a black diamond. Granted, the person had to become angry while holding it, but that’s pretty much what any comic book fan who bought this issue did — they got angry.
While it was an impressive homage to the character and a fun way to use the diamond angle, adding a plastic diamond to the cover made for an annoying collector’s item. Placing this book in your long box meant the diamond would impress itself on whichever books it was stacked against, which tended to damage them. It was little more than an annoyance and a gimmick hoping to push for the purchase of a book that holds a value of around $4.
13. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #400 (1995)
Big round numbers are nothing to scoff at, especially at a big publishing house like Marvel. For its 400th issue in The Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel decided to embrace the rather gimmicky practice of an embossed cover. We added the illustration you are supposed to be able to see in the grey mess that is the die-cut embossed version of this issue since. As you can see (thanks to us), it is very difficult to make out otherwise.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a gimmicky centennial issue if Marvel didn’t release more than one version, so speculators went nuts and bought these like crazy. After all, issue #300 was a huge deal when it was released, but unlike #400, that issue was much better received. While you can pick up a copy of #300 for around $200 (depending on the grade), most copies of the 4th centennial issue will only run you about $12.
12. TUROK DINOSAUR HUNTER #1 (1993)
Cards on the table, this is a beautiful cover illustrated by Bart Sears, so you might be asking why we decided to include Turok Dinosaur Hunter #1 on our list. The cover has a chrome plate set in the center, which was an overused gimmick employed by Valiant and other publishers more often than they should have during the ’90s. These covers were used to catch the eye and while it wasn’t necessary to purchase more than one book, it seems that a lot of speculators did.
An increased cover price of $3.50 made these expensive and it wasn’t necessary to snag more than one, but because a lot of people did, this issue doesn’t fetch more than an average of $2 these days. It’s unfortunate, given that this issue consists of exceptional artwork and a great story that revived a character who hadn’t been published since the early ’80s.
11. SPIDER-MAN – THE INVASION OF THE HOLOGRAMS (1992)
For the 30th anniversary of the introduction of Spider-Man, Marvel decided to commemorate the character with a run of holograms on the covers of the character’s books. While these look amazing (they don’t photograph well, so you may have to trust us on this), they were just another in a long line of gimmick covers that continued to plague comics throughout the decade.
Holograms were used and abused on comic covers during the 90s and while most would have a small one affixed to the cover, usually the size of a trading card, it was rare to see one as large as the ones on these Spider-Man books. While it was a great way to celebrate one of Marvel Comics’ most beloved characters, it required a price increase from $1.25 to $2.95, though, to be fair, they were “giant-sized” books.
10. SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL #30 (1994)
Comics are generally fun for all ages so why not make one into a fun toy that allows any reader to create the cover they wanted? That’s what DC must have thought when they green-lit the cover gimmick for Superman: The Man of Steel #30, written by Louise Simonson with pencils by Dennis Janke and Jon Bogdanove. Frankly, it’s pretty cool and can be a lot of fun, but for a serious collector, it’s just plain silly.
Because the book came with the sheet of static clings in the center of the image, it required a dreaded polybag forcing completionists to snag an extra copy (read one/keep one). What we failed to mention was that there was the collector’s edition with the clings and the regular edition without the bag and extras (pictured on the right).
9. ROBIN III #1-6 (1992-93)
When DC decided to launch Robin III: Cry of the Huntress, they wanted to snag the reader’s attention with what has become a reviled gimmick. As you can see from the image above, the books came bagged, but they also have a lenticular image, which has the interesting ability to show a changing image. The only problem was that you had to actively pull down on a special insert card, which could be flipped over.
This made the cover look like a moving image, and while it is interesting, and a way to incorporate new technology into a comic book, it was messy, unnecessary and complicated. It’s unfortunate since the story within was well written by Chuck Dixon and beautifully illustrated by Tom Lyle. We know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it was hard for collectors to avoid this and the book suffered for the effect.
8. MS. MYSTIC #1 (1993)
Remember that scene in Mallrats where the guy spends the entire movie trying to “see” the image of a sailboat in a Magic Eye picture? Back in the ’90s, this new printing technology was all over the place from film to office bathrooms and, of course, this copy of Ms. Mystic #1, written by Neil Adams with pencils by Dwayne Turner and Ernesto Infante.
The gimmick here is plain to see–if you can get your eyes to work and actually see it. While these Magic Eye images are fun and interesting for the people who can see them, they are frustrating and quite ugly for those who can’t. Regardless of whether or not you can see this thing (it’s not a sailboat), it’s yet another silly gimmick that was yet another in a long line of eye-catching and needless crap meant to get you to buy the book.
7. FANTASTIC FOUR #375 (1993)
Fantastic Four #375 was a bookend issue closing out a story arc that began with issue #371. While #371 had an embossed cover that was not the greatest gimmick in the world, #375 had a prismatic mirror shine to the whole thing that took the focus away from the artwork when it was probably trying to do the exact opposite. This was a common site on comics in the ’90s: a shiny metallic-looking cover meant to grab your attention.
This sort of printing style became so played out and unnecessary after only a year or two, it began to hurt sales rather than help them. Initially, speculators would grab up extra copies of these shiny books in the hopes of affording them a car 20 years later. But here it is, more than 24 years since it was printed, and these books go for around $1.75.
6. THE ROB LIEFELD CONCERN (1990-99)
During the ’90s, Rob Liefeld was a rockstar artist whose work on Marvel books and subsequent transfer to Image made him someone to admire. Liefeld is a talented artist and writer, but when you examine his cover art, an obvious problem emerges. Weirdly inhuman proportions, a lack of feet and the disturbingly high usage of pouches made many of his covers more of a joke than anything else.
His ridiculous proportions when he drew women was another major problem for the industry and while many fans love the giant chests and small waist look he was famous for, it also turned a lot of people away. Too many guns, too many pouches, over-the-top violence and many other complaints have been sounding off across the Internet for years. Liefeld’s cover art didn’t directly tank the industry, but it was just another aspect of it that helped bring it to its knees.
5. DEATHWATCH 2000 (1993)
There were a number of books in Prelude to Deathwatch 2000 and Deathwatch 2000 that introduced a strange new means of comic printing with the incorporation of a product called Tyvek. Tyvek is an un-tearable type of paper that was used to make your comic “Indestructible” as the cover claims. While this stuff can be easily cut, you are not going to be able to tear it to save your life!
What does this mean besides shooting out yet another silly gimmick? Well, the books were bagged, some came with trading cards and an additional copy needed to be purchased because there was no way you weren’t going to try and tear this thing. While you weren’t going to be successful, you weren’t going to end up with a C.G.C. grade of 10.0 at the end of your endeavor to tear.
4. WOLVERINE #75 (1993)
There are two issues we have with the cover of Wolverine #75, written by Larry Hama and penciled by Adam Kubert. The first is the impossible-to-photograph hologram on the right of the image, which, of course, is yet another gimmick. The second is the illustration by Kubert. While the artwork isn’t done poorly, there are some real problems with it that don’t make any sense.
We get that Wolverine’s adamantium is shooting out of his body, but why are the spikes flesh-colored? Additionally, why are the claws popped and looking perfectly normal? Meanwhile, Jean Grey, who is one of the most powerful psychokinetic mutants in the universe looks to be having some trouble holding back the teenage Jubilee. The hologram just seems like an afterthought Marvel felt the issue needed to grab just a little more attention to get us to snatch this one off the shelf.
3. BLOODSTRIKE #1 (1993)
The cover of Bloodstrike #1, written and penciled by Rob Liefeld, skirts the line between really cool and disturbingly gross. If you look at the image, you can see blood spatters across the cover art illustrated by Liefeld. Those were printed with a special thermochromic ink that reacted to body heat. What this meant was that any comic fan could rub the blood and make it disappear with the heat from their fingers.
This wasn’t a gimmick used only in comics at the time; thermochromic was big in the t-shirt industry for about a minute back in the 1990s. Kids could wear multicolored shirts that changed depending on their body heat. Frankly, it never worked very well and the fad thankfully died out… but not before Liefeld and Image Comics threw it on this issue. It didn’t work very well on paper and the effect was hit or miss.
2. GEN 13 #1 (1994)
Perhaps one or two variant covers isn’t the worst thing in the world, but when Image decided to publish the first issue of Gen 13, it dropped 13 different covers! OK, we get it… Gen-13. That makes some sense, but when it comes to collecting, that’s just ridiculous. Don’t get us wrong, these covers are stunning homages to other works and pop culture from the time, but that doesn’t really excuse the cost necessary to obtain one of each of these.
The cover price at the time was $2.95, meaning any avid collector would have to spend $38.35 + tax and that’s too much for one issue. Unsurprisingly, there was a collector’s box of all the issues a person could purchase, but that was also very expensive at the time. Despite the collectible nature of the issue, it is only currently valued at between $1-$3.
1. SUPERMAN #75 (1992)
The Death of Superman was a highly-publicized event that brought in people who had never read a comic in their lives to purchase multiple copies of the book, which drove up publication numbers unnecessarily. Because they wanted to sell as many copies as possible, DC decided to kick out so many variants of the book, any collector who thought it might be worth something someday needed to but them all… and let’s not forget that extra copy so you could read the thing!
There was the standard edition, the black poly-bagged edition, platinum edition and the collector’s edition. Each came with various accoutrements every collector needed to have… apparently. The art was great and frankly, the collector’s edition was a beautiful homage to the Man of Steel, but it was unnecessary and indicative of what was wrong with the industry. These days, a first printing will run you around $3-$5.
Do you think of these covers helped bring down the industry? Let us know in the comments and share some of your most despised covers from the 90s!
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