It appears that the major vintage comics auction season is opening with some serious fireworks in 2021. Heritage Auctions has the sole highest-graded Batman #1 CGC 9.4 White Pages copy on the auction block in their 2021 January 14 – 17 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction. The landmark debut issue of one of the most important and longest-running series in American comics history includes the first appearances of both the Joker and Catwoman. The Batman stories in the issue were scripted by Bill Finger and drawn by Bob Kane, with art assistance from Jerry Robinson and Sheldon Moldoff.
Batman #1 had an on-sale date of April 24, 1940 according to Library of Congress Catalog of Copyright Entries Periodical records for that year. The actual release date on newsstands would have varied somewhat from place to place around the country. This was just 13 months after the character's debut in Detective Comics #27, about two years after the debut of Superman in Action Comics #1, and 11 months after the successful test launch of the Superman solo title. Of the rapid rise of both Superman and Batman in that era, DC Comics publisher Harry Donenfeld would tell the Saturday Evening Post in 1941:
In May of 1939 he tested a quarterly consisting of four thirteen-page Superman stories. It, too, was a sellout. The following July, Superman bowed in as a bimonthly. It has been zipping along at a lively 1,300,000 [copies], while Action Comics, featuring only one Superman story, soared to 900,000. Today Superman leads all other comic-magazine characters, one of the few within even hailing distance being The Bat Man — 800,000 — a bimonthly also owned by Donenfeld.
Despite the lofty numbers in play in the upper tier of the comic book industry by 1940, only a small number of copies still exist today. The CGC Census currently has 124 unrestored entries for Batman #1, with only a small handful of those listed at CGC 8.0 or above. High grade unrestored copies of the comic don't change hands at public sale very often. In 2019, a CGC 8.0 copy sold for $498,000. Several years prior in 2013, the CGC 9.2 copy, currently the second-highest copy on the census, sold for $567,625.
By way of comparison, Heritage sold a Detective Comics #27 CGC 7.0 for $1,500,000 in November 2020, while in 2014 an Action Comics #1 CGC 9.0 sold for $3,207,852 — a record sale for a comic book. As to exactly where this rather ridiculously nice highest graded Batman #1 CGC 9.4 lands in the record books, that remains to be seen. As a long time Batman collector myself, I'll enjoy watching its path towards the final hammer price. Watch along with me during Heritage Auction's upcoming 2021 January 14 – 17 Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction.
Batman #1 (DC, 1940) CGC NM 9.4 White pages. This stunning copy has taken over as the sole highest-graded copy on CGC's census report.
The first appearance of the Joker and Catwoman, this is one of the top five comic issues in the hobby. And this is the first time in the CGC era that a Near Mint copy of one of the top five Golden Age key issues has been sold at public auction. It is being sold without reserve.
Most collectors' first question will be: how legit is the grade? Well, few key issues are as easy to judge as a Batman #1, because the cover design ruthlessly exposes any flaw. The front cover "kills" most copies right away, being predominantly yellow and thus prone to smudging or dust shadows, while the back cover is the same with large white areas in addition to the yellow ones. Is it even possible to have a copy with no such smudges or dirt on the front or the back? We think our photos here show that it is, and it's a test even some pretty darn nice copies have failed. By all means scrutinize the images we present here, and we think you will come away agreeing that this is a Near Mint book.
As for the significance: the Joker's first appearance alone would make this one of the most important comics ever — if there were ever a poll to determine the greatest villain in the history of comics we don't doubt the Joker would win, perhaps even by a landslide. The fact that the character has now been the star of a solo movie only further solidifies that standing.
The Catwoman (called the Cat in her first appearance here) is of course a household name in her own right, also star of a solo movie and in the conversation for the best female villain ever, if she's not number one.
The historical significance of this first issue doesn't end with the first appearances. It's worth noting that as of Spring 1940 most comic books were like the Sunday funnies, in that each issue contained with a mix of different features, with any one feature expected to hold the reader's attention for just a few pages. Batman had been appearing in Detective Comics for about a year when he got this additional series entirely devoted to him. For a character created for the comic books to make the jump to a solo series was rare — only a few had done it, and at DC, Superman was the only previous one to do it.
Batman certainly made the gamble pay off — the title not only survived when most superhero books went under about 10 years later, the series is still in publication in the present day, a couple of gimmicky numbering restarts notwithstanding.
Oh, and we haven't even mentioned the classic cover by Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson, which is merely one of the most famous in history, or the fact that this was one of Robin's earliest appearances.
Even if you are fortunate enough to own a Batman #1, we are confident in saying this copy would be an upgrade for you no matter what. And if you seek to join the club of Batman #1 owners for the first time, what better place to start than at the very top?
Overstreet 2020 NM- 9.2 value = $860,000. CGC census 12/20: 1 in 9.4, none higher.