Stan Lee pitched it this way on the Bullpen Bulletins page of Iron Man #1 in 1968: "Now that you're starting to recover from the sensational shock of seeing Captain America and the Incredible Hulk in their own magnificent mags — hold tight… on sale right now you'll find three (count 'em, three!) more titanic titles to boot you out of your tree! You guessed it — Iron Man and Sub-Mariner have just been awarded full-length, monthly mags of their own — and adventuredom will never be the same! You know how valuable a first edition of any other Marvel masterpiece would be today… such as the first edition of Fantastic Four, or the Amazing Spider-Man… well, just imagine how much Iron Man #1 and Sub-Mariner #1 will be worth after you've kept them for awhile!" Stan wasn't too far wrong in that assessment, particularly when it comes to Iron Man #1. You can get a nice high-grade copy of Iron Man #1 (Marvel, 1968) CGC VF/NM 9.0 Off-white pages in this week's 2021 September 19-20 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122138 from Heritage Auctions.
Stan's enthusiasm about what he also referred as "the second Golden Age of Marvel" in this issue was shared by the fans of this period. For example, one college newspaper contributor captured the rising Marvel zeitgeist during 1966 as the Batman tv show was giving that DC Comics staple a boost — of a sort: "There once was a time when the word 'superhero' was synonymous with Superman, Batman and other assorted DC comic characters. However, as all things do, this has changed. The Marvel Comics Group has staged a bloodless coup, taking over the minds of the youth of America. Heroes like Spider-Man, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Hulk, Sub-Mariner and Iron Man have become household catchwords. If someone were to ask 'Who is Batman?,' the answer would probably sound something like this, 'He's that character on television who tells bad jokes and delivers his line even worse.'"
That college student fan's enthusiasm was somewhat less overstated than one might think, given the timeframe. According to historical Audit Bureau of Circulation Numbers assembled by James Madison University and Duke University researchers (longer-range view assembled by comics historians here), Marvel had pulled nearly even with DC Comics by 1966. And while some histories say that Marvel's arrangement with DC Comics owner Harry Donenfeld's distribution company held the Marvel Comics line at eight titles per month from the late 1950s through to the 1968 expansion which saw the burst of new titles that Stan had alluded to in that month's Bullpen Bulletins, that is at best an oversimplification of the data. Marvel had already doubled the number of its comics hitting the newsstands from a monthly average of eight comic books 1958-1960 to a monthly average of nearly 16 comics by 1966, and 1968's climb to an average of nearly 20 comics hitting the stands monthly certainly helped put them over the top. The launch of Iron Man's series that year certainly helped make him a long-term Marvel staple.
While Stan Lee was not wrong in his assessment of the future value of Iron Man #1 from his 1968 perspective, the devil is in the details. Because as an East Village Other commentator observed after the new 1968 Marvel series had hit, "…and then you go to the Student Union, and lo! is Iron Man and Captain Marvel lying all around, crinkled brown with coffee stains and illuminated with clever notes in the margins." Many copies suffered that sort of fate to varying degrees in the 50+ years since, but you can get a copy quite a bit more newsstand fresh than that for Iron Man #1 (Marvel, 1968) CGC VF/NM 9.0 Off-white pages in this week's 2021 September 19-20 Sunday & Monday Comic Books Select Auction #122138 from Heritage Auctions.
Iron Man #1 (Marvel, 1968) CGC VF/NM 9.0 Off-white pages. The origin of Iron Man retold in a story continued from Iron Man and Sub-Mariner #1. Gene Colan cover and art. Johnny Craig art. Overstreet 2021 VF/NM 9.0 value = $1,480; NM- 9.2 value = $2,000. CGC census 9/21: 316 in 9.0, 527 higher.