Tough Modern Books: Stormwatch #37

I've had a few trends in my personal collection over the past handful of years. I've mostly focused on finishing Daredevil 1-284 (plus a healthy run of v2), collecting Silver Age Marvels (FF, Sales of Suspense, Avengers, etc.) and I've worked on a number of long runs of copper age and modern titles. As I finish up the Daredevil run and move away from chasing the copper and modern runs (I'm looking at buying more Golden Age books instead, go figure,) I've decided to reflect on some of the challenges of putting together long high-grade runs of books from the 1980s-onward.

To ground the discussion the runs I've worked on include the following complete or near complete runs:

All of them presented challenges. There are probably another dozen runs that I've started that are as tough or tougher than the above runs.

It's an interesting period to collect in high grade.

When collectors who focus on the 1930s-1970s think about books from the 1980s through the present, they automatically assume it's easy to source those books. They think, especially in the case of something like The Byrne Fantastic Fours or the books from the 1990s (some of which exist in massive quantities;) that if you just throw money at the problem the books are out there and you can put runs together. These books are not only from the collector era (which really took off in the mid-1960s), but from the direct sales era. Since these books went through shops, the reasoning goes, they were handled more carefully than newsstand books, they went to more serious collectors when they were sold and unsold books were bagged and boarded and sold as back issues.

What I've learned over the years (and it's taken years to complete some of these runs) is that money doesn't really make a difference. Also, even if there are stacks of these books out there, you have to get someone to pull copies out of the stack and you have to hope they're still 9.6+. I've had outrageous bounties on some of these books ($300+), to no avail. For the toughest books, I've either had to wait it out for years or had to source and grade the books myself.

That brings us to this book, Stormwatch #37. For the uninitiated, it's Warren Ellis' first work on the title and features the first appearance of Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor, and Rose Tattoo. Over a couple of years Ellis would completely transform this nondescript Image title into one of the best books on the shelves. The follow-up book, The Authority, would change comics in a major way, being one of the most influential titles of the past 25 years. How influential? There's a direct line from Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch's work on The Authority to Mark Millar and Hitch's work on The Ultimates which lead directly to the Avengers movies at the heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Additionally, all of these books were a significant part of my own return to reading monthly comics after a 3-4 year hiatus, so I have a soft spot for these books even outside their place in comics history.

Fast forward a few years from 1996 and I was collecting comics again and looking for a nice copy of the book that started it all. The first record I have of me looking for the book in 9.8 is from 2004, but it was probably 2003 or so that I started seeking it out. I ended up buying a 9.6 around that time, but it took another 12 years for me to grade a CGC 9.8.

12 years!

Now, to be sure, I wasn't obsessively searching for the book the whole 12 years, but I really was looking for one the whole time. That's a long time to look for any book. I must have bought 25 copies off of eBay and graded a half a dozen copies myself, generating 3 9.4s and 2 9.6s, in addition to the 9.8.

I had a $300 bounty for the book. It did nothing. If I hadn't graded my own copy I might still be waiting.

Fact: I put together my Daredevil run (CGC 9.4+ 1-157) in less than half the time it took me to find this one book.

So, why? Well, I have some guesses. For starters, there really weren't that many printed. Issues in the 40s are estimated to have shipped around 30,000 copies to comic shops. That's not a huge number, even for the time. Top selling books would have sold 10x that. IT's not exactly Walking Dead #1 or something (less than 10k copies) but it's not a huge base to start from.

This also wasn't a fancy #1 and Warren Ellis wasn't a real household name at that point, so it's not a book that was hoarded by the caseload. It was a 2nd tier book for a publisher that had seen better days (Image would also see much better days, but that's a tale for another time.)

Also, while it has some value and sells for a "key" premium, not everyone knows about it, so not many copies surface for sale. Searching ebay will usually only generate one or two copies at any given time.

Finally, and this is a problem with many of the books that I've been chasing from this period, this book was read. I've bought many runs of these books and invariably there is handling/reading wear. I've only bought one or two runs that truly had an unread appearance, including the one that generated a 9.8. That's a testament to why I collect these series (they're great) but is also an added degree of difficulty. Books that people don't read are easier to get in high grade.

Since I graded my 9.8 (which was the second ever) two more have since been graded. I'd like to think I've gotten more people thinking about this cool and important book.

Next up, I'll be letting you now about two impossibly difficult books from the Byrne Fantastic Four run.

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