I remember a day when the only variants you could find were newsstand vs direct edition books and then of course you had Marvel Publishing and the (in)famous Whitman reprints. Then the ’90s hit. When that (also infamous) decade marched its way in to comic book collector’s long boxes and comic book stores, it left an indelible mark with its chromium, its die cut, and glow-in-the-dark. It brought the #”1 collectors item!”. Publishers also proudly displayed their embossed covers and all those hologram covers which Wizard magazine insisted were “hot” and “must buy” books. Amongst all that we got the 13 Gen13 covers and all the covers for the (also infamous) X-Men # 1.
But amongst the glitz and shine lining those comic book racks and shelves. The fans and the readers and the collectors decried all the gimmicks and superficial affirmations of truly dead Supermen and perception of value without considering availability and print runs.
Deathmate Black came as almost a harbinger of the end. The crash. The hobby ground to a halt as collectors and readers alike became frustrated and disillusioned. The House of Ideas was disassembled as if the Jack of Hearts walked in and blew the proverbial mansion apart, its characters being sold off as property to movie studios and holders:
NEW YORK (Dow Jones News) – “Marvel Entertainment Group Inc., publisher of the “Spider-Man” comics, said Friday it filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.”
Yes, Marvel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the 1990s. This saved them from becoming defunct but did it save them from themselves? Let’s fast forward a few years to today.
It’s 2016 and we still get the garish and the glossy and the gimmicky, albeit not nearly to the extent we did 20 years ago. Death of Wolverine was glossy and shiny. Future’s End had a plethora of 3D covers from which to choose and even Deadpool had a lenticular cover as a variant to a regular cover. Ok, so I will admit – that’s not a whole lot in the overall picture of the books the “big 2”, that is, Marvel and DC, have been pumping out for the past decade or so. What we do have now however, the die-cuts and chromiums of today – are ratio variants. You’ve heard the terms being tossed around by those savvy, on-the-ball collectors (the same folks who stocked up on Superman #75?) who pre-order the 1:10s, 1:20s, 1:50s, 1:100s and cause them to sell out before even hitting store shelves.
So a store has to order one hundred of the regular book to get this one variant? For most shops that is a lot. For a lot of shops and smaller venues and retailers that is a rather expensive risk and a lot of investment in order to move that one book in what is most likely a smaller market. Not to mention that now they have 100 copies of a book that they now need to move. The price of the book is a direct correlation to it’s ratio and the amount the shop has to invest themselves in both money and time and effort.
Let me slip in to my Morpheus role for a moment. What if I told you that it didn’t stop at 100? What if it was not just once, but multiple times that publishers have required a thousand or five thousand or even four thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine books orders to get the variant? Do you think that is ridiculous and you don’t believe me? Marvel thought it was ridiculous for a brief moment as well. In fact they created the Deadpool 1:4999 partly as a statement of the ludicrosity of 1:5000 ratio variants. Have a look:
So what do these 1,000+ ratio variants mean for the industry? Are these few that have been released the Deathmate Black of today, the harbinger of the another crash looming on the horizon? These will clearly go in to the hands and collections of a very select few who can afford the astronomical price tags that these modern comic books fetch (But hey! Midtown Comics has the Civil War II #0 Greg Land book from 15% off the $15000 list price!).
So, with them going to just a few and with the rest of us relegated to viewing them from afar, will they serve as merely a harsh reminder of eras past or do they offer a glimpse in to the hobby’s future? Only the future will tell.
Let me slip in to my Morpheus role one more time “”Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.”