The Bronze Age saw changes to the comic book industry that steered it towards where we see it today. The side market of collectible back issue comics became a major part of the industry. The direct sales system was set up that built a network of specialty shops. Publishers also took advantage of social changes to try out new concepts and characters.
Conventionally, it is accepted that the Bronze Age run from 1970 to 1984. This makes for a fifteen-year run and ends with the firm establishment of the direct sales market. This list is about the Marvel comics that marked the debut of characters that have gone on to become iconic. They are ranked by their graded copies at 9.8 with CGC® or CBCS, sourced through comics.gocollect.com.
10 Night Nurse #1
It seems odd for this comic to be on this list. However, it does come from a period where print runs were lower and it features a character that was adapted into the MCU. There have been a large number of sales in the past year, so the demand is there, even after her film has passed.
There is a lot of novelty to this first issue of Night Nurse as well. It’s a Marvel comic that comes from the “career woman” genre. It was an effort to reach more female readers but seems very hackneyed in its approach.
9 Tomb of Dracula #10
This is the first appearance of Blade. Given the announcement of a new Marvel film to come out in phase five, it’s not surprising to see it on this list. It’s very actively sold on the open markets, with a dozen recorded as sold in the past month alone.
It’s a safe bet that the value of this comic will increase as the new film nears. Currently, the market is saturated with over 2,600 slabbed copies. For a collector wanting to beef up their collection, this will only be affordable for a short time.
8 Amazing Spider-Man #101
This is another case of a first appearance getting a significant boost from a high-profile feature film on the way. It’s the first appearance of Morbius. The Jared Leto film has generated a lot of buzz among collectors. It doesn’t hurt that the first trailer created some buzz of its own.
The value puts you in the range where a slabbed copy will cost you at least $100, regardless of condition. This is also in the realm of Bronze Age’s first appearances that begin to become unaffordable except for those collectors willing to spend a lot of money.
7 Amazing Spider-Man #129
The first appearance of the Punisher is a very heavily slabbed comic. This comes from its decades of being a collectible. The Punisher epitomized the anti-hero in the 1980s. His success paved the way for the heroic turns of Venom, Morbius, and Deadpool.
In recent years, the Punisher has found a resurgence in popularity. This is due to Jon Berenthal’s excellent portrayal of him in Netflix’s Daredevil and Punisher series. Once again, speculation abounds of Frank Castle’s future in the MCU.
6 Giant-Size X-Men #1
The first appearance of the New X-Men also means the first appearances of Colossus, Storm, and Nightcrawler. It’s a benchmark comic due to the way that this team of X-Men affected the entire landscape of super-hero comics. As the Bronze Age started, X-Men was ready to be canceled. As it ended, it was the best selling Marvel comic.
This is also one of those books where owning a reprint or digital copy is essential if it exists in one’s collection. Slabbing this issue, especially in the higher grades, is almost an investment. When a minor accident can lower the value of an ungraded copy and cause a loss of hundreds of dollars in value, it makes sense to protect it in some way.
5 Marvel Spotlight #2
This is the first appearance of Werewolf By Night. It’s the seminal character that brought back horror comics to Marvel. It’s likely that without this comic, the stage wouldn’t have been ripe for other titles that built a horror corner of the Marvel Universe. By the end of the year, Tomb of Dracula and Ghost Rider would debut.
There’s not too many slabbed copies of this comic on the market. Just a little over a thousand exist, and none exist above a 9.6 grade. Demand for Near Mint copies is great, with only three selling since the beginning of the year. It’s a prime example of rarity increases value.
4 Marvel Spotlight #5
The first appearance of Ghost Rider is expected on this list. The character has had multiple versions, a massive surge in popularity, two feature films and a very well-received rendition on network television. It’s almost a surprise that this comic isn’t higher on the list.
This comic has quite a few more copies slabbed than the other issue of Marvel Spotlight on this list. However, Ghost Rider is a much more popular character. With his flaming skull, he’s also a more iconic one, hearkening to demonic imagery without sacrificing heroism.
3 Werewolf By Night #32
There’s going to be a Moon Knight series on Disney+ soon. Moon Knight is unique among Marvel heroes in one way. He’s functionally insane, most notably being schizophrenic, once maintaining multiple secret identities.
With time to go before the series debuts, anticipation will probably keep this issue very valuable. Expect it to experience jumps in value when the role is cast and as each trailer launches. You should also expect to see unslabbed copies to become rare.
2 Hero For Hire #1
Luke Cage gained modern prominence as the first African-American Marvel super-hero. In the 1980s, he fell on some hard times, but with his resurgence in the past decade, he’s become something of a legend. His Netflix series was well-received, and Michael Colter’s portrayal is almost universally lauded.
Amazingly, lower grade copies, even slabbed ones, can be more affordable. For collectors trying not to break their budget with a purchase, one in fine condition will still be under $500. Unless he’s brought into the MCU again, the values shouldn’t be expected to increase by much.
1 Hulk #181
Was there any doubt that this was going to be at the top of this list? The previous issue featured a cameo on the last page by Wolverine. This has been universally regarded as his first appearance for so long that almost nothing can change that.
The real issue in getting this comic in great shape is that it was published during a period that Marvel Comics included “value stamps” that readers were encouraged to cut out and put into a special book. This issue had one of them and many copies exist with the stamp missing. On the plus side, it does mean that a copy with the stamp missing can be very affordable. Collectors should always check to see if the stamp is intact before buying a copy.
The Bronze Age featured the debuts of some of the most iconic characters in all of history. These were Marvel's best.