PURCHASED FOR $3,000 IN 1982, NEAR-MINT COPY OF ISSUE NO. 1 COULD FETCH MORE THAN $1 MILLION
By Robert Wilonsky
The finest-known copy of 1940’s Batman No. 1 has never been sold at auction. Until now.
The near-mint issue, the sole copy ever to receive a 9.4 grade from the Certified Guaranty Company, is the centerpiece of Heritage Auctions’ Jan. 14-15 Comics & Comic Art event. The unrestored copy goes to market only weeks after Heritage sold a 7.0-graded copy of Detective Comics No. 27 for $1.5 million. For the moment, at least, that’s the highest price ever paid for a Dark Knight title.
“This Batman No. 1 is just breathtaking,” Heritage Auctions Senior Vice President Ed Jaster says of the newly certified, newly discovered copy estimated to sell for more than $1 million. “Of course, no one can say for certain, but it’s highly unlikely that a better copy is anywhere out there. It has great color and white pages – not off-white, not off-off-white, but white,” as though it has just been bought off the newsstand. “And the color strike is exceptional.”
This extraordinary book – not just the first issue of Batman, but still one of the best – provides the template for countless Dark Knight tales to follow over the next 80 years.
First, there’s the iconic, oft-imitated cover image: Batman and Robin, smiling at each other as they swing across the Gotham City skyline against a bright yellow backdrop. Then there’s the back-page pin-up “autographed” by the Caped Crusader and his fledgling sidekick promising “bigger and better thrills.”
Inside, readers are presented with “The Legend of the Batman,” an origin story, which first appeared in Detective Comics No. 33, filled with grief and anger that will one day be retold, endlessly, in movies and television shows built upon that two-page narrative. After that comes the debut of a villain more popular now than ever before, star of his own blockbuster franchise: “a man with a changeless masklike face but for the eyes – burning, hate-filled eyes” called only the Joker.
Then, a few pages later, Batman squares off against the monsters of Hugo Strange, who made his first appearance only months earlier in Detective Comics No. 36 and quickly became one of the hero’s first recurring villains. A few pages after that follows another iconic debut: a burglar and “beautiful young woman” called the Cat, who, 80 years later, is married to Batman in an acclaimed new book penned by writer Tom King, who won an Eisner Award recently for his run on Batman.
This copy, too, has a storied background, having spent the last 38 years in the hands of a collector who bought it from a renowned comic-book shop in Houston.
In 1979, Billy T. Giles moved from Shreveport, La., to Houston, when Texas Eastern Transmission Pipeline Co. relocated its headquarters to Texas. Billy fell in with the local comics shops and dealers and helped his son complete an Amazing Spider-Man collection and obtain other key comics.
Billy then decided to collect Batman for himself, starting with the purchase of six of the first nine issues from Camelot Bookstore owner Willie Patterson’s personal collection.
Camelot was located in downtown Houston, where Billy spent many lunch hours discussing comics – especially the Batman No. 1 – with Patterson. Around that time, Patterson advertised Camelot’s copy of Batman No. 1 in the Comics Buyer’s Guide for $5,000, at the time a costly investment. When it failed to sell at such a steep price – remember, this is around 1982 – Billy offered him $3,000 cash, which Willie happily accepted.
The first Batman became Billy’s, and friends and neighbors teased him for spending that much for a comic book they insisted might one day be worthless. History, of course, proved otherwise.
When Billy retired from Texas Eastern, he began a comic-book business called BTandWDGiles, and spent the rest of his life buying and selling comics; his passion had turned professional. When he died in 2019, Billy’s son inherited his father’s remarkable collection, and a year later decided it was someone else’s turn to own the finest known copy of Batman No. 1.
ROBERT WILONSKY is a staff writer at Heritage Auctions.