Detective Comics Price Guide
by Christopher Tanis and Ashley Cotter-Cairns
Detective Comics is the longest continuously-published comic book in United States history.
This is almost certainly due to the fact that Detective introduced and provided the first regular monthly appearances of a certain Caped Crusader, of whom more later.
In March of 1937, Detective made its first appearance.
The title began its life as an anthology series, mostly featuring just what the title and the times promised: detective stories of the 'hard-boiled' variety, with no superheroes, as such, appearing for the first 26 issues.
Some major comics history is involved in the first issue of Detective, history that goes beyond Bruce Wayne's alter ego.
A gent named Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson had started National Allied Publications in 1934.
Although his first few ventures were somewhat successful, by late 1936, he was in debt to his printer, Harry Donenfield, and sold a half-interest in National to him in exchange for getting the first issue of Detective published.
Thereafter, the company would be known as Detective Comics.
Wheeler-Nicholson was leveraged out within the first year, but the company would go on, through name changes to National Comics Publications, National Periodical Publications, eventually to DC Comics, where it remains.
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Detective #1 is where it all began.
Everything has to start somewhere, and while this issue, as explained above, does not contain any important first appearances of characters or key events in an important superhero's life, it is, above all else, the single comic with which DC Comics came together.
There are only 13 graded copies by CGC (unrestored) in any condition! The best known to date is CGC 6.5. A further 15 restored copies are known.
Even incomplete copies of this comic, which is an anthology of hard-boiled detective stories, can be worth a tidy sum.
Issue #1 includes a Slam Bradley story by future superhero innovators Siegel and Shuster, and has a classic, pulp-y cover illustration by Vincent Sullivan of (we kid you not) Fu-Manchu knockoff villain Fui-Onyui.
Record sale: $45,000
Minimum value (poor but complete): $4,000
Alternatively, click here to read about key issues from Detective #27 and on.
Much has been said about the May, 1939 debut of Batman in Detective Comics #27. The fact that more than one copy of Detective #27 has broken the million dollar barrier pretty much trumps whatever else can be said about it.
Depending on whom you ask, it is either Detective #27 or Action #1 that is the most valuable comic book ever printed.
Worth noting is that The Bat-Man, as he was still known at this juncture, is introduced here by his creator, Bob Kane, in an iconic cover illustration.
Also that the very first story to feature The Bat-Man, by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, was just one of nine stories appearing in Detective Comics #27, and features the Caped Crusader dispatching the villain, Alfred Stryker, by toppling him into a vat of acid, killing him.
The Bat-Man, clearly, did not mess around.
Record sale: $2,100,000
Minimum value (poor but complete): $80,000
While any early Golden Age appearance of Batman is considered 'key', there are some that are "more key" than others, if that makes any sense.
One such is Detective #33, in which we are treated to the story of the Caped Crusader's origin, told via flashback as a prologue to the main story, all courtesy of the Golden Age Batman team extraordinaire, Finger and Kane.
In the prologue, we are introduced to the basic outlines of Batman's origin: young Bruce see his parents, wealthy Thomas and Martha Wayne, ruthlessly gunned down by gangster Joe Chill.
Bruce works through his grief as he grows, vowing to become the world's greatest detective. When a bat flies through his open window, Bruce has the inspiration for his new identity: a man who inspires terror in the hearts of criminals the way bats do.
With his origin established, Batman combats a professor in a dirigible, uses a gun, and is saved by a bullet-proof vest he luckily happens to be wearing.
Detective #33 is tremendously desirable to collectors, even in rough shape. Copies regularly change hands for 6 figures.
Record sale: $83,000
Minimum value: $4,000
April, 1940's Detective #38 marks the first appearance of Batman's sidekick Robin, and of course, of Bruce Wayne’s youthful ward, Dick Grayson.
The Boy Wonder remains the most important sidekick in comic book history, and the high prices that even tattered copies of Detective #38 sell for is proof of that.
In the lead story, Robin, the Boy Wonder, by the usual Finger/Kane team, we meet Dick Grayson, son of the slain Flying Graysons circus act.
Bruce sees so much of his own story in young Dick's that he takes the boy on as his ward to raise him like a son, and takes him on as a crime-fighting partner.
In so doing, and probably unconsciously, the pattern was set for the dark, revenge-based impetus that would, in one way or another, define Batman from then on.
Record sale: $107,000
Minimum value: $2,600
Detective #40, from June, 1940, introduces one of the most often-recurring Batman villains, Clayface.
In the story The Murders of Clayface, the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder combat former actor and Hollywood make-up man Basil Karlo, capable of disguising himself in all manner of ingenious and undetectable ways.
If you're thinking his name is a play on Boris Karloff, you win one "Attaboy!"
This issue, with art as usual by Bob Kane and script by Bill Finger, is also notable, because it contains a full-page advertisement for Batman #1, which would hit the stands at around the same time, and which provided the Caped Crusader with two simultaneous starring titles of his own.
By now, Batman was on the cover of every issue of Detective Comics, and while there were other, shorter features in each issue, it was clear who the star was.
Record sale: $32,000
Minimum value: $500
Love him or hate him, The Penguin is a key Batman villain, and his first appearance, in the pages of Detective #58, makes it a key issue.
As famous as he may be, The Penguin (real name Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot) is, for some reason, often regarded as 'silly' by the legions of fans who prefer the darker Batman villians (The Joker, Ra's al Ghul, etc.).
Either way, The Penguin's first appearance makes Detecive #58 valuable, and the story in which he debuts, One of the Most-Perfect Frame-Ups, by Finger and Kane, is classic Golden Age Batman.
See our guide to Batman vs Penguin comic book values here.
Record sale: $15,000
Minimum value: $300
In this August, 1942 issue's lead story, The Crimes of Two-Face, Finger and Kane introduced Two-Face, aka Harvey Dent.
We are treated to Two-Face's origin story, in which crusading district attorney Harvey Kent is driven insane, after mob boss Sal Maroni throws acid at him during a trial, disfiguring half of his face.
Two-Face would only appear a few times in Batman or Detective Comics during the Golden Age, being deemed too dark by the DC powers that be. Especially after the publication of Seduction of the Innocent in 1951, he was elbowed in favor of the more kid-friendly villains that the more kid-friendly Batman of that era was generally pitted against.
Denis O'Neil brought Two-Face back in 1971, however, and since then, he's consistently been one of Batman's most popular and terrifying recurring villains.
Record sale: $11,000
Minimum value: $200
Detective #73 was not the first appearance of the villain known as the Scarecrow, but it was the first time that he would grace the cover of Detective Comics.
The Scarecrow (University Professor Jonathan Crane, leading a life of crime to afford more rare books) may have been Batman's most frightening villain, or at least that was the idea.
He first appeared in World's Finest #3 in 1941, but by the time of Detective #73, he'd escaped from the prison cell the Caped Crusader had sent him to.
In this issue's lead story, The Scarecrow Returns, The titular villain engages in a strange sort of pre-planned, themed crime spree that was typical of Batman and Detective in the 1940s and 1950s. He commits a series of crimes that center around three-letter words. Why is anyone's guess.
Of course, Batman and Robin apprehend him (in the act of robbing a depressingly stereotypical "Oriental Curio Shop," and he is sent back behind bars where he belongs.
Detective #73 was written by Don Cameron and features art by Bob Kane, with a truly terrifying Bob Kane cover, in which the skeletal Scarecrow seems to have become 30 feet tall.
We have a full guide to Scarecrow Batman comics here.
Record sale: $4,400
Minimum value: $75
Detective #99 marked the first appearance of Oswald Cobblepot on the cover.
What's that? Who is Oswald Cobblepot? Surely, you are aware of the alter ego of Batman's droll opponent, The Penguin, are you not?
The self-styled "Gentleman of Crime" is unique in the world of super villains, and his strange appearance and demeanor have made him a fan favorite since his first appearance, in Detective #58, back in 1941.
In this issue's lead story, The Temporary Murders, The Penguin devises a method to freeze people he wants to ransom while somehow keeping them alive, and then sends the frozen person, in a box, to the home of his or her loved ones, demanding a large sum of money to defrost them safely.
A gentleman, indeed. Of course, the Dynamic Duo foil his plans, and the Penguin is, as always, dispatched to jail.
Scripted by Don Cameron and with a cover and interior art by Dick Sprang, this is another classic Golden Age issue of Detective Comics.
Record sale: $16,000
Minimum value (poor but complete): $50
Detective #100 is a remarkable thing. It is obscenely rare, quite sought-after, and very valuable, like many Golden Age issues of Detective.
But the cover story, The Crow's Nest Mystery, features no super villains. The story, written by Don Cameron and penciled by Jack Burnley, concerns a group of gem-smuggling crooks and a writer of mystery novels.
It is in no way notable, and would not be out of place in a Hardy Boys book of the same time period. The Dick Sprang cover is well-rendered but unexceptional, and features a bizarrely incorrect forced perspective.
Still, as a landmark issue of a highly valued Golden Age comic, Detective #100 is nonetheless quite pricy.
Sometimes, there is simply no way to know what will become valuable and what will not. In this case, you couldn't predict it, but there it is. If you find one of these at an estate sale, be very happy indeed.
Record sale: $2,900
Minimum value: $50
The cover for Detective #140 indicates that the story contained therein will be Introducing A Sensational New Adversary Of the Partners In Peril- The Prince of Puzzles - The Riddler!
And a real whiz-bang of an introduction it is, too. Edward Nigma (Get it? E. Nigma? Enigma? Gosh, Bruce, that Bill Finger sure is clever!), better known as The Riddler, makes his debut appearance in this issue.
Complete with skintight green outfit covered in question marks, the Riddler is a unique alternative to the Joker or the Penguin.
Edward Nigma was obsessed with puzzles and riddles, but often lacked the skill to complete them, instead finding a way to cheat to get the answer. Once he began committing crimes (with riddle themes, naturally), he could not help but leave behind riddle clues, which always led to his downfall.
In Detective #140's lead story, simply called The Riddler, the Dynamic Duo solve his riddle and foil him, and he seemingly dies when he falls into the Gotham River. Of course, he returns later, as do all super villains, it seems.
Written by Bill Finger and illustrated by Dick Sprang, with an iconic cover by Win Mortimer, Detective #140 is very valuable indeed.
The first appearance of a major villain can be a very worthwhile find when searching through your great-grandfather's boxes of old copies of Scientific American.
Record sale: $19,600
Minimum value: $200
The lead story of Detective #156 features the brand-new, incredibly-futuristic Batmobile of 1950!
Batman had been injured in a Batmobile accident that resulted in the old Batmobile being totaled. While he is laid up, Bruce Wayne secretly works on a new Batmobile, complete with plastic bubble top, a la the Jetsons.
Yes, with Detective #156, the Batmobile comes into the space age. Needless to say, Batman and Robin are soon at it again, shutting down Gotham's crooks who'd been lulled into a false sense of security by Batman's absence.
Dick Sprang provided the artwork for Detective #156, as well as an immensely gratifying cover, which features Batman welding the body of his new ride with an oxyacetaline torch, while Robin buffs the other fender. The not-very-technical blueprints are mounted on the wall behind them.
This is what the future looked like in 1950, and it looked good. This issue of Detective Comics changes hands on a regular basis, even in mediocre condition, for several hundred dollars.
Record sale: $1,500
Minimum value: $50
And now we come to one of the holy grails of comicdom. All right, maybe not a holy grail, per se, but evidence that comic collecting is a pretty expensive hobby, at least.
Yes, Detective #168 contained a backup story featuring the stereotypical adventures of Pow-Wow Smith, Indian Lawman, but that's not why collectors salivate over this issue.
Yes, the Lew Sayre Schwartz and Win Mortimer art is nice to look at, and yes, the story by Bill Finger is of typical Bill Finger quality, but that's not why copies of Detective #168 change hands for more than $1,000. Do you want to know the real cause?
Origin. Of. The. Joker.
OK, now we're talking. In the title story, The Man Behind the Red Hood, Batman is speaking to a college class on crime-fighting. He tells them about an old case that he never solved, involving a criminal known as "The Red Hood," who, oddly enough, wore a red hood. Go figure.
The Red Hood had escaped Batman by swimming through a pool of waste chemicals and braving a room full of toxic gas at a playing card factory. When the crime class gets a write-up in the daily paper for working with Batman, the Red Hood comes out of retirement and starts committing crimes again.
Let's cut to the chase: the dynamic duo captures the Red Hood, but he's an impostor. The real Red Hood has been captured by a would-be do-gooder, who let the Red Hood costume allure him with the chance of a criminal career.
Long story short: The Joker is found tied up in an old shed. He was the real Red Hood, and tells the Dynamic Duo about how the chemicals in the pool had turned his skin white and his hair green.
He explains that he then decided to use his new appearance to scare people into handing their money over to him, becoming The Joker.
Alan Moore drew heavily from Detective #168 when he wrote The Killing Joke graphic novel in the 1980s, and the popularity of the Joker makes this issue of Detective extremely desirable to collectors, even in poor condition.
Record sale: $7,700
Minimum value: $300
Detective #225 is notable not for a Batman story, but for the first appearance of J'onn J'onzz (pronounced, if I'm not mistaken, as "John Jones"), otherwise known as the Martian Manhunter.
This occurs in a backup story called The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel. Brought to earth from Mars, accidentally, by Dr. Erdel, who is working on a teleportation machine, J'onn J'onzz is compelled to stay by a teleportation malfunction.
He decides to use his Martian mind-over-matter powers to extract gold from seawater, making himself wealthy.
Bothered by crime on earth (there is none on Mars), J'onn decides to stay and fight crime on his new home world. He becomes "John Jones," detective for the Midtown Police Department, and from there you know the story.
The J'onn J'onnz story is illustrated by Joe Certa and written by Joe Samachson and Jack Miller. The cover of Detective #225 mentions the Martian Manhunter, but does not depict him.
You can find our full guide to Martian Manhunter comic books here.
Record sale: $14,000
Minimum value: $100
Institutionalized sexism rears its ugly head in comicdom again? Well, maybe.
The first appearance of Batwoman (aka Katherine Kane) in Detective #233 is not worth anything near what the first appearance of J'onn J'onnz, just eight issues before is worth.
Then again, wait. Batwoman?
Yes, Batwoman. Bored Gotham socialite Kathy Kane decides to become Batwoman to fight crime and wear tight outfits.
Lest you scoff, she had acquired her incredible athletic and gymnastic ability during her careers as a circus trapeze artist and stunt cyclist, just like all the other wealthy heiresses who decide to put on spandex and fight crime.
In Detective #233, Batman attributes her success to "beginner's luck," which in no way indicates that he felt intimidated by a "Bat Woman" on the scene, no sir. Later, of course, once he knew she wasn't a threat, Bruce dated her.
Illustrated and with a beautiful cover by Sheldon Moldoff, and written by Edmond Hamilton, Detective #233 begins a saga that would end with Kathy Kane's death at the hands of Ra's al Ghul, before the Crisis on Infinite Earths would erase all memory of her existence.
Examples of this issue in good condition will sell in the high hundreds, or perhaps even approach four figures. Not as much as Martian Manhunter, but substantial nonetheless.
Record sale: $1,900
Minimum value: $30
In the cover story of Detective #235, entitled The First Batman, we watch as Bruce and Dick view an old home movie (somehow in color) that shows Thomas Wayne (the late Wayne patriarch) pretending to fight crime in a "Bat Man" suit at a costume party many years ago.
The costume is quite like Bruce's current one, aside from the lack of gloves, Robin-style boots, lack of bat emblem, and a mask instead of a cowl.
Bruce opens up the mystery of his father's death again, after explaining to Dick that this was where he got the inspiration for his own costume.
In Detective #235, however, we see Bruce conclude, after watching the old home movie (which besides being in color, is somehow also a "talkie" - which means it had to be a 16mm sound film, which, oh, heck!) that when the famous bat later flew into his famous window, famously inspiring him to choose a bat theme for his crime fighting identity, "it must have prodded my subconscious memory of my father's costume."
What could be simpler?
Written by Bill Finger and illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff, who also did the cover, Detective #235 is a part of the often-tangled, many-times-retold (in different ways) origin of the Caped Crusader and his costume.
While no retcons or reboots can possibly wrangle all the different stories of Batman's origins (and those of his costume) into one consistent thread that leads conclusively to the "current" Batman's timeline, it's safe to say that somewhere in the 1960s, when the dividing line between the Earth Two Batman (Golden Age) and Earth One Batman (Silver Age) was drawn, this story probably fell into the territory of the former rather than the latter.
Therefore, when the Earth Two Batman was retroactively eliminated from existence, this story probably, theoretically, most likely, ummm, went with it. Confused? Join the club.
Either way, Detective #235 is a valuable early Silver Age (or is it late Golden Age?) Batman comic, with a story that was, at least for a while (and might still be) a key part of the Batman chronology.
Record sale: $1,550
Minimum value: $30
With Detective #267, things just get silly.
Fearing that Batman comics weren't cute enough (this is the only thing a reasonable person can assume), DC introduced, well, um, ahhh, OK, they introduced Bat-Mite.
It seems that Bat-Mite was a nameless imp from another dimension who had idolized Batman from afar, and finally decided to visit his hero in Gotham, much to Bruce Wayne's chagrin.
Bat-Mite was a tiny and strangely androgynous man-child in a poorly-fitting, poorly-sewn imitation of a Batman costume, and his adulation led to his hindering the Dynamic Duo more than helping them.
As strong as the concept was, Bat-Mite proved to have all the staying power of Ace, the Bat-Hound, or perhaps more like Krypto, the Wonder Dog.
Created by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff, the Bat-Mite might be most remembered for his short stint in a late-1970s Filmation Batman and Robin Saturday morning cartoon series.
That is where, just possibly, he ought to remain.
Detective #267 is surprisingly valuable, considering the "key" status of this issue.
Record sale: $3,400
Minimum value: $30
Batman and Robin Defy the Menace of Clayface! So says the cover of Detective #298, and to judge by the contents, they defy him thoroughly, and with impunity.
Matt Hagen, better known as Clay-Face, makes his first appearance here, although his origin would be better fleshed-out later.
Hagen had been a treasure hunter, it seemed, and had somehow stumbled upon a mysterious pool of radioactive protoplasm in a cave one day, as treasure hunters often do.
Deciding for whatever reason to take a dip in the glowing goo, Hagen was transformed, gaining super strength, and the ability to change his appearance to anything he liked. His body took on a clay-like quality.
One shudders to think about the realities of such a transformation, but in the Silver Age, it didn't come up.
Written by Bill Finger and penciled by Sheldon Moldoff (who provides an uncharacteristically stiff cover rendering of Clay-Face battling the Dynamic Duo), Detective #298 is not as sought-after as other Silver Age keys.
Record sale: $2,200
Minimum value: $10
Death of who? Come on, whaddayou mean, Death of Alfred? Alfred was around after this, wasn't he? Well, it's not that simple. Nothing is in comics, is it?
Somehow, in Detective #328, Alfred gets it into his head that he's a crime fighter, and gets himself captured by the notorious Tri-State Gang, well-known for the area of the same name, named after them.
Batman and Robin go to rescue him, and get captured as well. They all manage to escape, of course, but in all the confusion, one thing leads to another, and Alfred, on a motorcycle, which of course he was an expert at, saved the Dynamic Duo from being crushed by a ton of falling rocks, pushing them out of the way just in time, and taking the brunt of the rocks himself.
They believe that Alfred is dead, but their mourning is soon stopped by the arrival of their peppery Aunt Harriet, from whom they will comedically have to conceal their secret identities. Hijinks and hilarity ensued.
Oh, yes, Alfred. Well, it turns out that luckily he wasn't dead. Later, we would find out that he was merely "nearly dead," and was found, hovering on the brink of oblivion, by physicist Brandon Crawford, who somehow dug Alfred out and took him away without anyone noticing, and then treated him with a special kind of radiation in an attempt to cure him.
The radiation, of course, would mutate Alfred, as radiation always does, into a gross parody of humanity called "The Outsider," but that is a tale best left for another time.
Detective #328, by Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff, and Bob Kane, has all the value that you would expect in a Silver Age Batman comic.
Record sale: $2,550
Minimum value: $5
Now we're talkin'! Batgirl, aka Barbara Gordon, is a Silver Age creation that had true staying power, although in various forms that did not always involve a bat in any way.
In Detective #359, Jim Gordon's daughter Babs was on her way to a policemen's charity masquerade ball, it seems, and made herself a "Batgirl" costume in honor of her father's close associate and Gotham's #1 hero.
And she was nothing like Batwoman, so you can get that thought right out of your heads.
Well, at the ball, Killer Moth attacks Bruce Wayne, and "Batgirl" fights him off, giving Bruce the chance to change into his tights. Killer Moth is fought off by Bruce, Babs, and Dick, and they all shake hands.
The next day, Babs decides to try and sell a rare book to Bruce, but when she arrives a Wayne Manor, she finds Bruce dead on the floor, with Killer Moth and his goons standing over him. She intervenes as Batgirl, combating the villains, who escape.
Bruce and Dick appear, explaining that it was "just a dummy" meant to lure Killer Moth to Wayne Manor so that they could apprehend him, and that Batgirl has hindered, rather than helped, their plans.
Nope, nothing like Batwoman at all.
Anyway, Babs, as Batgirl helps the two track down and apprehend Killer Moth, and they say goodbye to Batgirl, wondering if they'll see her again and somehow failing to recognize the daughter of their long-time police liaison.
At least they didn't put it down to beginner's luck. It was, after all, 1967, the Summer of Love.
Detective #359 is, unlike the debut of Batwoman, hot stuff with collectors.
Record sale: $5,350
Minimum value: $35
And the Silver Age starts to evolve into the Bronze Age a bit early here, as Neal Adams (!) and Frank Robbins introduce the world to the Man-Bat with Detective #400.
Featuring an astounding and iconic Neal Adams cover, this issue straddles the old and new.
Zoologist Kirk Langstrom is introduced in this issue, trying to develop a serum to improve people's hearing with extracts from bat glands. Yes, bat glands.
Well, as fate would have it, Langstrom gets cocky and tries it out on himself. Thus, the Man-Bat.
Well, to make a beautifully-illustrated but rather silly story short, Man-Bat helps Batman to defeat the Blackout Gang, but Batman can't decide if Man-Bat is a help or a menace.
Copies of Detective #400 sell strongly, owing to the Neal Adams art and the first appearance of Man-Bat.
If you haven't seen any Neal Adams Batman or Detective, you need to do so. They are truly a thing of beauty. Seek them out, if you can afford them. If you own some, you can realize quite a profit.
Record sale: $2,600
Minimum value: $10
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