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Comic Book Questions Answered: What Was the First Variant Cover?

Comic Book Questions Answered – where I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to e-mail questions to me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com). Here is a link to an archive of all the past questions that have been answered so far.

Today’s question is about what was the first variant cover.

Tom Russell asks:

Do you know what was the first “alternate” comic book cover to be published concurrently (as opposed to a later reprint)? Also, what was the first comic book issue to be _marketed_ as such– i.e. the whole “get this rare alternate cover by Hotty McArtistman” spiel?

Here’s one that readers can correct me on (and I know they will if they can, don’t you worry ;)) if I’m wrong, as I do not know the answer DEFINITIVELY, but as far as I can tell, the answer to both questions, Tom, is John Byrne’s The Man of Steel #1.

The whole “variant cover” craze was big with mass market paperbacks in the early to mid 80s, so it was only a matter of time before comic books picked up on it, as well, and I believe 1986’s The Man of Steel #1 was the first one to do so, and they definitely picked up on the idea to market it AS a collectible.

But I suppose there MAY have been a comic that tried this idea out before 1986, but I dunno. I’m sure folks will let me know if they think of one!

But otherwise, there ya go, Tom!


I’m not sure if Man of Steel was the first but I know which comic came out 9 months later that I accidentally bought twice because of a variant cover.

Justice League #3 cover dated July 1987 has 2 different covers. I got one of them the month it came out. Then a few years later I was looking through some back issue boxes looking for issues of the title I missed. I was sure I had #3 but the cover didn’t look familiar at all so I bought it. When I got home I found I did indeed have it already but with a totally different cover.

I suppose that we’re talking about intentional variants. If intent is not a consideration, then it might be Fantastic Four #110, which has two covers due to a coloring error.

There is a “Firestorm” book that has the different cover in 1987 with the “Superman Comics” logo

The Dr. Fate/Hourman issue of Showcase with had a variant background color. Either blue or purple depending on which printing. That was ’65 or ’66.

The Justice League and Firestorm variants were test market variants. I grew up in Toledo, Ohio and we got them. I picked up the Justice League issue because it had a really cool Shazam cover, but passed up on Firestorm. I didn’t understand why there was a Superman picture in the corner where the DC bullet usually was, and was even more confused when I saw the same comic with a different cover at the comic store. Found out years later why.
Toledo was also a test market city in the summer of 1977 when we got the 35 cent Marvel variants for the June thru October issues. I was equally confused when I visited my grandparents in Pennsylvania and paid 30 cents for Peter Parker #10 when all the Marvels back home were a nickel higher. (I still have most of my 35 cent variants that I bought new.) This was a huge puzzle for the marketplace for years when the Star Wars 1 variant was so expensive and it seemed like most collectors didn’t even know that ALL Marvels in that five month stretch had 35 cent variants!

Not sure if man of steel was was a variant because there was a post card inside the book for a contest to win a collected all four issue bound book. I sent the post card in and won, several week later receive the book and mine was signed by John Byrne.

Some Gold key books in the 60s had variant covers, such as the early issues of Star Trek, which have a virgin cover printed on the back cover on some of the print run.

The Amazing Spider Man wedding annual (#21) was dated June 1987. One had Peter Parker in full on Spidey gear and the other had him dressed in a tuxedo.

Regarding the different cover design (not variant covers) for DC comics in the 90’s, they were a marketing strategy for the spinner racks and the Superman was some kind of branding to grab attention. As we know, the Direct Market was more atractive (and profitable) and the test went bust.

There was an article in Wizard Magazine about some years ago.

We can talk about Superman, but the first marketing strategy that comes to mind is X-Men #1, in which you had a triptish and was induced to buy the same comic book 3 times to get the whole picture. Later they produced a fourth version with the whole picture.

You might be able to go back to the old Gold Key “Star Trek” books….They have variant “Color/B&W” covers

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