The finest known copy of 1940’s Batman No. 1 sold Thursday for $2.22 million, far and away the highest price ever realized for a comic book starring Bruce Wayne and his caped-and-cowled alter ego.
The issue, the sole copy ever to receive a 9.4 grade from the Certified Guaranty Company, was already a record-setter before the start of Heritage Auctions’ four-day Comics and Comic Art event. A week before the Jan. 14-17 auction even began, Batman No. 1 crossed the $1.53-million mark, besting the previous world record set for a Batman title in November when Heritage sold 1939’s Detective Comics No. 27 for $1.5 million.
The book shattered estimates and expectations long before it was sold during the first session of the four-day event. It has seen more than two dozen bids since Christmas and accrued tens of thousands of pageviews worldwide; more than 700 Heritage clients also kept close tabs on its progress as it made its way toward the auction block.
By Wednesday afternoon, all that interest had pushed bids on Batman No. 1 to $1.89 million with buyer’s premium. Shortly before the auction opened at noon Central Standard Time Thursday, it had climbed to $1.95 million. Heated bidding raised the final price to $2.22 million.
This issue of Batman No. 1, featuring the debuts of the Joker and Catwoman, is now the most expensive comic book ever sold by Heritage Auctions.
“We knew when the book came in that it was beyond special, that it was a once-in-a-lifetime offering – from appearance, its blindingly bright cover to its white pages, to provenance,” says Heritage Auctions Senior Vice President Ed Jaster of this newly discovered copy. “As I like to say, this is just a breathtaking book in so many ways. So we are not at all surprised that this has become a record-setting issue. But we are extraordinarily proud and honored to have brought it to market, to have done justice to its owner and to have found it a new home.”
Until Thursday, the highest price Heritage had ever realized for a Batman No. 1 was in 2013, when the Dallas-based auction house sold a CGC NM- 9.2 copy for $567,625.
There are myriad reasons why Batman No. 1 is coveted by collectors and cherished by fans. 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 last year for his run on Batman.
This copy, too, has a storied background, having spent the last 39 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. He fell in with the local comics shops and dealers, and helped his son complete an Amazing Spider-Man collection and obtain other key comics.
Giles 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 Giles 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 Billy offered him $3,000 cash, which Patterson 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 William inherited his father’s remarkable collection, and a year later decided it was someone else’s turn to own the finest known – and, now, record-shattering – copy of Batman No. 1.
“It was time for somebody else to have it,” William says. “Dad would have been glad his story is being told – ecstatic, really. What he did to get that book and how he took care of it. He always knew it was the finest and would have been so happy it has been recognized as the very best. So I am thrilled that I can use it to honor my father. Sure, I am a little sad seeing the book go. But I wish the new owner the best and hope her or she enjoys it as much as I have.”