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Grading CGC: the Ultimate Fallout #4 Newsstand Journey

CGC miles morales newsstand Ultimate Fallout

BY MATT TUCK

After two months, CGC finished pressing and grading Ultimate Fallout #4, and I am the proud owner of a near-mint newsstand edition. However, CGC needs to step up its game before more collectors take their business to CBCS.

GRADE: B-

The journey is over, and I finally have my Ultimate Fallout #4 newsstand back home. When I sent it off in mid-March, I thought it would grade very high. I didn’t notice a scuff on it, but in my excitement and enthusiasm, I made a rookie mistake and neglected the back cover. Honestly, with a rare comic like this one, I was worried about handling it too much. Sure, I examined the back cover, but I may not have given it a close enough inspection because CGC noticed some defects and flaws. It resulted in a 9.0.

THE RARITY OF A NEWSSSTAND UF #4

My 9.0 may not be the 9.8 or 9.6 that I had hoped for - far from it, actually - but I still have something very special. Judging by the numbers, it’s something only a few collectors worldwide can claim to own, so I count myself lucky. As I said in the original post, I have no plans to sell it, which makes the grade a bit less painful.

Newsstand copies are serious business these days. Unless I missed something, I don’t recall newsstands being such a big deal until the past few years. For that matter, when I bought this UF #4 off eBay, I spent no more than $100 (probably more like $50-$75, but eBay’s purchase history won’t let me go back far enough to verify that) because, for one, Miles-mania had not fully caught on at that point. The newsstand barcode was an afterthought at best because at that point, it had not become a collecting phenomenon. As I wrote before, I gave it no thought for years. It was pure luck that I stumbled across one.

In the age of the variant comic, newsstands represent rarity. These are the copies that are sold in places like grocery and convenience stores, and basically anywhere with a magazine rack. At one point in time, you could find them on the corner newsstand, hence the name. Contrary to direct editions, where comic shop owners and collectors handle their stock with love and care, newsstands were made available to the general audience. They were not given anymore care than someone would give a newspaper or magazine because this is not a collecting audience. That’s why it is so hard to find them in higher grades, especially 9.8s. 

Here we are in the modern age of collecting, and most people wanting comics either buy them online or at their local comic shops. You don’t see many comics for sale in the general stores anymore, though Walmart has been doing well with their packs of Marvel and DC comics. It’s not like every comic gets a newsstand nowadays. Those that do get low print runs. That’s why having a major first appearance in a newsstand is so hard to come by: because they’re so hard to find in the first place.

When it comes to UF #4, it is particularly difficult to track the actual number of newsstand copies on the market, regardless of grade. CGC does not distinguish between the direct and newsstand editions on its labels or census, and they rejected my request to have my copy documented as a newsstand. KeyCollectorComics claims that there were approximately 74,000 UF #4s printed for direct market orders in 2011, and of those, no more than 3% of those were newsstands, which amounts to a little over 2,000 copies at most. That number could be as few as only 750, and there’s no telling how many of those were discarded.

KeyCollector goes on to report that of that 1-3% of the total print run, there are just 50 on record with just 10 documented sales. It explains why this year’s sale of a 9.2 newsstand edition of UF #4 has been the first newsstand sold this year. It is no wonder it fetched a $7,000 price tag. Just last year, a 9.8 brought over $8k, and the next time we see one hit the market, it will likely double that price.

I guess now we can bump that number up to 51, and I am proud of that.

THE GRADING JOURNEY

SPEED: D

There is no point in complaining about CGC’s dreadfully slow processing speeds. 

The company has addressed this in member newsletters, so they are aware of the problem, but you don’t realize how painful the entire grading process is until you experience for yourself. In my case, it took them about four weeks just to open the UPS box. That’s right: four weeks. I understand they are overwhelmed with collectibles to grade, but that is a ridiculous amount of time for a cardboard box to just sit in storage. 

Be that as it may, the overall speed was slightly better, but I opted for the express tier. Considering I paid extra to hurry along the procedure, this was still a long, arduous journey. It took a month to go to be pressed, and then it was almost another month before it was in the hands of the graders, though I do understand that pressing is a slow, meticulous process even on the best of days.

Once it got into the graders’ hands, things picked up. In no time, I was notified that it was being graded and that it was encapsulated. UPS did an excellent job of getting it delivered to me, and CGC definitely knows how to secure a slab because it was perfect when it arrived. 

Overall, the process was painful, but the grading, encapsulating, and actual shipping helped raise it from an F to a D, so at least there’s that. Still, this is a huge problem CGC must remedy immediately, and raising prices on members is not the answer unless the company plans to spend it on getting more hands on deck to resolve the issue. 

QUALITY

On social media lately, CGC has been getting blistered with bad reviews. There are so many complaints about the company’s quality control that memes have been erected to commemorate the frustration. 

Luckily for me, I did not experience this. Although I did not get the grade I had wanted, the case itself looks good without the weird oily dots that have been blemishes on several of my CGC slabs. 

For the occasion, I opted for the special Miles Morales custom label. Generally speaking, I don’t care much for the fancy labels with the characters’ faces, but in this case, it turned out very well. The red Spider-Miles portrait beside the CGC holographic sticker is eye-catching and adds to the over appeal of the slab. 

I understand there are many, many complaints surfacing all over the internet when it comes to CGC’s quality control. I have seen posts documenting mismatched labels, upside-down labels, and I am sure much more. All I can judge CGC on is this one specific comic, and they did a good job with mine. For my experience, I have to give CGC an A for giving me a beautiful slab with an appealing label. 

CUSTOMER SERVICE

GRADE: C

I contacted CGC more than once when it was taking so long to simply open my shipping box and process my order. I admit that I did not follow their directions and label the box as express, so I can’t put too much blame on them. For the most part, the email responses were timely and businesslike, but I got the feeling that my concerns were not taken too seriously. I try to be understanding and keep in mind that I was probably one of hundreds of customers wondering when their boxes would be opened. I also would have appreciated a brief explanation as to why CGC doesn’t recognize a newsstand copy on the label when it is this rare. 

Overall, my complaints are minimal, and I would rate the customer service experience a C because it was an average experience; it was just an ordinary customer service exchange. The problem is that when you are this far behind with your processing, the customer service should be exceptional. After all, we are paying for this stuff.

BOTTOM LINE

When I lay it all out, I feel that CGC had a basic outing with this job. With the company raising rates, I think we should expect more than basic. If either the processing or the customer service had been improved, then I could justify scoring them maybe an A. At the prices CGC is charging, we deserve A-level service.

Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is also a teacher, freelance writer, comic collector, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.



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