BY MATT TUCK
Place your bets, friends. Is the Stan Lee signature the real deal or an elaborate forgery? What will be the final grade? Time for us to go on another grading adventure.
Anyone who has read my blogs over the years knows I am an avid X-Men fan. I have spent years cultivating those major Bronze-Age X-Men and Wolverine keys, and they are the jewels of my collection. Low though they may be, they are my low grades.
What not everyone knows is that I am also a serious Silver Surfer fan (I guess I should have said supporter just as an homage to Stan Lee’s affinity for allusion). While those 1970s X-keys were the top priority in my collecting, I was also piecing together an epic Surfer run.
Through some wheeling and dealing (and eBaying, if you will), I collected the likes of Silver Surfer #1, Fantastic Four #49, Silver Surfer #4, and Fantastic Four #50. But the one that alluded me was the most important Surfer key of them all, Fantastic Four #48.
It made sense that this was such a difficult issue to get. FF #48 is a holy grail comic. Why wouldn’t it be? Two of Marvel’s most important and enduring characters made their debuts in this comic. This is part of Marvel history, created “the Marvel way” by two icons of the industry, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. There are so many reasons to love this comic, yet those same reasons make it ridiculously expensive. And it isn’t like those prices are going down.
My problem was that I started my search a few years too late. After the steaming piles that Fox called Fantastic Four movies, even FF #48 took a hit in fair market value. That is relatively speaking, since even a dip in FMV still left this as a pricey key issue. Be that as it may, it would have been best to have gotten an FF #48 back in 2014 when even a 4.0 was selling for no more than $250. So far this month, that 4.0 has hit a record-high $2,301 and averages $1,421. If I were to opt for a mere 1.0, it still brings $750. I appreciate low grade Silver Age keys, but I was not willing to part with nearly $1k for that quality.
I had come to the conclusion that I had missed my opportunity to own an FF #48. As the saying goes, when my ship came in, I was at the bus station. It was too far out of my price range and only getting more expensive virtually by the day. And I could live with that. Then a gamble fell into my lap.
Apparently President Joe Biden heard of my woes in finding my holy grail, so he sent me $1,400 to help me on my quest (he could have gone with me on the quest, but he said he already had one, and it’s very nice). Wouldn’t you know I came across a low-grade, raw copy without an outrageous price tag. There was a reason for that. The catch was it had a “Stan Lee” signature. Without a CGC or CBCS yellow witnessed-signature label, this puts serious question marks all around. It did have an “authentic Stan Lee collectible” holographic sticker that, of all places, was plastered on the inside cover. Hopefully CGCS can safely remove that for me. Still, a sticker doesn’t make anything 100% legitimate, though I would think anyone who would put one directly on a holy grail comic is likely telling the truth. The seller explained in a direct message through eBay that his father had actually acquired the autograph, and he didn’t realize you weren’t supposed to put stickers on a comic, even if it was a Stan Lee sticker.
Since I don’t plan on reselling, I will tell you that I paid over $900 for this particular issue, which is about where the fair market value stands. It is in rough shape; it has fading on the cover, which is detached at the bottom staple, and there appears to be water damage on the interior pages and back cover. On the bright side, it is a complete copy without any cutouts that I noticed. On that alone, I would guess this would be between a 2.0-3.0, which would have it averaging around $800-$900, though a 2.5 has crossed the $1k threshold. Basically, I got what I paid for in that regard.
The real gamble is the signature. I have met Stan Lee during autograph signings, and I own three of his signed comics, so I have a good idea of what an authentic Stan signature should look like. To me, it looks legitimate, but I am not an expert. That is why it is in the hands of CBCS right now, and I am rolling the dice that the signature will come back with a verified yellow label.
Again, I have no plans on selling or trading this issue. I love the Silver Surfer and Galactus, and I wanted to complete the set. For me, it is all about the adventure, and waiting for the Stan signature to be verified makes it that much more exciting. If it is a forgery, I still have a complete copy of FF #48, although a fake autograph would be a major eyesore (but a great conversation piece). But if it does get the verified status, that will boost the value by a lot.
The last time a Stan Lee-signed 2.5 traded hands, it went for $990 in 2019 when the universal grade was averaging $615 at that time. Even a 2.0 signed by Stan brought $300 above the universal’s FMV, and that was two years ago. Adjusting for inflation, a verified signature (while admittedly is not as good as having the witnessed Signature Series label) will be well worth the cost of admission.
It will be three or four months, maybe longer, before I get the final answer on this. In the meantime, let’s play a game. Who can guess the grade? Do you think the signature is legit or forged? The winner gets an official Frankie’s Blog “no-prize” directly from yours truly.
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.