Battle of the Grails: Hulk #181 vs Ultimate Fallout #4 Variant

Battle of the Grails: Hulk #181 vs Ultimate Fallout #4 Variant

BY MATT TUCK, BLOGGER SUPREME

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You have $30k to spend on either Incredible Hulk #181 or the rare Ultimate Fallout #4 variant edition. Which do you choose?

The scenario came from a question posed to me by reader John Usera via Instagram.  John must be living his best life because he has the chance to own either a 9.6 Incredible Hulk #181 with Marvel Value Stamp or a 9.8 Ultimate Fallout #4 Marko Djurdjevic variant. When your collecting decisions lead you to choose between Wolverine and Miles Morales, you’re doing something right.

It was such an interesting question that it deserved an in-depth analysis. Choosing between these two behemoths of the Bronze and Modern Eras, respectively, is no easy decision. Traditionalists will automatically lean toward Wolverine as the older, more established character. On the other side of the coin is Miles Morales, who is poised to leave a massive crater when he lands in the MCU. Then again, Wolverine is on his way to the MCU as well, and the rumor is that Marvel is quietly casting Hugh Jackman’s replacement. For that matter, he could arrive in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

These are two evenly matched opponents, and pitting the two against one another in a battle of investment potential is a clash of grails. 

INCREDIBLE HULK #181

Long has Hulk #181 been a holy grail. 

Although Wolverine first appeared in 1974’s Hulk #180, the following issue would be leaps and bounds beyond anything #180 has ever reached. Normally, this sparks the “first cameo versus first full” debate, but in this case, I don’t think it’s so much about how much we see of Wolverine. Instead, I argue that it’s his first appearance on the cover art that reels in the price tags. If Wolverine had been on the cover of Hulk #180, that would be the holy grail, and #181 would be the consolation prize as second appearances tend to be. 

Besides the iconic cover debut for one of Marvel’s all-time popular characters, the other factor in those ridiculous FMVs is the Marvel Value Stamp. Ask collectors, and they will testify this was one of Marvel’s dumbest ideas. Several issues in the 1970s had stamps printed inside the pages. The goal was to buy all the comics, clip the stamps, and make a complete set inside the official MVS portfolio. Keep in mind, this was in an era when collecting perfectly preserved comics was a near nonexistent market. It wasn’t until the 1980s and the rise of comic shops that collecting became a booming hobby. 

Inside Hulk #181 was a stamp featuring Shana the She-Devil, and many copies are missing that tiny square. That makes it harder to find a Hulk #181 with the MVS intact. For those buyers with complete #181s in their collections, the bonus is that it drives up the prices for the blue universal label. 

Over the past two years, the FMV has more than doubled for the 9.6. There were 13 sales in 2020, resulting in an average price of $14,132 with a high sale of $19,200. Last year, that FMV rose to $26,704 over 14 sales with a high of $33,600. While this year’s sales data hasn’t risen quite so dramatically, it has already broken its own record after a $36,000 sale in January. However, the most recent sale was for $27,501 on March 17, which is the lowest sale price since November. So far, those have been two of four sales that have averaged $31,475. While the $27k sale is slightly concerning, by no means does that mean the prices are plummeting.

ULTIMATE FALLOUT #4

There are three things that always draw in readers: something new, nostalgia for a returning hero, and a grand death. 

Marvel and DC play with these concepts regularly to boost sales. In some ways, all three tend to feed off one another in an endless loop. When characters grow stale, the editorial staff concoct their deaths. That makes room for a new hero to take up the mantle and give readers a twist on the old trope. Unless the replacement is a huge success, the original hero triumphantly returns, and the new face fades into the background. The pattern creates a cycle of inflated first appearances that deflate when things return to normal.

But sometimes, it actually works, like in the case of Miles Morales.

First appearing in 2011’s Ultimate Fallout #4, Miles was introduced as the successor to the Ultimate Spider-Man. While purists cried foul, Spider-Miles won over plenty of readers, and he eventually moved to the prime universe of Marvel-616. That has put him on a path to huge success. 

In recent years, Miles has crossed into the mainstream spotlight. He starred in 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse, has co-starred in major video games, and there are heavy rumors that he will be introduced into the MCU at any time. That’s kept his first appearance in UF #4 on the investment radar, and it has become a Modern Age holy grail.

For the past year, the standard edition has remained a $3k comic, and it is poised to reach $4k in the near future. Only a week ago, a graded 9.8 matched the $3,840 record high. Those prices will look like bargains once Spider-Miles is confirmed for the MCU, which could be a moment away. 

The issue in question is the rare Djurdjevic variant. According to the CGC’s census data, there are just 774 graded copies on file. The last time a 9.8 Djurdjevic sold online, it brought $28,800 in November. Before that, it hit a record-high $30,900 on October 16.

THE BIG QUESTION

I don’t own a crystal ball, and I have never been accused of having psychic powers, so I cannot say what heights these comics will reach. However, I do have the advantage of sales records, and that can tell us plenty.

Again, choosing between Hulk #181 and the Djurdjevic UF #4 is a tough call. As we discovered, the 9.6 Hulk #181 is about a $31k investment. Based on the 12-month average, the 9.8 UF #4 variant is a $28k comic, so the difference is negligible at those levels.

The thing that concerns me about the UF #4 is the rate at which the prices have jumped. Since 2011, its FMV has steadily climbed like clockwork. Then it kicked in the afterburners when it sold for a record $2,900 in 2019 only to be dwarfed by a $9,000 sale in 2020. By 2021, it was consistently staying in the $12k-$15k range, which was a massive leap in itself, to suddenly hitting $25,000, $30,000, and $28,000 from June to November. Can it sustain those inflated prices or is it more of a $15k comic in reality? That’s the real question.

Hulk #181 has been on a similar trajectory, and we can chalk that up to MCU speculation as well. The only difference is this comic has been steadily earning four and five figures since 2002. When it suddenly bounded into $30k territory, it was less of a surprise than the UF #4’s FMV boom.

THE VERDICT

Taking all that into consideration, I lean toward the UF #4 variant due to its rarity, but I see both comics following a similar market path. There are only 175 graded 9.8 Djurdjevic editions on record while CGC lists 374 Hulk #181s at 9.6, though 340 of those have the universal blue label. In the grand scheme, neither is necessarily easy to come by, and that’s an important factor in their ridiculous prices.

The other piece to the puzzle is what drives the secondary market, the MCU. We’re going to see both Wolverine and Miles at the box office, but Miles fits into Marvel’s PG-friendly, action-comedy formula much better. Plus, Miles is a new character, and audiences love new. When he is officially cast, I can see the Djurdjevic variant climbing to $40k and possibly $50k, at least initially. Once the novelty has worn off, even holy grails can falter, so be forewarned that those possible $40k+ prices may not last. 

THE WOLVERINE RISK

Being the new, hip character in the MCU with the potential to become the face of the MCU, there’s no doubt that all of Miles’ keys will skyrocket when the inevitable announcement comes. Wolverine will feel the MCU heat as well, but I don’t imagine we’ll see the dramatic returns for his confirmation since we’ve seen Logan on the big screen for over 20 years now. 

The risky part is whether or not Logan will be the MCU’s Wolverine at all. Marvel Studios has been commended for diversifying its cast of superheroes, and it would fit that mold for the next cinematic Wolverine to be Laura Kinney, aka X-23. If that is the case, it won’t hurt prices for Hulk #181, but it will put a cap on those escalating FMVs as speculators switch gears. 

When we weigh everything, it seems to me that the UF #4 variant is the better option.

Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and the Blogger Supreme. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog, or on Instagram at matt.tuck.writer.


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