The Issue With Variants

Joe Douglas
7 min readNov 4, 2020

They almost killed the industry, so why do comics publishers keep producing them?

Examples of three of the variants released for Spider-Man #1

Variant covers for comic book issues have been a staple of the industry for some time now. The first comic book to have a variant cover was 1986’s The Man of Steel #1. While there were technically variants before this, they were all due to small differences such as distributor logo. Man of Steel #1 was the first “true” variant; an alternative cover with new artwork that fans could buy along with a copy of the regular issue.

Variants played something of a not insubstantial role in the comic book crash of the 1990’s.

To give a brief history of the crash, people suddenly got the idea that buying a comic and holding on to it for 10, 20, or 50 years would eventually put their kids through university or pay off their house. Big firms such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times wrote articles about the possible future value of these once unpalatable items and so people started buying comics by the armful.

Due to the surge in demand for comic books, particularly rarer issues, publishers began to create more and more “special” editions of their product. Not only did these include covers with varying artwork, but also “enchanted” editions such as holofoil covers and polybaged issues. Spider-Man #1, the first issue of the adjective-less series drawn by the hottest artist of the 90’s, Todd McFarlain, had 13 variant covers alone.

However, the people buying all these comics were speculators, not collectors. They were buying with the hope that these comics would be worth thousands in the future, they weren’t buying because they had a love for the medium.

Eventually, the speculators caught on that all these comics probably weren’t worth anything and stopped buying. Of course publishers were still producing all these thousands of copies thinking they would sell…but they weren’t. The speculator bubble burst and it almost took the whole comics industry with it…



Joe Douglas

Collector. Writer. Artist. Geek. I write mostly about the hobby of collecting. Check out my full portfolio at