In January of this year, I had to grade some War books. This did not particularly thrill me, as I am not too much of a War fan, leaning more towards the Pre-Code Horror and Superhero genres. In the middle of grading them, I ran across a book that was horribly violent, equal to any Pre-Code Horror book I had ever seen.
This was the first time I had ever really run across any books like this from this time period so I was shocked. I do not say this lightly. I have seen tens of thousands of different books over the course of 40 years in this hobby so it is a marked occasion when I find out that I didn’t know a certain book existed, let alone me ever holding one. Usually if this happens, I show my boss to see if he has any insight that I don’t have. When he saw the books, his eyes lit up, and that is when I realized I was smack dab in the middle of a marked event. My boss Barry started going through the books and showing me the extreme rare ones, explaining how very rare these books are and that, even for someone that has been at Heritage Auctions for 15 years, he rarely runs across them. This made me take note that maybe I shouldn’t dismiss lightly any book from this time period. After all, the book Seduction of the Innocent (1) targeted ALL comic books, not just Horror, and publishing companies went out of business equally across the genres.
A few weeks ago, I was visiting a local comic shop that I hadn’t been to in a while. While going through the back issues, I almost dropped dead from a heart attack. Some of the books that I had graded in January were on his back issue rack. When I saw the prices, I started grabbing books. As long as they were complete, grade didn’t matter. They were that cheap. One thing you have to understand. A comic shop owner isn’t going to sell a Golden Age book as well out of their shop, opposed to the Modern Age. Those books typically sit for long periods of time on a store shelf, and these would have except they had a buyer in the store (me), that knew the rarity and cared for the age. Smart store owners know that constantly rotating stock is the only way to make money, and this comic store owner is no dummy. So I walked with a good deal and he made money. Both sides win.
Euphoria set in on the way home. You know the one. That giddiness that comes when you get such a good deal where the only sadness is “why couldn’t there have been more” is the only concern. For a full hour, my wife heard “I can’t believe it. I just don’t believe it”. Then work set in. After all, I had to find out exactly how well I made out. I only had a general idea of how lucky I was and I needed to fully quantify it. For the next hour I looked up numbers, figures, checked and rechecked (I still look them up because I really have a difficult time believing the actual numbers). Within that hour I knew for a fact, what I had only begun to guess. 1950-1955 War books are probably the rarest comic books in the business. Below are 10 of the most amazing covers of this era (and some of the rarest). I will discuss “rare” at the end of the article.
Best 1950s War Comic Book Covers
#10) Battlefront #15 (Atlas, 1952)
Two of my Top 10 are shown here, but I will get to the second later in this article. Almost all War books from 1950-1955 that I will show have to do with Communism and the Korean War in some fashion. Even though WWII was over, it was not a distant memory yet. Comic publishers that wrote within the genre, again used propaganda and comics to show the evils of Communism now that Nazism was destroyed. As can be seen, the covers are much more violent than their 1940s predecessors are. This eventually leads to the Comic Code and censorship. How rare is this book? In 17 years, Heritage Auctions has only ever sold TWO. The CGC census? NONE17
#9) Man Comics #21 (Atlas, 1952)
Atlas printed more war books than other publishers from what I have been told through various Instagram sources. This doesn’t mean they are less violent or less rare though. We have only sold this specific book twice in our history and the last time it showed was four years ago.
#8) The United States Marines #8 (Magazine Enterprises, 1952)
I believe Standard Publishing and Magazine Enterprises to be some of the hardest books to find in decent shape. Whether that is because of the subject matter, inferior paper and inks, or a combination of other reasons doesn’t matter too much. All that matters is that finding anything above a VG+ grade is difficult with these publishers. The first time we had ever had the above book, it was in a stunning FN/VF which, if I had it sent off to CGC and it was graded what I put on it, would have tied it for the highest grade.
#7) Foxhole #4 and Unpublished Foxhole #5 Original Art (Mainline Publications, 1955)
Typically, when I write these, I do so with the hope that I am teaching whoever is reading them things they didn’t know prior, whether that be history, rarity, or any little tidbit someone had never known or seen before. This is one of those moments. I harp on censorship so much people may get tired of hearing it, but the above is a stark example of what happened. Foxhole #4 was published. #5 wasn’t because the newly formed Comic Code deemed it too violent. Both covers were done by legendary Simon and Kirby.
#6) G-I in Battle Annual #1 (Ajax/Farrell, 1952)
Finding this book in the wild would be like hitting a $300 million lottery. Yes, it is that rare. When we sold the above book in February, I graded it at a 6.0. Had I sent this book in to be graded, and it came back with the same grade I assigned, it would have beat out the lone graded book on the census by a full THREE points. That’s right. The highest graded copy on the census is only a 3.0! Maybe that is the reason this book sold for over 7x Overstreet guide value.
#5) War Combat #3 (Atlas, 1952)
Action, death, Commies, drowning, a smoking gun, lives at stake and a black cover. What more could you want? It seems the only thing missing is a bondage Good Girl being tortured by some horrible device. One can almost smell the gunpowder from the machine gun. This immediately made my list of “I have to own this” as soon as I saw it.
#4) This is War #9 (Standard, 1953)
Shockingly we have had two copies of this book, both coming to auction six months apart from each other. Prior to that? None. The second copy we had was a 5.5. How many graded? That 5.5 was 1 of… 1. I think this cover is so striking because these images of a prison camp leaves our imagination to wander. Is it a prison camp? Is it a concentration camp? Shudder… glad they are escaping.
#3) G-I in Battle #5 (Farrell, 1952)
I apologize for the sub-standard picture. You may recognize it from my Instagram feed. I can’t get you a better picture, because one doesn’t exist in our database here at Heritage Auctions. We have only sold this book one other time and it was in a group lot back in 2006. We have not seen this book in over 13 years. This is one of the books I picked up at my comic shop. I will be sending this in to CGC and it will be the highest graded copy by far at around a 7.0 (hopefully). The lone CGC copy on the census sits at a 4.5. One does not usually find Good Girl art within war books, especially on covers, which makes this exceedingly rare for the genre.
#2) War Battles #5 (Harvey, 1952)
Easily one of the most brutal covers of the genre, in my opinion only second to the next book. Whenever I watch war movies from the 1940s my mind recoils in horror when the flame thrower is brought in. I know it was an important tool, especially in WWII when trying to oust the Germans from their bunkers, but it is horrifying for me to even imagine it. I have not seen or heard much outside of comics to indicate we used flame throwers much in the Korean War, but then again my knowledge of that war is far inferior to that of WWII.
#1) The United States Marines #7 (Magazine Enterprises, 1952)
I have listed this book before. It was part of my Lists that Make Cents: Violent Covers blog. War is violent by nature, but as I said before, not many things make me sweat more than the thoughts of this. This has a whopping large census of FOUR graded copies. That’s right. One of the most popular and sought after books due to the violence on the cover only has four graded copies, the highest coming in only at 8.0. I find Overstreet funny in this regard. There are books within its vaunted and valued pages that have no price above FN or VF because they apparently do not exist (when they do), and a VF/NM or NM- value for books that clearly DO NOT exist.
My point about rarity should be proven by now, however, I will make one more impact statement to hammer the point home. If you add up all the CGC graded number of copies on this list you get a total of 17 graded copies for ALL the books. The United States Marines had a total of 8 graded copies between the two so for the other eight books on this list, there are only 9 graded copies. By comparison, two of the rarest touted books in our hobby is Suspense Comics #3 and Action Comics 1. Suspense Comics has 35 total graded copies (where only 10 were thought to have existed according to the Gerber Photo Journal) and Action has 72 total graded copies. 1950s war books are not only rare, they are almost non-existent. If this doesn’t give you a thrill of the hunt to find those rare books nothing will. I wish you good luck in looking now. You will need it.