In an age where print runs are frequently in the hundred-thousands, which issues and variants are the hardest to get? The lowest of the low print runs? We complied our list below, including only the issues that actually made it to the market organically (i.e. no Kickstarter, creator one-off issues given to friends privately, or press proofs). Also no ashcans, looking at full-sized, cover-priced comic books. Just the stuff that at some point in time, with enough luck and money you could have found in a local comic shop or bid on for charity.
Updated June 23, 2020
10. Dark Knight III: The Master Race (2016) No. 1 (Lee Sketch Covers) / Print Run: 45
An incredible 1:5,000 ratio retailer incentive variant that had unique sketches by Jim Lee on each one. One in five-thousand!
9. The Walking Dead (2003) No. 116 (Third Print Cover) / Print Run: 25-50
This one will set you back a cool $2,800 IF you can find it. There’s an estimated 25-50 in circulation after a small batch was accidentally sent to a U.K. comic shop for a promotion.
8. Grimm Fairly Tales Presents: The Jungle Book (2012) Nos. 2-5 / Print Runs: 25-30 each
Four variant covers (that oddly skipped including the first issue) were produced in conjunction CS Moore Studio. With print runs of only 25 copies for issue number two, and 30 copies each for issues three through five, this is one of the toughest variant sets to collect out there.
7. Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: Wonderland (2012) No. 25 (Blue Dress Cover) / Print Run: 25
Stores had to order 100 copies each of 4 different titles to get a single copy of this variant. Needless to say there weren’t too many comic book shops that jumped on that.
6. Mission Impossible (1996) No. 1 (Recalled Edition) / Print Run: Less than 25
Apparently Tom Cruise didn’t like the way he was drawn in this tie-in movie one-shot, so they destroyed the run and started over. Or did they? At least a couple dozen of the original printings have been found in the wild. While you’re digging through the dollar boxes looking for them, you want the one that has a “Direct Edition” on the UPC bar on the cover. If you find one, don’t tell Tom.
5. Star Wars: Vader Down (2016) No. 1 (Zdarsky Black and White Cover) / Print Run: 16-ish
There were already dozens of variants for this issue, but this one is the real joke. A 1:4,999 ratio answer to DC Comics’ Dark Knight III: The Master Race (2016) No. 1 (Lee Sketch Cover) shown above, Marvel their resident prankster Chip Zdarsky made this issue 1/1000 more rare than Batman’s hard-to-get variant.
4. (tie) Damsels (2012) No. 1 (Campbell Red Cover) / Print Run: 10
There are other variants of the same J. Scott Campbell cover, including a blue and a green, but this “Rose Red” is the rarest of them all with “Only 10 Printed” (says so right there on the cover).
4. (tie) Revenge of Wonderland (2018) No. 1 (Gallery Edition Cover) / Print Run: 10
Museum and Gallery editions tend to lean on the lower side of print runs, but this New York Comic Con variant from Zenescope clocked in at a super-low 10 copies. TEN!
3. DC Comics Presents (1978) No. 22 (Whitman Logo Cover) / Print Run: 6 known
Once believed to not to exist at all, one popped up in 2012 and since then 5 others have also been found, none in anything near Near Mint condition. Rare nonetheless.
2. Captain America (1968) No. 212 (Error Cover) / Print Run: 5 known
Seemingly an error from Marvel’s price testing days in the 70’s, this issue forgot to add the “Marvel Comics Group” text to the yellow bar across the top of the cover. Only five have come to market.
1. (tie) My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (2012) No. 12 (One Million Cover) / Print Run: 1
IDW Publishing sold one million copies of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (2012) in less than one year, easily becoming the best selling comic in the publisher’s history. To celebrate, they released the usual pile of variant covers including this one, limited to a single printing. It was sold as part of a charity sale by Heritage Auctions.
1. (tie) Quantum & Woody (2017) No. 1 (Second Print Cover) / Print Run: 1
Given to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to raise money for their cause, the Second Print Cover for Quantum & Woody is literally a one-of-a-kind with only one being made. It quickly went back for a bigger third printing, and the single second print was quickly sent to CGC.
1. (tie) Space Bandits (2019) No. 1 (Hero Initiative Charity Cover) / Print Run: 1
Another one-of-a-kind money raiser, this cover was printed for a Hero Initiative charity and illustrated by Howard Chaykin. Sixty bids ended up with a winner at $1,000.