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I've noticed a Spider-man symbol on several of my Marvel comics from the 80's. Any ideas on what it could mean?


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Meta discussion: meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/q/2025 –  Keen Jul 10 '12 at 18:30
Random guess: Allow you to search a whole stack of comics and immediately see where it belongs to (essentially like a flip book)? At least that's probably what I'd use it for. –  Mario Jul 10 '12 at 18:37
So they put Spidy into other comics without actually putting him inside. Neat. :) –  Mario Jul 10 '12 at 18:40
I've wondered this for years! Thank you for asking! –  ahsteele Jul 11 '12 at 20:20

1 Answer 1

up vote 51 down vote accepted

When comic book shops first appeared in the '80s, the comic book companies shipped two different versions of the comics to the newsstands (grocery stores, department stores, gas stations, book stores, etc.) and the specialty, comic-centric shops that had just started appearing. Newsstand copies would have a bar code and direct market copies (the ones in comic book stores) would have a picture of some sort. Spider-Man was the defacto image for a long time, until the early '90s when they started using that area to advertise things like character anniversaries or big events. The UPC area on this issue of Uncanny X-Men advertises the comic's 30th anniversary.

The issues were always identical in every way, except for the UPC area. Here's Avengers #300 for example:

enter image description here enter image description here

The image was also not dependent on the series itself, but rather loosely based on when the issue was published and what characters were celebrating anniversaries that year. As above, the generic Spider-Man head appeared on an issue of the Avengers. A Captain America head commemorating his 50th anniversary appeared on Uncanny X-Men #275 in April 1991. For an overview, this wiki page shows all the comics released in November, 1991. The UPC areas have images for anniversaries of the Fantastic Four and Captain America, regardless of what characters actually star in the comic book.

In the mid '90s, I assume as direct market retailers started having bar code scanning capabilities, the pictures went away and the words "Direct Edition" were placed over the UPC code like on the cover of this issue of X-Force from 1995:

cover of an X-Force comic from 1995

So if you have a comic that has an image in the place of a UPC, that means that comic was originally sold to the direct market.

EDITED to add: Here's a site gnovice found that further explains the whole UPC phenomenon.

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Oh, interesting. So the symbol is not related to the actual comic (e.g. all with Spider-Man or someone else depending on the year?) or are they still related to the actual content (e.g. Flash on a Flash comic, Spider-Man on a Spider-Man comic)? EDIT: Just noticed the pictured comic on the right seems to be Fantastic Four with a Flash icon? –  Mario Jul 10 '12 at 18:39
Beat me to it! Oh, and here's a useful link I was going to use in my answer: uncannyderek.com/2011/04/01/… –  gnovice Jul 10 '12 at 18:39
@Mario The symbol is not related to the actual comic. The image would appear on every comic that month, which explains why Spider-Man is on an Avengers comic in the body of the answer. –  Brett White Jul 10 '12 at 18:43
Great answer. Thank you very much. –  Mike B Jul 10 '12 at 19:27

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