Some of the rarest modern Superman variants are the ones that retailers receive when they attend invitation-only DC Comics, Diamond Retailer or ComicsPRO events. For most retailers, these events require travel, sometimes at great expense. The expense not only includes mileage/airfare, hotel and dining, but also the cost of either shutting down the store or paying employees to run the store in their absence. This expense is one reason why DC and other publishers provide limited edition free variants to those retailers who attend these events. The unspoken underlying understanding is that these low print run no-cost variants will be sold by the retailers at a premium to recoup the event’s expenses. Alternatively, the retailer can give the variant to a loyal customer as a reward, run a contest or covet it for their personal collection. In all cases, there is no cost but either a tangible or intangible value to the retailer.
These retailer events fall into three categories:
- RRP (Retailer Representative Program). Though the term is widely used today to describe all types of variants, technically only DC Comics ran these events and created these variants. Beginning in the 1990s, the RRP was designed as an exclusive invite-only meeting for DC to pick the brains of their retailers and vice-versa. By the launch of the New 52, DC pivoted from the RRP meetings, which were held in a single location, at most once per year, to traveling Retailer Roadshows that could be held in multiple cities in a single month. The Superman RRP variants are the scarcest, due to the limited number of retailers invited.
- Diamond events. Until recently, Diamond Comic Distributors was the exclusive distributor for DC Comics for over two decades. Diamond held a Retailer Summit (DRS) at least once per year, in addition to sponsoring breakfasts or lunches at some large comic conventions. All Diamond customers (i.e. all stores that sold new comics) were invited to their events but not all attended, so the Superman Diamond variants are not as rare as the RRP, but can be scarce depending on the attendance numbers.
- ComicsPRO Annual Meetings. ComicsPro is a non-profit that was incorporated in 2004 as a trade organization for comic book specialty retailers. Members pay to join so not every comic store is a member. All paying members can attend the ComicsPRO Annual Meeting, but only those that attend receive the free variants from the meetings.
Superman The Wedding Album RRP Variant
The very first RRP variant in history was a Limited Commemorative Edition of the Superman Wedding Album. It may look similar to the embossed white cover of the Superman Wedding Album, but closer inspection reveals the use of gold ink rather than black ink. Each copy was signed and numbered by Bob Rozakis (the Executive Director of Production) on the back cover, revealing a print run of no more than 250 copies. Only those who traveled to Canada to attend DC’s 5th Annual RRP received a copy.
Superman/Batman #1 DRS Variant
In 1954, Superman and Batman began appearing together in the same story in World’s Finest Comics. With a few breaks, that team-up format continued until World’s Finest ended in 1986. It was a big deal when DC launched a new Superman/Batman series in 2003, after 17 years without a dedicated ongoing team-up series starring the two heroes. Showing their commitment to success, DC assembled the all-star creative team of Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines. The first issue had a card-stock cover and glossy paper, with two different covers by McGuinness and Vines, one featuring Superman and the other featuring Batman. The August 2003 launch was so successful that the first issue went to three printings. In September, Diamond held a Summit in Ft Wayne, Indiana and in October, another Summit in Las Vegas. Attendees received the Superman/Batman #1 Summit variant with new cover artwork by McGuinness featuring both heroes in the foreground. With the passage of time, this variant has become less plentiful, with copies disappearing into personal collections and possibly mixed in with higher print-run comics.
Superman #204 DRS Variant
Superman #204 has become a modern iconic image of the Man of Steel. The cover has appeared as a poster, as a Canadian stamp and on a myriad of other Superman merchandise. The art is Jim Lee’s self homage to his 2002 second print cover to Batman #608, which is equally iconic to that hero. In April 2004, DC launched a new era for Superman as three new creative teams took over his monthly titles. Bob Wayne, DC’s VP of Sales and Marketing, said at the time, “All of the new writers and artists come to the table with their own strong reputations, so we expect to see significant heat with these issues,” For the self-titled monthly, it was the creative team of Brian Azzarello, Jim Lee and Scott Williams. Later in the year at the Diamond Summit held in conjunction with Baltimore Comic Con, attendees received the sketch variant of the Superman #204.
Action Comics #1 DRS/ComicsPRO Variant
Though the New 52 petered out over time, the launch went gangbusters in terms of sales and press. The first Action Comics #1 in over 70 years launched in September 2011 with much fanfare. With Grant Morrison writing and Rags Morales on the art, what could go wrong? Well, we won’t explore that topic but at the time, retailers were excited to receive their copy of this black-border variant at C2E2 (Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo) Diamond Summit or Dallas ComicsPro meeting. At one time, it commanded a steep price. However, that time has passed. I recently won a copy for $20, shipping including, in an auction.
Superman Unchained #1 DC Roadshow Variant
During the New 52 era, DC tried to do something different and daring every September. For 2013, it was Villains Month, where villains took over the titles and covers, with 3D motion included. Though a lot of comic covers gimmicks had been tried including embossing, holograms and glow-in-the-dark, these lenticular covers were new. In order to get retailer buy-in for the September books, DC first demonstrated the technology on Superman Unchained #1 and distributed copies at their Retailer Roadshows during June.
Super Sons #1 DRS/ComicsPRO Variant
Super Sons, an ongoing title featuring the adventures of Jon Kent and Damian Wayne, was supposed to be part of the DC Rebirth launch in 2016. When it didn’t launch, fans began to worry that it might never see the light of day. However, it was merely moved to a February 2017 launch and this variant with the black and white background was distributed to ComicsPRO attendees that same month. A few months later, copies were also distributed at the Diamond Retailer Summit.
Lois Lane #1 and Jimmy Olsen #1 DRS Variants
The most recent Superman-related variants failed to make much of a splash with the readership. There really isn’t much to write about these blue-line variants of the regular retail covers and they were both distributed at the same event (the 2019 SDCC Diamond Retailer Launch), so we’ll just wrap things up here.
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Checkout the full text of The Guide to DC Comics RRP, Diamond Retailer, and ComicsPRO Variants.